Archaeology Department taking steps to bring palace under its purview

The State Archaeology Department is taking steps to bring Rani Mangammal Palace here under its own purview, after the recent demolition of a portion of the palace drew public protests. “We are waiting for the District Collector’s approval and then plan the restoration of the palace,” an officer of the Department in Madurai, who requested anonymity, said.

On July 25, the demolition came to light after a part of the roof of a record room being used by PWD officials was found damaged following construction activities on the adjacent plot. Acting on a complaint by the PWD officials, the palace was inspected. It was found that much of the rear portion of the palace, lying unused, was found to have been pulled down. Pillars now lie broken and there are gaping holes in the lime and mortar structure. Murals are faintly visible in places where the layers of whitewash have chipped.

“Nayak Queen Mangammal’s Palace. 1689” reads a small plaque on a wall inside the compound of the now Public Works Department (Water Resources Division) Periyar-Vaigai Basin circle office. This is all the identification that the building has to throw some light on its historical significance.

Rani Mangammal, who became the Queen Regent in 1689, was believed to have spent the last few days of her life at the palace before her death in 1704. She was known to have built an extensive road network connecting Madurai to the nearby districts and constructing ‘Chathrams’ or inns near the highway and around the city for weary travellers.

Six people held responsible for the demolition were arrested on charges that included rioting and demolition and have been denied bail. ‘Market’ Chelladurai, who claimed ownership of the demolished back portion of the palace and the land, has been absconding since.

L Radhakrishnan, president of the Madurai Thirumalai Naicker Samooga Nala Sangam, says lack of awareness among people was what caused the insensitive demolition of a historically significant structure. “The demolition couldn’t have taken place overnight. If people around the palace were aware of its significance, a major chunk of the palace could have been saved,” he rues.

The Sangam headed by Radhakrishnan was one of the few groups that held protests in the city against the demolition of the palace and asking for the structure to be brought under the Archaeological Survey of India for protection and restoration.

“It will take at least two years before the palace is brought under the control of the State Archaeology Department for restoration work which is in chare of the Thirumalai Naicker Palace as well,” says retired Archaeological officer C Shanthalingam. “If private parties step in, restoration work could begin sooner” he adds.

People who live on North Avani Moola Street, where the palace is located, are now hoping that the demolished parts of the palace are restored. “While we knew that the structure was an old one, we were never really aware of its significance till the demolition,” admits K Lakshmi, a resident.

While the Thirumalai Naicker Palace remains popular among locals and tourists alike, people remain unaware about many other structures from the Nayak dynasty.

Says Arvind Kumar Sankar of Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage (INTACH), “The Rani Mangammal Palace might not have the grandeur of the renowned Thirumalai Naicker Palace but this makes it more important for people to be aware of a ruler who has lived in simplicity and concerned herself with developing her kingdom.”

The Public Works Department has claimed a compensation of Rs 1.5 Lakh for the damaged roof. “We will build and restore the roof back in the same way it was before,” said PWD Assistant Executive Engineer V.Sukumar.

When asked about the restoration of the back portion of the palace that has been demolished, Mr Sukumar said that they were still verifying land records.

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