Culture

Majestic Alwar City Palace in a state of neglect

June 01, 2017 06:23 AM
Alwar City Palace

BY Rana Safvi 

The once-majestic Alwar City Palace now functions as a decrepit office building

In his memoirs Dastan-e-Ghadar, which I have translated from Urdu to English, Zahir Dehlvi — an official in the Mughal court of Bahadur Shah Zafar — paints a beautiful picture of Alwar, its Maharaja and life in the palace as one of his courtiers.

Dehlvi writes, “The pomp and majesty of this small state had no peer in all of Hindustan. At least, none that I had seen or heard of. Maharaja Sheodan Singh Bahadur, the ruler of Alwar, had set up such a splendid assembly that even that of Abul Hasan Tana Shah (of Golkunda, famed for the majesty of his court) would have paled in comparison. The masters of every skill and accomplishment were gathered here. None of them had any equal in their art anywhere in Hindustan or abroad.”

The colour of the water from the adjoining Sagar Lake, and the beautiful green of the Aravalli hills which form the backdrop of this cenotaph are both very striking. As we had to go back through the palace compound, I left with an ache in my heart at our utter neglect of and disregard for our glorious heritage. 

This description aroused such curiosity in me that I decided to make a trip to Alwar last year.

Rajput and Mughal styles

We went to Alwar, my mind full of Dehlvi’s tales. The Alwar City Palace, or ‘Vinay Vilas’, was built in 1793 by Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh and saw an amalgamation of Rajput and Mughal styles, making it a majestic specimen of Indian architecture.

It’s a prominent landmark and we easily got there, but that’s where the ease of mind disappeared.

The beautiful palace, where the Maharaja would have once sat on his masnad (throne) with his courtiers on either side, one where the arbab-i-nishat (dancers and musicians), at the peak of their respective professions, would have entertained the guests, was now a district administrative office also housing the district courts.

So the first view I had of the palace consisted of typists, lawyers, litigators, Xerox machines, cycle stands and, of course, the infamous betel stains, without which we Indians can’t seem to function. Not a trace of the “fairy-like houris, shining stars of the firmament, who had voices like lightning, who were elegant from top to toe, and it seemed as though a veritable garden of beauty and grace were flourishing there,” as given in the book.

When the courtiers entered the darbar of the Maharaja, there would be “a two to two and a half yards-wide, one-foot high platform made of rose petals in front of the masnad. Around 20-25 seer of mukaish (thin metallic strips used for embroidery) were mixed with the rose petals. A mechanical silver device was kept in front of the masnad. The Maharaja would turn it towards a person and press the button, and a fine spray of saffron or red would bespangle the person’s white dress and throw handfuls of rose petals and mukaish on the courtiers. Whichever fortunate courtier was thus honoured, he would get up and present his salaam to the Maharaja. From head to toe, everyone would shine, their beards, turbans, dresses and faces luminous with the silver.”

Instead, I found shabby wooden desks, piles upon piles of dog-eared files, harassed people running around for justice and stoic government officers.

Maharaja Sheodan Singh (1845-1874) was a connoisseur of beauty and his museum was famous for its unique articles. Dehlvi describes a unique sword made by Ibrahim Shamsher Saaz whose blade was encrusted with gems and pearls. Its uniqueness lay in the fact that when one picked up the sword, all the pearls would gather at the hilt and, if one were to use the sword to strike, the pearls would run down the blade and start shining.

I was eager to visit this museum and asked for the way. To my utter shock and dismay, I was directed to a small passage which had a public urinal whose door was open. I recoiled in disgust and asked again. I was told that the staircase was at the side. Holding my nose, I climbed up the dirty steps into another office with files and clerks.

From here, we were sent to another flight of stairs. These were broader and in a better condition and we finally reached the museum. It is a treasure house of priceless medieval manuscripts, paintings, armoury, edicts and curios from our glorious past. Some balm for all the dirt outside was provided by the sight of these.

Moosi Rani ki Chhatri

On our descent from there, we were guided to Moosi Rani ki Chhatri, which is just outside the palace and can be accessed by stairs from within it. Having seen all the squalor of the palace, I didn’t expect much but it was a pleasant sight for sore eyes.

A double-storied marble and red-sandstone cenotaph, it was built by Maharaja Vinay Singh (1815-1857) of Alwar, in memory of his predecessor Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh and the latter’s wife Maharani Moosi, who had committed sati (self-immolation). Its pretty marble-cusped arches and glorious painted-dome ceiling are a stark reminder of the self-immolation by a queen.

The colour of the water from the adjoining Sagar Lake, and the beautiful green of the Aravalli hills which form the backdrop of this cenotaph are both very striking.

As we had to go back through the palace compound, I left with an ache in my heart at our utter neglect of and disregard for our glorious heritage.

 

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