Mattancherry Palace Murals

The Mattancherry palace (also known as Dutch palace) is located at Mattancherry (near Kochi) in Kerala. The uniqueness of the palace is due to its mural paintings from the 16th century to 18th century.

History

Mattancherry is a former capital of the erstwhile rulers of Cochin. It was a famous sea port that attracted the Portuguese and Dutch traders for spices trade in 15th and 16th century. In 1555, the Portuguese traders built a palace in the traditional architectural style with some modifications in the European style and presented it to the Raja Veera Kerala Varma  for his residence. Later, Dutch replaced the Portuguese and took over the spice trade. In 1663, they refurbished the palace and handed over to the rajas again. Since then, it was known as the Dutch palace representing the shared culture of the Netherlands.  The palace was used for about two centuries by the rulers of Kochi as their Royal House and important ceremonies related to the coronation were conducted there.

The Palace & Mural paintings

The palace is a double storied building. It was built in traditional Kerala nalukettu (quadrangular) model with four separate wings opening into a central courtyard. The central courtyard houses a temple of the royal deity Pazhayannur Bhagavathi.  On either side of the complex, there are two other temples dedicated to Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva. In the western side of the palace there is a large masonry tank for bathing. European influence can also be visible on the palace architecture featured in the proportion of its chambers and the design of its arches. From outside, the palace looks simple, but elegant with the white walls on the front and the sloping roof.  Other important characteristics of the palace are long and spacious halls, arches etc. The ground floor known as the ladies chamber is connected by a staircase from kanithalam room. The square shaped coronation hall, royal bed chamber, dining hall, assembly hall and the staircase room are situated on the upstairs. The dining hall of the palace is beautifully adorned with a decorative wooden ceiling carved out of wood. Even brass cups are used to embellish the ceiling of the dining hall. The unique traditional Kerala flooring is done with a mixture of burned coconut shells, lime, plant juices, charcoal and egg whites. The flooring could easily be mistaken for a piece of black marble. A perpetual light is kept in the Royal bed chamber as a mark of respect to one of the Cochin Maharajas who died there.

The palace has a fascinating collection of mural paintings. These murals have been painted by rich warm colours in tempera style. The paintings are massive and are spread over a total area of almost 1000 sq. ft.  and it is believed to be done between the 17th and 18th century. The themes of these beautiful and well-preserved murals have been borrowed from the great Indian epics – the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha, and the puranic legends. Some murals depict scenes from Kumarasambhavam and other works of the great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa. There are also various murals depicting Krishna.

The Ramayana murals depict the story of Rama,  commencing from Dasharatha offering a yajna praying to gods to grant him sons; and it concludes with Rama returning, triumphantly , to Ayodhya , along with Sita and brother Lakshmana. The Rama-story is depicted in about 48 paintings. The narration of the episodes flow smoothly, each panel theme lucidly leading to the next. The themes are separated from one another by decorative borders. The murals related to Krishna depict ‘Krishna Leela’. There is a mural of Krishna in reclining posture, surrounded by gopis. Apparently, these panels were later additions. The murals on the themes from the epic poem Kumara-sambhavam of the poet Kalidasa depict Shiva and Uma in their snow abode atop the Mount Kailasa. The murals of Vishnu portray him as Vaikuntanatha and Ananthasayanamurti. There is also a composition of Lakshmi seated on a lotus.

The museum in the Palace exhibits anitque royal regalia including costumes, palanquins, turbans and weaponry from the days of the Cochin rajas. The coronation hall exhibits life-size statues of the Kochi kings, in their coronation robes, who ruled from the year 1864. These portraits were made by local artists. Other articles displayed in the palace include coins, ceremonial attires worn by the royalty, royal umbrellas, a howdah, an ivory palanquin, drawings and stamps.

The palace was restored and declared a centrally-protected monument in 1951 by the Archaeological Survey of India. It was established as a museum in 1985. Its second phase of restoration was carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India with the aim of re-establishing its original grandeur and rendering it an international stature.

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