By Smita Balram Kumar
Royalty is a brand today. India may be basking in democratic glory. But her history steeped in rich regal sagas can never be uprooted from her diverse landscape. Our beautiful palaces and forts have stood strong for centuries and memories
Engage in a unique royal reservation with the majestic Bangalore Palace located in the new-age city of Bengaluru. The palace has been a popular backdrop for weddings and music concerts of international artistes like Bryan Adams, Aerosmith and Black Eyed Peas. But ultimately it is the home of Karnataka’s blue-blood – the Wadiyar dynasty. Like the way the walls of a home speak a thousand words of its inhabitants, so do the passages of this ancient royal mansion chronicle the legacy of this state’s apex bloodline and their high-brow living.
The last heir to the titular throne was the late Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, popularly known as the Maharaja of Mysore. He was the only son of Jaya Chamaraj Wadiyar and was the last head of the royal Wadiyar dynasty that ruled the Kingdom of Mysore between 1399 and 1950. Maharaja Wadiyar expired in 2013. He has no heir and the new head is yet to be named.
The late Maharaja Wadiyar has two grand homes in the splendid Mysore Palace and the sprawling Bangalore Palace. But Bangalore Palace was always his favourite.
Poised and composed - the time-machine starts ticking the moment we come face to face with the majestic façade of the Bangalore Palace. Standing tall in the heart of 200 acres in Vasanth Nagar, the palace with its Tudor style architecture, fortified towers and sprawling garden breathes medieval English architecture, resonating of quaint old castles of the United Kingdom. The facade is made of Mysore granite. The 35-roomed Bangalore palace is built on 45,000 square feet floor area. It took about 82 years to complete.
Michael Ludgrove, the royal curator of the palace, informs, “Bangalore Palace is influenced by the Victorian Gothic English architecture. Monasteries in England have been designed in this style. The King of Spain was so impressed with the design of this palace that he gifted the Wadiyars a Spanish courtyard in 1934 that stands inside till today.”
This lovely courtyard called the King’s Central Courtyard meets the eye as soon as we step into the ground floor of the men’s side of palace. Vibrant and colourful ceramic tiles decorate this space. There is a charm even in its decadence. A thousand magical images conjure up in the mind of its opulent past. This courtyard is surrounded by a gallery of rooms with original Oriental flooring, an occasional hat-stand and many other royal remnants of the golden time.
The adjoining Maharani’s Courtyard - with ageing hand-painted walls adorning vintage photographs chronicling each royal family member’s growing years, European crystal chandeliers, unmoved rosewood and teakwood furniture – is fading beauty clamouring for attention. Michael informs that in the golden days, the galleries overlooking the grand Durbar Hall were covered with French lace curtains for royal women to discreetly witness daily political and cultural soirees. Entry is denied into the residential chambers. But isn’t privacy a thing truly belonging to the royals! Walking through the palatial corridors encapsulating Indian regal history amply soaks in the glorious past of the Wadiyar family.
The Maharaja’s favourite place in the palace was his office. Set in all-wood interiors, the quiet space shows off his collection of paintings, vintage curios collected from various parts of the world, old books and a grand rosewood table. It was originally the godown of the palace. But the Maharaja loved the spot and decided to turn it into his private den.
The Bangalore Palace was a home close to the late Maharaja’s heart. While he grew up mostly in Mysore, the prince would visit this palace often. His circle of friends included the royals of Udaipur, Jodhpur and Scindia dynasty of Gwalior. That the Wadiyar family is the royal pride of erstwhile Mysore state is not new. But not many know that the Wadiyars are originally Rajputs from Gujarat! We are told that their title should be Jadeja. But a Guru localised some of their forefathers here in Karnataka and were given the title of ‘Odeyar’ which in Kannada means King or the Owner. The British made it ‘Wadiyar’ and this title followed.
Today, as one takes a pause to capture the magnificence of this palace, the picture perfect frame triggers visions from what the Maharaja’s princely days would have been like. An era envisioning prim stringent routines, trained tight-lipped demeanour, early morning horse riding lessons, shikaar, cricket, garden parties with flower shows, posh tea parties at the Tennis Pavilion, grand royal dinners at the Ballroom and Durbar Hall with a performing band, dances and foreign visitors.
Everything stands still today. Be it the Ballroom with Tudor ceiling and quaint angelic lamps, the Durbar Hall with stained glass windows and ceilings like in the European churches, the palace walls donning Raja Ravi Verma paintings and royal motifs such as the Yalis and the royal emblem named ‘Gandabarunda’, or the palatial garden designed by horticulturist Krumbeigel of the Lalbagh Botanical Garden fame – history interestingly juxtaposes pride and grief. Pride for nostalgia with a strange sense of ownership and grief for loosing links to our past. The magnanimous Bangalore Palace with its signature English architecture is unarguably an indelible chapter in the royal diaries of India.