1850’s Palki (Palanquin)

Heritage Transport Museum

Joy of travel in wheel-less transport

In the pre-mechanized section are displayed different carriages such as Bullock cart, Horse carriage, Camel carriage and Goat cart.

This section also has variety of beautiful ‘Palkis’ of different design and sign.

Palanquin derives its name from Sanskrit term ‘palanki’ for bed or the couch, and later on British called it ‘Palan Queen’.

Gallery view

The beautifully decorated ‘Palki’ from 1850 is representative of the exquisite palanquin collection of the Heritage Transport Museum.

The tradition of wheel carriages such as Palanquin, for travelling, is very old in India. The earliest literary reference of the use of Palanquin, popularly known as ‘Palki’, can be traced to Ramayana (250. BC). Inspite of innovations in transport mediums and availability of the variety of transports, the use of ‘Palki’ in India continued till modern times.

The body structure of Palki is in the form of a contraption supported by bamboo or wooden poles on each side.

Details of the body structure of Palki

It consisted of central seating space for one or two passengers. Like a covered cart, it provided shelter to the traveler from heat and dust. The Palki entourage consisted of carriers, lamp bearers and others.

Detailed view of the central seating space

Every Palki was designed to be carried by a pair of men carrying it in pairs of four or six. The bearers were known with different regional nomenclatures such as Dulia, Kahar, Behara, Boyee etc.

The design and ornamentation work depended on the social status, need and length and purpose of journeys. The interiors were furnished with neat bedding usually stuffed with the cotton, and a pair of pillows. The richly ornamented ‘Palki’ usually belonged to royalty and wealthy nobles.

Palkis were decorated using lacquer paintwork. The designs included foliage patterns, animal figures or geometrical designs.

Cast bronze finials were placed at the pole ends of the Palki. These finials were in the form of birds, flowers, animals as well as figures from mythology and folklore's.

Detailed view of Palanquin finials

Journeys in ‘Palki’ were considered to be extremely personalized and enjoyable. The European traders during 18th century extensively used such vehicles to be transported to haats and bazaars. For the longer journeys the valuables of traveler were carried by the bearers who were larger in numbers.

Extensive traditional usage of Palki for weddings, religious and royal processions and various socio-cultural ceremonies has given it a ritualistic position in Indian Heritage. Indian musical heritage is rich with special Palki songs for various occasions.

Coming of the railways and motorized conveyance modes led to the decline in the use of ‘Palki’ from the beginning of mid 19th century.

Bombay Baroda & Central India Railway logo with a palki image

View of the palki at Heritage Transport Museum

Credits: Story

Mr. Tarun Thakral
Mr. Vivek Seth
Dr. Shashi Bala
Ms. Ragini Bhat

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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