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

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

Are you visiting Thirumalai Nayakar Palace on your next trip to Madurai and need some tips? Looking for information on Nayakar Palace opening time and other details? Wondering how to get to the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal?

Well, we have just the perfect guide for our readers planning a visit to the Madurai Palace, with all the required information in a nutshell.

The Madurai palace or Thirumalai Nayakar Palace also known as Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal is testimony to Madurai city’s secularism and diversity. And, is a must visit place when in the temple city of Madurai.

Madurai -the cradle of Tamil culture

For the uninitiated, Madurai is the cradle of Tamil culture, and is an ancient city located in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state.

If Madurai is synonymous with the famous 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 got to visit the Madurai Palace that eluded this Madurai born.

Quick links to plan your trip to Thirumalai Nayakar Palace in Madurai

1. Club your visit to the Nayakar Palace, with an interesting once upon a Madurai trail that regales with stories and lores.

2. Club a visit to Madurai Palace with a visit to Meenakshi Amman temple, Gandhi Museum and other interesting places in Madurai.

3. Why restricting yourself just to a visit of cultural places in Madurai? Indulge in an interesting food tour of Madurai as well.

4. Buy a copy of Shiva In the City of Nectar, that’s based on the lores and legends associated with Madurai. Its Tamil edition is also available for purchase. A must read!

5. Want to know more about Indian history. Then this book by Sanjeev Sanyal is a must.

Additional Reading
Karaikudi in the Chettinad region, nearby Madurai is famous for the palatial homes of the Chettiars. Also, located in the village of Pillayarpatti near Karaikudi, is the 1600-year-old rock-cut cave temple of Karpaga Vinayagar. You may want to read our complete guide to plan a visit to the Pillayarpatti Karpaga Vinayagar temple.
Meenakshi Amman Temple

Note : This post may contain affiliate links. Read our affiliate policy for further info.
Additional Reading
Have you heard about the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’? Well, the triad of the Big temple of Thanjavur, Darsuram temple near Kumbakonam, and the Brihadisvarar temple at Gangaikondacholapuram are together given the name of ‘Great Living Chola temples’, by UNESCO and are endowed with the UNESCO heritage site tag. You may want to read about Darasuram and GangaiKondacholapuram on our blog

A self-guided tour of Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

We leisurely walked through the narrow lanes of Madurai that have been meticulously laid around the Meenakshi Amman 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 aka Nayak Palace.

But not before, we washed down a plate each of Masala Dosa and Idly with the rightly brewed frothy ‘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 Nayak 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 Nayakar mahal. I found some solace in her words…

Additional Reading
If planning to buy edible souvenirs from the city of Madurai, then opt for Adhirasam and Mysore Pak. These traditional south-Indian sweets have a long shelf-life and are easy to be packed and carried back home. You may want to read about our collection of traditional Indian sweets and desserts, some of which are vegan-friendly too.
Thirumala Nayakar Palace madurai
Did you know
The Maargazhi masam is considered one of the best seasons to visit and explore the state of Tamil Nadu. Read complete information about Margazhi, the significance of this spiritual month as well as its association with the Indian freedom movement.

My first tryst with Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal

We quickly purchased our entry tickets and made our way 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 were 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 marvelous 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 Mani Ratnam 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

Know the history of Nayakar Mahal

The Nayaks of Madurai ruled from 1545 CE until the 1740s, and Thirumalai Nayak, colloquially pronounced as ‘Nayakar’, was one of the greatest of the Nayak Kings.

He reigned over Madurai between 1623 – 1659 and is solely responsible for building various monumental structures in and around Madurai including the Thirumalai Nayak Mahal, also locally known thus as Nayakar Mahal.

Following the norm of many a royal family— 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.

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.

Sadly, in recent times as the city’s urbanscape is expanding so is its woes, thanks to a clueless modern administration.

Additional reading
If you are fond of architecture, corridors, and pillars, then you may also enjoy reading about the British architecture of FRI and taking a tour of the Forest Research Institute Dehradun’s campus.

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

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

Get mesmerized by the Quintessential Courtyard of the Nayakar Palace

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.

The lavish courtyard here reminded me of the ones that I explored in the Havelis of Kajra, Rajasthan

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

The enticing Swarga Vilaasam of Thirumalai Nayak Palace

As we enter the interiors of the palace, the ‘Swarga Vilasam’ that translates to ‘Celestial Pavilion’ welcomes the visitors.

This pavilion called Swarga Vilasam 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?

Fly virtually on the 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.

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!

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace Madurai
Thirumala Nayakar Palace Madurai
Thirumala Nayakar Palace

The spellbinding Dance Theatre turned Museum of Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

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.

Is the Madurai Palace museum worth visiting?

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.

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

A 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

Old Nayakar Mahal versus Renovated Madurai Palace

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

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

MAdurai Palace
The front view of Madurai Thirumalai Nayakar Palace
Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal Corridors
Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal Corridors

Could we be responsible tourists when visiting Madurai Palace?

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

Practical information on planning a visit to Madurai Palace

Where is Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal ?

The Madurai Palace also known as Nayakar Mahal, Thirumalai Nayak Palace and Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal is a stone’s throw away from the Meenakshi Amman Kovil in Madurai — the cultural hub of India’s Tamil Nadu state.

The details on this board provide sufficient information for visitors. However, for the benefit of readers with disability, I am typing out the information again.

Get to know of the Thirumalai Nayak Palace’s entry fee, timings, and other details.

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace
Information Board with Thirumalai Nayak Mahal Opening Time

Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal timings

The Madurai palace is open from 9 am – 1 pm and again from 1:30 pm – 5 pm every day of the week.

Madurai Palace entry fee / Madurai Palace ticket price

There is an entry fee for visiting the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace which is very nominal.

The cost of a ticket for an Adult visitor is Rs.10/-

The cost of a ticket for a Child(up to 12 years) is Rs.5/-

How to reach Thirumalai Nayakar Palace in Madurai

The Madurai palace can be reached within 10 minutes of 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.

Must visit places around Nayakar Palace in Madurai

There are a lot of cultural things to do and places to visit in and around Madurai Palace. Do check these ideas to plan a Madurai sightseeing trip.

Private Custom Tour: Madurai Sightseeing with Guide

Foodies Day Out at Madurai

Madurai Heritage walk

Plan one day trips from Madurai

You could also plan a one-day trip from Madurai to places like the Chettinad region and Rameswaram, or a long trip to the neighbouring Kerala.

Madurai to Rameswaram Full-Day Tour

Chettinad Crafts And Culture Tour With Lunch – From Madurai

Private 4-Day Tour of Thekkady and Aleppey with Houseboat Cruise from Madurai

Parting words on Thirumalai Nayakar Palace

Madurai is the cultural hub of Tamil Nadu. And, the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace with its play of light and shadow, imparts an indescribable aura to the erstwhile Nayakars.

While, there is beauty in the carvings and stucco work on one hand and a melancholic feel to its vastness, I some how felt an emptiness inspite of the grandeur while strolling inside the palace — not felt at any of the palaces in India.

MAdurai Palace
Additional Reading
Another royal palace that’s rich in architecture and history is the City Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Did you know that this palace is situated in the designated city walls of Jaipur, that’s been accorded a UNESCO Heritage status. Do read my complete guide to exploring the City Palace Jaipur architecture

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!

I hope you enjoyed reading this virtual tour of Thirumalai Nayakar Palace as much as I enjoyed putting this post together, after a memorable visit to the Madurai Palace.


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40 thoughts on “Thirumalai Nayakar Palace — A stunning heritage structure in Tamil Nadu, India”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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”

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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!!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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. 😊

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

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