Sivaganga Palace, Sivaganga
Sivaganga Palace is a palace in Sivaganga district, Tamilnadu, southern India, about 40 kilometres (25 mi) from Madurai. It is an old royal palace with many historical connections. The palace was used as residence by queens Rani Velu Nachiar, (1772–80), Rani Vellachi Nachiar (1780–90) and Rani Kaathama Nachiar (1864–77). No remains of the original Sivaganga Palace exist, but a new palace, known as "Gowri Vilasam", was built by Padamathur Gowry Vallabha Thevar (1801-1829) in the year 19th century. A heritage site of Chettinad, it was the property of Rani Velu Nachiar.
It was once the seat of Marava kings. At present the palace is in dilapidated condition but the architectural beauty can still be appreciated. The architectural style of the palace reflects elements borrowed from the Thirumalai Nayak’s period and infused with Rajputana arts. This Palace still attracts history lovers and tourists who have an eye for architectural detail. The custody of this palace lies with Rajalakshmi Raguraj from the Sivagangai Samasthanam.
Sivaganga Palace was constructed by Sasivarna Thevar, who was the first king of the Sivagangai kingdom in 1730. The palace was the venue of secret negotiations between Veerapandiya Kattabomman and the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers to overthrow the British regime. It came under attack several times between 1762 and 1789. The only remnant of the original palace was in the form of a high wall which has since been destroyed.
According to historical records, the palace was ruined when Rajah Doraisingh Thevar (1898-1941) abandoned it, believing it to bring bad luck. Later, during the British rule, the palace got destroyed further.
Velu Nachiyar was married to the second raja of Sivaganga, Muthu Vaduganatha Thevar, who was killed in 1772 by the combined forces of the Nawab of Arcot and the East India Company. But the queen with her daughter fled to Dindigul and was joined by the Marudhu brothers who then entered the Sivaganga palace and took on the Nawab’s forces. There is also an interesting account of a Dalit woman Kuyili, who applied ghee on herself and jumped into the armoury of the British securing victory for Velu Nachiyar. However this is legend with no documentary evidence.
A new structure was built in the early 19th century by Padamathur Gowry Vallabha Thevar (1801-1829) and named the Gowri Vilasam. After Thevar died, his brother, Oyya, occupied the palace with his sons. He took over the leadership of the kingdom on the ruse that the British would take over, as the king had died intestate. They created false documents by forging the signature of the late king to take over the kingdom and crowned themselves sitting on the black marble stone of the court of the palace.
The now dilapidated Gowri Vilasam is built in the architectural style of the Tirumala Nayaks, which has some features of the Rajputana arts. There was a clock on the front gate of the facade on the southern side of this place, no longer in a working condition. Within the palace is the Temple of Sri Raja Rajeshwari with the deity Raja Rajeswari of the Royal House of Sivaganga. The temple is functional and the renowned poet Papanasam Sivan is said to have composed many popular songs extolling the deity. The temple also has a statue of the king Kandumekki Woodaya Tevar.
The Palace walls talk about the battles won and lost by Marava Kings of the 18th century. A statue of Rani Velu Nachiyar in bronze greets visitors at the entrance of the Palace. The Zenana Pond or Nadai Kinaru is one of the most fascinating parts of this Palace. It is a tiny swimming pool that is built in a way that clean water could be filled daily from Theppakulam via an underground duct. This duct is now closed. The queen of this palace bathed in the pool. A staircase is built near the pool. It goes towards a dome-shaped balcony.
There is an open space at the west of the Palace within the compound. There stands the temple of the family deity of kings, Shri Rajarajeshwari. The royal household celebrated all functions and festivals at this spot. This part of the Palace is known as Gowri Vilasam. It is in good condition as compared to other parts of the Palace. Another intact part of the Palace is the Grand Wall, which are 5 feet wide and 18 feet high. One part of the wall is broken down to build shops. The front of the palace has a palanquin, which is in feeble condition.
At the backside is a small hall. It is supported by black marble squares. There is a seat of stone inside the hall. It is carved of black marble. Tourists can find a big portrait of Rani Velu Nachiyar with a wooden weapon that resembles a boomerang, called ‘Valari Kambu’. Several weapons and swords are placed in this hall. Sivaganga Palace also harbors several secret passages, which are all buried now.
The 273-year-old palace, mostly in ruins and partially restored, draws attention thanks to the many myths and legends associated with that period. This Palace is now maintained by the eighth-generation descendants. It is open to the public in the evenings and on all auspicious days. The other intact part is the compound wall, the Grand Wall, 18 feet high and five feet wide though one portion of it has been demolished to construct shops. There is a palanquin in a decrepit condition in front of the palace. Rajalakshmi Raguraj of the Sivagangai Samasthanam is the custodian of this precious piece of history.
Sri Raja Rajeshwari Temple:
The only portion intact at the Gowri Vilasam is the temple of Sri Raja Rajeshwari. It is the family deity of the royal family. Sri Raja Rajeshwari temple is open for the public only in the evenings and on auspicious days. On the Southern part of the temple there is a huge hall supported with numerous pillars. It is believed that the entire royal household functions used to take place there. There is a palanquin in the front facade of the palace that lies in a decrepit condition.
Nadai Kinaru is another important and interesting feature in the Sivaganga palace. It is actually a miniature swimming pool. It is believed that the tank had direct connections so that fresh water could be provided and also fill two huge tanks beside the Nadai Kinaru. It was apparently meant for the womenfolk of the royal family.
The palace grounds contain the Durbar hall of the past kings, which honour notable poets. Within the palace grounds is a black marble square, with a carved marble seat which was used to rule a court of justice; it was used during the dynastic period for the crowning ceremony of new kings. Another important feature is the "Theppakulam", a large masonry tank or reservoir which fronts the palace.
The public is prohibited from entering the Sivaganga Palace. However, tourists can visit the Shri Rajarajeshwari temple in the compound, but only in evenings and on auspicious days.
The Sivaganga Palace is on Madurai – Thondi road, 45 km from Madurai. Buses and taxis are available Madurai Junction is the nearest railway station, while Madurai airport is the nearest airport. The place is well connected by roads. Tourists can get buses from cities like Chennai and Bangalore. Sivaganga is just a short drive away from Madurai.
Due to its close proximity to Madurai, Sivaganga is easily accessible to the tourists. Buses and taxis are easily available from Madurai. Madurai is the nearest airport.