Little fanfare is found upon arrival at the Thirumalai Nayaka Palace, located in the heart of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. The bustling city marches past in a daily routine just steps from the palace’s front entrance. Traffic choked roads are slowed to a crawl as tourist vehicles jockey for valuable parking spots as close to the ticket booth as possible. A popular bus stand is a meeting place for locals and backpackers who clog the sidewalk, loading, and unloading, making it difficult to pass by.
Once you edge your way beyond the crowd into the wide pathway leading to the massive palace doors, a quiet tone begins to quell the conversation of horns and people left behind on the street. The entrance is no more than a crack in the solid wood doors where one has to turn sideways to scoot through. This process is rather amusing compared to most, over-the-top procedures endured at various palaces across the country.
A once opulent palace, which won many admirers, still impresses the casual traveler. King Thirumalai Nayak built the structure in 1683 with the help of an Italian architect; the finished result was a classic example of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture and reportedly four times larger in size than what presently remains. The palace was divided into two major parts, named Swargavilasa and Rangavilasa. Today, only the courtyard of Swargavilasa (Heavenly Pavilion) and a few adjoining rooms greet tourists.
Large rounded wall columns bear the weight of ornately finished crown molding wrapping its way around the open-air courtyard. The former open space was used for various functions but now has been converted to seating for the nightly sound and light show.
The dance hall located next to the courtyard houses a display of archeological objects, some several centuries old. Oddly, these rare and seemingly priceless works are on full display with no lock or covered cabinet to protect from curious hands.
A partial restoration took place in the 19th century by then Governor of Madras, Lord Napier. Elements of his efforts still show in the richly painted ceilings and murals seen throughout the multiple rooms on display.
Some accounts state the palace is in disrepair, rotting, and just a shell of its former self. And while this may be true when held against the glory days of the Nayaka rule, this historical landmark is worth seeing.
Tourists should plan on a solid hour to properly explore the palace. Due to the long history, including the partial demolition by Thirumalai’s grandson, visitors would be smart to hire a guide. Pick up guides are available near the ticket booth for a nominal tip.
Entry fee Rs 50 + Rs 50 camera fee.