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Baroda: Architecture

Baroda -An Architechtural Splendour

By Harpreet Kaur

Baroda is also called the cultural and business capital of Gujarat. Baroda or Vadodara was originally Vadapadraka (a village amidst the banyan trees). Historical and archaeological findings date this place back to the 9th century when it was a small town called Ankottaka (present Akota) located on the right bank of the river Vishvamitri. It was flood-prone; so Vadapadraka became the administrative headquarters.

Ankottaka was a famous centre of Jainism in the 5th and 6th century AD. Some of the Akota bronze images can be seen in the Vadodara Museum.

History of Baroda:
The Gaekwads, a Maratha clan who were originally the generals of the Peshwas in Maharashtra, carved out a kingdom for themselves in Baroda. Twenty years later, Damaji’s nephew Pilaji became the founder of the house of Gaekwad.

[Correction; per kind courtesy – Mr Dilip per comment below –
Damaji was son of Pilaji Gaekwad who had conquered Ahmedabad. Palaji went to celebrate the liberation of Ahmedabad at Krishna temple in Dakor where he was killed treacherously by Mughal Subhedar Abhaya Singh. After that Maratha King Shoo (Grand son of King Shivaji) appointed Damajirao Gaekwad to rule Baroda on his behalf.]

Although an English Resident was appointed to the Court of Baroda in 1802, the rulers had a good equation with the British. The wealth of the family is legendary, and stories abound of their priceless jewellery and works of art. The city witnessed a golden age when Maharajah Sayajirao Gaekwad came to the throne in the late 19th century. He brought about many reforms in education, medicine, religious tolerance and administration. Sayajirao was one of the three princes who rated and got a 21gun salute.

Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III (1875-1939) is a legend; he was the adopted son of Queen Jamnabai. He took Baroda through a golden age with the help of an astute statesman – his chief minister, Diwan Madhav Rao. Sayaji Rao began constructing the Laxmi Vilas Palace, naming it after his first wife (a princess of Tanjore).

Baroda can boast of one of the finest palaces in India. Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad commissioned the famous British Architects, Major Mant and Chisolm to work on Laxmi Vilas palace. Designed in the Indo-Saracenic style, it is quite a long drive from the huge wrought iron gates with the mounted royal emblem, to the portico. You look around in amazement as you step inside – the colourful frescoes in Italian style on the walls of the palace surprise you with their splendour. Beautiful statues, marble fountains, Moorish arcades and stained glass windows adorn the structure.

The palace is a marvellous work of eclectic architecture, with a mix of all styles. Built in 720 acres, it was landscaped by Mr Gonderling of Kew. The work started in 1878 and was completed in 1890; it is still the residence of the royal family.

The Fatehsinh Rao Museum, located in the palace grounds, houses the royal collection of paintings, sculptures and other objects of art. Here also existed the Raja Ravi Verma studio, where he painted some of his famous works which today belong to this royal family. A garden house which remains shut today and a dargah (mausoleum) also find place here, (which is also shut); besides a pond with crocodiles. Many cricket ball and limb were lost here, when those playing cricket close by ventured into the pond;. There is an in-house cricket club too.

Massive black bulls with blue eyes stand in the doorway leading into the palace and the grounds,– real ones, but stuffed ages ago. The gold gilt work on paintings is a sight to behold; models of the palace can be found under the impressive staircase leading to the top floor, where the personal chambers of the royal family are located. Its ornate Darbar Hall has an Italian mosaic floor and walls with mosaic decorations, lie empty since the day the Republic took over.

The convention hall has the entire gamut of carpets, painting, photographs of the royal family, silver, gold, ivory, furniture, Venetian chandeliers, domes and a decorous ceiling, There is a huge garden and a Navlakhi Vav (lucky stepped well) which is dry and covered in creepers said to contain a treasure worth millions, though no one has found it yet. There is a small mandir by the riverbank and the palace is surrounded on all sides by a modern colony – large sections of the palace grounds have been taken over by the government for them.

Heritage maintenance does not seem to be a priority in Baroda. Family disputes over property seem to have taken their toll, including the literature on the royal family and the architecture of the palaces is also almost impossible to obtain. Baroda makes for an ideal weekend getaway spot. You can visit the following places:
Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum

A royal collection of art treasures by masters like Raphael, Titian and Murillo as well as modern, western and Indian paintings, Graeco-Roman exhibits, Chinese and Japanese art and a large collection of contemporary Indian art are open to the public and well worth a visit. It was established in 1961, and has an outstanding collection of the portraiture of Raja Ravi Verma, a 19th century portraitist. Another interesting section houses Chinese and Japanese porcelain artefacts, while two rooms on the ground floor are treasure troves of the Roccoco period in art. The ground floor also has a set of crystal furniture specially made for Sayaji Rao Gaekwad. The bed and chairs were part of his personal chambers. They also have royal rooms decorated as they had been in the olden days, which are also open for the public to see.
Nazarbagh Palace

Built in old classical style, the Gaekwads used this palace on ceremonial occasions. It now supposedly houses the royal family heirlooms.

Makarpura Palace
A beautiful palace designed in Italian style, the Makarpura is now used as a training school of the Indian Air Force.

Pratap Vilas Palace at Lalbagh
This was originally built as the residence of the royal family. It is an extravagant mansion built in the Indo-Sarcenic style. It houses a remarkable collection of old armoury and sculptures in bronze, marble and terracotta. The palace is a riot of columns and arches drawn from a variety of traditions including South Indian, Central Indian, North Indian and Islam. The entrance has exquisite carvings as well as stuffed tigers placed on the walls. The Darbar Hall has mosaic floors, seven domes, 12 chandeliers, intricately sculpted cedar balconies and a silver throne. It is spread over an area of 720 acres with gardens and a golf course. One can visit Shastragar (weapons room) to see the Royal armoury.
Kirti Mandir

The family mausoleums of the Gaekwad rulers are decorated with murals made by Nandlal Bose. The memorial busts are shown by the eager old caretaker happy to have a rare visitor. The central spire is 110 ft high and an inner dome decorated with a series of specially commissioned frescoes.

This is an 8th century Narayan temple, is famous for its wall paintings.

Vadodara Museum and picture gallery
Founded by the Gaekwads in 1894, this museum houses, among others, miniature paintings and narrative paintings by different artists. Maharaja Sayajirao III Gaekwad of Baroda acquired choice items from across the world – Silver plated Copper Trays from Tanjore, a Shiva Natraja from 11th Century South India, 6th Century Sculptures from Shamlaji in Gujarat, an exquisite 9th century ivory-inlaid book box from North India, and a Jain bronze dating to 5th century AD.

The upper floor of the building has a section each on natural history, ethnology and geology. The adjoining Art Gallery has a great collection of European old masters – Veronese, Giordano, Zurbaran, some Flemish and Dutch scholl paintings; Turner and Constable, a collection of Mughal miniatures, and valuable palm-leaf manuscripts of Buddhist and Jain origin and even an Egyptian mummy. There are dusty Egyptian artefacts, Greek sculptures and 18th Century Paithani textiles. Not even the museum officials are aware of that wonderful contraption, the Delhi Bungalow, located on the premises – a solid looking structure, it used to be dismantled and taken by the rulers to the Delhi durbars.

Nyaya Mandir
This is the home of the Baroda district court today. It was constructed in Byzantine style.

MS University Building
This was constructed in 1880 and boasts of the second largest masonry dome in India and towers to a height of 144 feet.

Other places too are the Narsinhji haveli temple, the 1763 AD Maratha Brahmin Ganesha haveli, the Mandvi pavilion, Jumma Masjid, the Maqbara and the 1586 AD stepwell in Qutub Ud Din masjid.

Baroda is also known for its bustling bazaars of silver and gold ornaments. A stone’s throw away is the Sayaji Gardens a popular haunt for weekend visitors with its small zoo, mini railway museum, art gallery and the relatively new Sardar Patel Planetarium. The museum was completed in 1904, has a landmark collection of Tibetan and European art and also houses the famous Akota bronzes dating back to the 5th century AD.

Close to Baroda city
Dabhoi Fort – is a 13th century Rajput fort, rated among the greatest in India with 4 magnificent gateways.

An Islamic citadel, rivalling Fatehpur Sikri and Bidar, it has some grand Indo-Saracenic architectural monuments in India.

The hill fort of Pavagarh, on the outskirts of Baroda, is a must-see. Pavagarh literally means a quarter of a hill. According to mythology a chunk of the Himalayan mountain fell from the grasp of Hanuman, as he was transporting it to Sri Lanka during the war between Rama and Ravana. Earlier, the fort and its temple were accessible only via a tedious climb but with a ropeway they are able to transport devotees right to the doorstep, and makes the trek all the more enjoyable. (Must-see here are the temple of Kali Ma and Dargah of Sajan Shah Sarmast.)
Baroda Factfile

By air: Baroda is connected by regular flights of IA., Jet Airways, Deccan Air

By Rail: Baroda is situated on the main rail link between Mumbai and Delhi. The township also boasts road links to the major towns and is situated on National Highway Number 8, connecting Delhi to Mumbai via Jaipur, Udaipur, Ahmedabad and Baroda.

Best Season to visit:
October to March

Baroda is 112 km south of Ahmedabad and 419 km north of Mumbai. The city is well connected with other cities by road, rail and air.

Besides princely palaces, stately homes and museums, short excursions outside the city limits, the traveller can visit local handicraft centres, old temples, the ruins of ancient townships, long ago forts and, of course and places of pilgrimage.

Indo-Saracenic Architecture:

Indo-saracenic architecture represents a synthesis of Muslim designs and Indian materials developed by British architects in India during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The hybrid combined diverse architectural elements of Hindu and Mughal with Gothic cusped arches, domes, spires, tracery, minarets and stained glass, in a wonderful, almost playful manner.Robert Fellowes Chisholm(1840 – 1915), Henry Irwin and Gilbert Scott were among the leading practitioners of the time.

Chisholm, one of the most gifted English architects working in India and a vehement supporter of Indian craftsmen, “the men who will actually leave the impress of their hands on the material. These men have an art language of their own, a language which you can recognise but cannot thoroughly understand. For this reason an architect practising in India should unhesitatingly select to practice in the native styles of art – indeed the natural art-expression of the men is the only art to be obtained in the country.” Chisholm was the Principal of the School of Industrial Art at Madras, and won the commision for designing the Presidency College and the University Senate House.

Indo-saracenic architecture found its way into public buildings of all sorts such as railway stations, banks and insurance buildings, educational institutions, clubs and museums . Chepauk Palace in Chennai designed by Paul Benfield is said to be the first Indo-Saracenic building in India, referred to as licentious “eclectic” incorporating elements and motifs of Hindu and Islamic precedents. Outstanding examples are spread across the country – Muir college at Allahabad, Napier Museum at Thiruvananthapuram, the Post Office, Prince of Wales Museum, University Hall and Library, Gateway of India in Mumbai, M.S. University, Lakshmi Vilas Palace at Baroda, the Central Railway Station, Law courts, Victoria Public Hall, Museum and University Senate House in Chennai, the Palaces at Mysore and Bangalore.

Influences of the Indo-Saracenic wave can also be seen in Lutyens’ design for the viceroy’s residence (now Rashtrapati Bhavan) in New Delhi where also a combination of Mogul and European styles was employed – even if somewhat more restrained than many of the examples mentioned above.

Categories: FWD:able, Vadodara Baroda
  1. Dilip
    August 2, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    You had documented,”Damaji’s nephew Pilaji became the founder of the house of Gaekwad.”
    Please note Damaji was son of Pilaji Gaekwad who had conquered Ahmedabad. Palaji went to celebrate the liberation of Ahmedabad at Krishna temple in Dakor where he was killed treachresly by Mugal Subhedar Abhaya Singh. After that Marath King Shoo (Grand son of King Shivaji) appointed Damajirao Gaekwad to rule Baroda on his behalf.

  2. August 2, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, the article in particular and for the correction.

    I shall make the correction in the blog post shortly, with due credit to you.

  3. July 22, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Name Printed Correct
    King Shahu Shoo Shahu
    Source: For Additional Details Read Chapter: XIV, Page 319 on Damaji
    Gaekwad in Gujarat (1749-1759) and other pages.
    The book also writes on:
    Damajirao Gaekwad’s participation in the third Panipat
    War of 1761 when he led the Maratha cavalry of 2500 against Afghan
    invader Ahmed Shah Abdali’a army. The Peshwa’s stupid policy of
    recruiting the Afghans in the cavalry caused great harm to the
    leadership of Damajirao Gaekwad!
    These Afghans sided with Abdali! Damajirao had suffered some wounds
    in this war and upon the end of war he returned to Baroda. Damajirao
    had died on August 18, 1768 since he was in declining health after the
    end of Panipat war of 1761. It is unfortunate that the Gujarat P.W.D.
    Department had removed the Damajirao ‘Dharmashala’ which was
    dedicated in the honor of Damajirao’s great service to the Bharat &

    Title : New History of the Marathas; Volume II, Published: 1958
    Author : G.S. Sardesai
    Pub BY: S.B. Dhawale for Phoenix Publications, Chira Bazar, Bombay 2.

  4. October 16, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Please add:
    (1) Vadodara Museum :
    The famous museum was built in 1894 on the lines of Victoria, Albert and Science Museums of London. ‘Mad’ Mant in association with R.F. Chisholm who refined some of Mant’s finest works to make genuine Indo-Sarcenic architecture designed the Building of this Museum. It preserves a rich collection of art, sculpture, ethnography & ethnology. Several of the paintings are not only original but masterpieces at the picture gallery. It also houses a skeleton of a blue whale and an Egyptian Mummy.
    (2) Nyaya Mandir
    This Temple of justice, is a magnificent and massive building built in Mixed Indo- Sarcenic and European style by Maharaja Sayaji Rao III. It is two storied with large courts and a fine central hall decorated with mosaic works. A beautiful marble statue of Chimnbhai, the first queen of Sayaji Rao III adorns the hall. The building is used at present as District court.
    Source: http://virtualvadodara.com/city.htm
    Forwarded by:

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