Under restoration, Nabha Fort throws up unexpected treasures

Fort in a shambles but team discovers rare wall painting, old cooling system.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana | Updated: March 3, 2016 11:03 am
Nabha Fort, architecture, monuments, Nabha Fort architecture, Nabha Fort treasure, chandigarh news Restoration work in progress at the fort.

A TEAM of architects working on the restoration process at Nabha Fort in Patiala district, the ancestral property of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh, who had been exiled for opposing British rule, has unearthed some rare artefacts and systems from within the premises.

This is for the first time since Independence that the fort is being restored and the team from the Mumbai-based Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI), the consultancy hired by the Punjab government for the restoration, has so far found a rare wall painting depicting the Army of great Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh and a ‘Sard Khana’ (system that helps keeping rooms cool during summers) in the basement.

“The rare painting is probably 100-150 years old (1850-1900) and depicts the Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The painting also shows the proximity between Maharaja Jaswant Singh (a ruler of the Nabha kingdom) and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Maharaja Jaswant Singh was an ardent supporter of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and this is reflected in the wall paintings we are finding in the Nabha fort which was built by Maharaja Hira Singh, the father of Ripudaman. The courtyard paintings, which in those days depicted the ideologies of the respective kings, speaks volumes of how the Nabha regime related to Maharaja Ranjit Singh and how Ripudaman believed in independent rule, unlike other princely states which were sycophants of the Britishers,” said CRCI director Gurmeet Sangha Rai.

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Currently hidden under layers of lime wash (as fort was previously used by government departments), the rare painting is being restored to its original form. Rai added that the other important discovery was the Sard Khana. “A basement has been discovered in the rear courtyard of the Nabha fort, which is known as the Sard Khana. It is extremely unique in its spatial configuration and was used to keep all the rooms cool in summers. What makes it even more interesting is that these subterranean chambers are structurally very stable while the superstructure is in a decayed condition. We were unaware of any such part existing in this fort. Both discoveries are extremely significant. We are expecting more with an extensive work we are carrying out currently,” she said.

As part of the first phase of the project, the CRCI team is undertaking an emergency stabilisation and structural consolidation as the fort is a shambles. “The emergency stabilisation costs nearly Rs 6 crore but we had to do it as many parts of the fort are simply coming off. It had not been touched since Independence. We had to start from the scratch. Trees have grown into the walls. They have been removed and chemicals sprayed. New unknown aspects of the fort are emerging as we are moving ahead,” Rai said.

The fort though has failed to get the tag of ‘protected monument’ from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and hence the Rs 15 crore conservation project is now being solely executed by the Punjab Tourism and Heritage Board through a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

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Rai said the entire process will take a minimum of five years to complete while the emergency restoration is expected to take an year more. The Mumbai firm has been given a deadline till March 2017.

Starting the work was itself not easy as has taken almost 13 years. “We first proposed this in 2003 through the Nabha Foundation, which is working to preserve the ‘Nabha Riyaasat’. It has taken almost 13 years to get the government nod, arrange finances and now work has actually started on the ground. The fort is still not a protected monument under ASI,” Rai said.

Navjot Pal Randhawa, director, cultural affairs, archaeology and museums, Punjab, said: “Since independence, it is for first time that work on this fort has started. The aim is to boost tourism and this project is entirely under state government to preserve the historic Nabha Fort”.

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