India is a vast mass of land with a rich history. As several emperors and rulers have trodden upon this area, one can find a lot of forts, palaces, and temples built by them. The south Indian state of Tamil Nadu was ruled by Moovendar for several centuries. The term Moovendar refers to the 3 great dynasties – Chera, Chozha and Pandya.
All these three rulers were ardent lovers of art, architecture and literature. It is evident from the temples and memorials they had built. But one surprising fact about Tamil kings is that – there are not much existing palaces to find about their luxurious abode. Did they live in simple homes? Or did their palaces just got destroyed over time?
If they can build temples lasting for a millennium and beyond, they were capable of building long lasting palaces too. One argument says that – they made their houses simple to live closer to common people. They were aware that life is short and anything can be destroyed. They built stone temples for their deities because it cannot be destroyed by their enemies. All kings of Chera, Chozha and Pandya were respectful for Hindu deities and hence they did not touch any temple even after being victorious against one another at the end of any battle. But they might have just destroyed forts and palaces of their fallen enemies to show their power.
Other palaces like Nayakar Mahal at Madurai was built much later around 1636 and hence stands still. If we want to know how an ancient Tamil king’s palace looked like, we have to refer Sangam literature (a massive collection of ancient Tamil literature). One such book is Nedunalvadai which gives a great illustration of a Tamil king’s palace and the queen living within.
The book Nadunalvadai was written by Nakkeeranar. The term “Nedu” means long, “nal” refers to good and “vadai” means cold air coming from north. The story revolves around two people – the queen and her lover, describing their environment and weather along with the narration. Very cold air strikes the town during winter and rain keeps on pouring. The shepherds find it very difficult to manage their cattle. All animals and birds shiver in cold. Then heavy rain stops but pours slightly. Crop field are full of grown crops and beautiful flowers. At the town, people cannot distinguish day from night as it is always dark. They use evening flowers to find out sunset.
Meanwhile, at the palace, the queen is sad as she is missing her lover. He is in the battlefield and she looks forward to his return. She is not dressed up neatly because she is not bothered about her appearance. Her eyes are filled with tears and she wipes them with her fingers. Her maids are also sad and her foster mothers advise her with good words to reduce her pain. Meanwhile at the battlefield, the king meets his wounded soldiers. He uses lamp and umbrella to walk upon slippery mud. Elephants and horses shiver as rain drops fall. The king holds his upper garment as a soldier guides him along the path. The poem ends with a quote – if he wins the battle, it will end the longing pain of king and queen.
Description of the palace
Gates – The palace was built by highly talented architects who took precise measurements and directions. The palace is guarded by high walls and the doors were fixed with large iron screws. The wooden doors were made by skilled carpenters and painted maroon. They were perfectly fixed without any gap. The doors had handles designed like water lily.
The frame of the door was set very high. They had pasted white mustard and ghee. It was a way of worshipping their deity. Elephants would enter this path with flag of victory. After the entrance, there was an open space with new sand spread beneath. Deer and swans were walking around. The place seemed to look prosperous. At some distance horses were neighing as if they were saying – we are bored of eating grass daily!
Open to The Sky – Next comes the area which was designed for the king to sight the moon. But due to heavy rains, they were flooded. Excess water runs through a pipe which looked like the mouth of a shark. This view resembles a waterfall, and along with the peacocks making sounds, the whole place looked like a mountain.
The Women Chamber – Inside the palace, there is a separate chamber for the queen and her maids. Men can never enter this chamber where only the king has the right to enter. At the entrance of the chamber, there is a statue of a woman holding a lamp. A lot of ghee is used to light the lamp with thick thread. The lamp enlightens the whole place, chasing darkness. The walls of the chambers are high and several coloured flags are used for decoration like a rainbow. The pillars are like blue pearls and the walls look like copper with silver coating. There are paintings of plants and flowers.
The master bedroom – Inside the queen’s bedroom, there is a broad bed made up of elephant tusk. The elephant was forty years old with strong legs. It was beautiful with lines over its skin. It fought hard at the war and died on the battlefield. The tusks were given to the carpenter to create this cot. At the centre, a design of two leaves were carved out. The base of the cot was shaped like garlic. The cot was decorated with white pearls and flowers.
A picture of hunting lion was designed using hair strands. The mattress was made up of swans feathers which lived as a couple. There were pillows and blankets which were starched. In such a room, the queen was waiting with pain for her soulmate to return.
The poem goes on to describe the queen’s pain and the king’s status at the battle field. Tamil King’s Palace – Reference From Nedunalvadaid, for literature lovers, this poem is a treat as it describes a palace which cannot be seen at the present. Through such great works, one can learn the lifestyle of ancestors, their places of abode and their traditions.