Yuvrani Radhikaraje Gaekwad's take on the Lukshmi Villas Palace
YUVRANI RADHIKARAJE GAEKWAD writes on her home, the Lukshmi Villas Palace in Baroda, reputed to have been the largest private dwelling built in the nineteenth century and four times the size
What’s the hurry Wonky, you aren’t here on a tourist visa,” my husband Samarjitsinh would say, addressing me by the name stuck to me like warts on a toad ever since I joined Mayo College Girls, Ajmer. He always felt once his newly married Delhi bred wife had explored every dome and arch of the magnificent Lukshmi Villas Palace, there wouldn’t be much else to tie me down to my new life in Baroda Of course, he over time realised how wrong he was, (as he has been about most things)!
Just as well I didn’t need that visa since it did take me months to inspect my new home, probably India’s largest private residence today. I am talking about the Lukshmi Villas Palace, the late 19th century majestic abode of the Gaekwads dynasty of Baroda, the 21 gun salute state of pre-Independence India. A palace that His Highness Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad the III, Sena Khas Khel Shamsher Bahadur Farzand-i-Khas-i-Daulat-i-Inglishia built for himself, over a span of 12 years, at the cost of 180,000 pounds and perhaps, the life of its architect.
Named after Maharaja Sayajirao the III’s first wife — Lukshmibai, a princess from Tanjore, Lukshmi Villas Palace was the 3rd palace built by the Gaekwads. It’s largely made of brick, red sandstone and blue trap stone with interiors in Italian marble.
Its 500 feet long front façade is an eclectic combination of architectural styles. Although predominantly Indo-Sarcenic, Rajput, Mughal, Jain, Gujarati and Marathi elements mingle with Gothic and Venetian schools in a magnificent fusion at this palace. It was only after many months of a”maze”ment that I finally figured that my new home has three distinct wings--the public area to the left, the main wing for the Maharaja in the centre and the Zenana or ladies quarters to the right. The palace is brilliantly set off by 750 acres of lush landscaping designed by Mr Goldring, an expert from the Kew Botanical Gardens of London. Today, golfers enjoy a good game of golf on this championship course!
My most exciting expedition was to the top of the 300 feet high tower originally designed by Major Charles Mant (who is said to have killed himself, convinced of the structural instability of the palace) as a clock tower but changed by the later architect Robert Fellow Chisolm to house a red beacon heralding the king in residence. The practice runs to this day. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, literally speaking, the palace had the most modern facilities — elevators, modern plumbing, electric bells and internal telephone system all dating back to 1890!
What I found most amusing as a newly wed was that this royal residence of 170 rooms was actually built for just two people — the Maharaja and his Maharani, with three stately dining rooms, two fountains and four courtyards, it is a marvel this township housed only one royal couple at a time. Of course the place never once looks sparse, not with its inundation of priceless art and porcelain adorning every wall and corner. As I slowly discovered the different halls and corridors of LVP, I recalled seeing that vase at Versailles, and that bronze at Sans Souci.
One of my favourite portions of the palace, apart from the several palm laced, statued courtyards, is the main entrance hall. It was my first introduction (veiled of course!) to my new home and the visual delight of the grand interior of this space, its size and airiness almost like a modern day atrium. Its decorated double height ceiling and floor, chiming chandeliers and ornate wooden balconies still captivate me.
Being born in the royal house of Wankaner, I was accustomed to life in a palace, albeit smaller. LVP however still struck me as a palace so distinguished from others in its intricate detailing, influx of art and lavish use of space.
One room that merits a special view is the SHRI PRATASHASTRAGAR or the royal armoury. Housing some of the most important weapons of Indian warfare. Weaponry was the pride of the warrior clan of Gaekwads who boast of a long history of valour on the battlefield. Shrimant Damajirao established the Gaekwad rule in this region and was given the title Shamsher Bahadur or Hero at the Sword!
The most sacred room of the palace, other than the devghar is the Gaadi or coronation hall. This is where Maharaja Pratapsinhrao was crowned, succeeded by Maharaja Fatehsinhrao and then the current Maharaja Ranjitsinhji. The gaadi or throne itself is actually an unassuming brocade cushion placed below a peacock shaped umbrella. Its sheer simplicity (coronations usually followed a death and were thus sombre affairs) belies the great power that came with it. The importance of this room is evident by the enormous Raja Ravi Varma paintings that adorn the walls. Baroda possesses perhaps the largest and most acclaimed collection of this celebrated artist’s works. The one space that is bound to receive the admiration and gasps of any spectator is the durbar hall. My very first emotion at entering this vast room for our sit down wedding reception, was of being dwarfed by the grandiose proportion and of a very strong sense of history.
Numerous Belgian chandeliers hang from the exquisite arabesque lacquer ceiling. Rose and sandal wood screens on the rich wooden balconies above lace the length of this room. Then there are the rare Gothic stain glass with Indian mythological themes where the east sun filters in; the play of colours rousing our spiritual senses with its mysticism.
Below the stain glass, sits the Gaekwad coat of arms, proclaiming JIN GHAR JIN TAKHT, the saddle is my home and my throne. The one of its kind Murano tiled floor inlaid with semi precious stones took 12 Italian artisans and 18 months to lay and flaunt elaborate monograms of Maharaja Sayajirao. The beauty of the floor is also its sheer expanse devoid of any columns to span the 100 feet long durbar hall. This was the splendour which prompted Sayajirao himself to say, “There is perhaps no finer room in India.”
From the moment I set foot in this home, I have been absorbed by its effortless synthesis of the historic and the modern, the ornate and the practical, the grand and the sublime. Here tradition marries vision, just like the Gaekwads that live within.