KOCHI: Hill Palace or the Kanakakunnu Palace, the royal seat of the erstwhile Cochin kingdom, is an architectural wonder that stands majestically towering over 55 acres, just a few kilometres away from the city centre. Known to be the largest heritage museum in Kerala, it has many tales to share —- mostly of heritage and humility.
The palace was built around 150 years ago, says Rameshan Thampuran, a member of the royal family. “However, I don’t think any of the kings occupied it until 1915. Rama Verma XVI, often referred to as ‘Madrasil theepetta thampuran’ (king who died in Madras), was probably the first to reside there. Before that, the complex housed many administrative offices. Later, the last king, Rama Varma Parikshith Kunjunni Thampuran, stayed here till his death in 1964,” he says.
The Cochin royalty, according to historians, was known for its humility. In 1949, when the grand national integration was proceeding under Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Cochin king (Kunjunni Thampuran) handed over all the royal properties to the government.
The only thing he requested for himself was an annual supply of Panchangam (Hindu almanac).
Though the family members were initially allowed to live at the palace, after the king’s death, they had to move out. “In the 1970s, the palace was occupied by the Cochin University of Science and Technology,” says Anujan S, another member of the royal family.
“At that time, I was studying at Engineering College, Thrissur, which was used to be under CUSAT. I attended my convocation at Hill Palace in 1981. Later, in the same year, the archaeology department took over the palace,” he says. “A Cochin king brought the property in the 18th century. The oldest structure here was built in about 1865 — the naalukettu (traditional housing structure with four blocks) near the kulappura (bathing area with a pond). This was the kulappura that appeared in the movie Manichitrathazhu.”
The Cochin kingdom used to rule from Kodungallur till the great floods of 14th century. Subsequently, the capital was shifted to Kochi. However, the royalty chose to reside in Thrissur. In 1865, Rama Verma XVI wanted to rule from Tripunithura, and an administrative building was constructed here. More structures were added later.
Most of the structures, except the naalukettu, display a blend of colonial and traditional styles. Today, the complex has about 49 structures, including archaeological and heritage museums, and a deer park.
Notably, in an auction held by the royal family members in late 1970s, the Kerala government bought the royal family’s crown, which was never worn by a king. With 69 emeralds, 95 diamonds and 244 rubies set in gold, the crown is truly exotic.
Said to be a gift of either the Portuguese or the Dutch, the crown is now displayed at the palace. Another prized artefact is a Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) made of goat skin. The galleries here also display the royal possessions such as thrones and weapons.