Madurai, India. On our last day in Madurai we saw different ends of the astonishing spectrum that is India. From a royal palace to the humble possessions of Gandhi, we experienced two contrasting examples of magnificence, without needing to reference the Raj at all.
The Thirumalai Nayakar Palace is a 17th century masterpiece built by a king of Madurai’s Nayaka dynasty, who ruled from 1623–59. Only about twenty percent of his palace remains today. That twenty percent is amazing in its grandeur, even empty of all the rich furnishings that must have once adorned it.
Suitably chastised by the entrance rules (especially rule #6), we entered into an amazing courtyard surrounded by a pillared portico whose columns are immense. This palace was well-designed to impress any who were privileged to be received. We were almost alone, which made it even better.
The throne room was fit for a king and the dancing room and other chambers continued to impress. The carvings were incredibly intricate and in great condition after a recent renovation. The Moorish touches abound and add to the sense of luxury.
While it is found inside another palace, the Gandhi Memorial Museum has nothing of the palatial about it. Years after his assassination in 1948 an appeal was made to the citizens of India nationwide to build memorials for him. With the help of contributions from poor and rich citizens of India, a trust was established for the cause, and this museum was created and inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959. The story of the man and the sense of his message are well-delivered, and the humble artifacts of his life are sobering to see. The struggle for independence was very long and very hard, but it was finally achieved.
We are somewhat influenced by just having seen the wonderful film of Gandhi with Ben Kingsley before we left. Now, of course, his political views are being rethought and his popularity as the Father of the Nation is under some pressure. It is ever thus…