Udupi: The ’Sural Mud Palace' is unique - it is the only Mud Palace in the district and is an architectural marvel. Suralu was the capital of the Tolaha dynasty and the palace was built by the Tolaha dynasty in 1511 AD. Tolaha’s kingdom extended to Suralu, Shiriyara, Nalavattanadu, Kelanadu, Shankaranarayana, Basroor, Halligeri and Byndoor.
The Sural palace is a blend of Hindu and Jain culture. Situated in Sural village, Brahmavar, the entire palace is constructed with mud and wood. Amazingly, the palace has no foundation - Wooden pillars support the roof and an ancient interlock system is used to connect wooden pieces with each other. Indeed, not even a single nail is used in the construction.
Only 1.5 acres of the entire palace acerage of 22 acres has been used for the palace building, leaving the rest as open space. The palace has a beautiful “angala” (open space) and an extensive royal hall, next to which there are different sized ante-chambers. Moving on from the main-door, there is a big hall in a square shape, locally referred to as “Pattada Chavadi”.
The palace also includes a small shrine of Padmavathi Amma and a Jain temple in it, where prayers and offerings are offered till date. Every single room is a testimony of the skills displayed by the craftsmen/labourers/architects of the time.
Memories of another era
Speaking to News Karnataka, the latest descendant of Tholahars and the person in-charge of the palace, Sudarshan Shetty said that “I have a moral responsibility to preserve the palace, as it talks about our ancient culture and heritage."
“Sural palace was once upon a time known for its elegance and majesty. I still remember my childhood- for every meal there would be a minimum of 50 members present. Now the palace is empty”, shetty says sadly.
Sudarshan Shetty said social and political reforms also played very important role in the fall of the palace. “The Land reform Act put a full stop to the huge family atmosphere. Everyone departed from the palace as the situation demanded so".
The Land reform act has had both good and bad impact on people. “A few elements of the Act forced the families here to depart and make their own living. Everyone started finding jobs outside the state and few outside the country. Now the members of the families are everywhere in the world".
He went on to say, "I myself left the palace and joined Canara Bank at Mumbai. I was there for 20 years, 8 years in Delhi and retired as a Division Manager from Bangalore. I am settled in Mangalore with my family. I often visit the palace to maintain it".
Almost all my family members find time to be together on the occasions of Chaturthi, Vijayadashami, Navaratri pooja and for 'Hosa Akki Utta' – a one day pooja organized at the palace.
A Rathotsava and a Lakshadeepa is also organised at the temples inside the palace every year. People in large numbers participate in it, he added. Makarasankrathi is special here.
“As we follow Aliyakattu, the eldest male member of the family from the mother’s side will be declared as king. Now, I am in that position, so all the festivals are my responsibility. For financial needs I make my own arrangements and the public who visit the temple also contribute”.
A palace in the doldrums
Sadly however, this architectural marvel is now in a rundown condition. It deserves better attention, not only because it is historical and unique in its construction, but is a huge tourist attraction. It must be conserved by all means.
Paradoxically, the District administration is concentrating on many new projects as a part of developing tourism in the district, while it ignores the existing ancient architectural heritage.
In 2013 and 2014, the Archaeological Survey of India released Rs 1.6 crore for the restoration of the Sural palace.The restoration work was taken up by the Nirmiti Kendra. But work has been slow, as the Deputy Commissioners of the district kept changing over the past 2 years.
Restoring the palace to its former glory
Batting for the restoration of the palace, Shetty said, “I want the government to support to preserve the palace. To protect the entire palace,a minimum 5 to 6 crore is required”.
Arun Kumar, Project Director of Nirmiti Kendra, had a different figure in mind. Speaking to NewsKarnataka, he said that, to restore the entire palace an amount of Rs.10 crore is needed, however the Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage has released only Rs. 50 Lakh in 2013 and Rs. 1 Crore in March 2014.
With the released amount, which is about 1.50 crore, the restoration work of the north portion called Chavadi has been completed. “Rest of the work will be done before December this year. An additional amount of Rs. 10 lakh must be released by the government for the work”, he demanded.
“Rs. 10 crore is our demand for the restoration of the entire palace. Rs.1.60 Crore is too meager, and the government should act fast and release a minimum of Rs. 5 to 6 crore to protect this ancient heritage. The Government, Archaeological department, local administration and Tourism Development Corporation, must work together and come forward with a plan and aid the palace restoration”, he added.
Ancient monuments reflect the legacy of the period in which they were built. It is in this context, that the State government is planning to declare Udupi as a heritage city, to preserve and maintain the existing old buildings - The Sural palace, and the Jain and Bhuddha Basadis.
These architectural and structural marvels speak of the craftsmanship of those ancient ages (without technology and modern tools). They are also a witness to the social and economic prosperity of the past and preserving them is our responsibility.
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