THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kowdiar Palace, where the erstwhile King of Travancore lived, is an architectural marvel lying on a patch of greenery amid the city’s concrete jungle. The palace was earlier called Kowdiar Kunnu palace. However, during the years that followed the word “kunnu” somehow disappeared from the name.
“The Padmanabhaswamy temple was surrounded by forests and low-lying areas until the 17th century. People from various cultures lived in these forests and relied on the wild, hilly areas to make a living. Bhoomi (Earth) was divided into five strata: kuram (settlements in hilly regions, and people who live there are known as kuravar), maravu (barren hills with no vegetation), pulla (comprises forest areas), maritham (farming areas with rich soil), and coastal area,” says Vellanadu Ramachandran, historian and author.
Members from the Kurava tribe used to perform ‘pooja’ at the Kaavu. The chieftain who lead the prayer was called “kaavinte adiyaar” or “kaa-va-di-yar. Kowdiar is believed to be a settlement of the Kurava tribal people long back. Though after the 18th century, a Tamil Brahmin settlement developed there. Then, how come the royals took over the “kunnu” where the Tamil Brahmins were living?
Aswathi Thirunal Marthandavarma, the nephew of the then-ruler Sree Moolam Thirunal was the first Travancore royal to complete his BA in “photography,” a new invention at the time. Thampuran from Madras was affectionately known as “The Photographer Thampuran.” Ashwathi Thirunal approached a Tamil brahmin called “Appadurai Iyer” who was living in a small house here in Kowdiar Kunnu to learn Sanskrit, English, and Tamil.
The nature lover, who was impressed with the area, sought the assistance of his uncle Moolam Thirunal and purchased the property from AppaduraiI Iyer. In return, Appadurai Iyer was given vast tracts of land in Nedumangad. He was also nominated as the representative in the Sree Moolam Popular Assembly and was given the title “rajavu of Nedumangad.”
However, this prince did not have the good fortune to live there. He died unexpectedly due to chicken pox. “That was how the royals gained control of this location,” said Ramachandran. Later, Maharaja Chithira Thirunal, the last ruling king of Travancore and the son of Rani Sethu Parvathi Bhai rebuilt the two-story building into an amazing palace with more than 150 rooms.
He also installed the first elevator in Thiruvananthapuram. The place is still restricted to the public because the members of the erstwhile royal family still live here. The palace was built using a combination of Dutch Vasthu principles and Kerala’s traditional architecture. It was built on a 100-acre plot of land on a hilltop 300 metres above sea level. The first auspicious event that took place in this palace was the Pallikettu (wedding) of Sree Chithira Thirunal’s only sister, Karthika Thirunal Lakshmi Bai.