26 April 2015

Bangalore Palace, Bangalore


"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.


History's hoard!


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).


Kaleidoscopic


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.


Stuffed!


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 -
  1. Bangalore.citizenmatters.in - Article "Palace grounds: No bands only baraat " (dated Sep 25, 2012) by Anisha Nair 
  2. Bangalorebest.com - Bangalore Palace - Lord of the Manor
  3. Digitalkaleidoscope.exposure.co - The grand Bangalore Palace 
  4. Dnaindia.com - Article "Peek at Bangalore palace; heed its history" (dated Sep 14, 2010) by Shrabonti Bagchi 
  5. Ehabweb.net - Bangalore Palace (images)
  6. The Bangalore Palace (Acquisition and Transfer) Act, Govt. of Karnataka, 1996 (pdf)
  7. Thehindu.com - Article "Bangalore’s Palace Grounds, a royal conundrum?" (dated Oct 22, 2013) by Deepa Kurup
  8. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Rs 40k cr at stake in legal battle for Palace Grounds" (dated Dec 14, 2013) by Manu Aiyappa
  9. Tribuneindia.com - Article "The Indian Windsor castle" (dated Aug 7, 2005) by Jangveer Singh 
  10. Wikipedia.org - Aerial view of Bangalore Palace (image) 
  11. Wikipedia.org - Bangalore Palace

17 April 2015

Serai Shahji Mahal, Malviya Nagar, Delhi


“Without history you were nothing, a nobody, one of those fluffy seed-heads floating in the summer breeze, unaware of your origins, careless of your destination. Meaningless, mythless, shapeless.”
– Anita Rau Badami, “Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?”


Delhi's least known monument


A Sufi of the Naqshbandi sect of saints and a very high-ranking official (“Mansabdar”) in the courts of Mughal Emperors Jalaluddin Akbar (ruled AD 1556-1605) and Salim Jahangir (ruled AD 1605-27), Sheikh Farid Bukhari was the formidable Governor of Punjab and Gujarat and commanded a personal cavalry of 5,000 superlatively skilled and armed horsemen. An assiduous builder of medieval mile markers (“Kos minar”, refer Pixelated Memories - Kos Minar, Faridabad), inns (“serai”) and resthouses for weary travelers for whose comfort and wellbeing he was ever concerned, he found himself in Emperor Jahangir’s good books in AD 1622-23 after he helped put down a royal rebellion mounted by Prince Khusrau (later Emperor Shahjahan (ruled AD 1627-57)) and was consequentially bestowed with the title "Murtaza Khan" ("The Chosen Khan"). Ruins of one of the resthouses he built in Delhi lies unambiguously forgotten in the village of Begumpur abutting the posh Malviya Nagar locality in an area where massive trees with gnarled branches grow wild and metalled roads fail to even arrive in the vicinity. Christened as Serai Shahji Mahal, the complex seems to be on the very threshold of welcoming a decidedly better existence for itself now that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has eventually woken up to the task of restoring and conserving its decrepit structure.


And the least known mosque


The massive building comprises of a small rectangular courtyard around three sides of which exist immensely small, low-roofed chambers while the fourth is occupied by an equally claustrophobic mosque surmounted by three pyramidal spires (old photographs however reveal curved Bengali-style roofs – another of ASI’s monumental conservation gaffes? The memory of the conversion of the soberly green-domed Sabz Burj to brilliant glittering blue are not far! (refer Pixelated Memories - Sabz Burj)). The courtyard itself has become a dedicated funerary zone since within and around the rectangular enclosure that runs along its entire length are located numerous graves belonging to Sheikh Farid and his immediate family and followers – though the Sheikh demised in AD 1615 in Pak Pattan (Pakistan), his body was decently brought to Delhi and interred within the Serai complex. One is surprised to note that graves are situated even within some of the chambers – could it be that the entire complex was turned into a noble burial ground at one point and consequentially ceased to be an inn?


Reduced by the vagaries of time


Diagonally opposite the entrance, in the corner adjacent the mosque, gracefully rises a double-storied bulwark of a tower comprised of single square rooms, though presently utterly ruined yet brandishing its flamboyant lavish ornamentation consisting of decorative alcoves, stylishly arched entrances, slender openings, exquisite plasterwork medallions and adornment brackets – their beauty garishly contrasting against the otherwise ruined nature of the complex and their survival against the unrelenting forces of nature stemming immense bewilderment. The most curious are the highly intricate red sandstone brackets that support the eaves (“chajja”) existential alongside the front facade of the unusually-designed tower. Ironically though, notwithstanding its ornamental features, nomenclature and Sheikh Farid’s most benevolent intentions, the structure would never even in the wildest of its fantasies would have conjectured itself to be referred to as a palace (“mahal”) – the rapacious citizens of Delhi, not averse to occasionally vandalize, spray paint and encroach upon it (among other monuments) would agree!


Survivors


Location: Begumpur Village, Malviya Nagar (Coordinates: 28°32'22.7"N 77°12'37.4"E)
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Nearest Metro station: Hauz Khas
Nearest Bus stop: Laxman Public School, Hauz Khas
How to reach: From Laxman Public School/Hauz Khas Metro station Gate 2, proceed via Maharishi Dayanand Marg for Begumpur village immediately across the arterial Outer Ring Road/Gamal Abdel Nasser Marg. The Serai is located near Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission's (DERC) offices. Ask locals for directions to the "Mahal".
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Another monument located in the vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad 
  2. Pixelated Memories - Begumpur Masjid
  3. Pixelated Memories - Deer Park
  4. Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Kali Gumti
  6. Pixelated Memories - Nili/Neeli Masjid
  7. Pixelated Memories - Tohfewala Gumbad
Suggested reading - 
  1. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Archaeological Survey of India favours group notification of bylaws" (dated Feb 12, 2014) by Richi Verma 

10 April 2015

Shankar's International Doll Museum, Delhi


“Delhi, it seems at first, was full of riches and horrors: it was a labyrinth, a city of palaces, an open gutter, filtered light through a filigree lattice, a landscape of domes, an anarchy, a press of people, a choke of fumes, a whiff of spices.”
– William Dalrymple, “The City of Djinns”

In an indiscernible little building off one of the city’s most frequently clogged traffic junctions exists a singularly unusual collection whose origins exist in the colorful contours of a seemingly innocuous gift which, unfamiliar to anyone, possessed the capacity of generating a life-long fascination in its existence in a humorous old man. Financed and managed by Children’s Book Trust (CBT) India and christened after the renowned political caricaturist Keshav Shankar Pillai (lived 1902-89) whose brainchild it professes to be, Delhi’s renowned International Doll Museum, a multihued sparkling shimmering Ali Baba’s cave mystifyingly filled to the seams with jewels of an altogether unique kind crafted into almost every conceivable shape and size, mesmerizingly opens up to visitors like a dearly beloved friend from a long-forgotten childhood, promising to help revisit memory lanes and reminiscence about half remembered childish games and crushes.


Reminiscences!


Established in November 1965 (following the Hungarian Ambassador’s bestowal of a traditional doll as a gift to Shankar) upon the recommendation of then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and presently possessing a collection of over 6,500 dolls, the museum, a modest collection betraying humble origins and a capacity to transform into a world class assortment, is literally a child’s (and even a hoarder’s!) dream come true – 160 glass cases, each over a thousand feet long portray in the span of a few footsteps the sartorial and cultural preferences of over 85 countries besides expounding upon the cultural, religious, sartorial and political facets of the numerous states and union territories that compose India and its immensely vast multiethnic, multicultural landscape. A traveler’s dream come true within the span of a single corridor!


Colors!


Thus there are beautiful, vividly dressed dancers from Spain existing in the neighborhood of muscular, regally dressed horsemen and nobility from Germany together standing shoulder-to-shoulder with flamboyant, stylishly conceived femme fatales from French locales; tall and slender dolls from Bulgaria with slit-like eyes carry on conversations with childish, politically correctly dressed peasants and workers from Portugal and overhearing them are chubby Russian children with their whiffs of brown/blond tresses falling on their faces; exquisitely embroidered and vividly colored are the dresses draped by the Yugoslavs, while the Norwegians, with their drab coarse clothing, appear unusually simplistic and down-to-earth; story-tale characters from Czech Republic look around patiently as if waiting to come alive while overlooking them sit dark-skinned, exotic-looking African ladies and rich, finely designed Kazakh royalty. Then of course there are the peasants, farmers, artists, sculptors, housewives, children, martial artists, dancers, swordsmen and fashion models of numerous nationalities and physiognomic traits – the commendable attention to even the minutest of the intricacies associated with sartorial and manufacturing detail is bewilderingly impressive.


Mythology!


Punctuating the rows upon rows of corridors stuffed with this beautiful collection are massive dioramas depicting scenes from Christmas, farming activities and numerous famous cartoon and literary phenomenon. As expected (and remembered from school books read nearly a decade ago), Japanese dolls, all set upon expensive red and purple stepped pavilions and surrounded by clusters of painted white flowers that at the same time appear contrasting as well as complimentary and beckon one closer with their unblinking eyes, bear unique weaponry and are manufactured with extremely realistic dresses and facial expressions. Also surprising is the South Korean collection that portrays an open mouthed, cheerfully bewildered dreamy expression on each of its participants, but the place of honor is the Indonesian collection where come alive legendary mythological characters and lavishly attired royalty and nobility.


History!


The intriguing Indian collection, unexpectedly enormous, brings home the mesmerizing dresses (including a splendid display of dolls attired in bridal wear) and religious festivals of various states, mythological scenes from the epic legends Ramayana and Mahabharata, Kathakali dancers and exorbitantly adorned religious procession elephants from Kerala, North-Eastern tribal dance forms, Kashmiri handicrafts and their traders, Central Indian hunters, Khadi-clad freedom fighters, wealthy Marathi landlords and beautiful Bengali damsels. The splendid museum also boasts of a special doll-making and training institute and an imaginatively named “Doll Clinic” where even laymen visitors can have a peek at the meticulous research and tiresome complexities of the entire time-consuming process whereby new dolls are manufactured and rare deteriorating ones are restored to their original beautiful existence


Culture!


After traversing the entire length of the building, one is literally left disappointed at the sudden unanticipated end of the glittering glimmering collection of embroidered, sequin and pearl studded, tinsel adorned, vibrantly attired playthings – but more than anything else, one suddenly feels sorrowful at the sudden completion of the journey through which one was traversing one’s childhood once more. More distressing is the unenviable condition of the museum – of course, it is not as rich or well-curated as the enormous, lavishly funded National Museum, Delhi or the Indian Museum, Calcutta (refer Pixelated Memories - National Museum and Pixelated Memories - Indian Museum) despite possessing an equally, if not more, captivatingly curious collection – yet, one does not really expect to see dust-covered specimens or paint flaking off the walls. Thankfully, visitors, primarily hundreds of young children accompanied by teachers on school trips, are so engrossed sifting and commenting their way through the collection and running around it that they cannot be bothered to notice.


From Korea, with love


Location: Children's Book Trust (CBT), Nehru House (couple of meters from ITO Crossing), Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg
Nearest Bus stop/Metro station: ITO
Nearest Railway station: Tilak Bridge
Entrance fees: Children up to the age of 12: Rs 6, Adults: Rs 17
Photography/Video: Prohibited. Prior written permission needs to be solicited from the authorities at CBT.
Time required for sightseeing: 1 hr
Relevant Links - 
Other monuments/landmarks located in the neighborhood - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Daryaganj Sunday Book Market
  2. Pixelated Memories - Delhi Gate
  3. Pixelated Memories - Feroz Shah Kotla
  4. Pixelated Memories - Khair-ul-Manazil Mosque
  5. Pixelated Memories - Khooni Darwaza
  6. Pixelated Memories - National Zoological Park
  7. Pixelated Memories - Old Fort
Another museum in Delhi - Pixelated Memories - National Museum
Suggested reading -
  1. Childrensbooktrust.com - K. Shankar Pillai 
  2. Childrensbooktrust.com - Shankar's International Dolls Museum 
  3. Thehindu.com - Article "A doll order" (dated May 26, 2014) by Shailaja Tripathi 
  4. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "No new dolls, few visitors at Delhi's dolls museum" (dated May 17, 2015) by Mayank Manohar 
  5. Wikipedia.org - K. Shankar Pillai

07 April 2015

Mumtaz Mahal and Rang Mahal, Red Fort complex, Delhi

 
This article is part of a series about Red Fort, Delhi. Refer Pixelated Memories – Red Fort complex for the composite post.

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“The Seraglio (within Red Fort) contains beautiful apartments, separated, and more or less spacious and splendid, according to the rank and income of the females. Nearly every chamber has its reservoir of running water at the door; on every side are gardens, delightful alleys, shady retreats, streams, fountains, grottoes, deep excavations that afford shelter from the sun by day, and lofty divans and terraces on which to sleep coolly at night. Within the walls of this enchanting place, in fine, no oppressive or inconvenient heat is felt.”
– Francois Bernier, French physician-traveler-chronicler
“Travels in the Mogul Empire, AD 1656-68”


Whitewashed to ordinariness - Interiors, Mumtaz Mahal


Conspicuously drenched with an unnaturally inordinate quantity of sparkling white lime plaster which ruthlessly and almost entirely obliterates the lingering traces of its erstwhile ornamental splendor, the uninspiringly mediocre “Mashku-i-Mu'alla” (“Exalted Female quarters”) within the magnificent Red Fort complex is more popularly referred to as “Mumtaz Mahal” (“Most Exalted Palace”) after Emperor Shahjahan’s (reign AD 1627-57) favorite wife, “Lady of the Taj” Nawab Aliya Arjumand Bano Begum “Mumtaz-i-Mahal” (“Most Exalted in the Palace”).

Originally profusely adorned with intricately multi-hued floral scrollwork, exquisitely designed paintwork and dexterously crafted mirror work adornments, in delicate conjugation with glittering gold paint for the remaining unrelieved surfaces, the huge palace physically constituted a not insignificant fraction of the elegant imperial seraglio (“Daulatkhana Khas-i-Wala”). From underneath the shockingly hideous (yet ironically flawless) lime plaster facade, minute traces of marvelous floral motifs and stucco embossments still heartwarmingly peep intermittently, particularly along the scintillating multi-foliated arches.


Concealed in a corner - Interiors, Mumtaz Mahal


The original lustrous shell-lime plaster “Sang-i-Nihali” (also known as “Sang-i-Bahtali”), mined in and transported from Gujarat, was layered over with cheap plaster after British East India Co.’s colonialist army overtook the immense fortress following the First War of Independence/Sepoy Mutiny of AD 1857 and miserably transformed the gorgeous edifice first into a Sergeants’ mess and afterwards into a retributive prison. Gone too are the expensively gilded “chattris” (umbrella domes surmounted on slender pillars) crowning the palace’s four corners, as well as the adjacently located smaller subsidiary buildings, such as “Choti Baithak” (“Small Sitting room”) and “Khurd Jahan” (literally, “Little World”), which constituted the rest of the vast imperial seraglio.

“The palace at Delhi is, or rather was, the most magnificent palace in the East, perhaps in the world… Of the public parts of the palace all that now remains is the entrance hall, the Naubat Khana, Diwan-i-Amm and Khas, and the Rang Mahall – now used as a mess-room, and one or two small pavilions. They are the gems of the palace it is true, but without the courts and corridors connecting them they lose all their meaning and more than half their beauty. Being now situated in the middle of a British barrack-yard, they look like precious stones torn from their settings in some exquisite piece of Oriental jeweller’s work and set at random in a bed of the commonest plaster.”
– James Fergusson, Scottish businessman-architect-writer
“The History of Indian and Eastern Architecture” (1876)


Salvaged from ruins - Assorted antiquities,
Mumtaz Mahal Archaeological Museum


It is infuriatingly difficult to perceive whence came into existence the outlandish belief about Mughal sovereigns forbidding their cherished daughters from marrying for fear of bitter filial disputes concerning administrative governance, territorial division and familial prestige – William Darlymple references the same in his celebrated book “City of Djinns” – and still unbelievably shocking is the inexplicable ignorance offered to the unquestionable evidence stacked against this extraordinarily perplexing theory in the form of lesser known monuments scattered throughout the country, including in the historically legendary Nizamuddin area where are existential within a vernacularly-christened edifice (“Bada Bateshewala Mahal”) the mortal remains of Emperor Akbar’s son-in-law.

The same eccentric belief extends to the magnificent Mumtaz Mahal which is mistakenly alleged to have been the exclusive residence of “Malika-i-Zamani” (“Mistress of the Age”) Jahanara Begum, the eldest and most beloved daughter of the formidable Emperor Shahjahan (reign AD 1627-57), where she would secretly receive forbidden lovers and consummate her passions without the explicit knowledge of her authoritarian father. When discovered, the ruthless Emperor, in one instance, very composedly ordered one of her infatuated lovers to be boiled alive in a huge cauldron within the gorgeous palace; others are said to have been remorselessly tossed over the towering curtain-walls to severely mortal injuries and agonizingly prolonged deaths.


The impoverished Zafar's undistinguished belongings,
Mumtaz Mahal Archaeological Museum


To wide-eyed fascinated seekers of folklore and gossip, the massive palace’s present whitewashed and uneventfully mediocre existence is inconsequential to the steady conviction of its erstwhile indelible association with the powerful princess and its being terrifyingly haunted since on account of the ghastly murders committed within. They neither perceive that the grand palace is within the immediate vicinity of the emperor’s own personal quarters (refer Pixelated Memories - Khas Mahal, Red Fort complex), nor do they indulge contemporaneous literary documentation, for instance the biographical court chronicle “Badshahnama”, which unequivocally refer to Jahanara Begum’s enormous mansion to have been gracefully located near Naubat Khana (refer Pixelated Memories - Naubat Khana, Red Fort complex) amidst vibrant ornamental fruit gardens and luxuriously opulent pleasure pavilions.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has transformed the beautiful edifice into a splendidly-maintained archaeological museum housing, among other fascinating antiquities, vividly sketched Mughal miniature paintings, brilliant Persian glazed tiles, decaying manuscripts, consecrated royal copies of the Quran, dexterously penciled maps and lithographs of Delhi, brightly glistening porcelain paraphernalia, enthralling calligraphy specimens of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II (reign AD 1837-57), life-like portraits of contemporary legendary personalities like Mirza Asadullah “Ghalib”, stately-composed royal letters, painstakingly engraved marble inscriptions, the sorry emperor’s personal wardrobe, and lastly, vibrantly paint-drenched decorative metallic “Akitoosha-i-Ukba” (religious texts signifying provisions for the next world) salvaged from the royal palaces.


Fairy tales reiterated on stone - Persian glazed tiles,
Mumtaz Mahal Archaeological Museum


“Rang Mahal” (“Palace of Color”) adjacent, originally officially christened “Imtiyaz Bakhsh” (“Palace of Distinction”) and “Mahal-i-Kalan” (“Massive Palace”), was anointed with the later nomenclature both on account of the extravagant paintwork that decorated its walls, and the exceedingly colorful private lives of its inhabitants, especially the later Mughals who dedicated themselves to excessive alcohol/opiates consumption and sexual debauchery with unparalleled impunity. Word-of-mouth unascertainable gossip records the self-enamored Emperor Shahjahan as having employed a portion of the palace as a veritable “Sheesh Mahal” (“Glass Palace”), ordering its entire palatial surface to be layered with finely-polished, conspicuously seamless mirror wedges and perfectly reflective gold sheets in order to allow him to observe his own lovemaking!

Contemporaneous historic documents record the presently wretched edifice as having been mesmerizingly concealed within layers of shell-lime plaster, lavish mirror work (“dina bandi”) and enchantingly designed paintings (“naqqashi”). Fawning royal raconteurs unabashedly drool matchless flattering praise on its ornamental form –

“In excellence and glory it surpassed the eight-sided throne of heaven, and in luster and color it is far superior to the palaces in the promised paradise.”
– Muhammad Salih, Emperor Shahjahan’s court chronicler


Uninspiring - Rang Mahal and the parched Nahr-i-Bisht fountains


It was originally almost similarly conceived like Mumtaz Mahal except that its colossal structure was resplendent with multi-hued patterns and shards of brilliant light seductively twinkling and reflecting from hundreds of glass wedges, and musical with the subdued murmur of falling water and the classical notes emanating from the well-practiced lips of professional singers. Sadly, the white marble layering the walls appears irrevocably spoiled, and the sorry-looking red sandstone above has become brutally faded. The present uninspiring, featureless roof was originally constructed from silver but was dismantled and replaced with copper gilt during the reign of Emperor Muinuddin Farrukhsiyar (ruled AD 1713-19) to restore the dwindling treasury reserves; during the reign of Abu Nasir Akbar Shah II (ruled AD 1807-37), the copper too was melted and replaced by poor, unadorned wood.


Peeping in - Interiors, Rang Mahal


“The fountain and its setting in the Rang Mahall, besides being a gracefully ornate conception, accords perfectly with its architectural surroundings... The design of the basin represents a large lotus-form of delicately modeled petals contained within a square bordered frame, the whole patterned so exquisitely as to move a contemporary writer to remark that “the waving of the plants and flowers under the dancing water was nothing less than a scene of magic”.”
– Percy Brown, British art critic-scholar-historian-archaeologist,
“Indian Architecture, Volume II: Islamic Period

Apart from the barbaric plunder of its inlaid precious stones and thick ivory surface, the only ornament of the imposing palace practically remaining almost intact is the delicate lotus-basin in its center through which flowed the gurgling “Nahr-i-Bisht” (“Stream of Paradise”), the imaginatively employed water channel enchantingly cascading through all the royal palaces. Sadly, this least impressive of Emperor Shahjahan’s bewilderingly delightful palaces too is out of bounds for visitors now, and thus one can only sadly perceive the vertical extremities of the lotus-basin.

In every other direction one looks to – the palace’s erstwhile enthralling interiors, the huge parched fountains nearby, the rear facade of Diwan-i-Am palace opposite (refer Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Am, Red Fort complex) or the sorry remnants of Mumtaz Mahal – certainly, the only perception in the starkly ruinous complex is an all-enveloping, heartbreaking redolence of utter desolation, unbelievable despoliation, and inescapable melancholy.
 
 

Obnoxious how a book is being treated! - Firdausi's "Shahnama",
Mumtaz Mahal Archaeological Museum


“The ruins of so many Indian palaces – Mandu, for example, or the great Hindu capital of Hampi – still retain an aura of great dignity about them in their wreckage, but in the Red Fort that aura is notable by its absence. Instead, what remains, despite the completeness of the walls and the outer gates, is a peculiar emptiness, a hollowness at the very heart of the complex. For all the marble, for all the inlay, for all the grand memories glimpsed through finely perforated jail screens, the final impression is sad, almost tawdry.”
– William Darlymple, “City of Djinns


Location: Red Fort, Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad). The fortress, located at an extremity of the renowned Chandni Chowk street and connected to all parts of the city via regular bus and metro services, remains open everyday from 9 am to 6 pm, followed by a light-and-sound show.
Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
Nearest Bus stop: Red Fort
Nearest Railway Station: Purani Dilli
How to reach: The fortress is a mere half kilometer from the metro station and about a kilometer from the railway station. Walk from either of them. The bus stop is located immediately across it and is connected to all parts of the city via regular bus service. There are regular trains throughout the day to Purani Dilli on Delhi circular railway line and from the neighboring suburbs.
Entrance fees (inclusive of museum charges): Indians: Rs 15; Foreigners: Rs 250
Photography/video charges: Nil. Tripods not allowed without prior permission. Photography not allowed within the museums without prior permission.
Relevant Links -
Composite post about the fortress complex -
Pixelated Memories - Red Fort complex
Other edifices/museums located within the fortress complex -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Baoli, Red Fort complex
  2. Pixelated Memories - Chatta Chowk, Red Fort complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Am, Red Fort complex
  4. Pixelated Memories - Diwan-i-Khas, Red Fort complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Freedom Fighter Museum and Salimgarh Fort complex
  6. Pixelated Memories - Hira Mahal, Red Fort complex
  7. Pixelated Memories - Khas Mahal, Red Fort complex
  8. Pixelated Memories - Naubat Khana, Red Fort complex
  9. Pixelated Memories - Sawan–Bhadon Pavilions and Zafar Mahal, Red Fort complex
  10. Pixelated Memories - Shah Burj and Burj-i-Shamli, Red Fort complex
Other monuments/landmarks located in the immediate vicinity -