This great pillared hall, with its open courtyard covering an unbroken area of more than two acres, has actually witnessed the barbaric splendour of the Great Tiroomal Naik, and re-echoed with the roars of wild beasts and the shouts of the approving multitudes, or the more peaceful trumpeting of the elephants, and the chant and jangle of the Nautch girls. Whether it is that the mind instinctively depicts such scenes as these; whether it is from the effect of the tropical sun - the flood of fierce light which pours down vertically into this courtyard and reflects itself in subdued brilliance through the long pillared aisles of the interior; or whether it is that the very memories of history itself, lend age to a building well within historical times, I am unable to say, but whatever the cause I must confess that I feel, in common with most people who visit the place, those emotional sensations usually called into existence by the contemplation of a great work. 1
In 1876, when Robert Fellowes Chisholm read this description of the Nayaka palace at Madurai to his fellow members of the Royal Institute of British Architects, it was to mark the completion of the described building's restoration. Chisholm was, by far, one of RIBA's fondest admirers of south Indian architecture in the late nineteenth century, as is reflected in both the palace's restoration and in the many Indo-Saracenic buildings that he was responsible for constructing on the subcontinent. 2 However, Chisholm's playful reverie about 'Tiroomal Naik's Palace' is hardly historically grounded. As an architect, his research was more concerned with recording how the palace was constructed and decorated. His attempt to elucidate its historical context says more about how his imagination was personally affected by the building than it does about how the palace was experienced by those who would have entered it in the seventeenth century.
The aim of this book is to establish a meaningful framework through which the function of south Indian courtly material culture in the pre-colonial period can be assessed. This is achieved by looking at how palaces