Friday, 19 December 2014

Mysore Palace

Let me begin with something basic that many Indians are unaware of. When I say Mysore, do you immediately think of Tipu Sultan? In that case, you should know that Tipu and his father Hyder Ali are just one small island in the ocean of the Wadiyar reign. The Wadiyars (sometimes spelt Wodeyar) were the Hindu kings of the Kingdom of Mysore. Starting with Yaduraya Wadiyar in 1399, they ruled Mysore almost uninterrupted right up to Independence. Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan usurped power through military might and ruled Mysore from 1761 to 1799. Their colluding with the French thoroughly alarmed the East India Company, which ultimately defeated Tipu and restored the Wadiyars to the throne, albeit with a serious caveat. Large parts of the Kingdom had to be ceded to the English, and what remained became in effects a British dependency, with a Chief Commissioner, a.k.a. “resident” dictating much of the King’s decisions.

Right from its inception, Mysore has remained the capital of the Wadiyar Kings. There are multiple palaces still in existence around the city today, however “Mysore Palace” describes one specific structure, also known as the Amba Vilas Palace. The old palace that originally stood in this place was built of wood and got accidentally burnt down during the marriage of Jayalakshammanni, the eldest daughter of the King, Chamaraja Wadiyar, in 1897. Construction work on the present palace began in the same year and was completed in 1912 at the cost of 42 lakh rupees. Designed by British architect Henry Irwin, Mysore Palace is one of the most magnificent examples of the Indo-Saracenic school, which blends European and Indian architectural styles. If you look closely, you will find Gothic arches, Rajput windows, Islamic domes and minarets and Hindu temple-like ornamentation, all in the same building.

Sri Shweta Varahaswamy Temple
The best view of the Palace is from the Jayamarthanda Gate. However, entrance is from the Southern gate. The Jayamarthanda Gate is used only for ceremonial occasions, when the King’s procession leaves the Palace. The Coat of arms of the Mysore Royal family may be seen atop the Jayamarthanda Gate. The “Gandaberunda” a mythological, two-headed bird with special powers was used by many South Indian kingdoms in their coat of arms, and is seen here as well. Through the South gate, you will find the Palace surrounded by vast, well-kept grounds. Within the grounds are 8 temples, Kodi Bharravasvami Temple, the oldest Sri Lakshmiramana Swami Temple near the Western part of the fort, Sri Shweta Varahaswamy Temple near the South gate, Sri Trinayaneshvara Swami Temple on the banks of the Devaraya Sagar, Sri Prasanna Krishanswami temple, Kille Venkatramana Swamy Temple, Sri Bhuvaneshwari Temple near the Northern side of the Palace and finally the Sri Gayatri Temple, near the South Eastern corner. Around the Palace are also eight bronze tigers, which look like they are ready to pounce. These fierce and majestic sculptures were made by renowned British artist William Robert Colton in 1909.

Mysore Coat of arms. Note Gandaberunda on shield.
Photography within the grounds is permitted, but to enter the Palace itself, cameras must be deposited with security staff near the Southern gate. While a board says that this is a free service, the people at the counter demand tips. 10 to 20 rupees will usually suffice. Inside the palace, there is now a museum, containing relics from the royal family. There are also two durbar halls, a kalyan mandapam where royal weddings were held, and many many other things to see. Special devices containing audio narration, known as “narrow cast” are available and are much much better than a conventional guide. I recommend getting these devices from a counter designated for the purpose. Shoes must be removed and deposited in return for a token and a small fee as well. Intricately decorated doors made of solid silver, the magnificent royal portrait gallery, ornate howdas for elephants on which the King would sit, the royal armoury, there is much to see in the Palace, and it will take the better part of a day, perhaps even longer if you are a photographer. For children (and adults), there are elephant and camel rides as well, for a small fee. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, after regular palace timings, a light and sound show is held and on every Sunday night, as well as public holidays, Mysore Palace is illuminated with more than 90,000 lights, which is a sight to behold. Entry during this time is not permitted, but photography from outside is allowed.


  • Although winter is a good time to visit Mysore, due to its elevation, Mysore enjoys beautifully mild weather all year round.
  •  The easiest way to reach Mysore is to take a flight to Bangalore. From Bangalore, Mysore may be reached in a couple of hours via train or one of Karnataka’s many and excellent and comfortable buses. If you do travel by train, remember to try the dosa, coffee and a sort of salty biscuit with roasted garlic which is sold by vendors.
  •  To avoid being fleeced by unscrupulous people at the Mysore Palace, check out this link.
  •  If you have a sweet tooth, the local sweet, Mysore Pak is an absolute must try. For the good stuff, try any branch of Mahalakshmi Sweets. Check out their official site, here.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh


I am grateful to my friend Prasenjit Das for being my guide and host around Mysore.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Residency, Lucknow

“If we succeed in sweeping them all away, or absorbing them, we shall be at the mercy of our native army, and they will see it; and accidents may possibly occur to unite them, or a great portion of them, in some desperate act…the best provision against it seems to me to be the maintenance of native rulers, whose confidence and affection can be engaged, and administrations improved under judicious management” - Major-general Sir William Henry Sleeman to Lord Dalhousie from Jhansi, 24th September, 1848

Sleeman’s eerie prediction was to come true less than a decade later when dissatisfaction exploded into open rebellion. While Governor General Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse had been used by the company to gobble up states where the king lacked a biological son, such as Satara in 1848, Jhansi in 1853 and Nagpur in 1854, “Awadh was an acquisition on a far different scale”, writes William Dalrymple, “and was practiced on a ‘faithful and unresisting ally’ without even the nominal justification of the absence of a recognized heir”. The annexation of Awadh or Oudh happened purely because the King, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, had run into vast debts with the Company, and seemed unable to, or disinterested in paying them. With this annexation, centuries of established tradition, when it came to land, revenue collection, and even governance, was trampled under the Englishman’s boot. It is no coincidence that the largest number of recruits in the Bengal Army, which rebelled against its masters in 1857, was from the Awadh area. The igniting spark for the mutiny was supplied by the infamous Enfield rifle and its greased cartridges, which Hindu and Muslim sepoys feared contained the fat of cows and pigs. While in Meerut and Cawnpore (Kanpur), the massacre of Europeans was near total, Lucknow, the capital of Awadh, presents a different picture. Here, thanks to the foresight and preparation of Sir Henry Lawrence, 1700 Europeans were able to hold out for 87 days, against overwhelming odds. The place where they chose to make their stand was a compound of roughly 33 acres, containing a number of buildings inhabited by Company servants, European traders, and their families. Chief among the buildings was that of the British “Resident”, Chief Commissioner Sir Henry Lawrence, and the compound thus came to be known as “The Residency”.

The East India Company had had its eye on the rich province of Awadh for quite a while. The opportunity for them finally came when the triple alliance of Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal, Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh, and Shah Alam II, the Mughal Emperor were routed by the Company’s army, under Hector Munro. Shuja-ud-Daula was forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Allahabad, agreeing to a British “Resident” in his court, who would control all his decisions, alongside maintaining a British force in his state, and forfeiting his right to conduct independent foreign affairs. For his Resident, Shuja-ud-Daula built a residency in Faizabad, which was then the capital city. When his son, Asaf-ud-Daula moved the capital to Lucknow, the Resident moved with him, and a new residency was built on high ground to the South of the Gomti river. Construction of the Residency was begun by Asaf-ud-Daula in 1800. A number of buildings in the compound were also built by the French Major-general, Claude Martin, who is remembered for La Martiniere. When the mutiny broke out, European residents from areas all around Lucknow, who feared for their safety, flocked to it, and it became home to some 1700 of them, including women and children. The compound was surrounded by the sepoys, and witnessed heavy shelling during a siege lasting 87 days. It was finally relieved by General Henry Havelock, but the relieving force found itself besieged yet again. Field Marshall Colin Campbell’s second relief of Lucknow was ultimately successful, and Lucknow passed into British hands.

The ruins of the Residency remain standing even today, and are a must see for anyone interested in the mutiny of 1857. Most of the buildings were ravaged by shelling, but a few remain in good condition, and their ornate stucco walls and columns, pockmarked by canon and musketry provide a surreal setting. The Archaelogical Survey of India maintains and operates the Residency today, and modestly priced tickets grant you entry into the compound.



This is first structure you encounter as you enter the Residency. The huge arched gateway has two guardrooms on either side, and its walls bear the marks of canon and musket balls. Colonel John Baillie was born in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands on 10 May 1772 and entered the service of the East India Company in 1790. An accomplished linguist, he taught at Fort William College in Calcutta until 1807, when he took up the position of Resident in Lucknow, which he held till 1815. Nawab Saadat Ali Khan II had arranged for a special guard of honour for Colonel John Baillie and it is from this that the Baillie Guard Gate (sometimes spelt Bailley) got its name.


Saturday, 6 December 2014

Bada Imambara, Lucknow

Jisey naa dey Maula, usey dey Asaf-ud-Daula

(He who is denied by Allah, is provided for by Asaf-ud-Daula, a proverb of Lucknow)

In 1722, during the reign of the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah (one of the lesser Mughals), Mir Muhammad Amin Musawi, a.k.a. Saadat Ali Khan I was made governor of Awadh or Oudh province. Awadh, deriving its name from Ayodhya, was one of the 12 subahs or provinces that Emperor Akbar had carved out of his empire, for administrative efficiency, between 1572 and 1580. The grandson of a rich trader from Khorasan (in the North East of modern day Iran) who had migrated to India, Saadat Ali as his father before him, rose rapidly through the ranks thanks to military prowess, and found favour with the emperor. With him began the line of the Nawabs of Awadh. His son-in-law, Muhammad Muqim, a.k.a. Abul-Mansur Khan Safdar Jung succeeded him in 1737, and Safdarjung’s grandson, Muhammad Yahya Mirza Amani, a.k.a. Asaf-ud-Daula ascended the throne on the 26th of January 1775.

View from Bada Imambara's terrace

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Serampore Rajbari

Exactly how rich were the Goswamis of Serampore? Sample this. When the Danes, finding their factory in Serampore to be a losing concern, were looking for someone to sell their title of Serampore to, Raghuram Goswami offered to purchase it for the sum of Rs. 11,00,000! However the Danes found this sum to be inadequate and ultimately sold their possessions to the East India Company in 1845, for 12,00,000. The Goswamis of Serampore, are the descendants of one of the five Brahmin families whom Adisur, King of Gaur had invited to settle in Bengal, with gifts of land and monies, for the propagation of knowledge. One of his descendants was Lakshman Chakravarty. Lakshman was married to the daughter of Achyut Goswami, son of Advaitacharya Goswami, an ardent disciple of Sri Chaitanya. Lakshman settled in Shantipur, with Achyut’s family, and out of their marriage was born a son, Ramgobinda, who took on his mother’s maiden name, Goswami. It was Ramgobinda’s son, Radhakanta, who settled in Serampore. His grandson was Raghuram Goswami.

Serampore Rajbari South Block

Saturday, 15 November 2014

St. Stephen's Church, Diamond Harbour Road

We call it “the rocket Church”. I mean come one! How can you not? Take a good look. That unique looking steeple, that looks like the body of a rocket, complete with nose cone, and on both sides of the entrance, you see the way the walls are sloping? That looks like tail fins, right? The books say that the Church is typically Gothic in architecture, and that steeple, while unique, was never meant to look like a rocket. It was meant to look like a ship’s lantern from the old days. The reason why a Church with a steeple like a ship’s lantern is located on Diamond Harbour Road is simple enough to understand. The Kidderpore docks are nearby, and therefore, this area would have been filled with seafaring people. This would have been the first Church anyone would see when travelling East towards the city after disembarking from a ship. Located on 3, Diamond Harbour Road, St. Stephen’s Church is right next to the St. Thomas Boys’ School, but must be entered through the somewhat chaotic lanes of the Kidderpore Bazaar.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Radhanath Temple, Mondal Temple Lane

The temple as seen from a neighbour's rooftop
A little less than 30 kilometers to the South West of the city of Calcutta, is the village of Bawali. During the Mughal era, Raja Ram Mondal received from the emperor a royal charter granting him full control over fifteen villages (the East India company, in contrast, began with three). Thus began the story of the Bawali Raj family. Sometime in the eighteenth century, Robert Clive invited the Mondals to come and settle in Calcutta. In response, Ramnath and Manick Mondal moved into the area known today as Chetla, and settled by the banks of what was then the Adi Ganga; today’s Tolly Canal.

The family deity of the Mondals was Lord Krishna, and the temples that they constructed in the area, are to his various manifestations. The largest and most spectacular of them still exists, on the road named after it. Approaching the Radhanath Temple of Mondal Temple Lane can be somewhat tricky. If you’re coming from Tollygunge Phari, once you cross the bridge over the Tolly Canal, the second turn on your right is Chetla Road, but right turns into the lane are prohibited before 1pm, and therefore it is simpler to take the next right turn, a serpentine lane that connects with Mondal Temple Lane. Turn right at the T Junction, and keep a lookout to your left. The huge temple, located near the crossing of Mondal Temple Lane and Chetla Road, is easily visible even through the jigsaw of modern buildings.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Turner Morrison & Co., Lyon's Range

The whole reason Calcutta developed into what she is today, was shipping. There are those who deny the role of the British in the formation of the city, or those who say that Charnock’s landing here could not possibly mark the birth of the city. But even such people agree, and the historic evidence is difficult to refute, that this part of the world was fairly active in trading, especially in textiles. The village of Sutanuti, some say got its name from the yarn, or suta, that was spun and sold from here, to European and other ships, which would venture up the Hooghly. During the British era, the imperial capital was the largest and most important port in the East of India, and many of the shipping companies that operated then, are still active today. Among them is Turner Morrison.