Kerala is known for its magnificent constructions that echo their history and also the precision of Vaastu Shastra. Especially stunning are their palaces that are glorious reminders of Kerala’s exquisite architecture during the King's rule. There are many palaces that still store some of these priceless artefacts. And today most of them have been converted into tourist destinations. Poonjar Palace is one such historically significant construction. Poonjar dynasty was one of the royal dynasties in medieval Kerala and their descendants are said to be the Pandya kings of Madurai. History records Pandya King, Manavikrama Kulasekara as the sole founder of the dynasty. It was a minor principality in the central Travancore region which covered the parts of present-day Dindigul, Cumbum, Kudallor, Bodinayakkanur, Vandiperiyar, Peerumedu and Kannan Devan hills.
The history behind the temple
It is said that in 1157 CE, Kulothunga Chola, a famed Chola king challenged the Pandya King Manavikrama Kulasekara Perumal, for a battle. But he was defeated on the second attempt. This was why Manavikrama appointed his brother Maravarman Sreebhallava as the Raja of Pandya kingdom and left Madurai with his family and some trusted servants. He is said to have settled in Gudaloor region with his family and administered from there. When he came to know about the availability of land at cheap rates in Kerala, he shifted to Thekumkoor. He also carried with him the idols of Madhura Meenakshi, their tutelary deity, and Lord Shiva, which was used in the chariot festival in Madurai Meenakshi temple. These idols were later installed in the Poonjar Meenakshi temple on the banks of Meenachil river.
From Kottayam, if you take the Erattupetta-Pala route, you will reach this six-century old palace called Poonjar Palace. The Vaastu construction is reminiscent of the ancient Chera-Pandya royal architecture. They have procured the best of wood from the forests of Idukki to make most of the palace. The furniture made of teak and rosewood is still there. They have also used Granite, Laterite tiles, and clay tiles.
The palace has been designed like a temple-style architecture. There is a temple inside the temple that has been made according to the Vaastu shastra. At various corners of the palace, there are various statues of Hindu Goddesses. Inside the palace, you can also find a museum, which contains the various artifacts used by the Kings, besides statues and ancient bronze lamps. The King’s palanquin, the ayurvedic oil massage table, bronze lamps, ornament boxes, little objects made of palm leaves, and rice boxes are all preserved here. A conch shell used in the temple, Nataraja statue, and vintage war armory can also be found here.
Inside the Poonjar palace, there is a temple that is remarkably similar to the Madhura Meenakshi temple. A lot of mythological stories are inscribed on the walls of the temple. The temple lamps done in stone are a stunning sight. The Dharmashastra temple in Poonjar, the Ganapati temple in Nayaatupara, Nadakkal Bhagavathy temple, Saraswathi Devi temple, Mangombu Dharma Shastra temple, they are all created by the King’s ancestors. The palace is under the care of the Kerala archeological department. They are preserving it like a heritage.
The royal family has many prominent members. Most notable among them is Col. GV Raja who is considered as the most eminent promoter of sports in Kerala and the first person to identify the potential of developing the state into a hub of tourism. Recently a statue was unveiled of his older brother PR Rama Varma Raja a prolific personality who during his lifetime was based in Alakode, Kerala. Then there was the late P Kerala Varma, a change-maker, social activist, and tantric scholar who stood for elections multiple times and even against the late chief minister K Karunakaran in 1998.
Kerala’s glorious palaces
Thevally Palace: This popular heritage building which was said to be the abode of Travancore King, is located 25 km from Kollam. You can reach the palace through a houseboat that ferries you through the Ashtamudi lake. This palace built during the early 1800s, also when Gauri Parvathi Bhai was ruling, was said to be the meeting place between the Kings and British officials. The stunning architecture is said to be a blend of British, Dutch, and Portuguese styles and also attests to the erstwhile glory of the princely reign. The palace made of lime plaster and laterite is located on the banks of the lake. There is a beautiful little temple near the palace premises, dedicated to Shashta deity.
Krishnapuram Palace: One of the finest and rarest monuments of vintage Kerala architecture, it has gabled roofs, narrow corridors, and dormer windows. Though the actual age of the Palace remains a mystery, the Krishnapuram Palace residents were the rulers of the Kayamkulam kingdom. It was restored during the 18th Century and is a protected monument under the Archaeology Department. Recently it was again renovated according to scientific procedures prescribed for the protection of heritage buildings. The palace is an archaeological museum today, and the most fascinating exhibit here is the 49 sq. m Gajendra Moksha, the largest single band of mural paintings so far discovered in Kerala. This mural was placed at the entrance to the palace from the pond to enable the rajas to worship the deity after their bath. Other attractions here are the beautifully landscaped garden in the palace compound where you have a variety of flora typical of Kerala, and a newly erected Buddha ‘mandapam’, where a recently recovered statue of the Buddha is housed. Other collections at the museum include rare antique bronze sculptures and paintings.
Koyikkal Palace: This Palace was built for Umayamma Rani of the Venad Royal Family in the mid-1600s. Today, it is well known as a Folklore Museum and a Numismatics (the study or collection of coins, banknotes, and medals) Museum. Their unique antique collection provides valuable insights into the history of Kerala. The palace is a double-storied structure with distinct gabled roofs. The Folklore Museum was set up in 1992 and consists of musical instruments, household utensils and models of folk arts, among others. Nowhere else in the state can you see Chandravalayam, which is a small percussion instrument made of iron and parchment played while reciting the ballad of Lord Rama (Ramakatha pattu). The musical instrument is known as Chandra Pirai in Tamil Nadu and is widely used in Mariamman temples. Chandra means moon and the instrument gets its name from the crescent shape like the moon. The crescent-shaped iron rim is attached to a bent iron strip by a small iron rod. One face is covered with skin. Bent part is tied on the forehead and played with two sticks, along with its pair called Suryavalayam. The instrument is used as an accompaniment instrument during Nadaswaram Kacheri. There are old manuscripts along with ornaments and decor items used by the erstwhile Royal family. At the Numismatic Museum, one can view some rare collections of coins as well as get some visions into Kerala’s trade relations of the past with other countries. Some of the oldest coins of the state like Ottaputhen, Erattaputhen and Kaliyugarayan Panam can be found here. A rare coin presented to Jesus Christ himself, Amaida, is also found here. Karsha coins (2500 years old), Rasi coins (the smallest in the world), which belonged to the Roman Empire and those used by different dynasties across India, can be seen here.