Here is a monument to official apathy. All that a visitor to the Puthen Bungalow Palace sees is wild growth. Under the thick foliage of decades of governmental neglect lies the seat of the old Maharaja of Kochi, which was graciously handed over to the new Republic by the old rulers of the kingdom. It was here that the ruler met the people.
As the creepy climbers keep the rusty gate locked, the access to the old palace is through a hole in the wall on the western side. Inside the plot, what is left of the structure is just a few brick and mortar scars on the riotous green overgrowth.
The wooden beams on a wall here and some broken windows and arches there remind the old timers of a beautiful palace with a landscaped garden. The palace, built about 140 years ago, was intact till it was given to the government for safekeeping for the posterity.
“We used to enjoy playing at the palace grounds,” recalled Dr. Nirmala Thampuran, secretary of the Valiya Thampuran Kovilakam (VTK) Trust that manages the common properties for the former ruling family of Kochi.
The palace’s driveway had once skirted a beautiful lotus pond and a manicured garden that had some rare flowers, she remembered. Built in the Dutch architectural style by the British, the imported Italian tiles lent an air of opulence while the brass sheets and locks on the doors made it look imperious.
It had a small durbar hall for the Valiya Thampuran (the ruler) to meet the people, explained R.V. Kunjappan Thampuran, president of the Palace Administration Board. The stairs around the main entrance used to be the way up to the first floor and then the terrace, which had a grand view of Tripunithura. The well-appointed guard room to the left of the gate too is just a memory, now.
Rama Varma, known as the ruler who died in the Malayalam month of Mithuna, had got it built during his 24-year term, which was perhaps one of the longest between 1864 and 1888.
Staying at the Bungalow Palace, a wholly Dutch building that had living space only on the first floor, the ruler got the new palace built. And that was the reason why it was called the new palace or the Puthen Bungalow.
The government kept to itself the Puthen Bungalow when the ruling family’s assets were partitioned. For long, the fine arts department of the then RLV College of music functioned out of this palace, till time brought the structure down with the authorities showing their disrespect to a building that witnessed so much of Kochi’s history. It is just a matter of time before the remaining skeletal ruins too come crushing down, point out the members of the Kochi royal family. Efforts, no doubt, were made to retain the structure before elements consumed it. P.K. Gopi, archaeology expert who for long was the Hill Palace Museum curator, had in 1992 submitted a report on conserving the Puthen Bungalow Palace.
But the Department of Public Works, which was supposed to maintain the structure, struck it down saying that it was not feasible. Tripunithura residents still remember how the palace was brought down piece by piece. Local miscreants vandalised it, stealing the Italian tiles, the brass locks on the doors and whatever else was of any use.
And the authorities watched nonchalantly, as if the past was of no consequence to them or to Tripunithura.
Residents of Tripunithura recall how the seat of the old Maharaja of Kochi was brought down piece by piece.