Wednesday 15 May 2013

The four palaces

Anyone visiting Mysore will never forget the Main Palace. An architectural marvel, the palace leaves everyone spellbound. The Indo-Saracenic marvel in architecture, it is a harmonious admixture of Hindu, Rajput, Muslim and even Gothic styles.
The three-storied stone and fine granite structure, with deep pink marble domes and a 145 ft five-storied tower, is one of the most remarkable buildings of the world.
It was commissioned by the Regent of Mysore, Maharani Vani Vilas Sannidhana, designed by Henry Irwin (1841-1922) and commissioned in 1897. It was completed in 1912 and expanded later around 1940. This is one of the most photographed monument of Mysore and the illuminated palace enthrals millions of  people.
The palace comes alive during the Dassara celebrations when it becomes the centre piece of the Nada habba. Actually, this is the fourth palace to come up on the very same spot.
Chronicles and records with the Mysore palace, books at the Oriental research Institute and the annals of the Mysore royal family found in “Srimanmaharajaravara Vamsavalli” testify to the fact that there existed a palace here in the 14th century when the Wodeyars came to power. That palace was enclosed by a wooden fort. This was the palace which in 1638 was struck by lightning and rebuilt by Kantirava Narasa Raja Wodeyar (1638-1659). He also is credited with having extended the existing structures and added new pavilions.      
When Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar (1673-1704) died, Mysore plunged into anarchy and the palace gradually slipped into oblivion. When Hyder Ali became powerful, the palace ceased to be the centre of power and Mysore became a forlone city even as Srirangapatna grew politically.   
Tipu demolished the palace in 1793 and even set about destroying the old fort. However, he did not touch the temples. When he died in Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799, there was not even a single building of note for the young Wodeyar Prince. Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the third (1794-1868) to be crowned as the ruler of Mysore. He was just five years when he was crowned at a marquee (a large and elaborately built tent) in Nazarbad, which today is a locality in Mysore.
It was then the third palace came to be constructed. The construction of the palace was one of the first acts of  the Wodeyar King once he ascended the throne. As it was hastily constructed, it lacked even basic safety features.
It was 124 feet high and 156 feet wide and was spread over 85 acres. It was completed in 1807 at a cost of Rs 7.41 lakh and it was built in Indo-Saracenic style. Its interiors were richly decorated, separated by huge open courts, but its exterior was not embellished. The eastern side of the Old Palace, as it is commonly known, housed the Durbar Hall on the first floor. A description of the palace is contained in the Mysore Gazeteer.
This palace was extensively damaged in a fire accident in February, 1897 during the closing function of the wedding ceremony of Princess Jayalakshmammani.
The fire is believed to have started in the kitchen and very soon it blazed out of control. Only the temple of Atmavilas Ganapthi was left standing, and this was later incorporated in the new building
With the entire palace gutted, the Queen Regent decided to build a new palace. Work on the new palace commenced in October 1897, just eight months after the fire mishap. When completed in 1912, the palace costed Rs. 41,47,913. The initial estimate of Henry Irwin was a little above Rs. 25 lakhs.
One of the earliest written records of the palace and its construction  can be gleaned from an article  in “The journal Indian Engineering” in its issue of October, 1898.
The article speaks of the Government's directive regarding reconstruction of the palace: “ the reconstruction, stone, brick and iron should be the chief materials used, and that the use of wood and other combustible materials should be avoided wherever possible”. The estimated expenditure at the planning stage was Rs. 25 lakhs (Rs. 2 500 000). It further says, “Mr. Irwin, of Madras, was given the work of preparing a suitable design, which, it should be said in fairness to him, he did most creditably. The design was adopted, Mr. Irwin paid a fee of Rs. 12 000 and the work was put in hand in August 1897. But in an evil hour the Durbar determined that the work should be carried on departmentally...”.
Till the palace was completed, the royal family lived in the Jaganmohan palace which was built in 1867.  
Today, the main palace is such an overwhelming structure that it erases all of the past that is painful. By the way, the site where main palace now stands was earlier a village called Puragere. The Mahishuru fort around the palace was constructed in 1524 by Chamaraja Wodeyar III (1513–1553).
The palace was integrated with the surroundings in such a manner that it was surrounded by the temples. However, the small township that existed within the fort were dismantled and the people settled in Mysore city. Today, there are 12 temples surrounding the palace and a few of them have an even older history than the palace (An earlier post has dealt with the temples of Mysore palace).
The Palace, with its  arched gateways, occupies 72 acres in the heart of Mysore (one acre is 0.4 hectare). The main entrance to the palace is through the tall and imposing East Gate. It is through this gate that tourists enter the palace.
There are several gates to the fort surrounding the palace such as  the Jayamartanda, Balarama, Jayarama, Brahmapuri, Karikal Thoti and Varaha.
Dr. M.S. Nagaraja Rao, former Director General of Archaeological Survey of India, has authored a book on the Mysore Palace.
This is the first of the three articles on lesser known facts of the palace.

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