Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Indrajit-Padmini Mahal (Vadia Palace), Rajpipla…..a marvel of architecture

Front view of Indrajit-Padmini Mahal (Vadia Palace), Rajpipla.

Indrajit-Padmini Mahal - also known as Vadia Palace - is a marvel of architecture and one of the iconic palaces of India. Located in the erstwhile princely town of Rajpipla, now the headquarters of Narmada district, Indrajit-Padmini Mahal was dubbed as ‘The Taj of Gujarat’ in its heyday in the 1940s. 

It was in the spring of 1934 that His Highness Maharaja Shri Sir Vijaysinhji, the last ruler of the 4,000 square kilometres first-class princely state of Rajpipla, decided to take over 150 acres of land on the eastern outskirts of Nandod, as the capital of the State was known at the time. He decided to name it Indrajit Park after his then eight-year-old son Prince Indrajitsinh.

The same summer, on 6th June, Maharaja Vijaysinhji achieved a feat that no other Indian racehorse owner had earlier, nor has anyone managed it since. His horse Windsor Lad won the coveted Epsom Derby of England, which is considered the world’s greatest horse race, dating back to 1780. The jubilant Maharaja, affectionately known as ‘Pip’ in the UK and Europe, was cheered by a mammoth crowd estimated to be between a quarter and a half million people on the Epsom Downs that damp afternoon. Present in the royal box high above the finishing post was the entire royal family of Britain led by King George V and Queen Mary, and royalty from Europe. Minutes later, the King invited the Maharaja to the royal box and raised a toast to the exhilarating triumph.

In the euphoria of this brilliant victory, and buoyed by his huge earnings from the race, Maharaja Vijaysinhji decided to build a magnificent palace in Indrajit Park. He commissioned the renowned architect Burjor Sohrab J. Aga of Shapoorjee N. Chandabhoy & Company to design a palace like no other. After visits to many palaces, and several detailed discussions with Maharaja Vijaysinhji, Burjor Aga planned the most exquisite monument of his life. And so Indrajit-Padmini Mahal was built in a predominantly Indo-Saracenic Revival style with a few western features. Some of the famous examples of Indo-Saracenic or Indo-Gothic style of architecture in India are the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata; Victoria Terminus (now renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai; Central Secretariat in New Delhi; High Court Building in Chennai; Mysore Palace; and Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, among others.

The finest Italian marble of various colours was used in different geometric patterns, such that no two rooms or galleries are floored alike. The 1,000 doors and windows, and the two large spiral staircases in either wing of the Palace winding right up to the terrace, have been crafted in the best Burma teak. The breathtaking pristine white palace was ready in 1939, having cost around Rupees forty lakhs or four million to build, a huge sum in those days, one of the costliest and last palaces to be constructed in India.

Rear view of Indrajit-Padmini Mahal (Vadia Palace), Rajpipla.

Indrajit-Padmini Mahal has a unique shape, and is built in a manner that the two private porticos on either side are not visible as one approaches the Palace, subtly guarding the privacy of the royal family. The main portico in front was meant for guests and other visitors. The original palace buildings cover an area of almost an acre - 4,320 square yards, including the outhouses comprising a large circular kitchen complex and a small secretariat on the other side. The kitchen is partially sunken, so that it did not disrupt the view of the enchanting estate from the galleries, or of the intricate facade of the Palace from the grounds. A 30-yard long insulated underground passage took food in trolleys from the kitchen to the pantry in the main building.

Inside, the palace retains much of the European character that one would expect from one erected during the 1930s and 1940s. It is an awe-inspiring reflection of Art Deco design, which was the trend in those decades between the two World Wars, There are marble globes, which were filled with exotic perfumes, and a water circulation system in them spread the pleasant aroma all around. At the rear is a marble fountain with intricate patterns matching the flooring of the piazza in which it is situated. Much of the palace was centrally air-conditioned, with ducts still visible on the walls. The lavish bathrooms had towel rods with heating elements. An elevator took the royal family and their guests to the first floor and the terrace. 

The various rooms of the palace are adorned with frescoes by Italian painter Valli, whose depiction of even Indian devotional and local themes is flawless. Every room has its own unique character. The reception behind the portico is painted with floral and faunal subjects. The drawing room has concealed lighting in the ceiling and beautiful paintings from Lord Krishna’s life. The dining room has paintings of wildlife, while the bar has murals of drunk monkeys. The ballroom has Burma teak flooring, and the sitting room is done up in frescoes of dancing girls. The puja or prayer room has a series of wall and ceiling murals.

The sprawling estate of Indrajit-Padmini Mahal had well laid out gardens, fountains, and mango and lime orchards. The Rajpipla State band would play near the main gate.

Indrajit-Padmini Mahal is indeed an architectural marvel that houses many delightful features, and an enchanting heritage of princely India. It became the final symbol of the 600-year rule of the valiant Gohil Rajput dynasty over Rajpipla State since the 1340s. The Gohil or Guhilot dynasty was founded by Muhideosur Gohadit or Guhil, who was born in 542 A.D. It ruled over both Mewar and Marwar during ancient times.

Merger of princely states with the Union of India led to the fading away of the royal way of life. For a long time Indrajit-Padmini Mahal became a lost heritage. Over the last few years, however, Prince Indra Vikram Singh, grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji and elder son of Maharajkumar Indrajitsinhji, on behalf of himself and his younger brother Prince Indra Vadan Singh, the only two surviving original owners of this magnificent legacy, has taken up the task of rehabilitating it. The work of restoration of Indrajit-Padmini Mahal should begin soon in order that it can be put to appropriate productive use and showcased as an authentic Gohil Rajput and Rajpipla royal heritage. The goal is to create one of the finest heritage resorts in India. It should not be too long before people from around the world will be wonder struck by the grandeur of The Taj of Gujarat.

(Queries may be emailed to teddy.rajpipla@gmail.com or singh_iv@hotmail.com).

Friday, August 14, 2015

“Good old Pip”. The moments after the Epsom Derby 1934 win

A familiar face on the English racecourses for over a dozen years already, extremely popular with the racing crowds and well-liked by friends and acquaintances alike, the ever-smiling and amiable Maharaja, generous to a fault, drew rousing cheers from the multitude estimated to be anywhere between a quarter and a half million that exhilarating afternoon on the Epsom Downs.

As soon as the dapper prince, in his tail-coat and top-hat, stepped on to the course after Windsor Lad had blazed past the finishing post, the spectators were on their feet, calling out “Good old Pip” over and over again. It was a memorable ovation that only a few Indians like the immortal cricketer Prince Ranjitsinhji would have ever experienced in England. Countless people stepped forward to congratulate him, among the first being his good friend the Aga Khan.   

The media flocked to Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, to photograph and film him and get quotes and reactions for the morning papers. By the time he led his gallant colt to the unsaddling enclosure, there was a great melee around him.

Just then a gentle word was whispered in his ear that the King wanted to see him. People recalled those moments, “In the unsaddling enclosure the smiling Indian simply got ‘lost’ under his emotions. It took him some time to realise that General Tomkinson (manager of the King’s stable) was calling him to go to receive the congratulations of the King and the Royal Family. The words were not heard for a moment or two. This Indian ruler has given the lead which can well be emulated by others. He took the public into his confidence from the earliest moment by his open declarations of confidence in Windsor Lad’s chance.”

Up above to the royal box did the victorious ruler ascend to receive the felicitations of King George V and Queen Mary and all the members of the royal family present. The King raised a toast to this brilliant triumph, crowning an unforgettable day in the life of Maharaja Vijaysinhji.

(Except from Á Maharaja's Turf'' by the Maharaja's grandson Indra Vikram Singh)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Princely Hospitality of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla

Born in 1890, Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla ascended the gadi of the 4,000 square kilometres Rajpipla State in 1915. During his nearly 33 years of reign until merger of the State with the Union of India in 1948, Maharaja Vijaysinhji was not only a sagacious and benevolent ruler who carried out several reforms and development works, but also a man of great taste and a gracious host.

In his magnificent palaces and guest houses in Rajpipla, his seaside mansion on Nepeansea Road in Bombay, his valley-view house in Mussoorie, and his riverside Victorian manor at Old Windsor in England, the Maharaja would often host memorable parties with every little detail attended to. His kitchen had chefs for different cuisines, Indian, Continental and Chinese, and even some who specialised in non-vegetarian dishes. They would surprise guests with exotic menus.

The Maharaja would host royalty and aristocracy from India, UK and Europe; viceroys and governors; racehorse owners, trainers and jockeys; and celebrities of various hues. Among his many close friends were Aga Khan III Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, Maharaja Man Singh of Jaipur and the author of the James Bond series Ian Fleming.  

Being such a generous host and connoisseur of food, Maharaja Vijaysinhji was fond of cooking and devising his own delicious recipes. His most famous recipe is the Rajpipla Chicken which has been a favourite of family members and friends for nearly a hundred years. While on picnics or out camping, the Maharaja would invariably get down to preparing a dish or two. I had a film from the early 1930s where one could see him cooking in a jungle camp, dressed in khaki shirt and trouser, smiling at the camera, enjoying stirring the huge pot. 

After Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s horse Windsor Lad won the Epsom Derby of England in 1934 (still the only Indian owner to win this coveted race in its history going back to 1870), his friend V.C. Buckley wrote in the Sunday Graphic and Sunday News: “He is the kindest, simplest and most hospitable person one could wish to meet. When the Maharajah of Rajpipla says, Come out to India and stay with me,’ he means it – not like many people who have a habit of issuing invitations which are not really meant. The Maharajah often comes to have meals at the guest house, and once or twice during a visitor’s stay will invite him to dine at the Palace. On these occasions the host wears white jodhpur breeches and a brocade coat buttoned up to the neck and reaching below the knees. In England, which he loves to visit, he only dons such clothes on State occasions, preferring for everyday wear, a well-cut lounge suit with usually a red carnation in his button-hole. At his Windsor house he entertains informally, partaking in a game of tennis or croquet, or a run in the motor-launch on the Thames, which flows beside the grounds. The long dining-table is adorned with racing trophies, and on Saturdays and Sundays one may be sure to find at least twenty people seated around it, as I did only last Sunday.”

Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla was indeed a most charming person to meet, always delighting his guests, and quick to cook a delectable dish at the first opportunity, a very popular figure in India and abroad for much of the first half of the 20th century.