Mukthamal Chatram, Orathanad, TN built by Maratha king Sefoji in honor of his wife - needs urgent conservation

Mukthamal chatram, orathanad, TN times

Intertwined with social and cultural ethos of the delta district of Thanjavur, road side inns locally called Chatrams (Choultrys) played no less role than other facilities. The concept was introduced by the Maratha dynasty of Thanjavur top help the long distance travelers be they pilgrims or traders. This offered  them free of cost  good food, basic facilities and above all protection from wild animals and robbers.   The money to run these inns came from endowments under the managements of the chatrams. Each chatram had enough land revenue and food grains to run the facility without running low on money.  Among the twenty plus such chatrams barely a few are surviving and among them is  Mukthamal  Chatram.

Mukthamal chatram, orathanad, TN

Located in Orathanadu town about 24 km from Thanjavur city (famous for big temple dedicated to Brehadeeswar temple),  Muktammal  Chatram is barely surviving and parts of the two story structure are in ruins. The plan of the building resembles a chariot with stone wheels, Inside there are  two court yards, one being enclosed by impressive arched structure. Decadence is writ largely on the old building, it shows total apathy and decades of negligence and poor maintenance on the part of chatram officials. No moving of lawns or manicuring and the  court yard  surrounded by well-carved ornate  colonnade needs special attention.  On the ground floor there are fairly big rooms with a passage to the kitchen connected to  the backyard.  The large arches  and columns are designed with meticulous care.  Extensive wood works on the ceiling and on the wooden pillars is just mind-boggling. It looks as if this portion has not seen paint or at least wood primer for a long period. 

Mukthamal chatram, orathanad, TN

On the first floor the ceiling is supported by ornate wooden pillars  and one of them on the first floor is missing. The upper parts of the pillars show rich ornamentation in the shape of brackets supporting the wooden beams. There  are fine wooden carvings and stucco works inside the structure  mostly carrying Hindu  religious themes. The unique structural feature of this Chatram is the use of well-sculpted bricks specially made for decorative works. The amazing wood works throw light on the extradentary talents and workmanship of the well-trained carpenters of past era. 

Orathanad Tk, Thanjavur

It is almost a self contained structure store room with, spacious  kitchen, dining  area, rest rooms for pilgrims, a small health center with  dispensary and trained doctors. Apart there was  a school and staff quarters  to impart education to the local students. Yet another information is (according to Selvaraj of  Chola Historical center) there were well-furnished rooms for members of the royal family and European officials on q visit to this place. 

Named after Mukthamal,  sister of  Muthukrishna Naidu (Perianna), an ooficial in the Maratha kingdom,  she had matrimonial alliance with the Maratha ruler Raja Serfoji II.  This chatram was built in  November 1869 (vide Maratha inscription) by the ruler in her memory. 

Raja Serfoji II (1777-1832), last ruler of the Maratha  Bhonsle clan,  fell in love with Mukthamal, a woman of ravishing beauty  and married her through a custom known as kathi kalyanam because the bride was Non-Maratha. According to this custom the mangalsutra will be tied by a sumangali  (a married woman) on behalf of the ruler with a sword placed near the bride. Sword being the a symbol ruling class royalty  was imparted on the woman. Seforji was very much devoted to her and she more or less enjoyed the status of  a queen and bore him two children. Unfortunately, the kids  did not survive. Soon Mukthamal became dejected and grief-stricken. 

According to Sri Selvaraj  when Mukthamal  on her deathbed, she requested Serfoji to build a chatram in her name  to help pilgrims and at the same time promote education to women and destitute. This was how the Mukthamal Chatram came into existence and it is said, it used to be a  rich chatram with lots of endowed landed properties and more than sufficient revenue to meet the expenses..  

The INTACH Thanjavur chapter and the chatram department have a proposal to  to repair and restore the remaining chatrams in Thanjavur district to preserve  our past history frozen in time.