Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal: The story of south India’s most stunning palace

Thirumalar Nayakar Mahal

Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal is one of those places that holds you in awe every time you visit it. Its opulent interiors and huge ivory pillars, makes this Madurai palace a Mahal that gives you an authentic taste of dravidian grandeur. Located about 1.5 Kms from Madurai’s iconic city center, this palace bears the name of its builder Thirumalai Nayak. If you were ever to pass by Madurai, catching a glimpse of the legendary Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal should be on top of your To-Do list!

History of Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal

In the previous paragraph, did you note that I called Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal a ‘legendary’ palace? Well trust me, it is. Having faced multiple wars, climatic calamities, and destructive activities by its own occupants, Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal is almost the only grand royal complex that stood the test of time, in Tamil Nadu. Though the structure we now see is just one fourth of the original complex, this palace still captivates us with its extravagant pillars bearing the meticulous craftsmanship. So what is the story of this Mahal?

Back in the 17th century, 1636 to be exact, King Thirumalai Nayakar – a king of the Nayak royal family who ruled Madurai, decided to build a stunning royal complex. Legend says that he hired a Italian architect to design the complex, and hence the Dravidian – Italian architecture. During this period Madurai was a thriving kingdom with Portuguese, Dutch and other Europeans as traders, missionaries and visiting travelers. This might have influenced the design inspirations of the palace. 

Thiruamali Nayakar Mahal history - MittaiStories
Thiurmalai Nayakar Mahal Painting

The architectural style : A Mahal covered with gold

With huge magnificent pillas, lime yellow columns, and intricate interior design this royal mahal has a contrastingly austeric exterior. Once covered with gold and precious jewels this lustrous interior was a one suit for a King. 

The iconic glossy white giant pillars are 82 feet high and 19 feet wide. The Dravidian style chunnam and egg white mix used back in the days, adds a layer of gloss to these pillars.

Furthermore, fresco and stucco artworks dominate the grand ceilings that mesmerizes anyone who dares to stare at them long enough. 

The now remaining enclosed court is called the Swarga Vilasam (roughly translated as  : The celestial pavilion). 

Placed in Swarga Vilasam’s prime location is the royal throne. It is a constant reminder of the glorious past when King Thirumalai Nayakar communed with his ministers and people from this place. Above the throne is positioned a meticulously designed multi folded arches enclosing the throne chamber. The audience chamber is a vast hall with arcades about 12 m high. 

The celestial pavilion and Ranga Vilasam are now the only standing parts of the once huge complex. Additionally the Madurai palace encloses the royal residence, audio and visual theatre, a local shrine, apartments armory, palanquin place, royal bandstand, quarters, pond and a circular garden. 

The Madurai palace draws thousands of visitors just to soak in the beauty of the royal courtyard and the dancing hall.

The fall of the Madurai Palace

Astounding amount of effort and workmanship went into this timeless beauty. However like every other historic monument, this too had to stand the test of time. 

The original palace complex was broken into so many pieces by its own residents. These were then used as granaries, garrisons and several other nearby makeshift buildings. 

Thirumalai Nayakar’s grandstone tore down most parts of the palace and used the intricate wood works and jewels to build a palace of his own in Tiruchirapalli.

Equally, wars and climatic calamities destroyed the rest that survived and left only on the now standing complex.

The British Influence: Lord Napier, Colonial governor of Madras between 1866 – 1872 partially restored the palace complex and the surrounding broken palace units to serve as garrisons and gun powder storage areas.  

Here’s how you can spend a day in Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal

One can not be anything less than awe-struck if they ever visit this Madurai Palace. So how would it feel to spend a day in this palace? Well, let me take you on a virtual tour!

Get your tickets folks! Its 9.00am now, and we’ve just got our tickets to enter the palace. We now stare at a large pastel brown stone with two dark brown pillar blending in with the walls.

Welcome to courtyard! As we enter the wooden doors we are welcomed by the courtyard that houses large white pillars with lime yellow columns and mesmerising craftsmanship!

Certainly take a step back to soak in the opulence, click a few selfies if you will and walk with me through these long corridors. Don’t forget to look up on your way. You do not want to miss the fine interiors with artistic painting covering the ceiling.

Not to mention, maybe try to catch a peek of bright madurai sky through the windows. 

Now, we are in the most important part of our entire palace tour. Right in front of you is the throne seat of Thirumalai Nayak’s. This is from where he might have ruled his kingdom, 400 years back. 

Moreover you can now take a stroll of the palace complex as you like. Ive added several pics of the complex for a virtual experience of the palace! 

While you are there, do visit the museum that is within the complex and have a look into several fine sculptures, deities, and palm leaf manuscripts.

You can also attend the light show reflecting on the literary references to Madurai’s historic past. It is held in the courtyard everyday.

Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal : Entry fee and show timings 

Generally, this Royal complex is open to public on all days at the below said timings. You can have a look into the rich interiors, the museum and attend the light show with an entry fee as low as 10 Indian Rupees.


For general visit: 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM

Lunch Break: 01.00 PM to 01.30 PM

Sound & Light Show Time: 

6.45 PM to 7.35 PM in English

8.00 PM to 8.50 PM in Tamil

Madurai Palace light show - Mittai Stories
Thirumalai Nayak Palace Light Show

How to reach Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal: 

The Thirumalai Nayakar palace complex lies in an easily reachable location. The best ways to reach the mahal would be by road, train, or by air. Here’s how to reach Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal easily,

Locals: You can reach the mahal through several district buses or by local autos and cabs.

Other district/ state visitors: Quickest way to reach would be by reaching Madurai by air.The  Madurai Airport is located at Avaniyapuram, about 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) from the city. It offers excellent domestic connectivity and has international flights and services to several countries like Singapore and SriLanka. Madurai is also easily reachable from districts and states through its extensive railway and by road connectivity. Madurai Junction is the major railway station serving the District. 

Foreign visitors: If you do not have a direct connecting flight to Madurai you can take a flight to Chennai International terminus, and then a connecting flight to Madurai. 

In conclusion, Madurai is not a very hard place to reach and you can easily commute through road, rail, or by air.

Finally, now that we have reached the end of this post on this beautiful Madurai palace, you might also want to read up on a nearby hidden coastal fisherman hamlet – Manapad. Im sure its beauty and history will entice anyone!

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  1. […] to view! Additionally the inside of the governor’s house is sure to remind you the mesmerizing Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal in […]

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