Like the older ceremonial centres of Vijayanagara and Madurai, Ramnad holds the key ingredients of a ceremonial centre; its palace is inside a walled compound and is connected with a temple dedicated to a protective goddess who is venerated during the annual navaratri festival. In this chapter, the buildings which compose the palace complex at Ramnad are described and interpreted. In particular, I consider how south Indian palace space was organized and what this organization says about the function of the palace.
Construction of the palace at Ramnad began in the late seventeenth century. Its earliest structures are no longer standing because they were gradually replaced by more permanent structures during the early eighteenth century. By the mid-eighteenth century, a fully formed palace complex constructed out of brick, stone and timber was standing at the centre of Ramnad town. Most of the buildings in the palace have stone foundations made of granite blocks, while their superstructures are made of brick which has been plastered over and painted. Decorative stuccowork, which was used to create both sculptural details and parapets, adorns the upper portions of several buildings. At first glance the stuccowork resembles carved sandstone, but this is because of the high sand content in the local soil, which forms the main ingredient in the stucco.
The buildings in the palace compound were both structurally and stylistically different from those outside it. In 1773 George Patterson remarked that '[t]he houses within the wall of the fort are but few in number and mostly of mud or unburned brick'. 187 This account is supported by the drawing found in the Mackenzie collection, dated 1784, showing the approach to the palace [Fig. 68]. In the foreground we see buildings of mud and thatch construction, and in the background we see the tall buildings which still make up the palace compound. The Mackenzie drawing thus helps us to visualize the contrast between buildings constructed inside and outside the palace compound. Also, the skyline of the palace buildings in the Mackenzie drawing corresponds with the buildings which currently stand in Ramnad Palace, indicating that these structures are datable to the pre-colonial period.