While its rich historical significance impresses visitors, the bad maintenance upsets them
With its commanding arches and pillars, the Thirumalai Naicker Palace is a stunning blend of architectural splendour and historical significance.
But the place, a magnet for tourists, presents a picture of dilapidation and ruin.
The landmark structure that bears testimony to the glorious rule of the Nayak dynasty in Madurai has withstood the ravages of time for over 375 years. However, in recent times, the elegant architectural structure evokes shock rather than admiration from visiting domestic and oversees tourists.
The day-to-day upkeep is sorely wanting. Graffiti on the pillars and pigeon droppings mar the ambience of the palace.
“The architecture of the palace is outstanding. But it is impossible to ignore the stench from the accumulated bird droppings”, says S. Kasturi, a student of a private college from Tirunelveli district, who visited the palace as part of her study tour. The droppings are plastered on the main corridors and the courtyard of the palace.
The heritage monument also houses a museum, which showcases paintings, stucco figures, bricks from the Sangam period, excavated urns, stone carvings, neolithic, as well as megalithic and microlithic tools.
“The museum in the palace has amazing Sittannavasal cave paintings, Chola and Vijayanagar paintings, but the accumulated dust within the glass showcases mars the beauty of the exhibits,” says
M. Anusya, another student. She points out that the nameplates specifying the significance of the stone carvings in the museum are missing in a few places, making it impossible for the visitors to understand the significance of the carvings.
“A part of the museum has no lights and it is dark even during the daytime. It is extremely hard for us to see and enjoy the beauty of the exhibits. The visitors should appreciate the rich heritage of the monument and stop scribbling on the walls and the pillars”, she notes.
J. Daisy Rani, a tourist guide affiliated to the Central government’s Ministry of Tourism, says, “Most of the foreign tourists I take to the palace express shock over the lack of upkeep. They say that the palace is a beautiful monument that we should to be proud of. They insist that we should retain its glory by proper maintenance.”
According to Ms. Rani, the tourist guides recently submitted a representation to the officials to improve the maintenance of the palace, but there was no response.
Built in 1636 by one of the greatest Naick rulers, Thirumalai Naicker, all that remains now of the Thirumalai Naicker Palace is the main portion which housed the king’s living quarters and his court.
The palace was constructed in the Indo-Sarcenic style of architecture and boasts 248 giant pillars which are 58 ft high and 5 ft in diameter. Besides poor maintenance, the palace has also become a haunt for young couples who frequent it in the afternoons. Posters are stuck on many pillars in the palace warning couples against behaving indecently, causing public nuisance and scribbling on the pillars. Says Swathi T, a history student from the city, “The entrance fee rates aren’t very high and couples consider the palace premises as a park. There are a lot of school students who come on study tours and they are forced to put up with their indecent behaviour.”
The palace has been immortalised in many Indian movies. Noted film director Mani Ratnam has prominently featured the palace in his movies “Guru,” “Bombay” and “Iruvar.”
Film shooting inside the palace was, however, prohibited after the Madras High Court ordered an interim stay in 2011.
However, the spectacular palace remains the most preferred site for lensmen.
The palace now plays host to pre and post-wedding photo shoots for couples.
S. Bharathi, a photographer from the city, says that he has done over 40 photo shoots inside the palace.
“People who come from outside the city are enchanted by the idea of a shoot here. They look forward to taking the pictures and showing them to their friends. Couples from abroad too love the concept of having a photo shoot with the palace in the background”, he explains.
“Photo shoots with a still camera are non-invasive and do not involve any damage to the structure. We make sure that we don’t disturb the visiting public as well”, Mr. Bharathi adds.
According to N. Ganesan, Assistant Director of State Archaeology Department, the heritage monument is plagued by lack of adequate maintenance staff.
“There are less than 10 maintenance staff in the palace. We have six watchmen and one sweeper. We have submitted a representation to the State government to appoint more staff and we are hopeful that we will get the approval soon”, he told The Hindu.
An official from the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department says that not less than eight sweepers should be appointed in the palace.
“The palace is under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The tourism department and the Madurai district administration have been insisting on the appointment of more maintenance staff because the palace is one of the major tourist attractions in the Temple City”, he says.
According to the official, during the peak tourist season from October to March, the palace attracts an average of 5000 visitors every day. The off-season crowd numbers 200 per day, he adds.
Aravind Sankar of INTACH says that the involvement of students in maintaining the palace can prove useful.
“Student organisations and clubs can be encouraged to organise clean-up campaigns on the palace premises. That way, they will learn the importance of the heritage structure and its historical significance”, he suggests.