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This Indo-Saracenic palace was built by Thirumalai Nayak with the help of an Italian Architect and was completed after 6 years in April 1636. The palace housed the District Sessions Courts of Madurai and Ramanathapuram till 1971, when it was handed over to the Archaeology department and declared a protected monument. The palace was demolished by his grandson, Chockanatha Nayak, who ruled Madurai from 1662 to 82 and the valuables like jewels, woodcarvings etc were shifted in order to build his own palace at Trichy (but his dream was never realised). The palace originally consisted of two sections, plus a theatre, private temple, harem, bandstand, armoury and gardens. Today, only the entrance gate, an open courtyard, around which ran a roofed arcade supported by tall stone pillar and the dance hall remain, but these are well worth seeing. The palace was partially restored little by Madras Governor Lord Napier in 1866 -72 and further renovation was carried out several years ago.
The palace is a 20 minute walk from the Madurai Meenakshi Temple and the entrance is on the eastern side.
Considered as one of the finest secular buildings in South India, the original palace complex, was four times bigger than the present structure. The courtyard, dancing hall and massive stone pillars are the major attractions of the palace. Thirumalai Nayak Mahal consists mainly of two parts, namely Swargavilasa (Celestial Pavilion) a rectangular pillared courtyard and Rangavilasa. These parts consists of the royal residence, a theatre, a shrine, apartments or quarters, armory, palanquin place, a royal bandstand, a pond and a garden.
'Swargavilasa', with its 3, 900 sq.m spacious rectangular courtyard, is surrounded by colonnades with massive circular shafts measuring 20m in height and 4m in diameter. These pillars are connected by high decorated arches. A doorway on the east leads to this courtyard. Most of the rooms leading from the Swargavilasa were decorated with ivory, intricate wood carvings and priceless jewels. Furniture and utensils used by the kings have been exhibited inside the palace. The Throne Chamber, at the west end of the Swargavilasa, is roofed with pyramidical domes of 60-70 feet high ( here the queen would listen to music and literary discourses). A doorway in the northwest corner leads to the dance hall. This double height space has side arcades, from which spring transverse arches carrying the pointed vault. The arches are decorated with plaster animals and birds. A second colonnaded court with a domed chamber at one end once adjoined this Dance hall, but has now destroyed. In an adjoining hall, there is a Palace Museum which exhibits the furniture and utensils used by the kings, Jain and Buddhist sculpture, terracotta's and an 18th century print showing the decayed state of the palace.
Many festivals like Navarathri, Chithirai festival, Masi
festival, Float festival including Sceptre Festival revolved around the
palace. It is said that the King would visit their patron deity goddess
Meenakshi at the temple and after special worship, receive the royal scepter
(sengol) from her. After received the royal scepter, it would be brought
to the palace by the royal elephant as a procession and placed on the
king's throne. There it would be worshipped until nightfall and it would
be returned to the temple. The festival symbolised the goddess Meenakshi's
sovereignty over the country, with the king being merely her representative.