First of all I must apologise for the lack of posts over the last few weeks. Initially there was the problem with my being denied access, then came a major computer failure which has taken a couple of weeks to sort out – not ideal in the middle of high season with lots of guests and needing to access bookings and invoices! Suffice to say though, we now seem to be back in action (I hope it lasts!) and I can again let you know a little more about life here in Tamil Nadu.
As part of their stay with us some guests like to join one of our excursions. Recently this involved taking a guest to visit the city of Madurai where, apart from the temple, it is also possible to visit the Thirumalai Nayak Palace.
This palace was built in 1636 AD by King Thirumalai Nayak and is a mixture of classic Dravidian Indian and Islamic styles which gives it a feeling not unlike that of some of the old Islamic buildings in Moorish Spain.
At the time of Thirumalai the Nayak kingdom was often visited by traders and missionaries from Europe and it is thought that the king hired an Italian architect to help design and build his palace.
The palace was originally four times the size of that which remains today and was the main ‘home’ for the king and his family. Over the 400 years of its history it has been subjected to destruction by war as well as the ravages of time; there was even a period when it was used as a garrison with granaries, storehouses and an arsenal by the East India Company. There is sufficient of the Palace left, however, to give a feeling of what a magnificent place this would have been in its heyday.
There is now only the large enclosed courtyard (3,700 square meters) and a few surrounding buildings remaining including the Syatga Vilasam (audience chamber) which is a huge hall supported by pillars 12m high and holding a museum of local artefacts.
The Swarga Vilasam at the end of the courtyard was the throne- room. It is a beautiful octagonal area surrounded by Islamic arches and capped with a dome 20 meters high supported by massive columns and arches which lead to an arcaded gallery overlooking the courtyard.
The palace was constructed in brick and finished with a local type of stucco called chunnam which is a mixture of lime and egg white that gives a smooth, glossy texture. The style is very photogenic, and although the paintwork is ‘tired’ in places anyone who loves photography will enjoy the opportunities presented by the columns, arches, ceilings and changing light patterns.
After Independence the Palace was declared a national monument and is cared for by the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department who run evening light and sound shows telling the history of Madurai (one showing in Tamil and a later showing in English).
Some people say that there is little to see at the palace and spend only a short time there but for me, and my camera, it is a splendid window on the history of Madurai with its mixture of Dravidian, Muslim and European influences.
I would recommend a stop there if you are ever in the area!