"The Palace at Bangalore popularly known as the Bangalore Palace, Karnataka's unique historical and architectural heritage, is singularly suited with its immediate surroundings, which no other Palace in the City of Bangalore does possess, and thereby deserving in its own majesty, in public interest to be preserved as a monument with the surrounding open space developed to serve public purpose, into an exclusive Botanical Museum and Horticultural Garden and Tree Park and to serve also the acutely affected ecological needs of Bangalore City which in its course of rapid growth has become highly deficient in lung-space and park areas.."
– The Bangalore Palace (Acquisition and Transfer) Act, Govt. of Karnataka, 1996
|Bangalore Palace - The Wadiyar stronghold|
A thousand fortresses, some of them exceedingly well-preserved despite the vagaries of time and nature, others reduced to mere bastions and gateways, skeletons of their original glory by unrestrainable human encroachment and unquenchable urbanization, dot the vast landscape that comprises the massive southern state of Karnataka. Of these, only one – the Bangalore Fort (refer Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort) – exists in the city of Bangalore, the vast, under-development cosmopolitan cocoon that encapsulates within its boundaries hundreds of IT companies and BPO call centers, that too in a state of decrepitude and near annihilation owing to its past allegiances and regal history. But what Bangalore and the regions surrounding it possess are palaces, exceedingly majestic, inspiringly exquisite and unbelievably luxurious, and it is a surprise that Karnataka isn't referred to as abounding in a bounty of royal palaces and splendid temples even though its numerous fortresses are integral to any discussion on the country's architectural and cultural heritage. Interestingly enough, Bangalore Palace, an epitome of regal architecture and the unsurpassed pinnacle of colonial-style construction, ornamentation and furnishing in the subcontinent, was not commissioned by Wadiyars/Wodeyars, the rulers of Bangalore/Mysore from AD 1399-1950, but was originally conceived as a mansion house by Reverend J. Garrett who then officiated as the Principal of Bangalore's Central High School – it is indeed a matter of wide-eyed surprise today to imagine a school principal purchasing such a vast stretch of land (the palace and its surrounding gardens culminate in totality to an area spread over more than 450 acres!) and finance such a magnificent edifice. Possessing fortified towers, turrets, crown-pinnacles and battlements and externally boasting overall an appearance of undisguised masculinity and militarian posturing (further outlined by the presence of the colossal circular sub-structure that functions as the front facade) that is inherent to the defensive medieval-style Gothic-Tudor architecture that defines its exterior aesthetics, the palace was constructed over 1862-73 and was purchased in 1884 by H.H. Chamarajendra Wadiyar X, the then Maharaja of Mysore (reign AD 1868-94), who, over the next two years and at a cost of 200,000 rupees, extensively renovated and irrevocably retrofitted the mansion house to lend it its present palatial fortress appearance.
While the ruggedly masculine, ivy-clung exteriors of the palace, immediately reminiscent of fortified palace-citadels of Europe, are a visual and photographic treat, especially owing to the presence of vast landscaped gardens and graceful fountain sculptures, the unparalleled interiors are evocatively spellbinding to say the least – in fact, given the delicate elegance of the interiors, be it even a minor passageway or a staircase, any praise lauded on it shall definitely fail to portray its indescribable beauty and royal splendor. However, the entrance fees to the palace and photography charges within are Rs 280 and 700 respectively for Indian visitors (more for foreigners), thereby prompting most of them to give the grand interiors a miss and instead content themselves with photographing it from outside – in fact, I myself have told several friends and fellow travellers to visit the place only if they are willing to shell several hundred rupees – but we ourselves did pay the entry fees and managed to click a few photos of the interiors without paying the photography charges (I would have been more willing to discuss and even pay the charges if they were not so prohibitively exorbitant). While most of the the ground floor of the mega-structure is dedicated to an immense unfurnished open space that is enshrouded by equally gigantic red cloth canopies and is flanked by a much smaller, rectangular private meeting hall whose sunlight-yellow walls and heavy wooden rafters are supported upon unadorned cylindrical pillars, a staircase immediately adjacent the ticketing area leads upstairs to the more opulent private quarters of the royal inhabitants who once frequented the magnificent residence. The elegant furnishing and fine artworks that adorn every conceivable surface of the structure begin right from the staircase which, where not ornamented with decorative cream-on-red embossed stucco panels exhibiting the royal coat of arms, Hindu mythological entities and intricate geometric and floral patterns, is fitted with massive elephant heads with tusks several feet long, lamp holders carved in the likeness of Greek figurines (wearing helmets and skirts and holding shields in their free hands) and resplendent, minimally decorated marble alcoves housing photographs and floral vases.
|Moment of glory - The Durbar Hall|
The monotony of the continuous mustard yellow is punctuated by an over-utilization of the plasterwork cream-on-red panels and cream-white floral and geometric patterns running along the roofs and the wall surfaces, culminating into a bigger picture that can only be described politely as a rococo of elaborate artwork, but is otherwise an over-indulgence of art and ornamentation, predominantly delectably fine and eye-catching but also at times overcrowded and stuffed – I do not quite see the necessity or even a coercion to eccentrically cover every square inch of wall surfaces with decorative embossments and artwork, no matter how compelling they are. To further perfect the sensations of near-orgasm visual gratification, especially in the Durbar Hall located on the first floor, numerous mirrors, vibrant paintings, glass-framed portraits, colorful chandeliers and multi-hued, simplistically-patterned stained glass windows add further charm. The furniture boasts of lavish extravagance and in one of the corners of a courtyard lie chairs supported upon antelope legs and stools and vases respectively crafted out of the feet and trunks of massive elephants. The corridors on the first-floor enveloping the two courtyards that exist on the ground floor are thoughtlessly and haphazardly stuffed with hundreds of framed photographs of the members of the extensive royal family line and paintings by the renowned artist Raja Ravi Varma (lived 1848-1906) – the dense concentration of so many points of interest, treated so carelessly, diverts one from the individual features and certainly proves less of an attraction than it ought to be. While the first-floor passages surrounding the first of the square courtyards is supported upon cream-colored Corinthian pillars which complement the pink-red wall paper shrouding the walls and roof of the corridors and whose capitals spontaneously burst into simplistic golden-green foliage before supporting the numerous arches that eventually culminate into an overall visual appearance of flowing arches interrupted only by the light and shadow patterns they so symmetrically generate; on the other hand, the first-floor passages surrounding the other courtyard are bound by regularly patterned grille instead of Corinthian pillars and possess a floor composed of multi-hued, recurring motif kaleidoscopic tile work and walls displaying stone bricks patterns interspersed with paintings (pastels and oil colors) – of course, the star attraction is the view of the courtyard downstairs which boasts of a set of vibrantly colorful furniture best observed from close proximity as we did when we finally climbed down (more on that later).
Past rooms, passages and staircases, both painted and layered with wall papers of several different motif patterns, interspersed with paintings, photographs, stucco panels and art pieces, we reached the ground floor where most of the rooms are either kept locked or maintained out of bounds for visitors, but of the few that are open, especially the superlatively stuffed office of the last Maharaja Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar (ruled 1974-2013), display an amazing array of luxurious items and antiques (including vivid paintings, expensive furniture, classical books, exorbitant carpets, dearly porcelain ware and Belgium crystal chandeliers) that the royal family possesses – one wonders how did the Maharaja function in such an overly crowded room choked with furniture and irrelevant display items! The first of the two courtyards – the Ladies' courtyard – that we saw from upstairs is fitted with fountains that are not functional anymore but nonetheless retain their erstwhile graceful elegance, while the other courtyard – the Maharaja's courtyard – segmented with eccentrically multi-colored tiles to resemble a hexagon placed within its square perimeter, houses at its upraised center a decorative hexagonal fountain affixed with a vividly stunning collection of tiles that depict numerous images such as ships sailing on the seas, castles, regal insignia and floral and geometric patterns, ultimately culminating into what can only be described as an epitome of unbelievably unparalleled artistic tile work; opposite it sits a huge bench, similarly adorned but only more artistically majestic, if that is even possible, conceiving in its numerous patterns scenes from nature such as blooming foliage, deer running, birds flying and the centerpiece being hunting dogs attacking a stag – the entire set, conceived and crafted by some of the leading ceramicists of their time, was a gift from Don Alphonso Ferdinand Anthony XIII (reign 1886-1931), the King of Spain, to show his gratitude to the Wadiyar kings who offered him asylum after he was deposed from power and allowed him to reside gracefully in the chambers surrounding this courtyard whose Moorish architecture reminded him of his own castles and houses back in Spain.
|Moorish architecture in the heart of Bangalore|
The courtyard passages are lined with numerous tables and display cabinets on which are lovingly set numerous brass and bronze antiques and porcelain decorative pieces, the former resembling characters and scenes that appear straight out of Spain and could also well have been additional gifts from the Don himself. In a corner is a unique horse-shoe shaped contraption with a scale attached vertically alongside that functioned to weigh the jockeys who would race the passionate Maharaja's horses. Having completed the royal tour and after spending several more minutes studying with unwavering concentration the numerous plasterwork patterns that adorn the walls and the symbols and text that is embedded into the structure of the numerous cannons that line the front porch at the demarcation where the majestic palace complex is separated from the gigantic, beautifully landscaped lawns that surround it, it was time for us to leave, but of course not before exploring the lawns that are thoughtfully demarcated with hedges and filled with several unique, possibly imported flowering plants, and mesmerizingly-crafted sculptural fountains (even the larger plant pots are intricately carved with extensive handles and strikingly realistic devilish faces!). Despite the palace's indescribable magnificence and unparalleled ethereal grace, I really doubt that it is ample return for the exorbitant ticket costs, especially given that the actual area where a visitor is admissible is far smaller than the overall complex size and only a handful of the 35 rooms remain open for visitor entry.
There are numerous changes that could be affected to make the overall experience more gratifying in terms of visual composition and financial and knowledge returns – for one, why choke the walls with portraits and paintings when the same can be symmetrically and linearly placed along the walls and the passages to create a continuous line of historic portraits and scenes; secondly, instead of just offering audio guides, small placards and essential information panels can be affixed near the more valuable or historic sculpture/antique/chamber since the reading enhances the overall experience of being at a monument of such incomparable historic value; thirdly (it is definitely possible), the photography charges could be reduced a little so more visitors are willing to pay them instead of sneaking around and clicking photographs without permission, and finally, the gardens, which once must have been spectacular but are now sorrowfully withered in places, could be spruced up and handed over to experienced gardeners and botanists for care and upkeep.
As a last note on history – The controversial dispute regarding the palace – In 1970, H.H. Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar (reign 1940-74) is said to have transferred the possession of the entire property to companies incorporated and managed by people close to him. His successor Maharaja Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar. who spiritedly renovated and richly decorated the elegant palace and opened it for the public in 2005, described the transfer as fraudulent since the companies were not yet incorporated at the time of the deal nor were there any sale deeds or written records of the transaction and instituted a civil court case against the same. Successively over the course of several years extending from 1990-94, Maharaja Srikantadatta and the two companies reached a compromise whereby the Maharaja retained the entire property (of which a large portion (where rock concerts, marriages and parties used to be held till recently and an amusement park has also come up) he already had distributed among his five sisters) and the companies only keep a portion totaling upto around 45 acres adjacent one of the peripheries.
|From one king to another|
Meanwhile, the Government of Karnataka, after having failed to acquire the entire property (valued at 400,000,000,000 rupees!!) under existing laws such as Land Acquisition Act 1894 and Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act 1976, condemnably promulgated the Bangalore Palace (Acquisition and Transfer) Act 1996 to expropriate from the royal family their ancestral inheritance. The same has been challenged in the Supreme Court of the country and awaits judgement, but if the litigation succeeds, it would allow several state governments to acquire and overtake royal palaces and properties, many of them exceedingly massive in proportions and historical in character, by paying mere fractions to the erstwhile royal families against the actual land and built property value. In my not so humble opinion, the same is highly disrespectful and belligerent on the part of the Karnataka Government, whose existence and continued affluence is in no small measure without the Maharaja's historically well-documented efforts at collective financial, cultural, educational and infrastructural well-being and progress, though yes a clampdown on concerts and events which are never billed on actual value and from which revenue is not paid proportionately to the Government is definitely required. Also, if the Government eventually succeeds in acquiring the entire property, there is no way it could maintain the regal character or even display a fraction of the artifacts and personal belongings of the late Maharajas that the royal family has mustered up since the latter are fully aware what the palace and its extensive, prominent history means and how it is intertwined with their own existence to such an extent that one cannot exist without the other. The palace simply wouldn't be the same without the royal touch, without a display of the Maharaja's wardrobe or his and his family's photographs and personal effects, even though it might continue to exist in its skeletal, architectural glory.
|Macabre furniture - Stools and chairs, crafted respectively from the feet of elephants and antelopes|
Location: Palace Cross road (Palace coordinates: 12°59'54.6"N 77°35'31.9"E; Palace complex entrance coordinates: 12°59'45.1"N 77°35'24.1"E)
Open: All days, 10 am – 6 pm
How to reach: Buses and taxis are available from different parts of the city.
Entrance fees: Indians: Rs 280; Foreigners: Rs 450 (Inclusive of audio guide in one of the following languages – English, Hindi, Kannada, French, German, Italian and Spanish. A valid ID card is to be submitted as security for the audio guide.)
Photography charges: Camera: Rs 700; Mobile phone photography: Rs 280
Videography charges: Rs 1000
Time required for sightseeing: 3 hrs
A fortress in another part of the city - Pixelated Memories - Bangalore Fort
A palace in another part of the country - Pixelated Memories - Hetampur Hazarduari Rajbari, Birbhum
Suggested reading -
- Bangalore.citizenmatters.in - Article "Palace grounds: No bands only baraat " (dated Sep 25, 2012) by Anisha Nair
- Bangalorebest.com - Bangalore Palace - Lord of the Manor
- Digitalkaleidoscope.exposure.co - The grand Bangalore Palace
- Dnaindia.com - Article "Peek at Bangalore palace; heed its history" (dated Sep 14, 2010) by Shrabonti Bagchi
- Ehabweb.net - Bangalore Palace (images)
- The Bangalore Palace (Acquisition and Transfer) Act, Govt. of Karnataka, 1996 (pdf)
- Thehindu.com - Article "Bangalore’s Palace Grounds, a royal conundrum?" (dated Oct 22, 2013) by Deepa Kurup
- Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Rs 40k cr at stake in legal battle for Palace Grounds" (dated Dec 14, 2013) by Manu Aiyappa
- Tribuneindia.com - Article "The Indian Windsor castle" (dated Aug 7, 2005) by Jangveer Singh
- Wikipedia.org - Aerial view of Bangalore Palace (image)
- Wikipedia.org - Bangalore Palace