''Poonjar palace'' with Meenakshi and Dharma Sastha temples, Kottayam, Kerala

Poonjar-palace. Kottayam Dist., Kerala  tourmyindia.com

The Poonjar Palace is a beautiful heritage site  surrounded by massive walls. .Located in the Meenachil Taluk of  Kottayam district, Kerala,  it is   600 years old (built in  the 1400s ). and is designed just like a Kerala temple as per Vastu Sastra  and the architecture bears testimony to it. The  architectural styles of ancient Chera and Pandya Kingdoms  are adopted here. At the four corners of the palace are four goddesses, as if they were guarding the palace and the temple inside it.  It is a great monument taking us back to the glorious regal splendor of the past era dominated by the monarchy. Since it  was built in a an area surrounded by forest, for the construction of the building wood was mainly used in many places. Both Kottayam and Idukki  districts have lots of wooded areas.  For the basement and walls, both   granite rocks and  laterite stones were used. For roofing  clay tiles of larger and medium sizes were used widely. Many great events took place in the hallowed premises of this palace which is located 30 kilometers away from Kottayam railway station. 

Poonjar, Kottayam Dist., Kerala.commons.wikimedia.org

Dharma Shasta temple, Poonjar, Keralaarchaeology.kerala.gov.in

Above image: The Dharma Shasta Temple in Poonjar was  constructed on the banks of Meenachil  river by the Pandya ruler of Madurai King Manavikrama Pandyan,.  It is a rare temple in Kerala  where the chuttuvillakku ( rows of lamps around the outer wall of the temple) is carved out of stone as opposed to wood.  It has been a tradition  to use wood  for the lamps in the Kerala temples. The reason was in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, forests were scare and the artisans who accompanied the ruler were well trained in stone work. The temple tank has well carved stone steps to reach the water. ...........................  

.Poonjar Madura Meenakshi temple, Kerala.pilgrimaide.com

Above image: Poonjar Madhura Meenakshi Temple built by the Pandya dynasty on the banks of the  Meenachil River. is  dedicated  to  their  tutelary deity - Goddess Meenakshi  Devi and Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva). The utchava murthy (processional idol), it is said, was brought from Madurai to this place by the ex ruler of Pandya Nadu.. Navaratri  is the main temple festival here. Traditional dress has to be worn to enter the temple on festive days..........................

In this palace there is a museum where   on display are  fine royal antiques and exotic pieces of furniture including  a  droni (treatment bed) carved out of a single piece of wood for Ayurvedic massages, palm leaf manuscripts, jewelry boxes,  grain measures, big  chandeliers, different kinds of lamps, idols of Hindu gods like Nataraja (Shiva)  and weapons of war. Of  great interest to the visitors is the presence of  a special conch which is taken out for ritualistic purposes once in a year.

Inside Poonjar palace, Kerala. flickriver.com

.Inside Poonjar palace, Kottayam dist., Kerala.tripnight.com

There is yet another attraction near the palace and it is that of a Hindu temple which closely resembles the famous Madurai Meenakshi  Amman temple  of  Tamil Nadu.  The various sculptures in the temple depict episodes or tales from the  Puranas (mythological legends). The visitors can not miss the large lamp - Chuttuvilakku (row of lamps) near the temple. These lamps on the walls  were chiseled  out of rocks  and they enhance the look  of the Shasta temple. It is said that such rock-cut oil lamps are  among the Hindu temples across the land.   


Origin of Poonjar kingdom, Kerala: 

Having been defeated by the Chola king Kulothunga Chola in 1157 CE , Pandya king Manavikrama Kulasekara Perumal,  appointed his brother Maravarman Sreebhallava as the the king of Pandya kingdom. Along with trusted servants he  left Madurai and  settled in Gudalloor region with his family. Later he shifted his residence to  Thekkumkoor. Madurai Meenakshi being their family deity (kuladevatha / tutelary deity), he carried the idols  (presumably utchavars/ processional deities) of the goddess and Sundareswarar (Shiva) and these idols were later  ceremoniously consecrated in the Poonjar Meenakshi temple on the banks of Meenacil  river. While on the move from Madurai, the ex-Raja and his entourage were attacked by robbers  at Vandiperiyar.  However, they were saved by a mahout and his elephant . it is said it was divine intervention and lord Ayyappa in the guise of a mahout helped the pious Pandya king. 

Later Manavikrama and his family initially settled in Kanjirappally and built a shrine for goddess Meenakshi there. After buying  lands from the Thekkumkoor rulers , Manavikrama and his family moved  over to the palace in Poonjar  from where the Koyikkal rulers ruled. About the incident at Vandiperiyar   Manavikrama  believed that a divine power in the form of  Lord Ayyappa  rescued him and his party. So, he had a separate idol  of Ayyappa   installed in the Poonjar Dharma Sastha temple and also had another temple for Ayyappa built  at Vandiperiyar  as a token of of his gratitude for lord Ayyappa. Over a period of time Manavikrama expanded his kingdom that  also included Cumbum, Koodallur, Uthamapalayam, Dindigul and Bodinayakkanur regions in Tamilakam. There was a marital alliance between   Edappally raja and   Manavikrama; the former married the latter's daughter and consequently regions like Kochi came under the Poonjar kingdom.  By 1425 CE, the area of Poonjar kingdom was about 4,000 km2 (1,500 sq. mi).