Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mattancherry Palace

Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese and presented to Veera Kerala Varma (1537-65), Raja of Kochi, in 1555, by way of appeasement for their plundering of nearby temples. The Dutch carried out some extensions and renovations in the palace in 1663, and thereafter it was popularly called Dutch Palace. Today, it is a portrait gallery of the Cochin Rajas and notable for some of the best mythological murals in India, which are in the best traditions of Hindu temple art. The Ramayana (an epic legend I'm vaguely familiar with as it's a popular theme in Thai art) is beautifully depicted, as are Shiva and Vishnu in other rooms. But it wasn't for the Ramayana that my schoolgirl curiosity had really brought me to the palace.

The decor in the ladies' bedchamber was obviously designed to get its occupants in a suitably playful mood. The walls are covered in saucy murals, from a multi-handed Krishna attending to a small harem of contented milkmaids, to woodland scenes of a menagerie of animals - as the captions put it - "giving themselves up to merry enjoyment." Deer, cows, elephants, lions, baboons, even rats and birds, cavort around the walls. Some of the scenes are quite sweet, like the couple of deer engaged in a game of hide-and-seek in the trees, or the mating lions nuzzling each other affectionately. But I draw the line at bovine cunnilingus. That's just weird.


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