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An Exclusive Interview with Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar

Following is an Exclusive Interview with Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, scion of the erstwhile Mysore Royal Family, who is committed to restoring the Bangalore palace to its original glory.

Bala Chauhan
talks to Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar:-

The king shall have his palace

He looks out of the small window into the expansive greenery outside. The trees look freshly bathed in the downpour. The sun has just set and the evening sky is orange and grey.

The colours are intense, a fitting requiem to the day that is slowly going to bed. His gaze moves inside, at the painted glass on the window and his finger gently runs on the wooden frame. "It's all eaten by termites. Very soon it will fall. But I will not let it happen," he looks away, at the masons and artisans working on the walls of the Durbar hall. "Get me the frame that we did on the plaster of Paris," he asks the head mason.

"I will have everything done the way it was. From the artistry on the walls to the roofing, woodwork, furniture, upholstery, painting. The palace has to look the way it was when I was young and growing up," he shows the plaster of Paris frame, which was taken from the patches of the original work on the walls for restoration.

Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, scion of the erstwhile Mysore Royal family is committed to restoring the Bangalore Palace to its original glory. He recently started the work with the two prime areas of the palace; the Durbar Hall and the Ball room.

"The floor boards had broken at several places, the wood was termite eaten and the floor had become rough out of negligence and misuse. We got it re-done in its original wood - the teak wood. The doors, made in rosewood are being restored along with the other things. The brass work on them is being polished," he says while pointing at the entrance door to the Ball room.

The room, which was once the venue of royal parties and dances, echoes a thousand memories of the band that played, the nobility which enjoyed the music, the top government and military officers who danced to the rhythm with their partners. That was then. Today, the palace, built in 1887 AD by Mysore Maharajah Chamaraja Wodeyar in Tudor-style, is literally crumbling under the attack of termite and years of disuse.

The controversy

The palace fell into a state of neglect after the demise of the erstwhile Maharajah Jai Chamraj Wodeyar, father of Mr Srikanta Dutta Wodeyar, in 1974. "The property fell in the hands of a private party. We finally got it back in 1994. By then it was already in a bad shape," he says. Later, the dispute between the government and Wodeyar over its ownership was one of the major reasons for its further neglect. However, with part of it restored to the family now, he wants to bring its pristine glory back to the Tudor edifice.

The palace has an interesting history to it. The 45,000 sq feet mansion built on 428 acres of land was bought in 1873 from one Mr Garrett at a cost of Rs 10 to 12 lakh. It is said that the construction cost of this exquisite palace was just over Rs 1 lakh.

"The Maharajah of Mysore had no place to stay in Bangalore hence he bought this property and renovated it. The entire palace was completed in 1938. The furniture, which was neo-classical, Victorian and Edwardian in style, was bought from John Roberts and Lazarus. Mr Krumbiegel, the horticulture specialist looked after its gardens. The palace had 35 rooms; most of them were bed rooms with small, compact rest rooms. Some of them didn't have doors. They were added much later. My great grand father lived in the South-West wing of the palace and my father lived in the North-East wing. I also grew up in the rooms on the first floor in the Northern-Eastern wing.

Though we lived in Mysore, we used to spend some time in Bangalore during summer and Christmas vacation. I used to look forward to coming here because this palace, compared to the Mysore palace is far more small and compact. We had more freedom to move around and there were more places to shop in Bangalore. Moreover, we had our second cousins here and we made a great team. We used to go for walks and attend the garden parties that my father threw now and then for the top government and military officers.

The band used to play the old Mysore State anthem. Few hundred people worked here and the military police was in charge of the security. We had a posse of Maharajah's guards, who would present the guard of honour, as late as 1963," he revisits his childhood and adolescent years. His words bring to life time gone by.

Standing in the heart of the city, near Vasanthnagar, the palace is a regal slice of medieval England and its architecture. The structure has fortified towers and its interiors embellished with elegant wood carvings and Tudor-style architecture, complete with aesthetic Gothic windows, battlements and turrets. The interiors have awesome floral motifs, cornices, moulding and relief paintings on its ceiling.

At the entrance, leading to the Ball room and Durbar hall are banisters in rose wood lined with statues of sinewed men. A bust of one of the royal scions resonates the era when the palace was the centre of politics, business, art and literature.

Though the portion in which Mr Wodeyar lives has been maintained to some extent, the insides of the palace spread out like pages of history, rarely visited and touched.

The patio surrounded by rooms on the ground and the first floor echo out the emptiness and silence, rarely disturbed by the sound of masonry or carpentry in the Ball room and Durbar hall.

The darkness of the sky fills inside the palace and a staff member switches on the light, which falls on the dusty pictures and photographs of the Mysore Maharajah and their relatives stacked on the floor.

A matter of time

"It's a matter of time. I will make this place every inch a palace," Wodeyar's promise resounds the walls. Outside I hear the train chugging on the tracks, of time and an era that can only be restored, and revisited only in its re-making.

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