Advisory committee constituted by Union Ministry of Culture has recommended the royal mansion for its exquisite wood-work and innovative design

The long wait to get the 400-year-old Padmanabhapuram palace included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites list seems set to end. An advisory committee on World Heritage Matters constituted by the Union Ministry of Culture, has recommended that this palace, known for its exquisite wood-work, innovative design and beautiful mural paintings be included in the tentative list. This is but the penultimate step before declaring it as a World Heritage site.

The Padmanabhapuram Palace, celebrated as an exemplar of Kerala architecture and an excellent expression of traditional timber construction, is located near Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. This royal mansion was home to the kings of Travancore for about 200 years before the capital was shifted to Thiruvananthapuram.

Iravi Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal built the palace in the early 17th century. It was known as Kalkulam palace, after the town. In the mid-18th century, Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the renowned ruler, expanded and renamed the palace and city as Padmanabhapuram. Given that Marthanda Varma was ardently attached to the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum and extensively endowed it, this was not surprising.

After the State reorganisation process in the 1950s, the palace became part of Madras State (later renamed Tamil Nadu).

However, Kerala retained its administrative control. The maintenance expenses for and income from the palace are equally shared by Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Though the Government of Travancore realised the value of this heritage structure and declared it a protected monument in 1938 under the Ancient Monument Act then in force, experts had pointed out that it deserved a higher level of recognition.

Celebrated Indian architects such as Charles Correa had often described the palace as a key building typology to understand the Indian design response to environmental issues. In 1999, realising the importance and outstanding universal value of the palace, the government sought international financial assistance to research and prepare the nomination file. UNESCO sanctioned about $16,300, but not much progress was made. Last year, the Ministry constituted the advisory committee and sought to maintain the ‘geographical balance’ in the matter of nominations. The committee, after reviewing the list, recommended that the Padmanabhapuram palace be included in the tentative list. Shikha Jain, member-secretary of the committee, in an e-mail reply, told The Hindu that the Ministry would review the recommendations and take a final decision in July 2013. Each year, member-countries of UNECSO add monuments to the tentative list and nominate a few from it when a special committee convenes to select world heritage monuments.

After independent experts assess the sites, the World Heritage Committee would review the recommendations and take a decision. Currently, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The Padmanabhapuram palace is now a potential candidate for nomination next year and when chosen would be the first Kerala architectural edifice to get into the World Heritage list.