The 19th-century Sripadam Palace at Fort here is reminiscent of a fading matriarch who has seen better days.
She is the oldest palace in the heritage locality and was so named because the 163-year-old building was ‘auspiciously’ sited in the direction in which the feet of Sreepadmanabha, the presiding deity of the landmark temple, rested.
The palace, a skilful blend of European and Kerala architecture, is built around the ancient and religiously important Sripadam pond. It is believed that the water from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple percolates down to the pond through hidden channels.
Perennial streams replenish the pond which is brimful even in peak summer. However, years of neglect and wilful pollution has rendered its waters thick, syrupy, and malodorous.
Two Central Government organisations had occupied the palace for years and used its ‘sacred pond’ as a garbage dump. The pond is chock-full of urban refuse. Its covered approaches are blocked and granite embankments clogged with weeds.
T. K. Karunadas, Government archaeologist in charge of conservation of heritage structures in Fort area, says the palace (and before it the 14th-century ‘Nalukeetu’ on the same compound) served as the privy chambers of the women of the royal household of the erstwhile Travancore.
Its imposing portico, supported by giant Roman-style ornate columns, was designed to accommodate horse drawn carriages, buggies, ceremonial chariots, horses, and elephants, he points out.
However, previous tenants mindlessly walled up the portico, stripping it of its magnificence. Unimaginative lattice work and nondescript temporary structures have marred the palace’s winding and airy balconies, which were once encircled by ornate balustrades.
Its expansive Italian tiled rooms, which once housed the perfumed quarters of the ‘royal ladies,’ now accommodate bleak and dusty Government offices, ironically that of the State Archaeology Department.
Layers of callously applied synthetic paint has taken the sheen off the white walls of the palace, which once shone from a coating of egg white treated with vegetable extracts.
The ancient walls have been breached almost everywhere to accommodate air-conditioners, plumbing, and wiring.
(Despite being designed by a European architect, the palace originally had no indoor toilets or plumbing, perhaps owing to its proximity to the temple).
K. Satheesh, conservation engineer, says the palace stands on an alluvial plain supported by a thick granite foundation. Much of the building is made of finely crafted teak and wild jack. Ancient records show that the palace had abundant tree cover in its rear, mostly Punna trees.
He says the palace has withstood the ravages of time because of its unique construction style.
‘For one, the walls have minute perforations which allow airflow and thus slow down disintegration much better than modern-day structures. It seems to me as if the whole palace breathes and lives,” he says.
The government plans to restore the palace to its original glory and turn it into a museum. However, no deadline has been set so far.