Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Holkar's Hallmark: Rajwada, the symbol of Indore and its cultural heritage

Indore is the biggest city in Central India and the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh.

A city that produced famous cricketers, artistes and Bollywood actors, it is also known as the seat of Holkars--the Maratha dynasty--before independence.

People of Indore are known for their love for food. Of course, there is immense pride among them for Rajwada, the imposing structure in the heart of the city, that was damaged [burnt] many a times in the last 250 years.

Just like Char Minar represents Hyderabad and Rumi Gate-Bhulaiyan complex reminds us of Lucknow, the Rajwada symbolises Indore.

In fact, the people of Indore, may appear too proud and possessive of this grand palace complex.

It was after a long time that I visited Indore. Though it was again a trip made in a hurry, I wanted to spend sometime at the Rajwada and managed to do so.

It is located in the midst of a crowded place, where there is heavy traffic apart from shops. People are drawn to this part of the town by the vegetarian delights and also it serves as a hangout for local residents.

The board at the entrance suggested that it was 'Mughal-Maratha' style of architecture, with a blend of French in parts of the building. The structure is so huge that it was difficult to capture it with camera, until one goes quite a distance away from the building.

Inside, hundreds of pigeons welcomed me. There were not many people inside. Just 2-3 families sitting in different corners, and a young couple enjoying moments of peace, away from the dust and heat on the streets of this densely populated town of nearly two million.

View from Inside: Rajwada, from 1747 AD, a symbol of Indore
Though it was extremely hot outside, one could feel the change in the air, owing to the vast open space inside the Rajwada.

The national flag was visible on the top of the magnificent building. Along side, one could see the Holkar flag aflutter.

For a person who is interested in history, archaeology or cultural heritage, it is a fascinating place.

For others perhaps, a bit desolate. One wished, they had put up photographs of Holkar kings.

Else, they could have turned at least one of the floors into a museum or picture gallery.

Another regret was that the visitors are not allowed to go upstairs in this seven storey [Ground plus six] building.

On one side of the Rajwada is a temple which was full of devotees. At the gate of Rajwada, vendors sell toys and other snacks.

The colourful tongas are quite in sync with the place, which is at contrast with the character of the bustling city.  It was nice to see that the building has been restored.

Indian flag beside the Holkar parcham atop Rajwada
Still, carelessness on part of Archaeology department officials and local civic authorities was evident.

People employed in the building take their vehicles through the gate and park them inside, which not only affect the structure but also affect the look of this majestic heritage building.

The three lower storeys are built of stones and the top ones are wooden. There are beautiful carvings on stone.

I liked Rajwada. It was neither like the ruined 'Quilas'  nor the extremely opulent of 'Mahals'. It is unique and has an austere grace.

I found this stone and wood structure intriguing. Also, I felt an air of sadness inside the complex. Why?

I couldn't fathom the reason. Perhaps, your feelings might be different. Indore is a traders' town. It has large Bania population, particularly, Marwaris--the Agarwals, Jains and Maheshwaris, and has a strong Bohra Muslim concentration.

The temple at Rajwada
These trading communities are settled here for ages apart from a large number of Gujaratis and Rajasthanis.

And yes, Indore has a distinct Maharashtrian flavour much more than any other city in Madhya Pradesh.

In terms of civic infrastructure, it does fall behind. People feel there is less focus on the city, unlike Bhopal, which was a much smaller town but after it became capital it was given disproportionate attention while Indore was neglected.

The city, despite its rich heritage, doesn't have as many monuments as you expect. The reason is that Holkars for a long period had kept Maheshwar as their capital, and though there are 'chhatris' and Lalbagh palace, one expects more from Indore.

The people of Jabalpur, once the biggest city of central India, also feel that their city has been discriminated, but so is the feeling in Allahabad and Kanpur also that the capital, Lucknow, gets all the focus from State government.

History of Holkars and Rajwada: Building burnt, rose from ashes every time

View of the hall inside the building.
After Mughal emperor Aurangzeb's death, the Marathas began their military expeditions in the North.

Subsequently, Malhar Rao Holkar was made the leader of these campaigns after Peshwa Baji Rao's nod.

In 1730 AD, when Maratha armies were camping in Northern India, Malhar Rao requested Chhatrapati Shahu for a jagir, so that he (Malhar Rao) would not have to worry about the financial needs of his family.

Malhar Rao was granted the wish. The jagir was named in his wife Gautma Bai's name in 1734. The jagir comrpised villages in Malwa and Khandesh. These chunks of land included Indore, which was then a small town.

Thence Malhar Rao Holkar's family made Indore their permanent home. Prior to the Holkars' hold, Indore was a pargana office under Mughals. It was given to Peshwa's brother Chimnaji Ballal in 1724 but later in 1732 Malhar Rao Holkar's family got it.

Another view from inside
In 1740 AD, Baji Rao Peshwa passed away and Malhar Rao was made subedar of Malwa, which in turn, established his suzerainty over the entire region.

This was the beginning of the foundation of the princely state of Holkar which remained for over two centuries before it finally merged into Indian union in 1948.

This year [1740], Murad Shah Faqir was replaced with new priest Bairagi Roop Das at Maruti Khedapati temple of Indore 'qasbah'.

In 1740, Malhar Rao asked Chaturbhuj Qanungo to bring traders and settle them at Indore. The aim was to develop the town and turn it into an important city and financial centre. Till then Maratha soldiers and other officials stayed at Kutcheri here but now they were asked to stay at the 'baada' known as Hakimvada. 

The construction of the 'Sarkari baada' or the official premises began in 1747 near the banks of the Khan river. But even before the building could be completed, Marathas were defeated at the battle of Panipat in 1761.

Scindia general Sarje Rao burnt it in 1801
The crushing and unexpected defeat was a big blow for the elderly Malhar Rao, who died, soon after in 1765, near Alampur.

As Gautama Bai had already died, the jagir was now given to Malhar Rao's daughter-in-law, the famous Ahilya Bai [wife of late Khanderao], known as Maharani Ahilya Devi, in history, and is remembered for justice, charity, religious nature and her noble ways.

She made Maheshwar, a town 91 km from Indore, on the banks of Narmada, as her capital, and ruled from here. However, Indore remained the chhaoni for the Holkar forces that remained stationed here.

In 1799, Tukoji Rao First's death led to a feud for succession. Ahilya had died in 1795. Tukoji Rao Holkar's son was disabled.

Subsequently, his second* wife's son Yashwant Rao First succeeded in capturing power. But later on he not only turned against British but also the Scindias. In 1804, the courageous Yashwant Rao attacked Ujjain and burnt down the city, which was then the capital of Scindias.

Subsequently, Scindia's military commander Sarje Rao Ghatke attacked Indore and robbed the whole city. Buildings were burnt down and the city was ravaged. After burning down the grand Rajwada, he even got the site here dug for days.

Iron plaque mentions Usha Devi's restoration work
He thought that there might be treasure hidden underneath, but unfortunately for him, Ghatke couldn't anything.

Yashwant Rao Holkar First had made Bhanpur as his capital. But in 1811, he died. His wife Tulsa Bai became the defacto ruler by placing the minor Malhar Rao II on the throne.

At Mahidpur, Holkar forces were defeated by the British Army. Then, Major General Sir John Malcolm and Holkar prime minister Tatya Jog had the famous Mandsaur treaty in 1818.

One of the conditions of this treaty was that Holkar would have to make Indore their capital. When Holkar royal family came to Indore, they had come in an extremely poor state.

With no place to stay here, Malcom arranged for their stay at another 'baada', the 'Adhunik Bhandari High School', for them to live in. Tatya [also Tantiya] Jog ran the administration efficiently and during the period 1818 to 1833, the current Rajwada [alternative spellings: Rajvada, Rajwara, Rajbada] building was constructed once again.

The part which was destroyed by Sarjerao Ghatke was re-constructed. Once again, in 1834, fire caused destruction of one of the floors. It was the extensive use of wood in the construction that was reason for the spread of fire and the destruction.

Few visitors on a summer day inside the palace complex
In 1844, a minor boy Tukoji Rao II was adopted and the first major ceremony of the Holkars--the Raj Tilak-- was held in this building in 1852.

Later on, the building was renovated further and changes were made. It is constructed the epitome of Muslim-Maratha [Hindu Rajput] style of architecture apart from a Latin touch [French as well].

The southern and the northern side represents Mughal art while Eastern door, Ganesh Hall shows Maratha style, the Durbar Hall and Ahilya room made in French style.

The last, Rajwada, got burnt was in 1984. After years of apathy it was finally restored. The scion of the dynasty Usha Devi Holkar took special interest and it was renovated.