The ancient Padmanabhapuram Palace at Thuckalay in Tamil Nadu, 60 km from here, is the cornerstone of the tumultuous history of erstwhile Travancore.
Kings, queens and chieftains have sauntered along its long and dark corridors. Warlords have assembled armies in its expansive courtyards. Swordsmen and archers have stood guard within its walls. Cavalry men have patrolled its perimeter.
The palace has seen high political intrigue and blood-spattered dynastic wars between rival branches of the royal house of Travancore.
It has witnessed the fall and ascendancy of one of Travancore’s mightiest kings, Anizham Tirunal Marthanda Varma, in the 18th century.
The State Archaeology Department has now embarked upon an ambitious scheme to restore the palace, first built in the 16th century, to its original glory. The scientific conservation project is currently focussed on restoring the Navarathri Mandapam and Saraswathy Temple, the oldest and the only wing of the palace that has been crafted out of hard stone. The structures have 63 finely carved stone pillars, around a “shining dance” floor. C.S. Ajith, conservator, says the floor was fashioned out of an ancient mix of charcoal, egg white, lime, river sand, tender coconut water and jaggery, which is hard to recreate now.
There may be more constituents to the mix. But, they have been lost to history. He says the two highly embellished structures are built in classic Vijayanagar style. They stand in contrast to the relative simplicity of the wooden structure of the palace.
Dust, dirt, soot and oil, accumulated over the years, have robbed the pillars of their original sheen. The conservators are using water-based cleaning solvents to remove the deposits and stains. Salt deposits, blown in from the sea nearby, have also marred the structures. A poultice made of paper pulp and other ingredients is applied on the structures to rid them of the deposits.
The pits and cracks on the stone will be filled through a process known as consolidation. The structures will be given a chemical coating to insulate them from pollutants, deteriorating agents and micro-organisms. Archaeology director G. Prem Kumar is heading the project.