Thursday 6 June 2013

This photographer became the Commander-in-Chief of India

A photograph, the adage goes,  can say what a hundred words cannot. A photograph perhaps is the most faithful representation of a person or a building.
The word photograph is derived from the Greek photos- for light and -graphos for drawing. This process of  creating and recording durable  images was started in the early years of the 19th century and the first permanent photoetching was an image produced in 1822 by the French inventor Nicephore Niepce, but it was destroyed by an attempt to duplicate it. NiĆ©pce once again invented the whole process and was successful 1825. He made the first permanent photograph from nature with a camera in 1826.
Almost a century later, a British military officer, who had visited Mysore Kingdom, stayed back in Mysore for a few days and he took a photograph of the Maharaja’s palace.
This photograph of the magnificent palace was taken sometime in the early years of the 20th century and it today remains the only known photograph (there are many painting though of the palace) of the wooden palace that was first constructed 1803.
Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, was killed in the battle of Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799 and the five-year-old, Mumadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the third (1794-1868), was placed on the throne at a hastily arranged coronation in a elaborately designed pandal near workmen sheds in present day Nazarbad. Mysore.
After the ceremony, the King’s family members, (the King was just a child to understand anything), Dewan Purnaiah and the British agreed that a palace was needed to house the King and the royal family as Tipu had razed to the ground the earlier palace of the Wodeyars at Puragere, the village which once stood near the present location of the palace.
A wooden palace was commissioned to be built and it was hastily completed in 1803 and Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar moved into the palace with his family.
The “Srimanmaharajaravara Vamsavalli”, which is the official annal of the Mysore royal family or the Wodeyars, contains details of this wooden palace and also the Rajas and Maharajas of  Wodeyar dynasty who lived in the palace from the 14th century.
However, the first definite mention of the palace is in 1638 when the Vamsavalli says the palace was struck by lightning and partly damaged during the reign of  Ranadhira Kantirava Narasaraja Wodeyar. He rebuilt the palace and also made a few additions. It was this palace that Tipu had razed to the ground and compelled the royal family, including the King, to shift to Srirangapatna, his capital.
Other references to the coronation and the subsequent construction of  the wooden palace is first by the then Duke of Wellington in 1799 that “there was no stately structure or house at all in the city suitable for the enthronement of the young raja” and, therefore, the coronation had to take place in a shamiana at Nazarbad.
The next reference to the Mysore Palace is in a correspondence by Col. Wellesley who wrote that the Raja's family has moved into old Mysore where their ancient palace has been rebuilt in the same form in which it was earlier.”
The Mysore Gazeteer says the wooden palace came to be constructed at almost exactly the same spot as was the earlier palace. However, this palace had very little fire safety norms and wood had been liberally used to embellish it. The hastily constructed palace soon fell into disrepair and it was in pretty bad shape in the later years of the 19th century.
The late T.P. (Tribhuvan Prakash) Issar (1969-2004), former Chief Secretary, historian  and an author on books on Bangalore and Mysore, said in “Mysore-the Royal city” that “the wooden palace was an old structure of great extent, separated by open courts, in the Indo-Saracenic style. He quotes from a report of 1890 published in Indian Engineering.
Indian Engineering noted that the wooden palace’s interior was richly decorated, while the exterior was quite commonplace.   
The wooden palace was typical Hindu in style and the Darbar hall, reception hall and other rooms of State were on the first floor, while the ground floor had a fairly large open space.
The floors were a mix of plaster and mortar and the pillars, beams and some walls were made of wood. In 1897, during the closing ceremony of  Princess Jayalakshmi Ammani’s wedding, a fire in the kitchen blazed out of control, and the palace was almost completely destroyed.
Only the temple of Atmavilas Ganapthi was left standing, along with its silver doors and this was incorporated in the new building whose construction was started by the Regent Vanivilasa Sannidhana in 1897 itself-a few months after the blaze.
Unfortunately, though there are many photographs of  Mysore then, its surroundings, buildings, parks and playgrounds and  even the royal family, there is none except a lone photograph of the burnt down wooden palace.
This lone photograph was taken by a British officer who was commissioned in the 12th Royal Lancers. This officer later went on to become the Commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army from 1925 till 1930 and he retired as Filed Marshal of both British Army and the Australian Army.
This officer is none other than William Riddell Birdwood (1865-1951).
Birdwood came to Bangalore sometime in 1886 and visited Mysore. When in Bangalore, he participated in the regimental sports and suffered two falls from a horse. He learnt Hindustani and passed higher secondary in the subject on August 4, 1886.
He then traveled to Mysore and from there went to Ooty before joining the 11th Bengal Cavalry in Nowgong on December 19, 1886.    
Birdwood photographed the Mysore palace in 1886, a full eleven years before it burnt down.
Birdwood had a distinguished military career, winning several honors and serving under Lord Kitchner. He came back to India and in 1920 he was made the General Officer Commanding of the Northern Command (Army) in India in 1920 and Commander-in-chief of the Indian Army in 1925.
Birdwood visited Mysore in 1929 and when he met the Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the fourth, he handed over the photograph he had taken of the wooden palace.
By then, the wooden palace had been replaced with the present palace. The grateful royal family has since then preserved the photograph. To this day, this remains the only photograph of the wooden palace.
Apart from this photograph, the only other similar artifact is a wooden miniature replica of  the palace. This replica can still be seen in the Mysore palace.

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