Pamban island was a lovely weekend getaway for us, not only the drowned town of Dhanushkodi at its southern end, but also the ancient town of Rameshwaram. The town is mentioned as a place of pilgrimage in the Skanda Puran, which is dated to the 8th century CE. So, it is a reasonable guess that the kernel of the town, the temple, existed already 1500 years ago. On our way out, I stopped the car at this orange house to take a photo of the naive painting of the religious story which the temple celebrates. According to it, Pamban Island is the place where the monkey army of Ram built a causeway to the island of Lanka, kingdom of the demon Ravana, who had abducted his wife Sita.
This other image I had captured in a street right outside the temple. Beautifully executed, the detail that drew my eye is how the drip of the black paint is incorporated into the composition. I loved this piece of art. Naive is the last word that you might apply to it. Look at the beautifully rendered lotus leaves in that delicious blue! Could the woman in the pose of supplication be a personification of a lotus flower? Then, is the goddess a depiction of Lakshmi? Perhaps it is different a religious story, maybe from the Ramayana? I do not recognize this picture. If you do, please leave an explanatory comment for me and other readers.
There are many things about the Mattancherry palace of Kochi which one can write about: the integration of European proportions into a traditional Kerala architectural style, the beautifully worked materials used, such as the wood, flooring, and roof tiles, or the artifacts collected in the museum it now is. But every such description is incomplete because the main attraction cannot be shown; you are not allowed to take photos of the glorious murals on the walls. It is a loss in the description, but an opportunity to visit the palace and be surprised. When I stepped over the threshold of the entrance into the long rectangular anteroom, the first detail that I noticed was the intricately carved rosewood ceiling, and, through an arch at one end, the golden glow of the murals depicting the Ramayana that cover the entire wall of the king’s bedchamber
Carved screen on internal balcony
The palace was built by the Portuguese as a reparation to the king of Kochi in the mid 16th century CE, after they previous palace was looted and burnt. The overall style of architecture is traditional, the whole palace being built around a central enclosed courtyard. Visitors can look down at this from a covered verandah that runs around the inside of the upper floor. The materials used are also traditional: dark polished rosewood and fired clay roof tiles. The polished floor is specially remarkable, since it is not stone but a traditional composite material blended from charcoal, burnt coconut shell, egg white, and other ingredients. The arched doors and windows, the elongated rooms, and the external finish of the masonry is European.
Royal seal of Kochi
Brass handle for palanquin
The palace museum contains a gallery of several interesting artifacts including European-style portraits of the kings of Kerala. I was specially drawn to the palanquins on display. The alternation of carved and polished plain panels of the covered palanquin, and the ornate brass end-piece to the carrying-pole, were enough to tell us that this was for royals. The seal of the royal house confirms this guess. In contrast, the open palanquin lined with silk cushions would have seated a functionary. We wandered into the coronation room where the murals were being restored. Seeing us spend an abnormally long time examining the paintings, a gentleman from the archaeological survey interrupted his work and gave us a wonderful tour of the paintings in the room. We learnt from him how this room had been whitewashed in the 20th century, and how the underlying paintings are slowly being brought to light again. I can’t wait for the work to be finished so that I can visit this place again.