For a peek into Kerala's glorious past

For a peek into Kerala's past and present, head to Mattancherry Palace in Kochi

Mattancherry Palace, Kochi

Landing in Kochi on a rainy day, I headed straight to Palace Road. Visiting Mattancherry Palace was my mission for the day. The place, despite the rains, was teeming with foreign tourists. The many shops in the vicinity of the palace, selling anything and everything from colourful trinkets and junk jewellery to Kerala-style masks and spices, were brisk in business. Speaking fluent English, albeit with a thick Malayalam accent, the smiling shopkeepers lured visitors with their ware. Though tempted to shop, I reminded myself that I have to visit the palace first, and made my way into the gate leading to the palace, which is also famously known as Dutch Palace.

The building, with its unique architecture, was very different from the other palaces I had seen. Built in typical Kerala style, this quadrangular building also typifies colonial influences. The history is interesting, too, according to which the Portuguese plundered a Hindu temple, which angered the king of Cochin, Veera Kerala Verma, to no end. In an effort to cool him down, the Portuguese built the palace in 1545 AD and gifted it to him. The Dutch, who captured the city of Cochin during the pre-British period, made several rounds of renovations to the structure in mid-1660, hence the name Dutch Palace. The two-storeyed building features four separate wings, in the traditional Kerala nalukettu style, joined together by a central courtyard that’s open to the sky. At this courtyard is a shrine dedicated to Pazhayannur Bhagavathi, the deity of the royal family. On either sides of the palace are two more temples, one dedicated to Lord Krishna, and the other to Lord Shiva.

The upper storey of the structure, with its long and spacious halls, is now a museum that is home to some of the best murals and royal memorabilia any art connoisseur would ever ask for. As I climbed up the stairs, I knew I was stepping back in time, to the times when the Portuguese landed on the shores of the Arabian Sea, followed by the Dutch, and the English. And, of course, get acquainted with the life and times of the many illustrious rulers of Kerala. 

As I walked through the museum, I got a glimpse of the Kerala of yore, as also the rich artistic tradition of ‘God’s Own Country’. The murals retold many episodes from the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, as also themes from the contemporary literature of Kerala. The halls I was walking through were once the coronation hall, bedchamber, ladies chamber, dining hall, and rooms used by the royal family, I learnt.

Apart from the brilliant collection of murals, the museum had on display life-size portraits of all the kings of Cochin since 1864, the stamps and coins in circulation then, the kind of clothes men and women wore, jewellery they adorned themselves with, kitchen utensils in use, ceremonial dresses and caps worn by the kings, and the many swords, spears, daggers and axes that the soldiers employed. There were also different kinds of palanquins on display, grandly fashioned out of wood and ivory, as also a doli.

Examining the items on display, and reading the literature on the same alongside, I lost track of time. I looked up, and what did I see? Ceilings, intricately carved in wood. The flooring was equally interesting, too. What looked like black marble was actually a mixture of burnt coconut shells, charcoal, lime, plant juices and egg whites, I was told. I was in a state of awe. No wonder the floor gleamed, and was almost mirror-like.

I stepped out of the palace gate a little wiser. For, I had just learnt so much about the beautiful state of Kerala and its past.

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For a peek into Kerala's glorious past

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