The Revival of Paliam Palace
The Paliam Palace is located in Chendamangalam, Paravur, in a very strategic setting in such a way that it is not easily spotted. It is part of a much larger Paliam Complex, with several structures, water tanks, and temples.
The arched entrance is the access point into the Paliam Complex, which houses the Kovilakam and the Nalukettu. The complex was occupied by the Paliam Ministers of the Kingdom of Cochin in the 17th century and was renovated by the Dutch as a token of appreciation for their services. Even now, the Paliam family meets at the Kovilakam during their 4-day annual festival, where they bring elephants in a procession, thus retaining the cultural identity of the building.
Considering the historical significance of the Paliam Family, the palace and nalukettu were declared as heritage monuments under the first phase of the Muziris Heritage Project. The palace had been repainted by previous authorities, was infested with termites, and the walls were in disrepair prior to conservation. Thus, the project eventually reached the hands of Benny Kuriakose and Associates and was restored to its original glory.
What is the relevance of the Paliam Palace, and who were these ministers? The blog explains the story of the Paliam Palace, which includes the past, conservation, and present condition.
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The Setting of the Paliam Palace
After the refreshing sail across the Periyar River with the view of the trees trying to dip their heads in the waves, the boat slowly docks at Chendamangalam in Paravur. The heritage boat ride from Kottappuram that traces the spice routes followed by traders clears the haze and connects the dots that are intricately woven into our heritage.
Stepping onto the warm ground from the cool waters induces a sense of déjà vu as an unexpected breeze brushes past, reminding one of a life they never lived: the bustling markets where traders from all over the world congregate and the reverberations of the marching Portuguese soldiers. The sparse soil of Chendamangalam serves as a blank canvas for visitors to paint their imaginations of Muziris' once-thriving life. A few steps down the lane, the Chendathrikkovu Vishnu Temple comes into view, which once sheltered hundreds of pilgrims. Apart from the temples, there are three water tanks that further bring down the temperature of the locality.
The Conserved Paliam Kovilakam
From a distance, a crowd of visitors can be spotted next to the entrance that has the board beside it. The Paliam Palace gateway stands tall, with a promenade outstretched and rows of lamps welcoming visitors inside. The gateway has an arched wooden opening which denotes the confluence of cultures into Kerala architecture. The upper floor of the entrance passage was the Durbar Hall, where the prime ministers addressed the people of Chendamangalam on the Prasanga Peedam.
The gateway leads to a colonnaded covered veranda with an elephant sculpture in the centre that welcomes visitors into the transition space before they enter the palace. The space is supported by beautifully carved stone pillars on either side. Apart from the right wing, which is used as office space, the whole palace is a museum, with the theme depicting the evolutionary life of the Paliam Family until the Post-Swaroopam Period that led to their partition in the 1950s.
Who Were the Paliam Family?
The Paliam Noble Family was an important part of Kerala history from the 16th to the 19th century. They were on good terms with the Kingdom of Cochin, or the Perumpadappu Swaroopam. The Paliath Achan was the title given to the eldest member of the family and had the power to make major decisions for the kingdom. Thus, the Achan rose to prominence by resisting the Portuguese forces from interfering with their affairs.
When the Portuguese posed grave danger to the King of Cochin in the 16th century, the then-Paliath Achan, Komi Achan I, brought him to his home, where he is believed to have stayed hidden in the Kalari for a very long period. He ensured the safety of the king and had 28 armed men at his disposal. He sought the help of the Dutch and invited them to Cochin. Once the Dutch defeated the Portuguese, the friendship between the Dutch and the Paliath Achan grew stronger. As a courtesy, the Dutch rebuilt the Paliam Kovilakam, and the King of Cochin proclaimed the right to pass it on to his descendants.
When the Dutch began withdrawing from the British, Komi Achan II became the Prime Minister of Cochin. His diplomatic approach and friendliness brought about a non-aggression treaty with the then King of Travancore, the Zamorins, and Hyder Ali of Mysore.
Govindan Valyachan came to power during the British Era and was one of the few to initiate the freedom movements. He was able to drive the British away for some time, but they came back with more power, which led him to surrender and plead to not cause any harm to his family, which they agreed to.
The Paliam family was one of the wealthiest families at the time, even wealthier than the King. The administration used to take care of their expenditures for generations.
Being a higher caste, they imposed several restrictions and barred the lower caste from temple access. This led to aggression and sparked the Paliyam Satyagraha, which eventually brought down their power.
The Dutch Influence on the Palace
The influence of the Dutch is an important aspect in terms of architecture that cannot be ignored. The style can be found in almost all of the palaces that comprised the Perumpadappu Swaroopam. They adopted a vernacular approach instead of imposing their style entirely. At the same time, they also added certain elements and incorporated wood extensively. The mansion-like scale of the palace and the steep roof are features that are typical of Dutch architecture. Until then, palaces were much smaller and more humble, with larger roofs. The Dutch also contributed sash windows and other locking mechanisms. These features are relevant to their context of tackling the snow and cold climate, but they blended well into traditional Kerala architecture.
The Spatial Arrangement of the Paliam Palace
The two-story Paliam Palace is a hybrid of Kerala and Dutch architecture. Since the building was used as the residence of the elder most male members of the family for official purposes, it mainly had office rooms and the Durbar Hall. Apart from the official spaces, there was a small kitchen, store rooms, and two large bedrooms, which were used by Valya Achan (the Prime Minister) and the King of Cochin on the first and second floors, respectively. There is no nadumuttam, or central courtyard, in the palace.
The ground floor of the palace begins at the entrance colonnaded passage, or the Poomukham, which acts as a transition space between the public and private spheres. It further leads to the drawing room, where guests can be invited into the palace. There was a staircase from the drawing room and a main staircase that could be accessed from both the outside and the drawing room.
The first floor was Valya Achan’s space and consisted of a living room, the minister’s bedroom, and a Durbar hall. The semi-open hall was used to discuss important decisions with other ministers and the King. The King’s balcony from the second floor also meets at the Durbar Hall, which is supported by carved wooden planks on either side. The Prasanga Peedam is at the edge of the Durbar Hall, where the Achan addressed the public. The bedroom is raised at a plinth’s height and has three windows; one of them was used for the mechanical fan called the Panka that was operated from outside with a rope by a Pankunni. A wide veranda circumscribes the first floor, which allows easy access to all parts of the floor and insulates the interior.
The second floor was the space believed to have been used by the King of Kochi to avert the Portuguese troops. The staircase lands at the living room, which has a balcony facing Durbar Hall. The room doesn't have a veranda but has plenty of windows that facilitate ventilation within.
Before and During the Conservation of Paliam Palace
Like most heritage buildings in Kerala, Paliam Palace also went through major renovations that failed to understand the importance of preserving the ancient aesthetics of the architecture and not just the form of the palace. As a result, it was repainted in colours that did not match the original tonality of the building. The paint flaked from stone surfaces and wood, and termite attacks were common. The frequent rains in the area further aggravated the situation. Thus, the archival records and photographs of the palace had to be studied before initiating the conservation process.
For the Poomukham, the walls had patches of flaking paint along the lower edges of the Thinnai platform and some discoloration on the columns due to rising dampness from the ground. At the same time, the paint was also flaking on the stone surface of the columns, and major renovations were done for the walls. The flooring had minor cracks, and a vertically running crack was observed on the columns from the roof. Thus, the cement plaster is replaced by lime, and the rainwater is drained away from the ground to avoid further dampness. The columns' paint was stripped away to reveal the original stone surface.
The ceiling of the drawing room had white patches on the beams due to water seepage and termite attacks. Additional supports were given for the timber beams as they weren’t stable. To tackle this issue, the paint is removed by a flame method, where the heat of the torch flame melts it away. Termite-damaged stairs are repaired locally because it is less expensive than replacing them with new planks. The hinges that were damaged by rising dampness have been replaced with brass ones.
For the Durbar Hall, the flooring had patches of discolouration and cracks due to sun exposure. Thus, the existing floor tiles were replaced with red oxide flooring. Due to dampness and termite attack, the timber columns had surface-level cracks and holes with bulging. Thus, it is rectified by giving timber members anti-termite treatment.
In the minister’s room, there was a minor crack from the top of the lintel to the ceiling, which caused leakage. As a result, the roof was repaired and given anti-termite treatment. The deteriorated shutters were repaired by a skilled craftsman.
The railing on the second-floor balcony was not stable, with paint flaking. The pillars also had vertical cracks and needed to be strengthened. Thus, the railing members had to be dismantled and a timber finish had to be provided. The living room window frames were damaged and had to be replaced or repaired, depending on the intensity of the impairment. The passage floor was changed to cement flooring and had to be replaced with wooden flooring.
After Conservation of Paliam Palace
The conservation process has successfully brought back the traditional architecture of Kerala, which was slowly fading away. The structure was revitalized by changing the color of the walls and exposing the underlying texture of stone and timber.
Muziris is a box of treasures that hasn’t revealed its full picture and longs to be unearthed and woven into the existing story of the lost city. Until the whole story presents itself, one can only perceive the marks left behind on the walls and the whispered stories of the cultures that prevail. Over time, the stories tend to get distorted by societal changes that could brainwash people into living a life that disconnects them from their past. Thus, conservation has the potential to rectify these stories and make a difference in society by narrating the true story of the lives and mindsets of people back then. The stories narrated must depict the lives of both the poor and the rich to correlate with the two sides of the same coin.
The architecture of the Paliam Palace paints a picture of an aristocratic life and the luxury gifted to them for their power. From the grandiosity of the palace, one can easily understand how their strength could have molded society. The story could be depicted from a positive point of view, where their diplomacy saved the kingdom from major threats. Meanwhile, one fails to notice the other side where they oppressed the lower caste, which led to the birth of the Paliyam Satyagraha and ultimately their fall. Thus, the public must be educated about both sides so as to understand every dimension of the past and its relation to the present.
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