MADURAI, THE PANDYAS, MEENAKSHI SUNDARESHWARAR TEMPLE AND THE SOUTHERN TIP OF INDIA

MADURAI

Madurai (450 kilometers south-southwest of Madras, 200 kilometers north of the southern tip of India) is an ancient Tamil city situated on the banks of the of the Vaigal River. Originally built in the shape of a mandala — a "geometric diagram symbolizing a structure of cosmos" — with Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple in the center, the city is flat as a piece of roti and the spectacular towers for which the city is famous stick out like fantastic skyscrapers.

Madurai (formerly called Madura) is home to about 1.5 million people and lies in the middle of a cotton-growing region. The city's main industries have traditionally been spinning and textile weaving. Of the outstanding shrines, temples, and palaces located here, the Great Temple is one of the largest Hindu temple complexes in the world. It is visited daily by thousands of pilgrims. Parts of the complex are open to non-Hindus.

According to legend, Madurai was established after Lord Indra put a lingam in a shrine in the forest of Kadama trees so that he could worship Lord Shiva. A traveling merchant saw the shrine and told his king who had the forest cleared and built the city. On the day the city was to be named Shiv appeared; nectar flowed from locks of his hair and the city in now named after a shortened version of the Tamil word for "nectar that flows from hair."

An old city, Madurai was the headquarters of the Pandya Dynasty from about the third century B.C. until the A.D. 10th century. It was the capital of a host of south Indian kingdoms, including the Tamils, and Nayakas (16th century). Madurai was controlled by Great Britain from 1801 to 1947.

Earlier known as Madhurapuri and Thoonga Nagaram, meaning a city that never sleeps, Madurai grew around the Meenakshi Amman Temple, which was is said to have originally beeen constructed 2,500 years ago by Pandian king, Kulasekhara. Popularly called the Athens of the East, it was visited by Greek explorer, Megasthenes in 3rd century B.C. Other famous travelers who mentioned this ancient south Indian city included Pliny in A.D. 77 and Ptolemy in A.D. 140. Marco Polo stopped by in 1203 and Ibn Batuta visited in 1333). According to legend king Kulasekhara once dreamt of Lord Shiva, from whose hair, drops of sweet madhu (nectar) rolled down on earth. The point where they fell was known as Madhurapuri.

Pandyas of Madurai

The Pandyas of Madurai were one of the three main ethnical Tamil lineages, along with the Chola and the Chera. The Pandyas ruled over an extensive kingdom that covered much of southern India and stretched to Sri Lanka. The dates that the Pandya dynasty ruled are difficult to ascertain. The region of the Pandyas was mentioned by the Greeks in the 4th century B.C. and im the edicts Maurya emperor Asoka in the 3rd century B.C.. The Pandyas became a mentionable power under Kadungon (r. A.D. 590 – 620). From A.D. 6th century to 9th century, the Chalukyas of Badami, Pallavas of Kanchi, and Pandyas of Madurai dominated south India. The Pandyas were strongest in eastern southern India and made inroads into fertile estuary of Kaveri (Chola territory) and Kongu and Kerala (Chera territory). [Source: Wikipedia]

Exactly who the Pandyas were and the exact significance of their name is still somehwat of mystery. Legends are unhappily at variance. According to some, they were the descendants of the mythical three brothers of Korkai, who respectively founded the Pandya, Chola, and the Chera kingdoms. Other traditions connect them with the Pandavas of the North or with the Moon. Do these apparently conflicting stories imply that, although the Pandyas belonged to the Dravidian stock, a claim to kinship with epic heroes was advanced when the Aryans hael established themselves and their religion anei institutions in Southern India? [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The Pandya kingdom no doubt, expanded or shrivelled as the king happened to be strong or weak. Normally, however, the Pandya country comprised the present districts of Madurai, Ramnad, and Tirunelveli. Its capital was Madhura (Madurai), the “Mathura of the South”. Korkai (Tirunelvelidistrict) at the mouth of the Tamraparni river was its chief commercial port in early times. Afterwards, owing to a gradual change in the land formation of the coast, it decayed, and Kayal, a few miles further down the river, became the emporium of trade.

Buddha’s disciple Katyayana (c. 4th century B.C.) speaks of the wealth of the Pandya capital. Other ancient texts from around the same time describe prince Vijaya of Ceylon marrying a Pandya princess shortly after the death of the Buddha and a special kind of pearl, called Pandyakavataka, obtainable in Pandyakavata (a mountain in the Pandya country). The ancient Greek history Megasthenes (350-290 B.C.) transmits to us some curious bits of information that females governed the Pandaian nation, and that they bore children at the age of six years. He said Herakles had an only one daughter named Pandaia, and “the land in which she was born, and with the sovereignty of which he (Herakles) entrusted her, was called after her name, Pandaia, and she received from the bands of her father 500 elephants, a force of cavalry 4,000 st rong and another of infantry consisting of about 130,000 men.” The II and XIII Rock Edicts of Ashoka describe the Pandyas as an independent people on the southern frontiers of his empire. The Hathigumpha inscription (line 13) says that Kharavela of Kalinga gave“horses, elephants, jewels, rubies, as well as numerous pearls” from a Pandya king. Strabo said that “king Pandion” sent an embassy to the great Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar, about 20 B.C. The Periplas and the Geography of Ptolemy describe the Pandinoi capital Modoura (Madurai) and other cities and trading centres.

Pandya Kings

Kadungon initiated what has often been termed the “Age of the First Empire.” Unfortunately, not rhuch is known of him, but there are grounds to believe that either he or his son, Maravarman Avanisulamajai, came into conflict with Siriihavisnu, who was about this time laying the foundations of Pallava greatness. The next potable Pandya king was Arikesari Maravarman (c. middle A.D. seventh century ), identified with Nedumaran or the legendary Kun Pandya. Originally a Jain, it is believed have become an ardent champion of the Saiva faith under the influence of Saint Tirujnanasambandar. During the reign of Arikesari Maravarman and his successors, the Pandya kingdom expanded on all sides at the expense of the Cholas, Chera and other neighbours and defeated the king of Ceylon as well as a combination of the Pallavas, Gangas, and Cholas. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

It is said that Maravarman Rajasiriiha II, having allied himself with the ruler of Ceylon, attacked Parantaka I (c. 907-53) to curb the Cholas, but he was repulsed and routed with considerable loss. The victor then seized the Pandya territories, and in commemoration of this exploit assumed the title of “Maduraiikonda.” Maravarman Rajasimha II fled to Ceylon, from where he tried to regain his position. All his efforts, however, came to nought. Thus the Pandya kingdom lost its independence, and it had to suffer the Chola yoke from about A.D. 920 to the thirteenth century. The Pandya territories thus became a mere province of the Chola empire. But despite this direct control, the Pandyas, along with the Cheras and the Singhalese, held aloft the banner of revolt, and successive Chola monarchs were hard put to it to suppress them. Indeed, by the time of Rajadbiraja II (c. 1162-78) the Chola grip was so loosened that the king of Ceylon felt bold enough to intervene in Pandyan affairs.

The accession of Jatavarman Kulasckhara in 1190 A.D. may be regarded as a turning-point in the fortunes of the Pandyas. From now on, their recovery began, and for a century or more they dominated the political stage in Southern India. The materials for the period, usually called the “age of the second Pandya empire,” are ample enough; but the recurrence of similar names and the phenomenon of several princes ruling contemporaneously over different parts of the kingdom constitute a frequent source of chronological or genealogical difficulties. Indeed, some foreign writers have even observed that there were “five crowned kings” of the “great province of Ma’bar.” The belief in their “coregency” has, however, no basis in fact, for it has been rightly maintained that they were local chiefs governing certain territories as feudatories.

During the reign of Jatavarman Kulasekhara’s successor, Maravarman Sundara Pandya J, (V. 1216-38 ), the Cholas had to recede further into the background. For he overran their dominions anti pillaged and burnt the towns of Tanjore and Uraiyur. The Chola king, Rajaraja III (c. 1216-52), at first took to his heels, but having submitted afterwards, he was reinstated on the throne. He revolted again but was promptly put down. It appears that on both the occasions Maravarman Sundara Pandya I could not adopt any extreme measures against- Rajaraja III owing to the intervention of Narasimha II Hoysala, who is described in an epigraph as the “displacer of Pandya and establishcr of the Chola kingdom.”

The next ruler,Jatavarman Sundara Pandya (1251-72), was, however, a vigorous personality, raising the Pandyas to the pinnacle of their power. He finally crushed Chola authority in the South, occupied Kaveri and subdued the Chera and Ceylon. Besides, he chastised the Hoysalas under by storming the fortress of Kannanur-Koppam. He also defeated the Kakatiya Ganapati (c. 1199-1261) of Warangal and Kopperunchinga, the Pallava chieftain of Sendamangalam. These victories resulted in a rapid extension of Jatavarman Sundara Pandya’s rule over a large portion of Southern India up to Cuddapah and Nellore in the north;

Marco Polo and Xuanzang on Pandya Territory

In 1293, Marco Polo, visited southern India. He he throws interesting light on the king, the court, and the life of the common people. He further speaks admiringly of its accumulated riches, pearls, and its extensive trade in precious stones and other articles of luxury. The observations of Marco Polo are in many respects corroborated by the Muslim writer, Wassaf. According to the latter, “Kales Dewar, the ruler of Ma’bar enjoyed a highly prosperous life, extending to forty and odd years.”

The famous Chinese pilgrim, Xuanzang went to southern India in 640 A.D. and described of Mo-lo-kiu-cu a or Malakuta, identified with the Pandya country: “The temperature is very hot. The men are dark-complexioned. They are firm and impetuous in disposition. Some follow the true doctrine, others are given to heresy. They do not esteem learning much, but arc wholly given to commercial gain. There are the ruins of many old convents, but only the walls are preserved, and there are few religious followers. There are many hundred Deva temples, and a multitude of heretics, mostly belonging to the Nirgrantha.” We thus get an account of the land, character of the people, and of their religious persuasions about the middle of the seventh century A.D. It would appear that Brahmanism was then prosperous, and the Jains, too, were numerous; but Buddhism had rather fallen in popular favour. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Tourism in Madurai

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “Madurai is one of the most ancient cities in India, so it is only fitting that at the center of its teeming bazaars stands what some call the most magnificent temple complex on the subcontinent. It is actually two temples joined, one dedicated to Meenakshi and the other to her husband, Sundareshwarar. Unlike many temples in India, the female god is the dominant one here. “This temple is a special one,” said Mr. Kumar, my guide. “You feel it as soon as you walk in.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 19, 2008]

“At least 15,000 visitors come each day. That afternoon, pilgrims kept pouring in. Mr. Kumar said many had temporarily left behind their material lives — jobs as software engineers, rickshaw drivers, whatever — to spend weeks walking to these temples barefoot and in robes. That night, when I went to see the ceremony that would bring about the union of the husband-and-wife gods, the pilgrims were there as well, bearing witness to the holy coupling. They believed the gods had given them life. But it was, in fact, they who — through their devotion, through their journeys to these great temples — were breathing life into the gods.” /*/

In Madurai, there are some good, cheap canteens on West Perumal Maistry Street, the busy lane where Hotel Park Plaza and other popular hotels are located. The hotel restaurants are also good. Meals at the canteens run 50 cents to $1, while ones at the hotel restaurants run $5 to $8. Many hotels on West Perumal Maistry Street, including Park Plaza, Supreme and Chentoor, have great temple views from their rooftop restaurants.

In Madurai, the Hotel Park Plaza is in the old city (114-115 West Perumal Maistry Street; 91-452-301-1111; www.hotelparkplaza.net), and charges 1,925 rupees for a double. Ask for a room with views of the Meenakshi Sundareshwarar temple. The rates cited above include a luxury tax. You can bargain down the rates during low season.

Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple

Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple is one of the most spectacular temple complexes in the world. Started by some reckonings 2,500 years ago and completed in 1660, the temple is named after Meenakshi, the beautiful "fish-eyed" daughter of a mythical Pandyyan king and Sundarashvara, a manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva. It's location in the middle of Madurai symbolizes the centrality of religion in the everyday life of the people there.

According to PBS: “The focal point of the city of Madurai, the Meenakshi-Sundaresvara Temple is dedicated to two deities, Shiva (known locally as Sundareshvara) and Meenakshi (a form of Shiva's consort, Parvati), each with a separate shrine set within its own walled area inside the larger complex. According to legend, Meenakshi emerged from a sacrificial fire as a young girl in answer to the prayers of the childless Hindu Pandya king of Madurai, Malayadvaja. The king adopted the girl, but was concerned that she had three breasts. A divine voice told him that Meenakshi's extra breast would disappear after she met her rightful consort. [Source: PBS, The Story of India, pbs.org/thestoryofindia]

“Meenakshi grew up to become a fierce warrior and, during a skirmish against Shiva's armies at Mount Kailash, the god's Himalayan home, she saw him on the battlefield and immediately lost her third breast. Meenakshi recognized Shiva as her divine consort, as she was the incarnation of his wife, Parvati, and they were married. Together they ruled the Pandya kingdom and subsequently became the presiding deities of the Madurai temple. ...Initially built by the city's Pandya king, Kulasekara, in the 13th century CE, the temple was badly damaged in the early fourteenth century following the establishment of Muslim rule in Madurai. Most of the present complex dates from the 16th and 17th centuries, during the rule of the Nayak dynasty.

Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple is visited by thousands of pilgrims every day and is the site of many religious festivals, The temple lights up every year during the months of April and May when its most important festival- the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam or the divine marriage of Goddess Meenakshi is celebrated with great fervour.

Layout of Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple

One of the largest temple complexes in India, Meenakshi Sundareshwarar covers 15 acres and is made up of 12 gopuras (large ceremonial gateways decorated with stucco figures) that surround the two most important shrines: one dedicated to Sundarashvara (Lord Shiva) and the other to Meenakshi. Around the temples is high wall punctuated by four gates covered with carved, brightly-painted, stucco sculptures of gods, goddesses and mythical beasts. The main gate is lined with stalls selling coconuts, bananas, cum cum (colored ash placed on one's forehead), and offering presented to the gods by pilgrims.

According to PBS: ““The immense, rectangular temple's layout is based on a mandala, a grid with concentric squares, surrounded by a high wall. Renowned for its enormity (843 feet by 787 feet) and design, the complex's main sanctums, to Shiva and Meenakshi, feature ancillary shrines and large, columned halls (mandapa), with one containing nearly 1,000 richly carved pillars. Other features include its numerous sculptures, 12 towered gateways (gopuras), and sacred tank, known as the Golden Lotus Tank, where devotees take baths before a puja (religious ritual).

The 160-foot-high roof of the tallest temple is balanced on top of a series of 12 terraces. Each terrace is decorated with hundreds of brightly colored life-size figures depicting episodes from Hindu literature and mythology. These images were placed here in part so that illiterate audiences could understand the stories they depict. Pilgrims sometimes throw butter at the sculptures as a sign of respect and to cool the sculptures down. Nearby is a ritual tank, where pilgrims douse themselves with sacred water and cool themselves down.

Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple Architecture and Features

An excellent example of Dravidian architecture, Sri Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple is sprawled over a huge area, bordered by well-laid gardens and pristine fountains. Two shrines, more than 10 gateways or gopurams, several mandapas (halls) and a giant pool, make up the structure of the temple, which is adorned with beautiful carvings inside and outside. One of the halls of the temple is famous as the "Hall of a 1,000 pillars" though only 985 of them exist today. It is said that whichever direction you view these pillars from, they always seem to be in a straight line. The highlight of the temple is the outermost corridor that comprises musical pillars. These produce different musical notes when tapped. While one of the sanctorums, Sundareswarar, is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the other is devoted to Goddess Meenakshi, his consort.

Inside the temples are ceiling frescoes, wall murals and elaborately carved colonnades and exquisite sculptures and shrines. Pilgrims sit in groups or alone. Priests are identifiable by their bare chests and sacred threads hanging over their shoulders. Brass bowls with coconut milk, rose petals and bananas are left here and there as offerings. The faithful pray and chant to the sounds of temple drums and the nagaswaram, a giant Tamil oboe. In the porch of eight goddesses, visitors are flanked by carved pillars with dancing girls and large-breasted Hindu goddesses.

One of the best parts of the complex is Ashta Sakthi Mandapa, which is a huge structure with an impressive ceiling in a hemisphere shape. Made of exquisite bas-reliefs, the mandapa has been dedicated to the marriage of Lord Somasundara (a form of Lord Shiva) and Goddess Meenakshi. The Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam is another attractive feature that is made of 110 stone columns, which are adorned with intricate carvings of an animal with an elephant's head and a lion's body. Tourists can also head to the Potramaraukulam or Golden Lotus Tank, which is an ancient waterfront where devotees take a holy bath. The tank is surrounded by corridors called Chitra Mandapas, which boast sculptures featuring the divine sports of the god.

Worship at Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple

Sri Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple is regarded as a tirtha, a place where the world and the heavens intersect and gods can easily move to the human world. It is believed that the Kadamba tree under which Lord Indra installed a lingam of Lord Shiva for his worship is the only one that remains of the forest that once covered this area. Legend has it that when the last Tamil Sangam (Academy) met here, literary works were thrown into a the temple tank: those that floated to the top were deemed to be outstanding literature.

Meenakshi has a reputation for being a particularly generous and giving deity, especially when it comes to children. Many women pray to her and then tie twine around a banyan tree in the courtyard, in hopes of having a child delivered to them in nine months time. One pilgrim told National Geographic Traveler: “If you ask anything of the goddess, you are sure to get success...Meenkashi Devi looks after her devotees. Just to see her, to have darshan [experiencing the power of god through an image] is enough.” At the bathing tank in the courtyard outside the Meenakshi shrine, pilgrims dunk their heads and immerse entire bodies into the water as they do in the Ganges and other sacred rivers.

A National Geographic from the 1910s reported: “The thousands of brightly clad men and women, the interesting ceremonies, the dry river-bed with its borders of waving coconut palms and over and through it all a sense of the divine presence that all the people seem to feel even in spite of their hilarity and somewhat questionable conduct— all of these bewilder the senses and cloud the mind until one is lost in a maze of thought where East and West stand in opposition, The practical Westerner sees much he would like to imitate in the child-like faith and simple ceremomy. And yet he also sees much that he would like to purify and ennoble. Could the simple faith be linked to a noble ethical code, here would be power indeed.”

Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple Rituals

Reporting from Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple in Madurai, Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “The god was ready for his night of conjugal bliss. The priests of the temple, muscular, shirtless men with white sarongs wrapped around their thighs, bore the god’s palanquin on their shoulders. They marched him slowly along a stone corridor shrouded in shadows to his consort’s shrine. Drumbeats echoed along the walls. Candles flickered outside the doorway to the shrine’s inner sanctum. There, Meenakshi, the fish-eyed goddess, awaited the embrace of her husband, Sundareshwarar, an incarnation of that most priapic of Indian gods, Shiva. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 19, 2008]

“Along with hundreds of Indians clustered around the shrine entrance, I strained to get a glimpse of the statue of Sundareshwarar, but green cloths draped over the palanquin kept it hidden. Worshipers surged forward in mass delirium, snapping photos with their cellphones, bowing to the palanquin and chanting hymns. They stretched out their hands to touch the carriage. Priests ordered them back.

“Then the priests veered into the inner sanctum, carrying the unseen god toward the eager arms of his wife. They too had a night of divine pleasure ahead of them, so we were all ushered out as the guards began locking up.

This union of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar is a nightly ritual in Madurai, the second-largest temple city in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, drawing feverish crowds of Hindu devotees. In much of India, the gods are not creatures of distant myth to be worshiped as abstractions. They exist in our world, in our time, and are fully integrated into the daily lives of Hindu believers. They move simultaneously through the world of the divine and the world that we inhabit, and are subject to all the emotions and experiences that we humans are all too familiar with — including carnal desire.

Thirummalai Nayakar Mahal

Thirummalai Nayakar Mahal (two kilometers southeast of the Meenakshi temple) is a palace built in 1636 by the greatest Nayak king, Thirumalai Naicker. Only a quarter of the original Indo-Saracenic complex remains. The main attractions are the huge white musical pillars and a cavern with layered ones and flamboyant sculptures of dragons, elephants and other creatures. The ruins of the palace's main audience hall opens onto a huge outdoor courtyard, where a light and sound show is held ever evening depicting the Tamil classic of Silappathikaram.

Najestic Thirumalai Nayak Palace stands as a fine blend of Islamic and Dravidian styles of palace architecture. Originally designed as the king's residence by an Italian architect, the palace complex was four times larger than what remains of it today. Known for beautiful stucco work, especially on its arches and domes, this palace is a visual treat for visitors. It is beautifully adorned both on the inside and outside. Another notable feature is the celestial pavilion that was constructed using brick and mortar without the support of a girder or rafter. There are about 248 pillars in the palace giving an idea as to the magnificence of its size. The main area of the palace has been divided into two sections: Rangavilasa and Swargavilasa. These sections house a variety of sections, including the royal residence, shrine, apartments, theater, pond, garden, armoury and royal bandstand.

There is a small museum in one of the rooms with a collection of stone age tools and 10th century sculptures. The museum gives an insight into the region's history and art and architecture. Named as a national monument right after Indian gained independence, the palace was built in 1636 by the ruler of Madurai, Tirumalai Nayak, and is considered as the most illustrious monument built under their patronage. It lies in close vicinity to the famous Meenakshi Amman Temple.

Temples in Madurai

Tirupparankundram (four kilometers southwest of Madurai) is a town and important religious center that is home to one of the six special abodes dedicated to Lord Murugan or Lord Subrahmanya. According to legend, the marriage of Lord Subrahmanya with the daughter of Lord Indra, Devayani, was held at the cave shrine of Tirupparankundram, built by the Pandiyans in the 8th century. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple has been carved out of a single rock and the walls and pillars are adorned with fascinating carvings. The temple, considered as the fourth pilgrimage of Muruga, finds its mention in various classical Tamil texts as the southern Himalaya where the gods assemble. It is also believed to be a place where the sun and moon abide. Since it is believed that Murugan married Devasena on the hill, the place is considered to be the most auspicious for conducting marriages by the Tamil community. The Tirupparankundram Temple is located at a distance of 8 kilometers from Madurai.

Srivilliputtur Andal Temple is an ancient temple and one of the most important temples in Tamil Nadu. It is and also one of the 108 temples of Lord Vishnu, who is worshipped here as Vatapatrasayi. The Srivilliputtur Andal Temple is famous for being the birthplace of two of the most important saints in the Vaishnavite tradition- Periyazhvar and Andal. The most striking feature of the temple is its 11 tier rajagopuram, which is the largest in Tamil Nadu. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple houses an idol of the Lord in a reclining position and his consorts Sri Devi and Bhooma Devi can be seen attending to him at his feet. The first part of the temple is called Vatapatra Sayanar temple and the second is called Andal shrine. The impressive halls of the temple are adorned with detailed wooden carvings that depict scenes from the Puranas. The temple is also known for its ancient Ramayana frescoes, modern wall paintings and several inscriptions belonging to the time period of the Pandya kings. The temple complex also houses the Vanamalai Jeear Monastery and the monasteries of Vedantha Desikar and Manavalla Saint.

Teppakulam (near the famous Meenakshi Temple) is atemple whose name literally means a temple pond used for devotional purposes. Dedicated to Lord Vigneshwara (a form of Lord Ganesha), this temple is known for a huge tank in its precincts that holds the record for being the biggest tank in Tamil Nadu. With ghats on four sides, each having 12 long steps made of granite, the pond houses a mandapam called Maiya Mandapam, which has an idol of Lord Ganesha. One of the most colorful temple festivals, the Float Festival that marks the birth anniversary of King Thirumalai Nayak, ruler of Madurai is held here in the month of Thai (January-February) every year. On the occasion, Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwar are taken to the tank on an illuminate theppam (float) which is decorated with colorful flowers. Hundreds of devotees watch the theppam move around the water tank with traditional music playing in the background. According to legend the tank was dug to use the sand from this place to construct the beautiful Thirumala Nayakar Palace. It was later covered with bricks to be used as a water tank. Another legend says that the idol of the lord was also obtained from this tank.

Museum and Tanks in Madurai

Gandhi Museum is located in a 300-year-old palace. It houses a picture gallery, a collection of relics, person memorabilia of the Matahma, a library, Khadi and village industries section. One of the five Gandhi Sangrahalayas (museums), it has a special exhibition titled 'India Fights for Freedom', which depicts 265 illustrations that eloquently tell the history of the country's freedom movement and various revolts.

A visual biography of Gandhiji, featuring his pictures, paintings, sculptures, manuscripts , quotations and selected copies of letters written by him, gives a deeper insight into the life of the Mahatma. Photographs from the different phases of Gandhiji's life are also displayed, along with a range of artefacts used by him. It displays letters written by Gandhiji to eminent personalities such as Adolf Hitler, Narayanan Sathsangi of Devakotta and poet Subramania Bharati. This museum is an ideal site to learn more about the life of the man who left an indelible impression on the mind of mankind.

Najestic Thirumalai Nayak Palace Museum located in one of the rooms in the palace and has a collection of stone age tools and 10th century sculptures. The museum gives an insight into the region's history and art and architecture. Temple Art Museum is located in the famous 1,000 pillared hall. It contains a good collection of objects of interest relating to temple art and architecture. Mariammam Tank in the eastern part of the city is almost equal in size to the Meenakshi temple. The temple tank has a Mandapam in the center enshrining Lord Vigneshwara.

Near Madurai

Azhagar Kovil Temples (30 kilometers north-northeast of Madurai) is famous for its beguiling architecture and intricate sculptures. Nestled inat the foothills of Alagar Hills and situated amidst lush green surroundings, the temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and holds immense religious significance. According to legend, the temple was visited by the Pandava brothers, Yudhishtir and Arjun, during the Mahabharata period. Another popular tale associated with the temple is about a disciple of Saint Ramajuna regaining his lost vision at the temple complex. The Alagar Hills are named after Lord Thirumal, who is known by his local name Alagar among people of the region. The ruins surrounding the temple suggest that a fortified ancient city once existed around the temple. The best time to visit the Azhagar Koyil Temple is during the months of April and May when devotees from all parts of the country visit the temple for the annual Chithirai Festival.

Palani (75 kilometers northwest of Madurai) is beautiful hill station is located in Tamil Nadu's Dindigul district and attracts visitors with its ancient temples and picturesque surroundings. Nestled in one of the oldest mountain ranges in India, Palani Hills, which date back to the pre-Cambrian period, Palani has a rich history. The town also finds a mention in several religious texts and was once ruled by the kings of Madurai and Coimbatore. It is also said that the town was ruled by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, who eventually allowed the Palayakaras of Balasamudram to rule Palani. The town holds immense religious significance and its is believed that Lord Murugan had settled here. One of the most visited destination in Palani is the shrine of Palani Dhandayuthapani Swamy Murugan or the Murugan Temple, which is perched on a hilltop. Festivals like Thaipusam, Vaikasi Visakam and Thirukarthigai are celebrated with great fervour in Palani and draw tourists from all parts of the country.

Megamalai (75 kilometers west-southwest of Madurai) is surrounded by gorgeous tea estates and cardamom plantations that dot the region, Megamalai is an eco-haven known for its virgin forests and pristine waterfalls. It is a haven for bird watchers and over 100 species of birds have been identified in the region including the Great Indian hornbill, red whiskered bulbul, spotted dove and blue robin. The rare Salim Ali's fruit bat is exclusively found in Megamalai. One of the most lot of funs you can take in Megamalai is trekking through the forests and tea estates with chances of sighting animals like Indian Gaurs, wild boars, elephants, leopards and even tigers. Popularly known as High Wavy mountains, Megamalai lies in the Theni district and is located at a distance of 130 kilometers from Madurai.

Suruli Waterfalls (100 kilometers west of Madurai) cascades down a height of 46 meters. Originating from River Suruli, these two-tier falls are a popular picnic spot for tourists. The first stage of the falls is formed by the waters of Suruli river that starts its journey from the Meghamalai mountain range. It then reaches the point from where the waterfalls descend, dropping into a pool from where they further drop down to another 12 meters. The best time to visit Suruli waterfalls is between June and October. Changing rooms and showers have also been set up near the waterfalls. The falls are believed to have curative properties and have been mentioned in one of the greatest epics of Tamil literature, Silappatikaram, written by Ilango Adigal.

Kumbakkarai Waterfalls (100 kilometers northwest of Madurai) is situated in the Kodaikanal Hills. Set against a picturesque backdrop, these two-tier gushing falls are a delightful sight and also serve as a basecamp for trekkers venturing into the hills of Kodai. The first stage involves collection of water in huge rock recesses, which have been named after different wild animals like tiger, elephant, snake, etc. Water from the Pambar river then flows down to the second stage before it falls as the main waterfall. Tourists can also visit a nearby temple dedicated to Goddess Thadagai Nachiamman. The temple is believed to be 500 years old. The Sirumalai amusement park is seven kilometers from the falls.

Tiruchirapalli (320 kilometers south of Chennai and 155 kilometers north-northeast of Madurai) features an impressive rock fort built atop a steep boulder-like rock hill. On top of the hill are several temples, caves and bronze and granite statues. About 10 kilometers outside the city is Vaishnavite temple, a spectacular 13th century structure with 21 towers and surrounded by seven walls.

Kodaikanal

Kodaikanal (120 kilometers drive west-northwest of Mandura) is a quiet hill station located at an elevation of 7,500 feet in the Palni Hills of Tamil Nadu. Known to may people simply as Kodai, it is relatively small and usually pretty quiet except in the height of the tourist season from April to June, when middle class Indian families are brought in by the busload. Many of the full time residents are associated with the famous Kodaikanal International School. Many of the foreign visitors are backpackers drawn by cheap lodging, cheap cotton clothing at the outdoor markets and friendly atmosphere.

Kodaikanal was the only hill station founded by Americans — by Congregationalist missionaries in 1845. It differs from its British counterpart in that it was strongly egalitarian. Missionaries built the town and dominated the social life. The British presence was minimal. Today, monkeys roam around and horses, bicycles and boats can be rented. Kodaikanal is reached by the winding Law's Ghat Road. The vegetation changes as once climbs from the plains. For information on Kodaikanal’s history read Barbara Crossete's “Great Hill Stations of Asia.”

Kodaikanal literally means “the gift of the One of the most popular tourist retreats of South India, Kodaikanal is blessed with trekking routes, pristine waterfalls, serene lakes, ancient caves, exquisite temples and grand churches. Its densely wooded jungles and lush green valleys make it a perfect spot for all. Kodaikanal was developed into a retreat by missionaries in the mid-19th century. Nestled in the Palani Hills of the Western Ghats, Kodaikanal is also famous for the kurinji plant, whose lilac-blue blossoms grow once in every twelve years.

Sights include a star-shaped lake, a cone-shaped mountain, silver cascade falls, three boulders eroded from a cliff, solar-physical laboratory, Shengaganur Museum, Pillar Rocks, Green Valley View, Coaker's Walk and the gold course. The two most popular lakes in Kodaikanal are the Berijam Lake and the Kodai Lake. The former set amidst nature. The latter offers boating opportunities and pony rides. Hiking and trekking destinations include Pillar Rocks and the Dolphin Rocks. Kurinji Andavar Murugan Temple, dedicated to Lord Murugan, is the most famous site of Kodaikanal. The temple also offers great views of the Palani and Vaigai dams. The picturesque Byrant Park is another attraction. The waterfalls of Kodaikanal include Silver Cascade Falls, Bear Shola Falls, Pambar falls and Thalaiyar Falls. The La Saleth Church and the Christ the King Church are sure to leave you smitten by their old world charm.

Rameswaram

Rameswaram (175 kilometers east-southeast of Madurai) is an island immortalized by the Hindu epic Ramayana. Every devotee who visits Varanasi is also expected to visit this place to gain the full fruit of his prayers. There are some beautiful temples here and a pearl culture project run by the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Development Corporation, where pearls can be purchased at cheap prices.

Nestled in Pamban Island that is shaped like a conch, Rameswaram, in Tamil Nadu, is a quaint town that is connected to the Indian mainland by the two-kilometer-long Pamban bridge. Drawing thousands of pilgrims every year, Rameswaram is renowned for Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Speckled with a number of other religious sites, this quiet town is an ideal spiritual retreat.

Rameswaram is heavily associated with the stories of Lord Rama, who left the Indian mainland to rescue his wife, Goddess Sita, from the clutches of Ravana, who had taken her to Sri Lanka. Near Rameswaram lies Dhanushkodi that has been endowed with magical natural beauty. Flanked by the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, Dhanushkodi is an explorer's delight.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is in Madurai, around 160 kilometers away. By Road: The town is well-connected with good roads. By Train: Rameswaram Railway Station is located on the Rameswaram island in Ramnad district of Tamil Nadu.

Sights in Rameswaram

Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple is the most popular attraction of Rameswaram and attract pilgrims from all over India. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it houses one of the 12 jyotirlingas (special devotional shrines of Lord Shiva). The word 'Ramanathaswamy' means the master of Rama and refers to Lord Shiva, to whom Lord Rama prayed before setting for his journey towards Lanka to save Goddess Sita from the clutches of Ravana. The architecture of the temple is noted for its intricate carvings, majestic towers and lavish corridors, which are lined with imposing sculptured pillars. There are as many as 1,212 pillars in the temple. The temple has 22 theerthams or sacred baths, in which, according to belief, taking a dip washes away one's sins. The temple is open everyday of the week from 5:00am to 1:00pm and then from 3:00pm to 9:00pm.

Pamban Bridge was constructed by the British during the early 20th century. India's first sea bridge, it stands on concrete pillars and links the town with mainland India. The most fascinating sight one can witness is the opening of the bridge from its middle part to make way for huge ships and barges to pass through. Tourists visiting the bridge can also head to Pamban Beach, where you can snorkel or take a trip in a glass boat.

Dhanushkodi is flanked by the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other., Dhanushkodi is an explorer's delight. A gorgeous town with abundant natural beauty, Dhanushkodi is noted for water sports adventures like surfing. For bird lovers, Dhanushkodi is an absolute haven as migratory birds from countries like Australia arrive here every year. The seashores of Dhanushkodi are speckled with rare variety of shells, which make great souvenirs for visitors. Dhanushkodi is rooted in spirituality and mythology and is believed to be the place where Lord Rama had ordered Lord Hanuman to build a bridge that could carry his army across to Sri Lanka, where Ravana had taken Goddess Sita. To reach Dhanushkodi, tourists need to cross over to the Pamban Island from the mainland. The best way of doing so is by taking a train through the popular Pamban Bridge.

Kanyakumari

Kanyakumari is located at the southernmost tip of India where the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea all meet. Hindus come here to take a ritual bath in the same waters where Mahatma Gandhi's ashes were scattered. The Bay of Bengal meets the Arabian Sea at Cape Comorin, the only place in India where you can watch the sun set on one sea and the moon rise on another. On of the offshore rock near Kanyakumari, a swami meditated alone for several weeks until he was inspired to start a mission.

Kanyakumari lies on the southern tip of the Indian peninsula's 'V'. Ensconced in the southern fringes of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, it attracts many people when the sunset-moonrise is happening. As the burning orb of sun dips into the sea, painting the sky in myriad hues of red and orange, the moon makes a silvery ascent on the other side. This ethereal phenomenon can be witnessed on a full moon night and is bigger and more special in the months of April-May, when the moon and the sun face each other on the same horizon.

A large number of visitors come in Kanyakumari for its pristine and beautiful beaches. The locals relish seafood delicacies though South India dishes like dosas, idlis, vadas and utthapams are equally popular. A popular center for art, culture and religion, the city holds many names, like Cape Comorin, Kumari Munai and Kumari. Kanyakumari was ruled by the Cholas, the Nayaks, the Pandyas and the Cheras.

Kanyakumari Temple is picturesquely located overlooking the sea. dedicated to Parasakthi, the virgin goddess, it attracts pilgrims from all over India. Vivekananda Rock Memorial , on a rocky island 200 meters from the shoreline, is where a great swami by the same name mediated for several week in 1892 (there are ferries every 30 minutes to the island). The Gandhi Memorial is situated near a temple where that Mahatma's ashes are on display.

Vattakottai is an 18th-century seaside circular fort made of granite blocks. Many years ago, when the area was quite clear, observers could see up to the Padmanabhapuram Palace from here. A 4-ft-wide and 25-kilometer-long tunnel is said to have once existed between the fort and the palace. The architecture additions of the fort are reminiscent of the rule of the Pandyas (4th to 16th century), especially the fish motifs engraved on the walls. Overlooking the Arabian Sea on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other, is the raised parade ground. Sometime back, the archaeology department also conducted a renovation exercise here. One of the most interesting features is a beach of black sand near the fort as well as a small river that joins the sea on one side of the fort.

Getting There: 705 kilometers south of Chennai (Madras) By Air: Thiruvananthapuram, 87 kilometers away, is the nearest airport and connected to all major Indian cities. By Road: All major cities are connected with good highways in Kanyakumari. By Train: The rail head at Kanyakumari is well-connected to all cities and states of India.

Sights in the Kanyakumari Area

Places of Interest Near Kayakuami include Nagarcoil (20 kilometers), a town with a Chinese-style Hindu temple with ornate pillars; 18th century Vattakoatttai Fort (eight kilometers), with a wonderful view of the sea; 18th century Udayagiri Fort (34 kilometers); Thirupparappu Waterfall (60 kilometers); Thiruvattar (60 kilometers), a town with a Shiva temple with fine Kerala architecture and beautiful paintings; Muttam (32 kilometers), a fine beach with a lighthouse and Tiruchendurm a beautiful Hindu temple on the shore, which attracts pilgrims who take a bath in a fresh water well on the temple grounds.

Adam’s Bridge is a chain of sandbars and islands that almost connect Sri Lanka with India. According to the great Hindu text The Ramayana a bridge was built by the army of monkeys under the monkey god Hanuman to Lanka to allow Lord Rama to cross to Lanka to rescue his abducted wife Sita. When Rama and Sita and their loyal followers traveled home, to the Kingdom of Ayodhya in northern India they crossed the bridge. When they got to the other side, the bridge dropped down under the sea, leaving only a trail of rocks. The bridge is as holy to Hindus as the Wailing Wall is to the Jews, the Vatican to Catholics, Bodh Gaya to Buddhists and Mecca to Muslims, A 50 -kilometer string of limestone shoals, known as Ram Sethu, helped protected large parts of India from the 2004 tsunami.

The bridge is believed by some to have been passable on foot as recently as the 15th century. In 2002, Hindu nationalists cited NASA satellite photographs of the shoals as evidence that the events described in the Ramayana really took place. In 2007, a panel of Indian scientists concluded that the bridge was “a geological formation, which took place about 17 million years ago”. That year Hindu nationalists complained about dredging in the area. At least one Hindu leader suggested that the bridge is being protected by Lord Hanuman, the monkey god after a mysterious series of accidents that included the sinking of a dredging vessel called ‘Duck’ and the breaking of a spud on the replacement vessel. Another ship was then sent to retrieve the spud, but its crane snapped and crashed into the sea.[Source: R. Gledhill & J. Page, The Times of London, April 5, 2007]

Courtallam (140 kilometers from Kanyakumari) has nine waterfall believed to have medicinal properties as they run through a forest with herbs and healing plants. The temples in the area are decorated with inscriptions and paintings depicting rural deities and devotees and Puranic stories and religious events.

Padmanabhapuram Palace

Padmanabhapuram Palace (in Thuckalay, 40 kilometers northwest of Kanyakumari, 16 kilometers from Nagercoil and 64 kilometers from Thiruvananthapuram) is an extraordinary teak-and-rosewood mansion built by Maharajah Marthanda. Set among flowers and trees and used between 1550 and 1790, it has granite and bronze pillars, 17th and 18th century murals, blinds that allow you to look out without being seen, Belgian mirrors, intricate carvings and paintings on ceilings, rosewood and teakwood carvings, huge earthen urns, colored mica on windows and a marble-like floor made of coconut shells, charcoal and egg whites.

Padmanabhapuram Palace comprises a magnificent set of wooden structures and served as the seat of the rulers of Travancore. The Maharajah had three bedrooms: one for sex with his numerous wive and concubines, one for sleeping; and another for fasting and praying. In the fasting room is an exquisitely carved bed made of woods with medicinal qualities. About 13 miles away is Sucheedndram Temple, a religious shrine honoring Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu with intricate stone carvings and musical pillars. The artworks can be found in dance halls, queen mother’s palace, museums, council chambers, dining halls, inner courtyards and king’s rooms.

The palace can be accessed from the western side after walking through a big courtyard. Known as Manthrasala, the council chamber is the best part of the palace. It has colored mica windows and floors with an immaculate finish, including its floor, which had a glass finish made with a combination of lime, coconut, river sand, egg white, lime and jaggery. The Queen Mother’s Palace, known as Thai Kottaram, is the oldest part of the palace that was built in 1550 in Kerala style of architecture. It has over 90 different types of floral motifs painted and carved on the ceilings. One of the latest additions to the palace is the audience hall, built between 1829 and 1846. The dining hall can accommodate over 1,000 people.

A four-storeyed building stands at the heart of the palace complex. It has a king’s room, royal treasury, king’s bedroom with a four-poster medicinal bed, which was built with 64 varieties of wood with healing properties. The fourth floor or upparikka malika has a meditation hall as well as the royal shrine, the walls of which are adorned with scenes from the Puranas as well as 18th-century murals. A secret passage was also constructed in the palace premises to take the royals to safety, in case of an attack or assault. Known as Thekee Kottaram, the southern palace houses an archaeological museum, which boasts furniture, copper plates, wooden sculptures, granite sculptures, ancient armaments and more from the era gone by. Open everyday except Mondays between 9:00am and 4.40pm as well as national holidays, the palace expects the visitors to leave their footwear outside the premises, in order to maintain the polish of the floors.

Padmanabhapuram Palace: UNESCO-Nominated Site

Padmanabhapuram Palace was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Padmanabhapuram Palaceis a remarkable 16th Century wood palace of the Maharajas of Travancore (1550 to 1750) in Kerala. Replete with intricate wood carvings and ornate murals, the Palace is an exceptional example of indigenous building techniques and craftsmanship in wood, a style unparalleled in the world and based on historic building system, Taccusastra (the science of carpentry) unique to this region. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“Padmanabhapuram was the ancient capital of the Travancore (Venad or southern region of Kerala State, India) State from about 1555 to the latter half of the 18th Century. The region of ancient Travancore, extended from Marthandom (in present day TamilNadu State) in the South to Cochin (in Kerala State) territory in the North, covering an area of 2600sq.km. This land is rich in timber and traditionally all constructions were done in wood, with laterite stone used very minimally for plinths and selected walls. The roof structure would be constructed in timber, covered with thatch and subsequently clay tiles camein use. The region is characterised by superior quality of building skills and great craftsmanship in timber pertaining to the southern regional style. Constructed primarily of wood, these buildings were erected with relatively strict adherence to the canons of Taccusastra which were formulated over the years of experience obtained in building construction crystallised into a number of formulae, governing proportions, dimensions, orientation, location and procedures, thus creating a genetic code for timber architecture.

“The 6.5 acres of the Padmanabhapuram Palace complex is set within a fort of 185 acres located strategically at the foot hills of Veli hills, Western Ghats. It is located 52 kilometers from the capital city of Trivandrum, Kerala State and 2 kilometers east of Thuckalay, Tamil Nadu State. According to the state reorganization settlement in 1956, the 6.5 acres of Padmanabhapuram Palace complex was retained under the custodianship of the Kerala Government. The Palace is a Protected Monument of the Department of Archaeology, State Govt. of Kerala.

“The Palace structure is constructed out of wood with laterite (locally available building stone) used very minimally for plinths and for a few select walls. The roof structure is constructed out of timber, covered with clay tiles. The Palace was the oldest seat of power of Travancore, the princely kingdom of Kerala. The palace complex, spread around an area of 6.5 acres, consists of a number of function specific independent structures that were built between 1590’s to early 1800’s.

“The fourteen purposes denoted structures include Kottarams (Palaces), Pura (House or structure), Malikas (Mansions), Vilasams (Mansions) and Mandapams (large Halls). These are1. Poomukam(reception hall) 2.PlamootilKottaram (living quarters) 3.VeppinmooduKottaram(living quarters) 4.ThaiKottaram(oldest palace) 5.Uttupura (kitchen and dining hall) 6.Homappura (rituals and prayer hall) 7.UppirikkaMalika (multi-storeyed building) 8. Ayuddhapura (armoury house) 9.Chandravilasam(entertainment hall) 10.IndraVilasam(entertainment hall) 11.NavarathriMandapam(dance hall) 12. LekshmiVilasam (mansion) 13. ThekkeKottaram (palace) 14. Padipura (Entrance porch) and other smaller ancillary buildings.”

“The Padmanabhapuram palace complex is a masterpiece showcasing the peak of excellence in traditional timber architecture in South India, which is a well-documented process and unparalleled in the world for its design, craftsmanship and motifs. The structural detailing, austere ambience, exquisite carvings, extraordinary murals and several unique features bear exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition that may disappear fast from the region due to modern changes in building technology.

“In 1993, a Museum building was set up in the Southwest corner of this Palace complex, and houses numerous invaluable stone inscriptions and copper plate inscriptions, sculptures in wood and stone, armoury, coins, paintings, and household objects pertaining to the history and heritage of the region. The Thekkekkottaram structurewithin the Palace complex houses a Heritage Museum, with a display of household articles and utensils, showcasing life and living of a bygone generation in Kerala society.”

“Padmanabhapuram Palace showcases the unique features and building methods using locally available material as prescribed in the Taccusastra (science of `taccu’ or carpentry), a unique school of traditional timber architecture that evolved out of the Hindu religious and astrological principles and established a series of canons specifically for the region of Kerala. One of the structures in the Palace is an outstanding example of the Mural art form. Although murals are showcased in many of the temples and palaces of the state (its period ranges from 8th to the 19th century) the murals at Padmanabhapuram are exceptional. Besides the depiction of scenes and characters from Hindu mythologies, there are murals also on secular themes which reflect the socio political conditions, fashions and customs of the times.”

Features of Padmanabhapuram Palace

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Padmanabhapuram Palace is the oldest, largest and well preserved surviving example representative of the traditional wooden architecture in India. The Palace is a product of the fusion of traditional building technology, exquisite craftsmanship and superior knowledge of material science. The Palace bears living testimony of traditional timber architecture with strict adherence to the traditional building code, the Taccusastra, which has clear prescription for every aspect of a structures function and placement, direction, size and design, including specifications for the layout of designated spaces within individual structures. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The 14 different features including palaces and other ancillary structures were gradual additions to the initial Thai Kottaram or Mother Palace. The later additions showcase the changing styles in architecture with the influence of the Portuguese and the Dutch. The uniformity of style is maintained throughout, while variety is achieved in differences in the details of decorative motifs. The murals on the four walls of the topmost 3rdfloor of the multi-storeyed building or the Uppirikkamalika of this magnificent palace display the stylistics of the 17th and 18th century architecture of Kerala. The murals at the Padmanabhapuram palace are the best preserved in the State and are executed in the traditional style invoking rich and vivid realism and infusing grace and beauty of the figures.

“The carved doors and pillars, the arching wooden grills along the veranda, the exquisitely carved brackets supporting the veranda, are some of the architectural features characteristic of this regional style resplendent at Padmanabhapuram. Special features like the large Bay Window called AmbariMukhappu (or the Howdah shaped window), supported by elaborately carved Vyala figures (a Hindu mythical creature), the remnants of the semi-transparent shell decorations of the windows, later restored with colored mica, the Manimalika or the clock tower, of which the movement is regulated by weights are some of the unique features of the Palace.

“The Thai Kottaram, the first structure to come up in this palace complex is a double storied traditional nalukettu structure (a house with a central courtyard open to the sky, with rooms on all four sides), with a mortar-less chiselled granite base, timber superstructure and steeply sloping timber roof covered with terracotta roof tiles. The imposing Padipura or Main Gate, display exquisite wood work and leads to the Poomukham or the main reception with traditional gabled entrance and ornamentations. The wooden ceilings and carved granite pillars with floriated corbels are samples of excellent craftsmanship. The Mantrasala or the Council Chamber on the first floor of the reception hall has features like wooden louvers to admit air and light, that helps maintain a pleasant temperature indoors.

“The Uttupura or the Dining Hall, adjacent to the Council Chamber has two floors, measuring 72 x 9 meters each, large enough to accommodate 2000 people at a time on occasions of free feeding. The UppirikaMalika or the four-storeyed building, constructed in 1750, includes the treasury chamber on the first floor, Maharaja’s resting room on the second floor, and the revered prayer room on the third floor the walls of which are replete with traditional mural art work, so specific to Kerala.A long corridor leads to the Indravilasam Palace, constructed in the 18th century for the reception of foreign delegates. More recently this long corridor was enlivened with the installation of historical paintings depicting important epochs in the life of Travancore king Martanda Varma.The Tekkekkottaram (literally `the palace in the south’) is the most attractive building in the Palace Complex, with elaborately carved wooden pillars, doors beams and ceilings.

“Interestingly, the marvellously sculpted granite structures of the Navarathri Mandapam (Dance hall) and the Saraswathy Temple, constructed in 1744, with decorated pillars and graceful figurines is in stark contrast to the simplicity of the rest of the wooden structures in the Palace complex. These are reminiscent of Vijayanagara style (14th – 17th century, Karnataka) of architecture. The flat sloping ceiling of closely fitted single piece granite cross beams supported by monolithic pillars is not common to this region.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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