Elamana Palace built in the 1930s by the Maharaja and is now the NSS Higher Secondary School, has withstood the ravages of time
Tripunithura, the erstwhile capital of the Cochin Royalty, has been bearing the brunt of Kochi’s overflowing population. This has resulted in indiscriminate pulling down of ancient structures despite the Regional Town and Country Planning office listing heritage sites in this area, along with the others in the district. The town, especially the area within the fort and those lying immediately outside it, was once where most of the palaces stood. Today, high-rises dominate the skyline; many of the heritage structures have been lost forever.
One building that still stands unchanged, well-preserved, is the Elamana Palace, now the NSS Higher Secondary School.
The Elamana Palace was built by Chowarayil Theepetta Thampuran (1932-1941) in the first half of the 30s. Located on the present main road, close to the North Fort Gate, the building in a sprawling four-acre estate was built by the Maharaja for his wife Kunjiamma.
Like most of the palaces in Tripunithura, it has some unparalleled architectural features. The exterior is a harmonic blend of the traditional Kerala architectural style prevalent in those days with a definite dash of the European. The wide arch at the entrance, the tall steeple, skylights, fountain, balcony and long, glassed corridor fuse with the traditional windows and the naalukettu.
“I still remember the days when it was being built. There existed an old building, a simple maalika (double-storied building), which was brought down. A huge pandal was set up in the compound where the carpenters worked. The work must have gone on for less than three years. The woodwork was in fine, seasoned teak,” remembers Elamana Hari, Retired Tahsildar (Revenue) and local historian.
Kunjiamma moved into Elamana from the Hill Palace only after the death of the Maharaja in 1941. “The four- acre estate housed the main palace, a temple, two huge ponds—one with a lovely kulapuramaalika, a building that had the kitchen and dining hall, servants’ quarters and an office, which was used by Elamana Krishna Pillai. It was Krishna Pillai who took the decision to sell this property to the Nair Service Society.”
For special occasions the palace used to be decked up. “I remember the thalikettukalyanam held here, two of them in fact. This marriage ceremony no longer exists today. It was spread over four days. One of the rituals was tying the taali. The taali was tied by a member of a particular community and not by the future bridegroom. In the case of a royal family member, it would be tied by a Namboodiri. Four days of music, feasting and merriment, the whole place was decorated. The girl never saw the man who had tied the taali and married a different man later. Elamana Palace looked so regal on those days.”
Elamana Hari recounts that after Independence and amalgamation of the princely states, the palace was occupied for the last time by Kunjiamma’s sister. For a long time after that the palace remained unoccupied till it was sold to the NSS sometime in the 1970s.
“The NSS established the higher secondary school and a women’s college here in 1975. We also have a women’s hostel and a temple here. When we took over, a lot of maintenance work had to be done and some new buildings had to be constructed. But we have kept the main palace building intact. It functions as the office, the principal’s office and a few classrooms are also accommodated here. The old kitchen building is still there with some modifications. One of the ponds, and the building there had to be demolished to construct the school and college buildings. The other pond, which we have maintained is a main water source. The school that has classes from LKG to Class XII has more than 1,300 students. We have inherited a rich heritage and we will maintain and preserve it,” says M. M. Govindankutty, Member, Director Board, NSS.
Spacious, very airy, expansive area with a canopy of trees in the heart of the town was a perfect location for a school, one of the earliest CBSE schools in Tripunithura.
Ancient buildings like the Elamana Palace breathe the life and times of the culture in which they are located. The economic value of such a building, its location, is what everyone talks about while the cultural and heritage value goes unrecognised. This magnificent structure remains a symbol of hope for the last of such buildings in the town.