Rich in heritage and historical opulence, the royal palaces in southern India are a treat for visitors. From marvellously bright facades to intricate craftsmanship within the grandeur of each structure, these palaces will dazzle you at first sight.
The southern part of India is renowned for its royal legacy and an integral part of that heritage are its astounding royal palaces. They range from the gigantic and stately to the modest and homely. A lot of them are not only available for visitors to look and gasp, but some of them have been converted into luxurious heritage hotels where one can stay and experience the regal life in its utmost glory.
Though royal in every sense, the characteristics of these palaces are not limited to their astonishing architecture and flamboyant glamour, hey abound in legends and ghost tales, boast rich collections of art and royal artefacts, and are living testaments to India’s regal past. So, let’s take a journey back in time and explore the rich heritage of these enigmatic structures.
Bangalore Palace, Bengaluru
Though the metropolitan is popular among the masses for sprawling tech parks, the city also houses the private residence of the Wodeyar dynasty, erstwhile maharajas of the state. Built in the year 1887 by King Chamaraja Wodeyar, the Tudor-inspired estate preserves a slice of the bygone royal splendour. Earlier, Bangalore Palace was not open to public for many years but the previous King Srikanta Datta Wodeyar opened it to the public.
Upon entering the palace, visitors are given a guided audio tour about the opulent history, lavish interiors and galleries that feature hunting memorabilia, family photos and other items of the bygone era.
According to historians, the location of the palace was originally owned by Reverend J Garrett, the first principal of the Central High School in Bangalore, now famous as Central College. In 1873, Maharaja Chamaraja Wodeyar purchased it from Garrett and construction for the palace began in 1874. Under the supervision of John Cameron, the architect behind Lalbagh, landscaping of the palace and surrounding areas were constructed. Rumour has it that the architecture of the palace is inspired by Windsor Castle of England and other structures from Normandy. Some of the standout features of the palace are the fortified towers and the turreted parapets, quintessential elements of Tudor architecture. The Palace is also home to many renowned 19th and 20th century paintings, including those by Raja Ravi Varma, one of India’s most famous painters.
Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad
While most palaces in South India have rich heritage, none are as interesting as the Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad. Built by Nizam Salabat Jung in the 1750s, the Chowmahalla Palace is an iconic site of Hyderabad, a place of praise and admiration. Around mid-20th century, Osman Ali Khan, the seventh and the last reigning Nizam of the Hyderabad state was regarded by many as the richest Muslim ruler in the world. However, following the Nizam’s demise, his heir Mukarram Jah succeeded Osman Ali Khan in February 1967 but submerged in financial crisis. Numerous legal battles from 2,000 descendants and 476 legal heirs of the different Nizams of the past, led Jah to eventually relocate to a sheep farm in Australia.
Between 1967 and 2001, the Chowmahalla shrunk from a whopping 54 acres to just 12 acres. The land was acquired by real estate developers, who demolished the 18th century buildings and erected concrete apartments in their place. Almost 27 years later, it was Jah’s first wife and Turkish princess Esra who set out to put an end to the legal disputes and helped restore the palace to its original glory. Today, this opulent 18th century palace compound, comprising of several grandiose buildings and four garden courtyards, is revered by visitors. The magnificent durbar hall, Khilwat Mubarak, where nizams held ceremonies under 19 enormous chandeliers of Belgian crystal is a dazzling sight. Inside the palace, there are several things on exhibit including weaponry, arts and crafts, nizam’s personal possessions and a collection of carriages in addition to a 1911 yellow Rolls-Royce and 1937 Buick convertible.
Mysore Palace, Mysuru
After being gutted by fire in 1897, it was the British architect Henry Irwin who helped the Wodeyar royal family to restore the Mysore Palace to its old glory. It took 4.5 million and 15 years for the palace to be restored. Today, it stands tall as one of the biggest and most iconic palaces in the country. The lavish Indo-Saracenic interior – a kaleidoscope of stained glass, mirrors and gaudy colours will make you skip a beat at first sight. Add to that, the carved wooden doors, mosaic floors and a series of paintings depicting life here during the Edwardian Raj era make your experience even richer.
As you enter the palace, you come across an exquisite collection of sculptures and artefacts from the past. Make sure that you explore the armoury – it has more than 700 weapons and ammunition. On government holidays and Sundays, the palace is illuminated with more than 1,00,000 light bulbs in the evening that accent its
profile against the night. Do keep in mind that you are not allowed to click pictures inside the palace.
Located 60km from Thiruvananthapuram, the Padmanabhapuram Palace was once the capital of the erstwhile Hindu Kingdom of Travancore. The palace was constructed in the early 1600s by Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal, who ruled the kingdom of Venad between 1592 and 1609. Later King Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma (1706–1758) of Travancore, renovated and expanded the existing construction in 1750. He dedicated his kingdom and family to Sree Padmanabha, a form of Lord Vishnu and ruled the kingdom as Padmanabha dasa (a servant of Lord Vishnu).
With intricately carved rosewood ceilings and polished-teak beams, this labyrinthine palace is ranked as Asia’s largest wooden palace complex. The most beautiful part of the palace is the council chamber that has windows with coloured mica, which keep the heat and the dust away. The exquisite lattice work is admired by one and all. The palace museum too has a lot to offer including furniture, wooden and granite statues, coins, weapons and utensils from the bygone era. During the British era, the capital of Travancore was moved to Thiruvananthapuram, however, the Padmanabhapuram Palace, even today, remains one of the best examples of traditional Kerala architecture.
Words: SHIBAJI ROYCHOUDHURY