Buildings that bespeak a glorious past

Updated - November 16, 2021 09:32 pm IST

Published - August 09, 2013 01:34 am IST - Kochi:

The 'puthiya malika' that has 14 rooms built like studio apartments, with a bed room, a second chamber and a toilet. Each room is accessible from the entrance passage at the front. Photo:Vipin Chandran

The 'puthiya malika' that has 14 rooms built like studio apartments, with a bed room, a second chamber and a toilet. Each room is accessible from the entrance passage at the front. Photo:Vipin Chandran

‘Kochiyil pathi Paliam’ – half of the Cochin State is Paliam – goes the saying in Kochi.

The statement is proof of the power Paliath Achan, the Prime Minister of the Maharaja of Cochin, wielded from the 16th to the 19th century. The Paliam family devised the war strategies of the Cochin Kings. They negotiated alliances with the Dutch and Travancore, fought valiantly against the British and defeated the Portuguese and Hyder Ali. The wars of the Cochin State were planned from the Paliam Kovilakam at Chennamangalam, the military and administrative headquarters of the Paliath Achan. Atop the entrance passage to the Kovilakam is the ‘prasanga peedam,’ a raised platform from which the Paliath Achan addressed the commoners and resolved their issues.

The Kovilakam was the heavily-guarded quarters of the Achan. “I remember sentries dressed in white with red waistbands and swords standing at the entrance of the palace,” says 79-year-old Rajendran Kuttan Paliath of the Paliam family. The Paliath Achan once sheltered the Raja of Cochin, who fled to Chennamangalam to escape Portuguese atrocities in the 16th century, thus earning the home of the Achan the title ‘Kovilakam’.

“The palace was used exclusively by the Paliath Achan. The offices were in a building to the right, the military training kalari behind, and the Nalukettu for the women and children to the left,” says Rajendran Paliath. The whole complex originally stretched around 10 acres. “There used to be a bell here that would be rung every hour. Its sound could be heard as far as Kodungalloor,” he says.

A study of the structure of the Paliam Kovilakam offers more clues to the power of the Paliath Achan. Large halls in the three-storeyed building served as durbar and conference halls where visiting dignitaries were received. Some of the walls of the palace, about a metre thick, ensured top security to its resident. A wall of Achan’s bedroom has a secret compartment that at once served as an escape route and a punishment chamber for severe offenders.

Achan’s cot, preserved to this day at the palace, is a wonder in itself. Called sapramancha kattil, the cot is made from 67 types of medicinal wood. From windows at the back of the palace, Achan had a clear view of the kalari where the 600 soldiers kept by him were trained.

The Paliam Nalukettu was built in the 18th century to house the women and young children of the family. A beautiful foyer at the entrance, ‘purathalam,’ has intricate floral designs on its ceiling. The first floor also has an ‘ara’ where the family jewels were stored. A trapdoor in another room on the ground floor opens into a tunnel.

“We tried to go in, but it was blocked after a bit. We believe it was an escape route to the Kottayil Kovilakam. We have plans to excavate the tunnel and trace the route,” said Krishnabalan Paliath.

Finger-sized holes on some of the walls on the ground floor may seem like a fault. But look through the hole on the outer wall and you can see all the way to the kitchen on the other side, revealing a clever system designed for air passage.

The bedrooms are on the first floor. The most spacious and airy room is the chamber of the valiyammoomma, the eldest female member. A small window in her room gives her a view of the central area of the Nalukettu.

The long kitchen on the ground floor with its staff of five head cooks prepared food for at least 300 people every day. All the dependants of Paliam – family members, soldiers, office staff, and cleaning staff – almost the entire Chennamangalam village, partook of the food prepared here.

As the strength of the family grew, more buildings were added to accommodate everyone. A ‘puthiya malika’ behind the Nalukettu has 14 rooms – each a self-contained studio apartment with a bedroom, a smaller chamber and a toilet. The Paliam complex also contained separate bachelor’s quarters for the men.

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