The Queen’s Court/ Rani Mangammal Durbar Hall: From a queen’s court to young scholars frequenting a schoolroom, to presently housing precious artefacts, the Rani Mangammal Hall breathes of history through the ages.

‘Do you know where is the government museum?’, a question that draws responses ranging from blank stares to deep frowns from locals even in the vicinity of the museum. A mention of Town Hall or the Fort Police Station as landmarks apparently rings a bell as comprehension dawns on relieved countenances.

When you enter the Tiruchi Government Museum housed in the Mangammal Mahal or Rani Mangammal Durbar Hall, the tainted walls and commonplace technical stuff eclipsing the motif decorated dome ceiling and white pillars, force you to conjure up the opulence of a bygone era. The dome, resembling a flower petal with motifs and vegetable paintings only heightens the creative exploration.

It is amazing to travel back in time to picture that a Queen once held court here. From being the grand audience hall of an admired sovereign, the structure has played host to government offices and school rooms in the British era to currently housing artefacts bearing testimony to a vast timeline. The hall accommodates a mélange of objects including stuffed animals and birds, stone sculptures, coins fossils, prehistoric tools, agricultural implements and Thanjavur paintings.

Rani Mangammal was the consort of Chokanatha Nayakkan of the Madurai Nayaks, who is accredited with erecting the Palace, which incorporates the Queen’s audience hall - the most prominent of the remnants. Standing south of the towering Rock Fort, the palace of the Nayaks was referred to as Nawab’s Palace during the occupation of the Nawab. Incidentally, Chokanatha is believed to have pillaged materials from the Tirumala Nayak Palace in Madurai to construct the Tiruchi palace in the mid seventeenth century.

Rani Mangammal was one among the scattered solitary stars dotting the firmament of male monarchs of Tamil Nadu. She was no transient star, as history will always remember her for her able administration and initiation of development works such as roads, temples and tanks. The daughter of Lingama Nayaka, a general under Chokanatha army, Mangammal was forced to rule Madurai Nayaka Kingdom as Queen Regent on behalf of her infant grandson. For eighteen years, Mangammal bravely weathered political storms including Mughal threats of invasion.

F.R.Hemingway in the Trichinopoly Gazetteer mentions that the palace ‘surmounted by octagonal dome with colonnades all around’ was occupied by the stationary sub-magistrate during his time. While Lewis Moore, another historian has recorded that the Palace housed government offices during British time. According to Moore, after repairs carried out on the Palace in 1878, the plan of converting the Audience Hall to a municipal office was abandoned. Instead, the schoolrooms of the Normal School functioned from here during mid 19 th century.

The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm and entry is permitted for a nominal fee of Rs.5. Exhibitions on numismatics, sea life and artifacts are held here on a regular basis.

(Heritage Trail is a monthly column that highlights places rich in cultural, historical, literary and social significance in and around Tiruchi)

Keywords: Rock Fort