Fortress Of Royal Splendour

Samarjitsinhrao Gaekwad, a member of the erstwhile royal family of Baroda,talks about the history, beauty and future of the magnificent Laxmi Vilas Palace, currently home for Rajmata Shrimant Shubhangini RajeGaekwad, Samarjitsinhrao Gaekwad, YuvraniRadhikaraje Gaekwad, PadmajaRaje and NarayaniRaje, in an exclusive interview.

By: Shivangani Dhawan

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A WALK THROUGH RICH HISTORY:

The palace completed 125 years in 2015. It took 11 years to build and was completed in 1889. This palace interestingly was built only for two people to live in,SayajiraoGaekwad and his wife Chimnabai.The palace was designed by a British architect Major Charles Mant. There’s a legend that goes that as the construction of the palace was happening he thought that he got some of his plans mixed up and he passed away during that period. It was later completed byRobert Fellowes Chisholm, a well acclaimed architect of his time.

“The palace has some special features,” remarks Gaekwad. “When one stands in front of it, the intricate design tells you about three religions, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. So even in that era they tried to design the features of those religions in the palace.”

The engineering of the palace in that period was contemporary British. The design, carvings and the intricate details that you see are all very Indian. “The palace is largely built in sandstone that was brought from the Dhrangadhra region in Saurashtra,” he adds.

Every corner of the palace walls are covered with detailed carvings on stone. “I sometimes wonder the amount of thought and detail that must have gone into it,” marvels Gaekwad. “And then to back it up with execution musthave been an incredible task. Today we have computers and a lot of tools to do these things but to pull it off in that era must have been incredible. I’ve seen carvings in places where one wouldn’t even imagine, and would visit rarely, like the terrace areas. Today to do something like that, with that same quality is just not possible.”

Samarjitsinhrao notes that in 2013, a family dispute was resolved amicably. “I have seen that if you leave the judgement to the courts then it can ruin or shatter you,” he says. “My father towards the end of his days tried toresolve the matter. I was very eager to settle this since it was holding me back from achieving or doing so many things that I wanted to.This fight or litigation wasn’t allowing me to do anything and I knew that settling wasn’t going to be easy. I think that the essence is the spirit of settling whether it is giving, taking or parting with things that you like, but you need to take that call and go in with that mind-set, to sort it out.”

Pratap Singh Gaekwad of Baroda, the last Maharaja of the erstwhile Baroda State, founded the Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) in 1949 on the wishes of his grandfather, Maharaja SayajiraoGaekwad III. The present chancellor of MSU is RajmataShrimantShubhanginiRajeGaekwad, mother of SamarjitsinhraoGaekwad.

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INVOLVEMENT IN SPORTS:

SayajiraoGaekwad patronised a number of sports. The palace then hadakhadasfor wrestling and other Indian sports. He also backed a lot of other sports. During his reign, he attended the 1936 Berlin games where the Indian hockey team had played.

The cricket ground is historic with many legends who have played there. It is still functional. Baroda Cricket Association (BCA) has produced many great international players and this ground is important to them.Samarjitsinhraois presently the president of the Baroda Cricket Association (BCA).

Apart from cricket Samarjitsinhrao also got himself involved in the construction and development of various other sports facilities on the palace campus.

“The palace had indoor badminton and tennis courts and in 2013 I got a golf course built, which added an extra dimension to this place,” he points out.“It works well because the palace is in the centre of the golf course and it’s something unique. Also, with this many locals and visitors get to see and use the estate, which is actually a good thing because structures of this nature require a constant flow of people.”

The palace runs a club with various facilities including two tennis courts, a swimming pool, golf courses and other amenities. “I plan to get two more tennis courts built this year along with 10-12 new badminton courts for the club. I want to build world class sporting facilities. Personally I am also a sports enthusiast and that is also one of the reasons I’d like to build such facilities,” he adds.

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CONSERVING AND RESTORING THE HERITAGE:

Since the historic palace is huge its need for conservation is also massive. Samarjitsinhrao involved himself in the repairs of the palace. “Last year I undertook massive repairs of the palace. We started in October after the monsoons since we had major issues with water logging and seepage. It took a while for me to get someone who was an expert and who also understood the structure and then gave the necessary advice on how to go about it and restore it in the proper sense.”

The northern half of the palace has been restored and now the work in the southern part will commence by the end of this year. Since the palace has some ancient carvings, stain glass windows, chandeliers and artefacts it needs to be divided into parts so that each area is restored to perfection.

“The palace has by far the largest number of stain glass structure in India and what makes it even more special is that the theme that is painted on them is Indian mythology,”he adds. “The future plan for this palace is to become a hotel and we are moving in that direction with the restoration process.”

A FUTURE ROYAL HERITAGE HOTEL:

With future goals to transform the palace into a heritage hotel it has already gone in for an architectural documentation.

“Since the palace was initially built only for two people it doesn’t have very many living rooms. So constructing toilets and creating a drainage system is going to be a challenge,” remarks Gaekwad. “Also, we would like to keep the basic feature, characteristics and charms of the palace intact. Constructing or dividing rooms for the hotel is another challenge.”

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