A tale of two palaces

Standing as sentinels of an era long gone by, the Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan and the Bangalore Palace remain the cynosure of anyone’s visit to Bangalore

Bangalore Palace in 2019.

Bangalore by no means disappoints the adventurers when it comes to salubrious surprises. Every visit by a tourist embellishes the travelogue with exhilarating discoveries. The city boasts excellent heritage buildings. The Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan and Bangalore Palaces were the cynosures of my latest expedition to the effervescent metropolis. It is worth noting that the large-scale exodus from all over the country has tweaked the fine filament of the late-medieval and colonial appeals of the metropolitan for which it is acknowledged across the globe. Sadly, innumerable places of historical significance have fallen prey to the cleaver of commercialisation and been razed to the ground. In such an ominous state of affairs, one should be beholden to a handful of enlightened enthusiasts who are striving day and night to safeguard the legacy, and chronicle the details of the extant edifices.

Tucked away in the busy City Market vicinity of Bangalore, the summer palace of Tipu Sultan stands as a sentinel of an era long gone by. It receives an ample number of footfalls every day, making the place a lively hotspot to relish a chunk of the regional history. During my interaction with fellow visitors, I discerned that a majority of them thronged the castle only to hang out rather than inquiring about its merits. A few were merely inclined to photograph the citadel so it could operate as a backdrop for their glossy picture frames.

Bangalore Palace in 1890 from the Lee-Warner collection.

Sifting through the pages of history, one observes that it was B Lewis Rice, a former director of Archaeological Researches in Mysore, who had discovered the extant Persian inscription, of eight couplets, inside the palace and noted that its content was inscribed in the usual “bombastic style”. He observed that the construction of the castle apparently began “in 1781, in the time of Haider Ali, and completed ten years later, in 1791, under Tipu Sultan”. However, in the Mysore Gazetteer, he recorded that the construction began in 1778 and was completed in 1789.

Writing for the ninth volume of Epigraphia Carnatica, Lewis added: “the palace of Tipu Sultan in the Bangalore fort was a building in the style of the Darya Daulat at Seringapatam. The building consisted of two storeys and was not without a huge degree of magnificence. A large open space in front was surrounded by a corridor, in the centre of which, opposite the palace, was the Naubat Khana or bandstand, in a gallery. The upper storey of the palace contained the public and private apartments of the Sultan and his ladies, with two balconies of state from which he gave audience. Paint and false gilding decorated the walls. The offices of the Mysore Commission were held in the building until the new range of public offices in Cubbon Park was occupied in 1868”.

When Buchanan visited the metropolis in 1800 he supplied an attention-grabbing account of the castle in his journal which was later incorporated by Rice when he was compiling the Mysore Gazetteer. James Hunter and Robert Home had also furnished intricate visual information about the citadel in their paintings and engravings.

Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace in 2019.

The central courtyard along with the adjoining passages presents a fleeting glimpse of Moorish architecture which is a rarity in India; nevertheless, mosques of Kapurthala and Begumpet are exceptional examples of such a design.

It is disheartening to note that the sophisticated floral, faunal and geometrical motifs on walls and ceilings have been smashed beyond recognition. Whatever of it is left has been smeared with scratches and bizarre signatures as it has become a part of the wacky practice widespread across the Indian subcontinent.

Surprisingly, defying the phrasal maxim – lightning never strikes the same place again – Tipu Sultan, in 1794, had incarcerated Col Sir David Baird in a dungeon on the premises where he was made to draw water from a well in front of the palace. He was the person who, along with his companions, was earlier imprisoned by the Tiger of Mysore in Seringapatam.

The next day, I moved to the famed Bangalore palace (apparently, it was designed on the blueprint of the English Windsor Castle) with which I developed affection ever since I had watched the Hindi motion picture Prem Nagar, which was extensively shot there. A first glance at the fortress transports the visitors to a realm where nothing but opulence exists. Incidentally, some of its sepia-toned images are present in the Souvenirs of Kolhapur, and Mysore, which are parts of the Lee-Warner and Curzon collections, respectively. As per the annotations available with the British Library, it was originally built in 1865 for a British merchant, Mr Garrett, but was later procured and extended by the maharaja of Mysore.

Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace in 1792 by Robert Home.

Interestingly, coloured paintings (mostly modern adaptations of the old European and certain Indian themes) and black and white photographs adorn every nook and corner of the well-kept palace. A few prominent photos represent the Kheddah Operation which was witnessed by Lord Hardinge, viceroy and governor-general of India, in the Kakankota forests of Mysore in November 1913. Other frames are equally significant, revealing the citadel and its residents, dignitaries, guests, and higher officials, including Sir Mirza Ismail, former prime minister of Mysore, Hyderabad and Jaipur.

A small room on the ground floor exhibits several engravings from the illustrated London News and the Graphic. One of the prints that specifically caught my attention was Samuel Howitt’s The Ganges Breaking Its Banks.

Since plenty has already been cataloged on its architecture, I would endeavour to underline a specific facet which is thus far unrecorded: the central courtyard, along with the adjoining passages, presents a fleeting glimpse of Moorish architecture which is a rarity in India. Mosques of Kapurthala and Begumpet are exceptional examples of such a design.

Emerging out of the citadel, one cannot avoid being in awe of the colossal garden that flanks its frontal façade and makes it an “abode of love”. Further, two polished cannons embrace the lawn, one of those being emblazoned with the French axiom, “Honi soit qui mal y pense” – shamed be the person who thinks evil of it.

Eventually, on a cheerful note, I bade adieu to Bangalore with a vision to write about other surviving monuments in my forthcoming visitations.

The writer is a   Jaipur-based IT   professional, with a flair for art, history,  literature, and travel

A tale of two palaces