Looking Back at History, The Ramnad Palace
It is believed to be the best example of preservation of heritage buildings considering its long history and tradition. Although it hasfaced several seasons and calamities, including cyclone, flood, and drought, the Ramnad Palace, popularly known as Ramalinga Vilasam, has remained intact, setting of a sort of record in southern Tamil Nadu.
The palace complex, consisting of main durbar hall, residential buildings, private rooms, weapon store room and cave, dates back to around 350 years old. According to the official of book of Archaeological Department of Tamil Nadu, it was constructed between 1690 and 1710.
According to the “Courts of Pre-Colonial South India” written by Jennifer Howes, the construction of the palace may have started as early as 1650s, only a few decades after the Madurai Palace was built. During the 17th century the military strength, material wealth and courtly rituals of Sethupathy Kings, who ruled nearly one fifth of Tamil Nadu from 1601 to 1948, were expanded rapidly. The evidence of this expansion is found in the sprawling complex and paintings.
The foundations of many of the buildings in the palace were around three centuries old. Before these foundations were constructed, the palace was probably a collection of mud and thatched buildings, it was believed. Although the functions of Ramnad Palace buildings and the lifestyles of its residents have changed considerably, owing to various reasons, most of the buildings were standing long before the advent of the British colonial rule in 1770’s.
“Of course, we have taken a few minor works here and there. We have never changed its originality. We still give much importance to maintain the heritage value of the complex,” says N. Kumaran Sethupathy, primogeniture of Sethupathy Kings and his wife Lakshmi.
Interesting feature of the palace is that the style, architecture and planning were indigenous used in this region of Tamil Nadu. Brick, stone and timber palace were among the materials used. The features of the buildings were almost same of the Nayakkar Mahal, which was believed to have been completed by 1627, a few decades before the Ramnad palace was completed.
Historians point out that the palace would have been one of the very few buildings in the south, including the Danish fort at Tranquebar in that period. Sridhara Sethurayar, “Urkadu Zamin”, Kumaran Sethupathy’s uncle, said that equal importance was being given to preserve the furniture, utensils and other items used by Sethupathy Kings.
Ramalinga Vilasam’ is full of surprising discoveries. Understanding the customs and rituals of the Sethupathy Kings is a memorable experience. This fort is a treasure chest not just for Historians or Archaeologists, but even for a lay person who will find himself enwrapped by the wonders of ancient architecture, lifestyle and heirlooms. The size and splendor of this colossal structure can never be understood by a casual glance. However for those who dare to venture beyond the enormous archway of the palace, ‘Ramalinga Vilasam’ unfolds itself in whimsical grandeur.
How to reach Ramnad Palace
There are trains and buses plying from Chennai to Ramanathapuram. Ramanathapuram is approximately 450 Kms from Chennai. Most of the buses and trains going towards Rameshwaram go via Ramanathapuram.