A Palatial Legacy

In ancient days when wars often broke out and kingdoms had to be protected from neighboring marauders, important cities had to be walled in or be surrounded by natural barriers such as rivers or hills.

The city of Madurai was the capital of many ancient kingdoms and has been in existence since over 2000 years; the city is currently the second largest city in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and well-developed with airport, railways and major highways. It’s known as the temple city due to the towering presence of the historical Meenakshi temple located in the city center.

Though the city is decked up with modern structures that define contemporary living, there are numerous nooks and crannies where delightful pieces of history are still being discovered. One such remnant is the unfinished Nayak Fort that now houses the corporation offices as well as a library on the ground floor. Usually the structure is defaced by numerous posters, but once in a while during clean-up, one can see the splendor of the gleaming white structure underneath.

During the Pandya era, they surrounded the city with a deep moat and high mud walls that skirted the Vaigai River to form a natural defense set-up on one side. Later, when the Nayak dynasty established its own reign, they were very interested in re-constructing and expanding the city; they extended the splendor of the Meenakshi temple, built water tanks, aqueducts and forts. The ruler Viswanathan Nayak demolished the old Pandya rampart ditches that surrounded the walls of the temple and instead constructed an extensive double-walled fortress with 72 bastions amidst its sprawling length. For better management, he further divided Madurai into 72 ‘palayams’ and handed over each of them a bastion under their jurisdiction for guarding.

These 16nth century stone wall structures had intermittent double-storied bastions or garrisons built along them with about 5-10 rooms in each, for the guards and arsenal storage. After the Britishers took over, the then Collector Black Burn in 1841 was interested in city extension activities and demolished these historically significant bastions and filled the moats to form streets. What’s interesting here though is that he demolished only 71 bastions, leaving one bastion standing. Though historians have tried to figure out why one was spared, it’s still not clear and only hypothesis are being flung around….maybe it was serving as a hospital…or maybe it was a senior British official’s office, but sadly, no records exist to back up the theories.

The Library in this building is named after a 13-year-old boy Mani, who got martyred during a political meet in 1942; though it started as a mere reading room in 1958, it’s now a full-fledged public library. On a silent night though, you can feel the pounding feet of the patrolling guards as you let your imagination run riot in this place!