Thirumalai Nayakar Palace-A stunning heritage structure in Tamil Nadu,India

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace also known as Madurai Palace is a testimony to the city’s secularism and diversity. If Madurai is world- famous for its Meenakshi Amman Temple, it is equally popular for the Anglo-Indian community, the churches, the Jaina Caves and its multicultural society.

On my recent trip to Madurai, I decided to visit the 17th century built Thirumalai Nayakar Palace, a heritage structure I had never visited before, though I have been making an annual visit to Madurai for the last three decades! Surprising isn’t it??

Armed with google maps and my cousin in tow, on a gloomy day, I finally get to visit the Madurai Palace that eluded this Madurai born.

Meenakshi Amman Temple

We leisurely walked through the narrow lanes of Madurai that have been meticulously laid around the Meenakshi Temple. The morning scenes of a clean and buzzing ‘Thoonga Nagaram’ ( a city that never sleeps) gave us company as we meandered our way to the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace. But not before, we washed down a plate each of Masala Dosa and Idly with the rightly frothed ‘Filter Kaapi’ at the nearby Modern Restaurant.

Soon, we found ourselves in a lane behind the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace and the unpredictable Google Maps suggested us to barge in through the compound wall of the palace by creating a hypothetical lane on its map!

Thankfully, I found a lady who guided us to the actual entrance to the palace but not before letting us know that though she has been living in a lane behind the palace, she is yet to visit the palace! I found some solace in her words…

( Read about Maargazhi, the best season to plan a trip to TamilNadu, in another blog post of mine)

 

Thirumala Nayakar Palace madurai

My first tryst with Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

We quickly purchased our entry tickets and made an entry into the Madurai Palace through its renovated gigantic entrance and the sight that welcomed us, took my breath away! The huge columns of the palace, the long corridors and the vast central courtyard against the clearing sky with fluffy clouds was a spectacle waiting to unfold. Trust me when I say, that all the photographs and videos you have ever seen of the Madurai palace(including the ones on this post) can never do justice to its mammoth and marvellous architecture!

Okay..maybe, personally, the only Indian movie director who comes close to capturing the nuances of this palace spectacularly in his/her frames is Mani Ratnam. From Bombay to Guru, this palace is a favourite of his and cinematographer Santosh Sivan and these are the movies that inspired my visit to the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace. There…I confessed my obsession with Mani Ratnam’s movies!

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

A brief history of Nayakar Mahal

The Nayaks of Madurai ruled from 1545 until the 1740s. Thirumalai Nayak, colloquially pronounced as ‘Nayakar’ was one of the greatest of the Nayak kings and he reigned between 1623- 1659 and is solely responsible for building various monumental structures in and around Madurai including the Thirumalai Nayak Mahal, also locally known as Nayakar Mahal.

As is the norm with majority of royal families- greed, deceit and lust for power overpowered the goodness and relationships amongst the family members of Nayaks.  King Thirumalai Nayak’s grandson demolished much of the fine Madurai Palace structures, and, shifted the jewels and woodcarvings in order to build his own palace in Tiruchirapalli.

However, the erstwhile colonial Governor of Madras – Lord Napier, partially restored the palace in 1866-72 to use the place as a garrison unit!

I am not going to discuss the story behind the palace at length. Most of the historical facts are available on the internet!

Madurai Palace Architecture

The Thirumalai Nayakar Palace is a fusion of Indo-Islamic architecture. However, the elaborate entablature and rounded pillars suggest that it has shades of European, especially, Italian architecture. I was instantly transported to the FRI at Dehradun.

(Read about my visit to FRI – Dehradun: Forest Research Institute Architecture)

It is said that the erstwhile palace was at least four times bigger and larger than the present area. However, what is left and restored are just the structures that we see today. The ancient temple city of Madurai was a well-planned place and was popularly termed  ‘Athens of the East’ by the colonists owing to its well-laid out town plan. However, in recent times as its urbanscape is expanding so is its woes, thanks to the modern administration.

Here is another board that I stumbled upon at the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace, that gives a brief idea as to how vast the palace property was once.

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

The Quintessential Courtyard

A central courtyard devoid of chairs would have been a treat to the eyes. However, here, it hosts rows of chairs (read ‘Eyesore’) for the ‘Light Show’ that happens in the evenings. And, the long corridors that awe you from far, are home to hundreds of pigeons that occasionally litter the place with their plumes and poop as you walk along! But then, in spite of our flying friends, the place is well-maintained. Well, let this description not take away your pleasure of walking down the memory lane and indulge in a piece of Thirumalai Nayakar’s history.

Thirumalai NAyakar Palace

You may read about the Light and Sound show that happens here, on my blogger friend Shri Nidhi’s blog

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

Swarga Vilaasam

As we enter the interiors of the palace, the ‘Swarga Vilasam’ that translates to ‘Celestial Pavilion’ welcomes the visitors. This pavilion is enclosed by scalloped or multifoil arches, a staple of Islamic Architecture and adorned with beautifully painted ceilings. A throne has been placed at the centre of this pavilion in remembrance of Thirumalai Nayakar who once ruled the temple city of Madurai. I guess it is from here that the King gave an audience to the general public. A view of the courtyard and the entrance from this throne truly shows how huge his audience would have been in those days.

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

Every mortal look like a puny in front of these immortalized structures, isn’t it?

Flying Carpets of Madurai Palace

One look at the ceiling and an art lover would be mesmerized by the intricate frescoes and stucco work done here. These have been given a brand new look during the recent restoration and are similar to the ones at the Thanjavur Palace.

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace Madurai

It is interesting how the artists have ensured entry of sunlight especially to facilitate a peek at the ceilings. As one enters through the dark corridor, he/she is compelled to crane their neck up towards the ceilings as a sudden shaft of light hits them. One glance at these and I was reminded of the flying Persian carpets..delicate, intricate and fascinating!

Thirumala Nayakar Palace Madurai

 

Thirumala Nayakar Palace

Dance Theatre – Museum

As in every palace of India, here too, a separate enclosure has been built for the entertainment needs of the royalty. This is similar to the rooms dedicated to home theatres of today’s rich! So, we have a NarthanaShaala or dancing hall that has been earnestly converted into a museum of sorts for present times.

With intricate stucco work and arches, it looks mesmerizing. Each of the pillars and arches has a different pattern though all look similar from afar.

 

 

 

In my honest opinion, the museum is ill-maintained although the collection is simple and of great cultural and historical importance. It has a modest collection of sculptures and idols, some even more than 1000-years-old. However, what is appalling is that the information stickers are torn and the authorities have not cared to replace them. Some of the exhibits are in dark as the bulb inside the enclosure is not functional and has not been replaced for aeons.

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The highlight of the museum has to be its decor, the antique sculptures, manuscripts, old photographs of the palace and the various paintings.

 

 

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The collection of paintings belonging to various eras -from the cave paintings to the times of Vijayanagar rulers, caught my attention. They bring forth the inevitable and beautiful transition of painting style over the years.

Cave paintings
Jaina Cave Paintings

 

Chola Painting
Chola Painting

Read about the spectacular UNESCO Heritage site built by the Cholas: Darasuram

Vijayanagara Painting
Vijayanagara Painting

Dilapidated versus Renovated

I have tried to compare the old photographs of Thirumalai Nayakar Palace with the new views, in an effort to highlight the resources and work that has been induced into renovating this- once dilapidated palace.

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

 

MAdurai Palace
The front view

Mahal Corridors
Mahal Corridors

When so much of effort has been put to renovate heritage structures, then why don’t we maintain them in true earnest? I could see scribblings on the walls, on the pillars even on some of the sculptures! Appalling indeed…

The authorities have tried to shoo away foul players who sit on these window sills and scribble away to glory, by topping the sills with pointed structures. But seems like, this hasn’t deterred trouble-makers! I wish to get hold of whoever scribbled this Vijith-Sakthi, someday, and slap them to my satisfaction… (See below). A widespread campaign on ‘Responsible Tourism’ is indeed a need of the hour.

Nayakar Mahal MAdurai

Parting Words

A play of light and shadow imparts an indescribable aura to the interiors of the Madurai Palace. There is beauty in the carvings and stucco work on one hand and a melancholic feel to the vastness, an emptiness that one feels while strolling inside the palace, that I have never felt in any of the palaces in India.

MAdurai Palace

As I leave, I turn back to have a final glimpse of the magnificent Thirumalai Nayakar Palace that stands as a phoenix, resurrected to glory from its dilapidated past. If we as visitors and travellers do not indulge in responsible tourism, such glorious structures will be a thing of the past!

Entry Fee, Timings and More…

The details on this board provide sufficient information for visitors.

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace
Information Board

How to reach Thirumalai Nayakar Palace in Madurai

The palace can be reached in 10 minutes by walk from Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai. The temple is as such at a walkable distance from the Madurai Railway Station and the Periyar Bus Terminus.

Hope you enjoyed reading this virtual tour of Madurai’s Thirumalai Nayakar Palace as much as I enjoyed putting this post together, after a memorable visit.

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36 Comments

  1. Wow this post gives me a wholesome information about this palace. I am excited to visit it soon. The place looks so majestic indeed.

  2. Amar singh says:

    What a beautiful plane but some sad things about the people not understanding the importance and using graffiti at times shameful. Thirumalai Nayakar Palace is a grand statement and one I would love to visit on my next trip to India. The beautiful architecture and colours are just amazing and has so much history. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I never visited this brilliant post despite spending a lot of time in India. After reading your post, I know I must do it. Thank you for sharing

  4. What an absolutely gorgeous palace in Madurai! It has been beautifully restored and I hope someone in authority sees your posts and decides to really keep it up rather than let it dilapidate again. While I like light shows, I agree that the chairs kept out in the courtyard are an eyesore. I’m so glad you introduced me to this wonderful palace!

  5. Stunning photography! I love all the details you gave, indeed it is a symbol of the multicultural society of india. Added it to my list of must-visit

  6. The palace looks so huge. I am just floored by the hugeness of the entire thing. I went to Madurai as a kid and I think we did this palace too. But I dont remember a thing of it. Now you have made me all itchy to go there once again.

  7. I went to Madurai 3 times but did not visit this Nayakar Mahal. It truly looks majestic with splendid artworks on ceilings and walls. I loved the courtyard area and I must say you have taken stunning pictures of this palace. It is good to know that Madurai is known as “Athens of the East” due to its well-planned architecture but I have visited Athens, so I can say Athens is “Madurai of the West”

  8. I totally understand what you mean when you talk about responsible tourism. It is such a shame that young vandals simply do not realise the significance of such wonderful structures and it would be so good if they could be educated to understand. Nevertheless, when we look past this situation, this palace is just so magnificent in its size, scale, design and detail. Majestic indeed and somewhere I would love to visit in person one day.

  9. love it, but what season would best to get most out of this trip?

    1. Winters are the best time to visit India!

    2. Winters in India is the best time to explore the country 🙂

  10. very interesting place, is there a special season when going is best?

  11. I had been to Madurai I guess decades back. Good to know now that this temple is very near to Madurai Meenakshi temple which we had earlier visited. Those intricate carvings may not be visible through our naked eyes or even with assisted eyesight [read glasses] but your lenses have zoomed in to give it a very rich look. I like it that you take so much efforts to put up a single post and enjoy it in the process.
    The fact that we as a country need to respect public property is to be drilled in. Change won’t happen soon. I too feel like slapping that guy who has scribbled VIJITH SHAKTI there. There is obviously a need to respect heritage properties such as these.
    Maintenance of properties is a big issue too.
    P.S.: Did I tell you that the blog’s new look is fabulous?

  12. Like you, I have never visited this masterpiece even though I have visited the temple several times! After reading this brilliant post, I am seriously tempted to change this fact. You have covered every aspect a person wishing to visit this place may want to know. Beautiful photography and indepth research, hats off Meenu! I absolutely love the new blog logo!!

  13. I was absolutely amazed by the architecture of these buildings, especially the Madurai Palace. So intricate and very, very beautiful! Well documented!

  14. Absolutely stunning pictures.

  15. What a lovely virtual tour to this place Meenu, love the pictures. They are so full of colors and life, thanks to your perfect photography.

  16. Wow! Meenakshi, I must say, even through this virtual images, it was a surreal experience. I just can imagine how beautiful it would have been to witness it for real! I absolutely loved the the pictures of courtyard. The one with a contrast of a subject in the picture (silhouette) was my favourite among the lot.

  17. such a beautiful place ever! I been thinking my next year bucket list, I want to make this on my next bucket list!

  18. Andrew says:

    Wow,
    India always surprise me! The architecture is amazing! I can’t wait to go there and see that live!

  19. Very nice and detailed coverage.

  20. Oh I love the artistry on the ceiling. The South Tower shows the intricate designs of the bygone era. Sometimes I wonder at their engineering. Just love it.

    1. The South tower is of Meenakshi Temple and the article is about the palace. Thanks for dropping by!

  21. very impressive, majestic architectural wonders! lucky for you to have been to these places! i’d also want to, maybe if i have the chance to visit India!

    1. Thnak you so much,Erica. Hope you get to visit India , very soon 🙂

  22. Have always ben a fan of your story weaving and photos to add to it! Loved those close up shots of the the carvings on the pillars a lot meenakshi. Great detail indeed

    1. Thanks a ton , Keerths. Have you been to Madurai?

  23. This palace is exquisite! I especially love the high windows accenting the art above. I see what you mean about them resembling Persian carpets. I think I would get a neck “crick” looking at all the amazing ceiling art. Thank you for presenting the close-ups on the arches, from afar, they did look the same.
    Beautiful!

  24. Amazing photos. I have been meaning to do Madurai, maybe end of this year, because of the temperature . Mainly because of the bad maintenance I feel like visiting most of these old places as quickly as possible because we never know much we have missed already.
    Btw I did not know about the Anglo Indian influence in Madurai.
    Well described and informative post. Thanks for sharing. 😊

  25. This felt like a trip through your words and camera. I’ve been to Meenakshi temple but this was such a new experience for me.

  26. I have been to Meenakshi temple but never knew about this place. Is thia the place where the song in Bombay movie was shot? Beautiful place. Added to my list already. Thanks for writing.

  27. This is such a majestic and beautiful place. Loved reading all about it! Everytime I read a post like this, I am reminded that we don’t market our heritage well. This palace alone has the potential to be a huge international destination!

  28. It was real an amazing read, with the history, which makes such places more attractive and with other necessary details. Photography is super, existence of the old and the new ones has made it more vibrant.
    About the place…feeling to back my bag and start the journey right now.

  29. I had visited Madurai last year and fell completely in love with the place. The Nayakar palace was very beautiful and your pictures are very good too. But of course, the scale of the palace cannot be captured in the photo. Its beautifully depicted in the Bombay song. I cannot believe you have been going to Madurai for 3 decades and never saw this. I am just so jealous that you will visit again and again. I want to visit again too. I stayed for 3 days. But not enough to see all the beautiful sights.

  30. Anagha Yatin says:

    Soaking into your words and your lens work is an indulgence that I love to pamper myself with. The cherry on top is knowing a new, offbeat place!
    Another awesome post, full of historical details and “place-as-it-is” perspective. Kudos to you Meenu.
    I will join you to give good to “Vjith Sakthi”.
    India indeed is #IncredibleIndia!

  31. Stunning captures, Meenu. Those designs do indeed look like flying carpets!:) Sad to know that a place as gorgeous as this is ill maintained.
    The blog looks so good in it’s new avatar!

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