India Gate is home to many princely buildings, primarily Hyderabad House, Baroda House, Patiala House, Jaipur House and Bikaner House. But did you know the size of the land was determined by the number of gun salutes given to the princes? That, in fact, there would have been an ornamental lake, with water from the Yamuna, in the central area, if the National Stadium hadn’t come up? Princely Palaces in New Delhi by Sumanta K Bhowmick (Niyogi Books, Rs 2,500) narrates such stories that revolve around India’s royalty in the new Capital.
Across 263 pages filled with memoirs, newspaper snippets and rarely seen photographs of weddings and meetings, Bhowmick details the architectural styles of these iconic buildings, their plans and purpose, their residents, and maps the way Delhi was planned as the nation inched towards freedom. Each of the 565 princely states came with their entourage, histories and eccentricities. For instance, the Nizam of Hyderabad, declared the richest man in the world by Time magazine in 1937, had a fleet of 60 cars fitted with ivory and gold accessories but would not drive them due to high fuel costs. A recluse, he shut himself in, and rarely dressed as royalty would. His neighbour, the Gaekwad of Baroda, was a globe trotter, who loved all things Western. What ties the two palaces is architect Edwin Lutyens; he designed both the Hyderabad House and the Baroda House.
In his interactions with members of the royal family, Bhowmick met the late Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who remembered the pomp and splendour of his sister’s marriage at Hyderabad House, and presented the author with a photograph for the book as well. Many others shared memories from their childhood. For instance, diplomat and scholar Karan Singh spoke of his emotional connect with Faridkot House, since he first met his wife at this Art Deco palace.
“The Delhi palaces of erstwhile princely states were built for purposes that may not be relevant to us but they speak of a time that was part of the continual process of knitting an unstitched destiny. We need to preserve them in their original beauty, if not their associated glory,” says Bhowmick.
That many of them today have been turned into offices or institutions, marred by partition boards and peeling paint, tell of the apathy that surrounds these buildings. While Bikaner House and Cochin House have been recently renovated, and Hyderabad House continues to be well maintained since it is the Prime Minister’s guest house, the Travancore Palace, among others, needs a facelift.
The book, which took four years of research, positions rulers and their homes in the geographical and political landscape of today, making it relevant for any curious reader to follow the yellow brick road to history.