KEEPING A HERITAGE ALIVE
Dr Shikha Jain and Vanicka Arora’s book Living Heritage of Mewar: Architecture of the City Palace, Udaipur, documents a master conservation plan for the preservation and continuity of the City Palace in Udaipur in a bid to keep this unique heritage of Raj
Dr Shikha Jain and Vanicka Arora’s book Living Heritage of Mewar: Architecture of the City Palace, Udaipur, documents a master conservation plan for the preservation and continuity of the City Palace in Udaipur in a bid to keep this unique heritage of Rajasthan alive.
A landmark publication, titled Living Heritage of Mewar: Architecture of the City Palace, Udaipur, was recently released at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai, by Dr James Cuno, the president and CEO of the J Paul Getty Trust, USA, and Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, the chairman and managing trustee of the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, Udaipur. Authored by Dr Shikha Jain and Vanicka Arora, the book is a presentation of a decade of painstaking efforts to outline a master conservation plan for the continuity and conservation of the City Palace in Udaipur, which is a unique repository of the culture of Mewar. In this initiative, the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation has spearheaded revitalisation plans, together with The Getty Foundation, USA, and the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. We present a Q&A with Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, followed by excerpts from the book.
What is Living Heritage of Mewar–Architecture of the City Palace, Udaipur about?
Essentially, it is a landmark book on the palace architecture of Udaipur. As you are aware, architecture is a tangible facet of our cultural heritage, embodying the finest and best of Udaipur’s 450-year-old history. We are keeping alive this unique heritage of Rajasthan and India at the City Palace Museum in Udaipur. It is an opportunity for modern audiences to experience and ‘live the heritage’. Hence it is a living heritage—not a dead or soul-less monument of the past. It belongs to today. And it belongs to us all. The book is a celebration and documentation of our living heritage.
Why did you feel it necessary to document the architecture of the City Palace in Udaipur?
We felt it had to be accurately documented, as we are constantly adapting it and putting it to contemporary use. Without the detailed documentation, we cannot proceed. The process began in the 1990s. We have utilised services of committed architects, conservation specialists and faculty members of leading architecture schools. I am proud of the work Dr Shikha Jain and the DRONAH (Development and Research Organisation for Nature, Arts and Heritage) team has put in over the last decade.
What were the challenges faced in formulating the conservation plan for the City Palace?
Sustenance, I suppose. We have done all this with our own resources and very little help has come from the government. The government has supported us, there is no doubt about it, but we expect more participation… because there is so much more to conserve and share with global and Indian audiences.
Through this documentation and planning exercise, we have been able to uncover authentic details of our architectural heritage. The challenge today is to match the excellence of the past with today’s technology, materials and human resources.
What kind of assistance have you received in your conservation efforts for the City Palace and from whom?
We have received grants from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, and I look ahead to more productive interventions from them. The first major grant we received was from the J Paul Getty Trust, USA. Actually, it was this trust that facilitated the preparation of the master conservation plan for the City Palace; the book provides the detailed story. We have also received three matching grants from the Ministry of Culture—they match our contribution with their grant. So it’s not a donation; you’ve got to match it. One of these grants is being disbursed and the others are in the pipeline.
You have been quite active in Mewar’s heritage conservation efforts...
Well, it has been a long and arduous road since 2006-07, when we conceptualised the ‘Eternal Mewar’ brand, with its incomparable and unique positioning. Udaipur’s City Palace is dynamic and living, unlike a monument or a memorial. It has many facets.
Our heritage cannot be identified with only one aspect. While Rana Pratap and Haldighati are iconic landmarks in our history, I am proud to say that today several other facets of Udaipur’s living heritage is being talked and written about. The City Palace Museums and its collections are one of them. We are opening our doors and exhibiting more of what used to exist. There is so much to offer!
PREFACE (BY SHRIJI ARVIND SINGH MEWAR)
In this preamble my humble attempt is to write about the spirit and ethos of Mewar, what has been termed as our ‘intangible heritage’. It also carries a host of messages for new audiences who will be reading this book. I hope they will connect with the concept of custodianship as a form of governance and with ‘living heritage’ as a movement which is bridging the past with the future. Both these concepts have the power to meaningfully impact our worlds; and are keeping alive value systems that have been integral to our way of life, our Indian civilization, in fact. Custodianship is a unique value system received in trust from Maharishi Harit Rashi by the founding father of our House of Mewar, Bappa Rawal, in 734 AD. We, as descendants, are proud to be upholding this cherished and time-tested principle of governance in every age.
MAHARANA AS A TRUSTEE OF HIS KINGDOM
The origin of the Sisodia Rajputs, the rulers of Mewar dates back to 734 AD. Bappa Rawal of the Guhil lineage founded the Mewar Dynasty. As the founder, Bappa Rawal made a solemn promise to his Guru, Maharishi Harit Rashi that he and his descendants would protect and fulfill the sacred trusteeship of Shree Eklingnath ji (a manifestation of Lord Shiva) who would be the real ruler of Mewar. As direct descendants of Bappa Rawal, all the rulers of Mewar are hereditary custodians of Mewar on behalf of Shree Eklingnath ji. The shrine of Eklingnath ji is located about 22 km north of Udaipur, the last capital of erstwhile Mewar, This shrine is protected and worshipped by the royal family and people of Mewar region till date. This principle of ‘kingship’ as ‘trusteeship’ formed the basis for governance of the state of Mewar and continues to reflect in the maintenance and protection of the City Palace at Udaipur today. The first capital of Mewar was Chittorgarh, which remained the seat of power for several successive generations until 1553 AD, when the new capital of Udaipur was founded by Maharana Udai Singh II. The City Palace at Udaipur has seen continued patronage; even as its earlier administrative and residential role came to an end with democratic India, the custodianship is continued under the Maharani of Mewar Charitable Foundation. This aspect reflects in the way the site is used, maintained or taken care of, with the best known contemporary approaches as well as a continuity of traditional processes.
ARCHITECTURAL EVOLUTION OF THE CITY PALACE
The City Palace is a unique example of the 16th century palace-fortress typology that emerged in medieval Rajasthan. This type evolved from the earlier fort structures that were usually spread over a large hill top and housed palaces, including defense infrastructure and settlements. Some of these are the earlier forts of the Mewar rulers such as Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh. The City Palace differs from them as it is more like a palace complex on the hill with the city of Udaipur spread below within a city wall. The fortress like appearance of this palace is achieved by encasing the hill with a retaining wall on which the palaces stand so that it seems to rise to a monumental height and has a continuous fortress like facade along the hill.
The City Palace has several layers of historicity and architectural styles. The stylistic trends show influences from contemporary developments in architecture and yet are distinctly individualistic to the particular ruler of that period. Since few of the royal rulers continued to rule and construct over the turn of the centuries, it is difficult to categorise the architectural styles by each century. In total, 13 distinct layers of historic fabric are clearly visible in the architectural collage of the palace that can be possibly further categorised in five major phases that link the geography, history and social life with the architectural evolution of the site. Phase 1 - Mewar-Mature Phase (1559-1620 AD) Phase 2 - Mewar-Mughal Early Phase (1620-1698 AD) Phase 3 - Mewar-Mughal Mature Phase (1698-1778 AD) Phase 4 - Mewar-British Phase (1778-1930 AD) Phase 5 - Post-independence Mewar Phase (from 1931 AD)
The Founding of a New Capital: Mewar Mature Phase
The City Palace at Udaipur has evolved as the seat of twenty-two successive generations of rulers of Mewar, beginning with Maharana Udai Singh II (1537-1572 AD), the fifty-third ruler of the Mewar dynasty credited with the founding of Udaipur in the mid 16th century AD. The earlier capital of Chittor was in a vulnerable position, having suffered repeated attacks from the Mughals, the rulers at Gujarat, Malwa and even the neigbouring state of Marwar. It was in 1553 AD that work on constructing a new capital was commenced in the Girwa portion of Mewar, which was securely positioned within the Aravalli hills. The period from the reign of Maharana Udai Singh II (r.1537-1572 AD) up to that of Maharana Amar Singh I (r. 1597-1620 AD), marks an important political move in the history of Mewar. It also delineates a distinct phase in the construction of the City Palace at Udaipur, characterised by the Mewar style of architecture.
Expansion of the Palace: Mewar-Mughal Early Phase
The period extending from 1620 to 1698 AD saw the continuing expansion of the City Palace and the gradual incorporation of Mughal architectural influences. The architectural planning, form and details are representative of the cordial relationship established between the rulers of Mewar and the Mughals, and show an interesting amalgamation of the earlier Mewar styles with newly gathered Mughal ideas of architecture. At the same time, there was lingering resistance to foreign styles and structures that were purely characteristic of the Mewar style, such as the torans near the Badi Pol, continued to be built. During this phase, the courtyards and their palaces were generally planned on a much larger public scale, for instance, Manek Chowk, Lakshmi Chowk in Zenana Mahal, and Moti Chowk which were all considerably larger than the preexisting Rai Angan and Bhandar Chowk.
Blending of Styles and Ideas: Mewar-Mughal Mature Phase
Even though the additions and alterations to the City Palace in this phase do not compare in scale to the earlier phase, some of the most architecturally outstanding structures and spaces within the palace were added during this period. This phase is characterised by a distinct stylistic change of architectural elements such as the dome and the arch, with the amalgamation of ideas with the pre-existing Mewar style. By the 18th century, the planning principles and underlying geometry of the Mughal architecture were fully integrated with Mewar style, especially in the City Palace. A classic example of this amalgamation is the Baadi Mahal, constructed on top of the highest point of the hill.
Colonial Interactions and Final Phase of Expansion: Mewar–British Phase
The fourth phase in the development of the City Palace extends from the reign of Maharana Bhim Singh (r. 17781828 AD) to that of Maharana Fateh Singh (r. 1884-1930 AD). The political alliance of Mewar with the East India Company was accompanied by the adaption of certain British ideas of planning and architecture within the existing styles, examples of which are best seen in the additions made to Mor Chowk within the Mardana and the interiors of the new rooms added in the Zenana Mahal. The British influence on the palace is evident in architectural details such as the semicircular arch integrated with the earlier Mewar arch. The new palace structures in the vicinity of the palace complex such as the Khush Mahal, Shiv Niwas, Shambu Niwas and Fateh Prakash Palace are of Mewar British vocabulary. The interior settings also show
significant features of this period such as chandeliers, chairs, toilet seats and an elevator of this time. The courtyards incorporated fountains that worked with piped water supply and had landscape features reminiscent of the English gardens.
CONSERVATION AND ADAPTATIONS: BACKGROUND
The Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation (MMCF), Udaipur, was instituted by Maharana Bhagwat Singh Mewar in 1969, to which he donated a significant area of the City Palace and a sizeable financial contribution. The foundation was to enable practical and sustained use of the various palace structures, and at the same time serve as the seat of time honoured and cherished traditions of Mewar, maintaining the continuity of the custodianship by the royal family. The present Chairman and Managing Trustee of MMCF and the 76th Custodian of the House of Mewar, Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, has taken forth his father’s vision and the MMCF is committed to the long-term conservation and maintenance of the City Palace, Udaipur. The foundation utilises its resources in maintenance of the City Palace along with other philanthropic activities. The City Palace Museum, the Maharana Mewar Special Library, the Maharana Mewar Research Institute, the publications division and the educational institutes are some of the key projects within the City Palace being managed and developed by the foundation. From 1969-2004, MMCF had self-financed all conservation works in the City Palace. In 2004, it was realised that though the foundation generated enough resources for regular maintenance of the City Palace, it still required substantial funds for developing a comprehensive conservation plan that could systematically prioritise conservation activities for the palace. Considering the vastness of this historic complex, the foundation requires matching funds and since 2005, it has collaborated with national and international grant makers for this purpose. As the first seminal step towards consolidating documentation, analysis and planning approaches for the City Palace, the preparation of the Conservation Master Plan was undertaken from 2005–2009, through grants awarded by the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles for assistance in architectural conservation of the palace. The implementation of this plan is an ongoing process since 2007, in phases, as per availability of funds. The most recent phase (2011–2016) involves the implementation of the Use and Interpretation Plan, setting up of the various museum galleries funded through grants from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Excerpts from Living Heritage of Mewar: Architecture of the City Palace, Udaipur
Above: (L-R) Vrinda Raje Singh (CEO-Joint Custodian Initiative, Eternal Mewar), Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, Dr James Cuno (President and CEO of the J Paul Getty Trust, USA) and Dr Shikha Jain at the launch of ‘Living Heritage of Mewar’ in Mumbai Facing page; from top: Book cover of Living Heritage of Mewar: Architecture of the City Palace,Udaipur; The Manek Chowk, 1825-1905CE
Above: Silver Horse Carriage displayed in Amar Mahal, Silver Gallery, The City Palace Museum, Udaipur, Early 20th century
View of Manek Chowk during the Maharana Mewar Foundation Annual Award Distribution Ceremony