Tuesday 10 September 2013

The men who built the palace

It is one of the most visited monuments in India and it rivals the Taj Mahal of Agra in recording the number of footfalls. It was built during the last years of the nineteenth century and it took fourteen years to complete.
Though it overshot the budget, the entire cost of the construction of this magnificent structure was a little more than Rs. 41 lakhs. It overshot the budget by a few lakhs but today, the structure inspires awe and disbelief.
One of the world’s largest palaces, it was built in Indo-Saracenic style and combines the best of Hindu, Islamic, British, Rajasthan styles. If the cupolas remind you of the palaces of Rajasthan, the tall tower on which is crowned by a bulbous structure gives it a distinct Gothic or Church style.
Some of the towers give us a feel of the Chattaris of Rajasthan as does the protruding balconies in the south and north side of the palace. 
The tall and massive columns remind one of  Greek structures and the paintings are typical Mysorean in style and substance. The woodwork adds to the design and enhances the beauty of the palace.       
The Gajalakshmi atop the five-storied main arch is typical Hindu.  The square shaped towers on either side of the palace gives the palace a distinct English or Gothic feel, which is typical of many European castles. The seven arched fa├žade resembles a Hindu structure and the huge arches lend a distinct local touch and it is this that resembles the older wooden palace, that burnt down, closely.
The tinted glasses inside and the huge chandeliars brings to our memory some of the best Venetian and French structures. The carved wooden doors remind us of huge temple doors and the curving staircases blend seamlessly with the interiors.
Each part of the palace has its own story to tell and though the palace is of  rather recent origin, it has a tale of its own. This is the Main palace of Mysore, which is often erroneously known as Amba Vilas Palace.
This palace was built on the foundations of the old wooden palace which burnt down during a wedding ceremony of  Princess Jayalakshmamma in 1897. A new palace-the fourth to come up-was commissioned just a few months after the fire mishap and it was completed by 1912.
Coming back to Amba Vilas, it is one of the many sections of the palace that are open to the public. It was generally used by the Wodeyar Kings for private audience and it is often called as one of the most spectacular rooms.
Though the palace was designed by Sir Henry Irwin, who also designed the Viceregal lodge in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, it was  
B.P. Raghavalu Naidu, Executive Engineer, Palace Division, Mysore State, who was placed in charge of construction.
Irwin had just then retired as Consulting Architect of the Government of Madras and he received the contract as his plans were approved.
Mr. Naidu first studied the designs supplied to him and then he toured Calcutta, Delhi and Agra and incorporated the designs of many buildings located in those cities. .
Incidentally, he is also credited with designing and constructing the new bazaar building and Jaganmohan Palace. He ensured that the  work commenced in October 1897 and the palace was completed in 1912 at a cost of Rs. 41,47, 913.
Maharani Vani Vilas, the Regent, commissioned the new palace and she was undeterred when the old structure burnt down.  
He was asked by the Wodeyar family and Sir Irwin to use locally available construction material to the extent it was feasible. This was also the first palace in India that adopting fire safety norms. It also was the first building of such a size to get lifts. Check out the Durbar Lift.
The palace literally rose from the ashes not once but twice. Tipu is believed to have let the old palace decay after he forcibly shifted the Wodeyar family from Mysore to Srirangapatna. When he died on May 4, 1799 and the British handed back the Kingdom to the Wodeyars, there was no big building in Mysore. The new king- Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar- had to, therefore, be enthroned from a temporary structure constructed in Nazarbad.  
The British too noted the lack of a palace for the new king and the then Duke of Wellington noted 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 took  place in a shamiana in Nazarbad.
The next reference by the British to the Mysore Palace is by Col. Wellesley who says 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 only photograph of this wooden palace is by John Birdwood, s a lancer in the Mysore Army, who later went on to become the Commander in chief of the British India Army. He presented this  photograph to the royal family in 1929 when he visited Mysore.
Coming back to the palace, Sir Irwin  built it around an open courtyard with a majestic gate on the east. The actual construction was executed by Mysore engineers and the entire building was supervised by Mysore masons.
Very few know that credit must go to Narayanaswamy, who was working as the civil engineer at the Mysore Palace then, for designing the marvellous durbar hall and also the imposing Jayamarthanda Gate.
Though a large number of masons and other workmen were brought in from across India, native workmen too showed their expertise. They used mostly stone and iron materials and this was done to prevent another fire tragedy.
Most of the stones used during the construction were mainly from quarries in the then Mysore state. The quarries at Turuvekere furnished a unique kind of trap which allowed for the intricate and elaborate carvings.
Initially, masons from Trichy, Madras and other districts from South India were at first able to work only with pointed chisels. They found it difficult to work with masons from Kolhapur, Jaipur and other places in Northern India who preferred to work with sharp-edged tools.
When masons from Agra and other places went back after a quarrel, Mysore masons decided to go ahead with the work and today we can see that they really performed an admirable job that has stood the test of time.
One of the best descriptions of the work going on during the construction of the palace is by a Scottish traveler, William G Burn, in 1905.
Another notable feature of the palace is the 96,000 bulbs that light up the structure in the evenings. The lit up palace is nothing short of a dream. Check it out. 

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