Historical Sites in India – Southern Kerala

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History of Kerala can be traced back to 4000 B.C., when Proto Australoid and Negrito race inhabited the land. Microlithic artefacts dating back to 4000 B.C. have been recovered near Calicut. Megalithic monuments like various kinds of burial stones and urns and some man-made underground chambers have also been found. By around 3000 B.C.

Kerala had trade relation with Sindhu Valley Civilization and its spices and commodities like Sandalwood, Ivory and Teakwood among other things were exported to many countries of the west. Kerala held a considerable position in the commercial map of the ancient world. It is believed that the Peacocks, Monkeys, Ivory and spices which King Solomon received, were exported from Kerala. The teak found in the ruins of Ur must certainly have come from the Malabar Coast. This means trade flourished around 3000 BC.

Cotton from this region was a favourite in Egypt, the Phoenicians visited the coast of Malabar around the same time to trade in ivory, sandalwood and spices. King Solomon is said to have sent his commercial fleet to Ophir which is said to be somewhere in Southern Kerala.

Muziris (Kodungalloor or Cranganore) is reputed to be the ancient world's greatest trading centre in India for such highly prized possessions as pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and other spices. Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome), is said to have lamented the fact that trade with the East was draining the treasury of Rome.

By common consent among the historians, the earliest inhabitants of Kerala were the Pulayas, Kuravas and Vetas. It is at a much later time that migratory populations from the north subjugated them and ultimately enslaved them, a state to which they were in until the abolition of untouchability in the recent past.

Today we look at the historical monuments in the Southern districts of the state. Southern Kerala includes the districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, and Idukki.

Here are some of the most important places in this region.


Anchuthengu Fort, Thiruvananthapuram

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Anchuthengu, formerly known as Anjengo, is a place situated about 12 km from Varkala. The island is very small in area, sandwiched between the sea and backwaters.

Anchuthengu has great relevance in the history. It was the first trade settlement of the East India Company. The Queen of Attingal gave permission to the British under the East India Company to make a factory in Anchuthengu in 1684. They also got a permission to build a fort in 1690 and the Anjengo Fort was built in 1695.

The settlement in Anchuthengu helped the Company promote its trade with various countries, as the place supported water way communication to the North.  They also opened a depot to keep the military equipment at Anchuthengu. In short, this small island soon became one of the major trading platforms of the British in India, after Mumbai.


Kanakakunnu Palace, Thiruvananthapuram

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Located about 800 meters north east of the Napier Museum in the heart of Trivandrum city, Kanakakunnu Palace is one of the last architectural vestiges of the colonial era.

It is said to be built by Sree Moolam Thirunal. It has been later used by the Travancore royal family to entertain its guests and serve non vegetarian food as the royal family was vegetarian. It is now protected by the tourism department the palace plays host to a lot of cultural meets and programs.

Later, Swathi Thirunal, one of Travancore’s popular rulers, refurbished the palace and constructed tennis courts in the premises. He also did use it for a few years as a summer retreat. Boasting a Kerala style facade, the Travancore royal family used the house to entertain guests.

The palace boasts of massive crystal chandeliers and an array of exquisite pieces of royal furniture – a testimony to the lavish lifestyle of the Thirunal kings who had a penchant for music and art. Add to it a picturesque setting on the crest of a small hill lush with meadows, grooves and flowering shrubs.


Koyikkal Palace, Thiruvananthapuram

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The Koyikkal Palace is a palace situated in Nedumangadu in Thiruvananthapuram District. The palace was built in 16th century for Umayamma Rani of the Venad Royal Family. Umayamma Rani was the regent of Venad between 1677 and 1684. The palace is a double storeyed building and built with traditional architectural style of Kerala.

The palace was built in the manner of traditional Nalukettu Style with sloping roofs and an inner courtyard. The 1st floor of the palace is the Folklore Museum which was started in 1992. Some of the rare articles exhibited in this Museum include Chandravalayam (a small percussion instrument used as an accompaniment while reciting the ballad Ramakathappattu) and Nanthuni (a sweet sounding musical instrument made of wood and string used while singing the Onappattu and Nanthunippattu during Onam the harvest festival of Kerala).

The Numismatics Museum at the Koyikkal Palace is the only one of its kind in the State. Occupying the ground floor of the palace, the coins displayed here belong to different parts of the world as well as to different periods. This rare and historically valuable collection is a vestige of the trade relation of Kerala in the bygone ages.


Poonjar Palace, Kottayam 

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Poonjar Palace is one of Kottayam’s well known landmarks, a favoured destination for art and history lovers and a reminder of Kottayam’s glorious legacy and past. Poonjar Palace has beautifully preserved the past which is now exhibited through the grand chandeliers, Nataraja sculptures, military equipment etc.

Although the exteriors of the palace is rather modest, it is when one enters in to the complex that one witness the fine frescos and paintings that adorn its interiors, walls and roofs. Most of these paintings depict incidents from ancient Puranas.

The chief attraction however is the Chituvilakku (rock cut lamps) the only of its kind laid out in a row which are regarded as rarest of rare in Kerala. A replica of Madurai’s famous Meenakshi temple exists near the site.


Thangasseri, Kollam 

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Thangasseri or ‘Dutch Quilon’ as it was called, was once a British enclave. Meaning ‘gold village’ in local parlance, this was the hub of a flourishing trade that used gold as currency. This seaside village of historic importance shelters the ruins of an Old Portuguese fort as well as churches built during the 18th century. It is situated 5 km away from Kollam town in the state of Kerala.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish a trading centre in Thangasseri, Kollam, in 1502. It became a major centre of trade in pepper. In the 18th century, the kingdom of Travancore conquered Kollam, followed by the British in 1795.

Thangasseri remains an Anglo-Indian settlement in character, though there are few Anglo-Indians in the population. The Infant Jesus Church in Thangasseri, an old Portuguese-built church, remains as a memento of Portuguese rule.


Kuthiramalika Museum, Thiruvananthapuram

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Kuthiramalika Palace Museum or Puthenmalika Palace Museum is a beautiful two-storeyed palace situated near the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Also known as horse palace it houses numerous artefacts.

The unique Navaratri Mandapam in front of the palace, a venue for concerts, uses traditional sound reflectors comprising of 50 clay pots hung upside down from the ceiling, creating an effect that outdoes even modern acoustic systems.

This palace was built by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Balarama Varma - the King of Travancore, who was a great poet, musician, social reformer and statesman. This rare specimen of workmanship, in the traditional Travancore style of architecture has exquisite wood carvings. The palace museum displays paintings and various priceless collections of the royal family.


Krishnapuram Palace, Alappuzha

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Krishnapuram Palace is located in Kayamkulam, in the Alappuzha district. The palace was built in the traditional Kerala style of architecture during the 18th century by King Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma.

Among the many Kerala-style paintings seen in the palace, a distinctly placed mural painting is titled "Gajendra Moksham" which is 154 square feet in size. It is said to be the largest such find in Kerala. It is placed on the western end of the ground floor of the palace.

The Krishnapuram Palace, as one of the finest and rarest examples of a typical Keralite-style architecture, known in the local language as Pathinerakettu, is complete with gabled roofs, narrow corridors and dormer windows. It is a miniature replica of Padmanabhapuram Palace, which was the headquarters of Travancore Rajas.