Hidden histories Society

The rise and fall of Eraniel palace

Eraniel Palace in ruins, a view from the Northern side of the complex.Photo: Sharat Sunder Rajeev   | Photo Credit: Sharat Sunder Rajeev

Eraniel today is a nondescript town-panchayat in Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. The ruins of an old palace and a few ancient temples strewn across the landscape are perhaps the only pointers to the rich culture of the region. The historic province has a hoary past for it was under the sway of powerful ruling factions such as the Âys, Pandyas, Cheras, and Cholas, before it came under the control of the Venad rulers. Eraniel also served as a seasonal capital of the Venad rulers during the medieval age, before the fort and palace at Padmanabhapuram was established. Records show that during the sixteenth century, Eraniel was well-connected to the nearby ports at Muttam and Colachel and became a political and commercial hub of renown.

Eraniel, known as Ranasinganallur (‘the town of Ranasinga’) was a fertile agricultural belt akin to Nanjinad. ‘Eraniel Chambavu,’ the superior variety of paddy produced from the region, was much sought after in olden days. Eraniel was also home to a clan of skilled weavers who manufactured the fine ‘Eraniel Neriyath.’ According to oral tradition, these weavers were specially accommodated in the region to supply ‘Chitrapada pattu’ worn by the royals during a coronation ceremony. Apart from these, the inscriptions at Thirunandikara temple point to the existence of ‘Thalakulathu Salai,’ an educational centre near Eraniel.

Eraniel finds mention in modern Travancore history, for it was from Eraniel that Velayudhan Thampi (later Velu Thampi, the Dalawa) of Thalakulathu Valiya Veedu organised the local chiefs and farmers and instigated a revolt against the despotic rule of Jayanthan Sankaran Namboothiri, the Dalawa.

The old palace (Thekkaethevan Cheriyil Koikkal), its crumbling walls and collapsed roof, a few timber beams and ornate granite pillars are the only tangible remains of Eraniel’s royal connection. The palace complex, though not extensive as in Padmanabhapuram and Thiruvananthapuram, had a modest double storied courtyard house, the main residential unit. The access to the complex was through a flight of steps. The padippura opened to the inner yard with a pillared walkway that connected to the poomukham. The compound also had a pond, its sides neatly lined with dressed granite blocks.

The Vasantha Mandapam, a detached pavilion situated in an elevated platform on the western side of the complex is adorned with beautiful carvings. According to popular tradition, the ornate stone couch in the pavilion has a fascinating story. Emily Gilchriest Hatch, the author of ‘ Travancore – A Guide Book for the Visitor’ (1933) states: “ It is said that while sleeping on this couch one of the old ruling princes suddenly disappeared from sight. In some miraculous fashion he became invisible and was never heard of thereafter.” The story, though lacking historic evidence, was deeply rooted amongst the locals. Hatch mentions that a lamp was kept burning beside the couch, through the centuries, as a memorial to the miraculous incident.

The sorry state of the ancient palace complex can be attributed to the development of Padmanabhapuram and Thiruvananthapuram as strongholds of the Travancore royalty. With the shifting of the capital, the old palaces in the Southern provinces were less frequently occupied. Some sources mention that in the post-independence period, Eraniel palace was used as a go down.

The later years of neglect by the authorities catalysed the disintegration of this valuable heritage.

(The author is a conservation architect and history buff)

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Printable version | Jul 22, 2021 8:31:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/The-rise-and-fall-of-Eraniel-palace/article14428003.ece

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