THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The banter on the busy street leading up to the main entrance of Padmanabha Swamy temple would not prepare you for the time warp on the wayside. The deceivingly simple, stone-paved walk way, fenced off from the unruly thicket growing on either side, takes you to a ‘padippura’, the traditional entrance in Kerala style architecture. The majestic Puthen Maliga, sprawled on the green environs and flaunting its huge stone pillars, takes you by surprise.
There is an enveloping sense of a symphony that grips you while on the premises of the palace. Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, the musician prince of erstwhile Travancore kingdom, was only in his late twenties when he ordered the palace to be built in the vicinity of the Padmanabha Swamy temple sometime during the 1840s. The pining soul, caught in the pandemonium of colonial intrusion, must have wished for a quiet communion with his beloved deity while shifting residence to the palace built on the south-eastern side of the temple.
The front portion of the palace has three projections akin to a ‘poomukham’ or verandah. Each is supplied with independent access to the insides of the palace. The famed ‘Swathi Sangeetholsavam’ is now held on one of these pentagon-shaped verandahs with audience seated in the courtyard. Above the verandah, one could spot the 122 horses carved into the wooden frame, lending the palace its alternative name, ‘Kuthira Malika’.
The palace had its makeover into a museum in the early 1990s under the guidance of Soorya Krishnamoorthy, who arranged part of the precious artifacts belonging to the palace for display. The crystal throne and the ivory throne used by Swathi Thirunal are displayed inside glass barricades. A metal tree that can produce the ‘sapta swaras’, the weapons seized from the Dutch army that Marthanda Varma defeated at Kulachal, antique pieces from Australia, China, Belgium and every other part of the world and much more are lined up inside the cool, naturally-air-conditioned mansion.
Of the 85 rooms that make up the palace, a meager 20 are open to visitors and the tour still takes nothing less than an hour. The miniature of Padmanabha Swamy temple carved in Italian marble, the Veena and Tampura that the King played on and the room from where the ‘gopuram’ of the temple is visible and where Swathi Thirunal is believed to have spent time composing ‘kirtanas’, would leave you feeling heavy at heart.
The 22 acres on which Kuthira Malika stands consist of Krishna Vilasam palace, Ranga vilasam palace and others structures built by later rulers. An art museum is due to come up at the Ranga Vilasam place in near future.
The palace is open to visitors from 8.30 am -1 pm and from 2pm – 4 pm and remains closed on Mondays.