Thirumalai Naick Palace
Thirumalai Naick Palace was built in 1636 A.D. by Thirumalai Naick himself. It is considered as the most splendid secular building in South India. Tradition says that Thirumalai Naick had the help of Italian Architect in designing this building.
The present building that we see today was the main palace portion, where the King Thirumalai Naick and others lived. But only one fourth of the original palace remains today. It is believed that Chockanatha Naick, the grand son of Thirumalai Naick demolished the palace and carried away some valuable carvings to Trichy, his then capital. The original palace consisted of two main parts, namely Swarga Vilasa and Rangavilasa. In the Swarga Vilasa portion, Dharbar Hall (Royal Court) and Nataka Sala (Entertainment Theatre) were functioned. Rangavilasa was purely a residential quarter in which Muthialu Naick, brother of Thirumalai Naick lived. In addition to these two portions Rajarajeswari Amman shrine, queens chambers, armoury, a water fountain, a pool, residential quarters of palace servants and relatives were situated. The enclosure wall was built on all four sides. Since the enclosure walls were badly dilapidated, they were pulled down just a century back. It was named as Pari Madil, 300mts length east-west and 220mts width north-south orientation and 12mts in height. A flower garden was situated at the west of the enclosure wall with a Pavillion in the middle.
Main Structure: The structure what we see today with a rectangular court-yard in the center flanked by huge and tall colonades was the main palace portion. The original entrance to the palace was said to have been to the north of the present structure (ie) very near to the Vilakuthoon. During the middle of the 19th century the present entrance came into use. The court-yard measures 50mts east and west, by 32mts north and south, surrounded on all sides by arcades of very great beauty. The supporting pillars are of stone 12mts in height and are joined by foliated brick arcade of great elegance and design carrying a cornice and entabulature rising to upward of 20mts in height.
The pillars are made of granite undressed stone rings in the middle and it is covered with lime mortar upon which brick bats had been affixed. Again it is covered with fine lime and for polishing jaggary, kadukkai and white part of the egg yoke were used. This is a characteristic pattern prevailed in the Southern most Tamilnadu particularly in Chettinad area. The whole ornamentation is worked out in the fine stucco (ie) chunnam or shell lime. On either side of the court-yard, are rectangular pavilions topped by finials, originally covered with gold.
Swarga Vilasa: The portion remains on the west side of the court-yard is Swarga Vilasa (ie) celestial pavilion. It measures 75mts from north to south by 52mts across. The huge central dome is supported by twelve columns, enclosing a square 21mts across. These columns are first linked together by massive saracenic arches. Four similar arches are then thrown across the corner and the octagonal drum rises from these pierced by a clerestory. Above this at the cornice 15mts. Up, the octagon is changed to a circle and the dome rises in the centre of 25mts from the floor. The celestial pavilion is approached by a flight of steps guarded by sculptures of horse riders, which are now damaged.
A previous description of the palace, indicates that this pavilion is so constructed as to cause it to be said that in no other country is there a court equal to it by reasons of its splendid ornaments, their excellence, number, extent, curious workmanship and great beauty. To the west in the midst of a great dome shapped hall, is a square building of black stone inside which is a chamber made of ivory. A jewelled throne is housed in the middle of the chamber, on which the King is accustomed to take his seat at the great nine night festival surrounded by all his banners or ensigns of royalty, and which all Kings are accustomed to do homage.
Thirumalai Naick instituted a number of special festivals in the temple of Meenakshi, among them the Chitrai Festival was the most celebrated one. Originally this festival was celebrated during the month of Thai (January). Because of busy harvest season people in and around Madurai were not able to attend this festival and took part in pulling the Temple Car. In order to solve this problem, the King Thirumalai Naick changed the festival to Chitrai (April) for the convenience of the village yoke.
Sceptre Festival: This festival was celebrated for a number of days. In the eighth day of the festival the Goddess used to be specially decorated and placed in the special pavilion of the temple. On that day, the King will visit the temple and after special worship, receive the royal sceptre from the hand of the Goddess Meenakshi. Then the Sceptre would be brought to the palace on the royal elephant in a great procession. The sceptre would be placed on the throne and would receive special worship from the hands of the king. The diginatories, commanders, poets and other palace servants would behonoured with titles and gifts would be presented on that occasion. The sceptre will remain enthroned in the celestial pavilion on the whole day and after due worship it will be returned to the temple the next day. Symbolically this function shows that the country was being ruled by Goddess Meenakshi and the Naick ruler administered the country as a representative of the Goddess. This festival was continued even in the 18th century by the successor, like queen Mangammal.
Navaraathiri Festival: This festival was celebrated by the King for nine nights (hence it is called Navaraathiri) in the month of Purattaasi (september) with great Pomp. This is one of the famous festivals celebrated in all the Amman Shrines in Tamilnadu. On these nine nights the Goddess will be decorated on various forms and kolu (Puppet Exhibition) will be arranged for the visit and worship of the common people. In the palace, the King used to bedeck himself with costly jewels and garments and be seated with audience in the celestial pavilion on all the nine days. This was the occasion when the feudatories used to pay tributes and present costly jewels and bring other gifts to the King. As a part of the daily routine the King used to appear in the evenings, in the court-yard when the palace guards used to salute him with torches and show various feats with lights. Queen's apartment were located to the west of the Swargavilasa. In the south-west may be seen a room with block polished columns supporting the root. The queens used to hear music and literary discourses in this portion during the morning click the below links to know more