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Madurai's Masterpiece: Exploring Thirumalai Nayak Palace

A blend of Dravidian and Islamic architecture, the Thirumalai Nayak Palace is a preferred heritage destination

In recent years, Heritage Tourism is gaining ground as the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry. Increasingly, tourists are travelling towards heritage destinations and this spurt is expected to continue. As far as Heritage Tourism goes, Tamil Nadu has been cited as a preferred destination for tourists. Tamil Nadu’s antiquity is well known – its glorious heritage has earned it the sobriquet of ‘Largest Living Museum’ in the world. Tamil Nadu houses the largest number of living monuments in the form of rock cut caves, temples, forts, palaces, among others.

If nostalgia for the past stirs you into a desire to experience diverse cultural landscapes and forms, then take the Madurai Tour, in Tamil Nadu, and discover how history speaks from the ramparts of ancient palaces and temples. Check out the glorious Thirumalai Nayak Palace , which is an artistic blend of Dravidian and Islamic styles and has been declared as a national monument immediately after Independence. Located a mere 1.2km from the Madurai Meenakshi Temple, the Thirumalai Nayak Palace is easily accessible by road and is about 3km away from the Madurai railway station, and about 10km away from Madurai Airport. A must-visit for history lovers and architecture aficionados, the palace also has Sound and Light every evening, lending more sparkle to your trip.

Built in the17th century by King Thirumalai Nayak, with the help of an Italian architect, the building that one sees today was the main palace, where the king lived. The original palace complex was four times larger than the present structure and comprised mainly of two parts, namely Swargavilasa and Rangavilasa. Both parts housed the royal residence, theatre, shrine, apartments, armoury, palanquin place, royal bandstand, quarters, pond and garden. The king was known to celebrate festivals like the Sceptre festival, Navaratri, Chithirai, Masi and Float festivals, besides conducting daily dance and music performances in the palace. Eventually, the palace was destroyed by his grandson, Chokkanatha Nayak, and the valuables were transferred to other places. Built with the intention of creating a masterpiece for the king, the palace is undoubtedly one of the best architectural buildings of ancient times. The interiors of the Thirumalai Nayak Palace are mesmerising, with their intricate paintings and sculpting. The paintings on the roof of the palace are especially striking. However, today, only a semblance of the original palace has remained. Most parts of this magnificent palace were pillaged and taken away during the various reigns of different monarchs. In the 19th century, Lord Napier, Governor of the erstwhile Madras, conducted several renovations. Today, the spacious rectangular courtyard, which is called the Swarga Vilasam, and a few adjoining buildings, stand testimony to the awesome scale, evoking the grandeur of a lost era.

The palace was built with foliated brickwork, while the polished texture of the palace came from the use of ‘chuna,’ which is a combination of shell lime with egg white. The palace’s most striking feature is its majestic pillars, which rise to a height of about 82ft and a width of almost 19ft. As you enter the palace through its grand gates, you will reach a central courtyard with many massive pillars, and a circular-shaped garden which is one of the major attractions here. To the west of the courtyard is the Throne Chamber, a vast room with a raised, octagonal dome, which leads to the Dance Hall. Be sure to see the king’s decorated throne, which has an arcaded octagon, covered by about a 70-ftdome, supported by huge columns of circular shape and stone ribs.

The general plan of the sanctuary is reminiscent of the huge South Indian temples with their vast quadrangular enclosures and lofty gopurams overlooking the central shrine. The shrine’s many paintings and sculptures are a treat for the eyes. The outer corridor sports the most popular five musical pillars, each composed of 22 slender rods, carved out of a single rock of granite, which produce the ‘Saptha Swaras’ when gently tapped with a wooden rod. Be sure to take in the Sound and Light show at Thirumalai Nayak Palace. Every evening, the story of Silappathikaram, one of the five great epics of Tamil Literature, is played out, to the delight of visitors.

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