Kochi’s Mattancherry Palace Museum: Home to some of India’s best mythological murals

[] The Mattancherry Palace, constructed in the traditional Nalukettu architectural style of Kerala, is famous for its exquisite murals

India has several monuments and landmarks which never cease to amaze history and architecture lovers. Some of these landmarks have evolved into tourist attractions and cultural wonders over the years. The Mattancherry Palace Museum is one of the biggest historical landmarks in the country. The Mattancherry Palace is a Portuguese landmark, which is popularly called the Dutch Palace and is situated at Mattancherry, Kochi, in Kerala. There are numerous Kerala-inspired murals in Mattancherry Palace and exhibits that showcase the likes of the famous Raja of Kochi. The palace was covered in the tentative list of the World Heritage Sites acknowledged by UNESCO.

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Mattancherry Palace architecture

The Mattancherry Palace has distinct styles of Kerala architecture, fused with several colonial architectural touches. The palace was built sometime around 1545 CE. It was meant as a gift to King Veera Kerala Verma of Kochi’s ruling dynasty, from the Portuguese. The Dutch however engraved their name on the cultural history of the landmark by conducting major repairs on the same thereafter. It is known for its massive and lengthy halls and the charming central courtyard. It also houses the royal family’s deity, named Pazhayannur Bhagavathy or the Deity of Pazhayannur.

Mattancherry Palace Kochi

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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Mattancherry Palace timings

The palace-cum-museum remains open on all days except Fridays, for visitors. The palace lies 12 kms away from Ernakulam. The Ernakulam railway station is 10 kms away from this monument while it is roughly 42 kms away from the Cochin International Airport. Estimating the value of such a landmark is near-impossible, although one can safely say that it will run into several thousand crores.

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Mattancherry Dutch Palace history

The Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese as a gift for the King of Cochin sometime in 1545. The Dutch were also responsible for comprehensive renovations, repairs and extensions to the palace in 1663. It was thereafter given the moniker of Dutch Palace. The Rajas made several improvements and enhancements to the palace over the years. It is famous in contemporary times for the portrait gallery of the Rajas of Cochin. This palace contains some of the country’s best ever mythological murals. They showcase the finest artistic traditions intertwined with Hindu temple art and architecture. The palace was built to appease the Cochin Raja after the Portuguese plundered a nearby temple.

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Dutch Palace

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The landing of the famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, at Kappad in 1498, was welcomed by the rulers of Kochi. They also received exclusive rights for building factories. The Portuguese helped in fending off the Zamorians and their constant attacks while the Rajas of Cochin practically turned into their loyal vassals. The Portuguese influence was taken over by the Dutch and they basically took over the entire Mattancherry zone in 1663. Hyder Ali subsequently conquered the entire region while the British East India Company came into the picture thereafter.

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Mattancherry Palace Museum: Key details

The palace is a quadrangular building which was constructed in the well-known Nalukettu style or the traditional architectural style of Kerala. There is a central courtyard with the small temple that has the Pazhayannur Bhagavathy worshipped by the Kochi royal family. This protective Goddess aside, the palace also contains temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna on two sides. The arches, chambers and other European influences add a special touch to the traditional Kerala architectural blueprint.

Mattancherry Palace Museum

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There is an intricately carved wooden ceiling for the dining hall and this has numerous brass cups alongside. The palace also has rare instances of traditional flooring from Kerala which seems almost like black marble which is polished, although it is actually a fusion of charcoal, burned coconut shells, egg whites and plant juices along with lime.

Mattancherry Dutch Palace

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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Here are some details that you should know more about:

  • There are massive murals crafted in Hindu temple art motifs and styles. They are highly stylised, along with being immensely appealing and religious. These murals have been painted in tempera styles with warmer and richer colours.
  • The Palliyara or bedchamber of the king, stands towards the left side of the entrance and occupies the south-western corner of this palace. It has a low ceiling made of wood and has close to 48 paintings covering the wall surface. These are illustrations of the Ramayana epic and the paintings in this portion go back to the 16th century.
  • The last five scenes come from Krishna Lila, showing Lord Krishna with eight consorts. The paintings are attributed to Veera Kerala Verma.
  • The upper staircase based rooms including the coronation hall were extended and made under the patronage of the Dutch. Some famous works here include Lakshmi on the lotus, Shiva and Parvati with Ardhanariswara and goddesses, a sleeping Vishnu or Ananthasayanamurti, Krishna lifting up Mount Govardhana and Lord Rama’s coronation.

Kochi’s Mattancherry Palace Museum: Home to some of India’s best mythological murals

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

  • Kovinithalam or the staircase room towards the opposite of the coronation hall has a descent going to the lower storey. There are four paintings – Shiva, Devi and Vishnu, while one remains incomplete. The fourth room showcases scenes from the Kumarasambhava and works by the famous Sanskrit poet and wordsmith, Kalidasa. The paintings date back to the 18th century.
  • Portraits of the Cochin rajas from 1864 onwards are showcased in the coronation hall. These were painted in the western style by local artisans while the ceiling has woodwork and floral designs.

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The Mattancherry Palace Museum was restored impeccably in 1951 and earned the listing of being a centrally-safeguarded monument. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) holds responsibility for its maintenance and further restoration. The Paradesi Synagogue, another interesting landmark lies nearby and was constructed sometime in 1568 as per studies. There are several antique stores alongside through Jew Town and its narrow alleys. Most inhabitants have already migrated to Israel from here. The Mattancherry Bus Stand and Jetty lie just behind the famous Palace. The area is packed with shops selling souvenirs and other items.

The Pazhayannur Bhagavathy Temple is the key attraction between the Paradesi Synagogue and Mattancherry Palace Museum as mentioned earlier. It shares walls with the Jewish Synagogue, pointing at liberal and tolerant religious views of the Cochin rulers.

Kochi’s Mattancherry Palace Museum: Home to some of India’s best mythological murals

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Where is the Mattancherry Palace Museum located?

The Mattancherry Palace Museum is located at Mattancherry in Kochi, Kerala.

What is the Mattancherry Palace Museum also known as?

The Mattancherry Palace Museum is also known as the Dutch Palace.

Who built the Mattancherry Palace Museum?

The Portuguese built the Mattancherry Palace Museum as a gift for the Raja of Cochin.

(Header image source Wikimedia Commons)

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Debora Berti

Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT

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