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  • Writer's pictureBenny Kuriakose

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.

The pathway towards Paliam Palace
The Pathway towards Paliam Palace

List of Content

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.

Arched entrance of the padippura of Paliam Palace
Arched Entrance of the Padippura of Paliam Palace

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.

The colonnaded transition space of Paliam Palace is welcomed by an elephant statue.
The Colonnaded Transition Space of Paliam Palace is welcomed by an Elephant Statue.

The stone pillars supporting the ground floor display space in Paliam Palace
The Stone Pillars supporting the Ground Floor Display Space in Paliam Palace

The bedroom in the second floor of Paliam Palace
The Bedroom in the Second Floor of Paliam Palace

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.

Photographs of Paliath Achan
Photographs of Paliath Achan

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.

Ground Floor

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.

Ground floor plan documentation of Paliam Palace before conservation
Ground Floor Plan Documentation of Paliam Palace Before Conservation

Staircase towards upper floors of Paliam Palace
Staircase towards Upper Floors of Paliam Palace

First Floor

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.

First floor plan documentation of Paliam Palace before conservation
First Floor Plan Documentation of Paliam Palace Before Conservation

The Durbar Hall of Paliam Palace
The Durbar Hall of Paliam Palace

The living room of Paliath Achan
The Living Room of Paliath Achan

Second Floor

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.

Second floor plan documentation of Paliam Palace before conservation
Second Floor Plan Documentation of Paliam Palace Before Conservation

Interior View of the Second Floor Bedroom of Paliam Palace
Interior View of the Second Floor Bedroom of Paliam Palace

Before and During the Conservation of Paliam Palace