Alter Point History & Culture

In memory of a palace

The Puthen Bungalow Palace

The Puthen Bungalow Palace

The Puthen Bungalow Palace at Tripunithura was an architectural splendour. For long it stood as the proud symbol of the erstwhile Cochin State. Official apathy and a lack of genuine concern for heritage conservation has today left this magnificent structure in ruins.

Built nearly 140 years ago by Rama Varma XIV (1864-1888) Mithuna Maasathil Theepetta Thampuran (the maharaja who died in the Malayalam month of Mithunam), this palace was where he stayed. And it was during his reign that many other landmark buildings in Tripunithura were constructed.

“It is said that the Valiya Thampuran (maharaja) constructed the palace close to the Puthen Bungalow temple where the family deities are installed. Another reason to choose this spot was because it was directly opposite to the Valiya Padinjare Kovilakam (Palace No. 41) where his mother stayed. And Mithuna Maasathil Theepetta Thampuran stayed here throughout his reign,” informs Rameshan Thampuran, a member of the Cochin Royal Family and one who written extensively on its history.

To catch a glimpse of what remains of this grand edifice you need to peep through the locked rusty gate or through the hole in the wall on the western side. The grounds and the crumbling shells of buildings are overtaken by wild growth. Wooden beams, broken window panes, part of the terrace, and the more recent structures with its horrible tin roofs are all that you can see.

“This was such a beautiful palace. Built in the Victorian style it had floors with Italian tiles in floral and geometric designs, stained-glass windows, and lovely chandeliers. From the porch there were three flights of stairs. The main steps led to a hall that opened out to a few rooms, the living quarters of the maharaja. There were steps from here that led to another small hall above that had a wonderful view of the town. Two other staircases, one on either side of the main steps, led to a terrace. On the western side there was a long hall, again with decorative tiles, chandeliers, and a veranda that ran right around the hall. This was used by the maharaja as a durbar and later members of the family used it for weddings, birthday functions etc. On the eastern side there was huge nadapura or an open hall, which was used for the feasts. This also became our badminton court later. The palace’s driveway had a lotus pond with a fountain and a well-maintained garden. And on the left side of the gate stood a guard room,” remembers Ramabhadran Thampuran, former member of the Palace Administration Board.

Everything was intact till the palace and the compound was handed over to the State government. In December 1982 it was acquired for the RLV College of Music and Fine Arts. “When I joined the institution in 1984 the faculty of Fine Arts had already begun functioning from this palace. It was such a beautiful place. I remember teaching the first year students in the hall at the top. The ambience was amazing.

“We had a painting exhibition in the main hall and it was a great event. Children from various schools queued to see the works and also the palace. I think the PWD was responsible for the rot of the buildings. When it leaked and there was need for urgent repair all they did was support the structure with two coconut tree trunks. The callousness of the government departments and their insensitivity to heritage led to the destruction of precious history,” says Sidharthan, former head of the department, Fine Arts, RLV College.

The durbar hall was used by the college for music and Kathakali performances. “The college had something called Arangu Parichayam where students were trained to perform on stage before an audience. This happened in this hall. In the early 1970s a five-day folk and traditional art festival was held here to coincide with the visit of Jayendra Saraswathi. Perhaps, the government could salvage what remains of the structure and utilise this space as a sort of cultural centre,” feels Ramabhadran Thampuran. Some writings reveal that the parade during Athaghosham halted at this ‘royal quarters’ on its way to Thrikkakara. “One is not sure if this happened as the procession, as far historical records go, began either from Hill Palace or from the Kalikota Palace. Of course, during Mithuna Maasathil Thampuran’s time, there must have been ceremonies as he prepared to go for the parade,” feels Rameshan Thampuran.

Puthen Bungalow Palace, what remains of it, stands in glorious disrepair as a memorial to a maharaja who was responsible for its construction, and also for some of the landmark structures in Tripunithura. K.T. Rama Varma in his book Kairali Vidheyan Rama Varma Appan Thampuran writes that this maharaja modified the thattumaalika (the balconies meant for the royalty, the pandal for the elephants, huge dining hall (inside the Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple), Padinjare Kovilakam and the famous clock tower, which remains the town’s signpost.

And this palace, this memory, this slice of history, that was handed over to the government in the hope that it would remain safe and carried over to posterity has now been brought down piece by piece.


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Printable version | Jun 30, 2022 6:57:09 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/in-memory-of-puthen-bungalow-palace/article6360637.ece