The ancient city of Madurai of Tamil Nadu is home to numerous temples and other historical buildings of significance. The magnificent Thirumalai Nayak Mahal is one such place of ethereal beauty that you cannot afford to miss when visiting the city. This 17nth century palace was erected in 1636 by the then reigning King Thirumalai Nayak, of the Nayak dynasty. The building seen today is just the part where the king resided while the original structure was at least four times bigger. This palace is located about 2km north-east of the Meenakshi temple and in its heydays, was considered as one of the wonders of Southern India.
The design of this incredible palace is a fusion of classic Dravidian and Islamic styles with intricately carved arches over massive circular pillars, giving it an awe-inspiring look. It is believed that the king hired the services of an Italian architect to assist in the palace design. Though the outer structure looks austere, the internal structure is mind-blowing with its intricate carvings and moldings; the colorful mosaic works on the ceilings are mesmerizing to the onlooker while the richness of the grandiose halls carry you back into the medieval times and you can almost hear the tinkling of anklets as the dancers performed in the kings court. These courts resounded with the music of song and dance on a daily basis.
The grandson of the king is believed to have plundered the palace and removed most of the embedded jewels and wooden carvings to be added to his own palace in Trichy. Over the span of last 400 years and numerous wars and other factors, what remains of the original magnificent structure are the Celestial Pavilion or ‘Svarga Vilasam’ and a few other adjoining buildings. What remains today in its earlier glory are the Entrance Gate, The Main Hall and the Dance Hall. The Main Hall or the throne-room where the king kept court is vast with about 12m high arcades and huge stucco pillars of astounding heights. The domes had gold finials earlier and are on both sides of the courtyard. The entire structure is coated with an egg white and shell lime mix that keeps it smooth and gleaming magically even today.
The Governor of Madras, Lord Napier partially restored the palace in 1866-72 and subsequent renovation in modern times have served to prolong the life of this once prestigious building and serve as a living memento to this great piece of history! It has been declared as a National Monument and many movies have been filmed in this magnificent edifice.
Come visit Madurai, lodge into any of its heritage hotels and roam around its streets soaking in the magnificent history of this ancient city!