On the eastern side of the historic fort in Thiruvananthapuram can be seen three important gateways — the Kizhakkae kotta (East Fort gate) leading to the eastern gopuram of Padmanabha Swamy temple, the Pazhavangadi kotta (one adjacent to Pazhavangadi Ganapathy temple), and the Vettimuricha kotta , on the south-eastern section. Elderly folks recall many interesting stories associated with these fort gates.
Test of skill
According to popular history, Vettimuricha kotta (literally ‘ the fort that has been cut open’ ) was made during the reign of Visakam Tirunal Rama Varma (ruled from 1880 to 1885), who, it is said, had ordered its construction to test an astrologer! Once, the king challenged the court astrologer, asking him whether he could predict through which fort gate the royal carriage would leave for the evening ride. The astrologer accepted the challenge, but did not make any predictions. Instead, he requested the king to check beneath his carriage seat after he rode out of the fort.
Visakam Tirunal, in an effort to outsmart the confident astrologer, ordered to break the fort wall, creating a new gateway. Thus, the fort wall was cut open and Vettimuricha kotta came into existence. But that is not the end of the story. The king, assuming that he had outwitted the astrologer dashed out through the new opening. But when he checked under the seat, he found a palm leaf with the following inscription: ‘ today Your Highness will ride out in a newly made opening in the fort wall ’! Well, this is the popular oral tradition, but when it is put in a historical perspective, the story falls apart. There are records and even a painting that proves the existence of Vettimuricha kotta before Visakam Tirunal’s time.
The earliest and perhaps the only pictorial depiction of the old Vettimuricha kotta gateway dates back to 1852, from a painting by F.C. Lewis, a European artist, who was invited to document a grand royal durbar when the then ruler Uthram Tirunal Marthanda Varma received a message from Queen Victoria. To mark the grand occasion, a splendid platform was erected in front of the Thekkae Theruvu mālika on the south street, just outside the Valiya kottaram complex. Lewis made a detailed sketch of the durbar and later transferred it on to a large canvas, now exhibited at Kuthiramālika palace museum.
Later, Lewis made an engraving of the painting and printed it along with a list of the names of the important personalities seen in the work. Lewis’ work gives us a clear picture of the old fort gateway, which is nothing but an impressive padippura with a sloping roof over the gateway!
The old fort gate was altered and replaced by the one that we see today by Sree Moolam Tirunal Rama Varma (who ruled from 1885 to 1924). The year inscribed above the arch gateway proves that the old gate was revamped in 1891 when it was embellished with Gothic architectural elements. The pointed arch acting as the main gateway is flanked on either side by octagonal turrets that served as watchtowers. There are stairs on either side, which in olden days must have facilitated the sentries to climb up to the top of the turrets. Even though the ornate parapet and the long slit-like window openings are fashioned to accommodate guns, it is to be noted that these were just ornamental and was never meant for a defence purposes.
The author is a conservation architect and history buff