Ancient forts and palaces are often considered to be portholes for travelling back in time. Standing strong since centuries, they take us on a visual expedition through the many journeys that have shaped history.
During a recent trip to Kerala, we decided to explore the lesser-known palaces of the Kingdom of Travancore. These palaces do not seem massive at first sight. However, they have several sections that spread out across acres of grounds. We get to see a cluster of smaller single or double-storeyed structures with gabled and tiled roofs. The architectural brilliance of the place, is reflected through intricate carvings and functionality of layout. Several centuries old, each palace tells the story of the kingdom and its relations with other kingdoms within and outside India.
Kuthiramalika (150+ years old): Literally meaning the horse palace, it derives its name from the 122 smiling horse heads – visible from the palace’s main entrance – carved into the beams that support the roof. Built in the 1840s by the then Maharaja of Travancore, Swathi Thirunal Balarama Varma, the palace is situated near the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Given that you have adhered to the dress code of the temple, you can club your visit to both the places.
Also called Puthen Malika, the palace’s architecture boasts of the use of rosewood, teakwood, marble and granite. While visiting the interiors, you’re not allowed to wear footwear. So, it is hard to miss the glossy smoothness of some sections of the floor. The reason behind it is the use of a mixture made of egg whites, charcoal, and limestone, which keeps the floor cool even on hot days.
The well-trained guides here take you on a systematic journey explaining to you the many sections of the palace. It is truly a travel back in time as we see the thrones, the ivory cradles, the palanquins, the arms and other artefacts, once used by the royals.
Koyikkal Palace (300+ years old): Also known as Nedumangad Valiya Koyikkal Palace, it was the royal headquarters of the Perakam dynasty. It was built in the 16th century for Queen Umayamma of the Venad Royal Family. Currently, the Kerala State Department of Archaeology is the custodian of the palace and maintains the Folklore and Numismatic museums inside the property. The former has a huge collection of ancient artefacts that played a vital role in the day-to-day activities of common people as well as the royals. One can see the rare chandravalayam, the small percussion instrument played while reciting the ballad of Lord Rama, here. The latter has an exhaustive collection of coins and is a must-visit for those who collect them. The coins on display here reflect the ancient kingdom’s trade relations with the Roman and Venetian dynasties, among others. Apart from guides, there are kiosks that tell you all about palace’s history.
Kilimanoor Palace (300+ years old): The trip to Kilimanoor Palace, famous for being the birthplace of Raja Ravi Varma (RRV), was filled with surprises. To begin with, we couldn’t spot a single tourist, and it was eerily quiet, except for the distant sounds of someone practising Carnaticvocals. The palace was devoid of any signs or guardsmen, too. Past the imposing gate, called padippura, we found the source of the Carnatic music — a guru and shishya with a harmonium placed at the centre. The room turned out to be the former studio of RRV. Now, it was filled with his paintings and a lamp was lit in his honour, below a massive picture of him at thefarthest end. The guru introduced himself as Rama Varma Thamburan, the sixth descendant of RRV, and apologised that he won’t be able to let us in for “it was private property”. However, as soon as he got to know that we had come from out of state, he showed us the palace grounds and explained the architecture. It resembled most of Kerala’s residential homes from that era, adhering to the ‘nalukettu’, meaning beyond the imposing arch or the main gate, there were clusters of small and medium-sized houses, two ponds, wells, and sacred groves (kaavu). We were denied entry to the sacred forest, but we could witness the exterior architecture — there was a blue French-inspired building, commissioned by RRV, which clearly stood out — the ancient wooden carvings, and paintings. We also got to see one of the two ponds, which in a surreal manner seemed to reflect the stillness of time.