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Home / Delhi News / Of princes, palaces and plush points

Of princes, palaces and plush points

Occupied for only 2-3 months in a year, palaces added to New Delhi’s ensemble of architectural marvels

delhi Updated: Sep 01, 2011, 13:36 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times

The magnificent display of architectural opulence by the imperial rulers in New Delhi was not just limited to the Viceroy’s House, Secretariat buildings and the All-India War Memorial. British India’s new Capital had several other splendid buildings that assimilated architectural motifs from all over the world.

Princes’ palaces such as Hyderabad House (now the venue for official banquets hosted by the Union government), Baroda House (the present-day headquarters of Northern Railways) and Jaipur House (National Gallery of Modern Art) at the India Gate hexagon are among other such marvels.

In fact, Hyderabad House, which Edwin Lutyens designed for the Nizam of Hyderabad, was the fourth most splendid building in the city. As the layout for the new Capital was being worked out, various maharajas expressed their desire to build their palaces in the new Capital — much like the Boyars in St. Petersburg. The Viceroy was only too happy to oblige, as he felt that giving them plots to build their palaces would help the British government secure their commitment to the new Capital. Besides, the need for residences for maharajas in the new Capital also arose with their induction into a Chamber of Princes in 1919. The maharajas had to come to New Delhi every year to attend the Chamber’s meetings.

The maharajas wanted to build their residences in close proximity to the Viceroy’s house. But the imperial government was not quite comfortable with the idea. As Robert Grant Irving writes in his book, Indian Summer, “Official opinion at first favoured excluding rajas’ villas from the capital boundaries altogether, relegating them to the city environs. Geoffrey de Montmorency cited problems liable to arise concerning sanitation, noise and dust, traffic control, and discipline of unruly retainers.”

Finally, the princes were allotted plots —almost eight acres each—in the Princes’ Park at the end of the King’s Way, albeit not as close to the Viceroy’s house as the maharajas wanted. Among the few lucky ones to get plots in the coveted Princes’ Park around the statue of King

George V were the rulers of Hyderabad, Baroda, Patiala, Jaipur and Bikaner.

Princely rulers were entitled to be saluted by the firing of an odd number of guns between 3 and 21 — the greater number of guns indicating greater status. While the Nizam of Hyderabad and Gaekwad of Baroda were entitled to 21-gun salute each, the Maharaja of Jaipur was entitled to 17-gun salute. The Nizam of Hyderabad was also styled ‘His Exalted Highness’.

These plots were allocated on the condition that the design of their residences would have to be approved by the government. The Nizam of Hyderabad and the Gaekwad of Baroda commissioned Lutyens to build their palaces in the new Capital. While many Indian rulers, especially the Nizam of Hyderabad, believed to be the richest man in the world at that time, wanted his new home in New Delhi to be as grand as The Viceroy’s House, Lutyens was quite conscious about not creating any building in New Delhi that could challenge the grandeur of the Viceroy’s House. No wonder then the only major motif he borrowed from the Viceroy’s House for the princes’ residences was a comparatively small dome in the centre that symbolised the power of Indian princely states.

Royal residences in the Princes’ Park included Baroda House, Bikaner House, Hyderabad House, Jaipur House and Patiala House. For most royal residences, Lutyens used a butterfly shape, part of the reason being the awkward, wedge-shaped plots on the hexagon at the end of the King’s Way (Raj Path). The butterfly-plan ensured that the front door faced the approach road on the hexagon, while the wings merged harmoniously with the adjoining roads. Of all the princely residences, Bikaner House was the least grand designed, as it was more like a bungalow than a palace.

These princes’ residences were occupied for only two-three weeks in a year, when the maharajas came to New Delhi in the month of February for the meeting of the Chambers of Princes and ‘Delhi Week’. The princes would arrive in their fancy cars with royal pomp and show, which often led to traffic chaos. The maharajas stayed in their palaces around India Gate. Those who did not have their own palaces, lived in hotels such as Maiden’s or the Cecil Hotel in the Civil Lines.Hyderabad House is now the venue for official banquets hosted by the Union government.  Ajay Aggarwal/ht photo

The largest and grandest of all palaces in New Delhi — a building that suited the status of the Nizam of Hyderabad as Exalted Highness and richest man in the world those days. Designed by Edwin Lutyens, it cost a whopping £200, 000. The majestic mansion had 36 rooms.

Lutyens designed Hyderabad House in the shape of a butterfly — a plan that he had first used for Papillon Hall in Leicestershire in 1903. Later, he went on to design several butterfly-shaped Edwardian country houses for the rich and famous in England.

The main architectural feature of Hyderabad House is a dome with an entrance hall beneath which symmetrical wings radiates at an angle of fifty-five degrees. Its round arches flanked by rectangular openings to the height of the impost was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, a city where Lutyens stayed in 1909. For the first floor windows of the grand place, Lutyens chose a combination of rectangular and round arches that were inspired by the Uffizi to the Arno in Florence.

The majestic building that boasts of courtyards, archways, obelisks, large flower containers, grand stairways, marble fireplaces, fountains, had a pre-dominantly European character with some Mughal motifs. Hyderabad House also boasted of a zenana — quarters for women in purdah. This is what Viceroy Lord Hardinge noted on his visit to the Hyderabad House in 1931: “The Zenana comprised a circular court with around 12 or 15 rooms round it, each the size of an ordinary horsebox and with only one window close to the roof. A rough bed was the only furniture. There were six tiled bathrooms, but no baths, only taps of hot and cold water under which each lady has to sit! There seemed to be no means of mixing the hot and cold water, as it pours on to the ladies!”

The Nizam’s sons disliked the building and found it too western in style for their taste. They could not quite figure out what to do with urns, obelisks, and the palladian gates. No wonder, they seldom used the building.

Baroda House next to Hyderabad House, this was another magnificent building in the imperial Capital designed by Edwin Lutyens. He designed Baroda House on a train from Bombay in 1921, and it took 15 years to build it. But unlike the Nizam of Hyderabad who wanted Hyderabad House to be an amalgamation of both Mughal and European architecture, the Gaekwad of Baroda , who was educated in England, wanted his palace in New Delhi to be Anglo-Saxon in style. This is what Robert Grant Irving’s book Indian Summer has to say about the Gaekwad of Baroda and his palace in New Delhi, "…Surrounded by Englishmen, he was educated to be a model of Victorian rectitude and progressive politics. A two-feet gauge MTR class steam locomotive in front of Baroda House, now the headquarters of Northern Railways. Raj K Raj/ht photo

After his first wife died, he wed a Maratha whose ‘Brindian’ sophistication equalled his own, and they enjoyed 50 years of happy married life. Unlike other native rulers, he kept no mistresses and hence Lutyens made no provision for a concubines’ zenana. The House at Princes’ Place excluded an atmosphere of British affluence: its furnishings were comfortably Anglo-Saxon and its plumbing American, as in the sprawling palace at Baroda...”

The grand Baroda House was known for its terraces, grand corridors, cooling arcades, beautiful gardens and well-ventilated salons and richly done up living rooms. Gaekwad led a very westernised lifestyle. His palace in New Delhi had a French cook and bandmaster; the stable master was Irish, and the valet and maids English. Table linen was imported from Belfast, and dinner sets came from Bond Street in London.

“Scarlet-liveried servants offered guests whisky or hock with seltzer at breakfast, champagne and port in the evening. The Maharaja had hired Britons to run his army and police force, his hospitals and colleges; it was only fitting that he employed the Viceroy’s architect, an Englishman celebrated this country house designs,” writes Irving in his book.

Jaipur House House (National Gallery of Modern Art) is located diametrically opposite Hyderabad House. Like other princes’ residences, the building was also designed in the shape of a butterfly with a central dome. But very few people know that it was British architect Charles Blomfield, who designed the building. It was designed in a mix of neo-classical and Art Deco style. The butterfly-shaped building has two symmetrical ‘wings’ radiating from the central court.n The erstwhile palace of Maharaja of Jaipur now houses National Gallery of Modern Art. Raj K Raj/ht photo

Two similar wings radiate towards the back facing the gardens. The façade of this comparatively austere palace is marked by two levels of small, vertical, slit-like windows. A continuous sunshade or ‘chajja’ in redstone caps the entire façade. The building has arched openings framed by Rajput columns.

In 2009, the building had a new wing that quite remarkably sits in perfect harmony with the old building. The design of the new building is based on a first prize-winning entry of the national design competition held in 1984 for designing the New Wing. The design was the outcome of a collaboration between three young architects — AR Ramanathan, Anurag Gupta and Snehanshu Mukherjee.

"A couple of years back, a team of Lutyens Trust visited the building and they called it one of the best maintained Lutyens’ buildings in New Delhi," says Prof Rajeev Lochan, director, National Gallery of Modern Art, which is housed in this erstwhile palace of Maharaja of Jaipur.n A 1930 survey of India map showing the central hexagon around India Gate. Edwin Lutyens’ butterfly plan for the princes' palaces ensured that the front door faced the approach road on the hexagon, while the wings merged harmoniously with the adjoining roads.
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