Symbol of Dogra Legacy

K D Maini
Baldev Mehal was the first memorable      building constructed in 1905 by the local Dogra ruler Raja Baldev Singh of Poonch            Principality on the initiative of Captain        R.E.A Hamelton, the then settlement officer   of Poonch. Exactly after one hundred years during the severe earthquake of 2005, this palace was shaken and damaged badly.
Fissures and cracks developed in the walls and roof was broken at a number of places. Since the building was under the occupation of defense forces who felt impossible to put it right and after examination declared it unsafe and accordingly abandoned it. Therefore no attention was paid towards its further deterioration till 2015. It was only in 2015 when a youthful and visionary officer Y.K Gautam heaving the aptitude of culture and heritage after inspection of this important monument felt that it can be restored. Accordingly he convinced higher officers for the restoration and revival of this palace which was otherwise forgotten. After that the restoration work of the palace was taken up on March 2016. During last one year, the main portion of the palace where Raja Baldev Singh resided with his family has been restored, renovated and made habitable. The work on rest of the building is in progress and day by day Baldev Mehal is regaining its past glory and glamour. This gesture of Indian Army is considered a Sadbawana with Bawana towards the rehabilitation of the heritage of Dogra legacy in Poonch area.
Baldev Mehal (Palace) was considered the attractive building complex in Poonch principality during an rule of Raja Baldev Singh and Raja Sukh Dev Singh from 1904 to 1926 AD. The Palace is known after the name of Raja Baldev Singh of Poonch who ruled the principality from 1892 to 1917 AD. This beautiful glorious Palace is situated on the eastern bank of Betar River at an elevated place on the western edge of Poonch air field which is about one kilometer in the west of Poonch town. From the first floor of the palace, the whole of Poonch Illaqa from Pir Pass to Toli Pir and from Neelkanth top to Pir Margote Gazi is visible. It is a double storey building and a combination of English and Kashmiri architect.
The building is constructed on a ten feet high basement. The ground floor comprises of 21 small and big rooms including conference hall, Darbar hall, relaxing rooms, Raja’s personal office, staff rooms and security rooms. These rooms are attached with 12 feet width corridor. The main entrance is on the southern side which leads towards inner premises and first floor. The stairs 24 in number starts immediately from the main entrance and leads towards first floor. There are 10 well constructed big ventilated rooms in the first floor attached with 10 feet corridor on the internal and external sides. These rooms include the bed room of king’s, queen, children, drawing rooms, Rajas personal office and two guest rooms for VVIPs. A small temple in the inner premises on ground floor has been constructed for Pooja and religious ceremony. The inner portion of ground floor is attached with kitchen building and six rooms for security personnel’s.  There is another double storey building located in the premises of the Palace known as Padam Mahal constructed for  Padam Dev Singh, the third son of Raja Baldev Singh.
The Palace complex includes Mahal building, Padam Mahal, Gardens, Vegetable fields and playfield.  The complex is spread over 6.38 acres of land.  The stone, lime, deodar and walnut wood have been used for the construction of the Palace. The timber was brought from Sawjian forests while the construction material was imported by Raja on camels from Lahore.  The Deodar and walnut wood have been used for ceiling and decoration of the first floor. The ceiling has been done with Kashmiri style of architect known as Khatam Band and Mumbat Kari while the walls have been decorated with Pahari paintings.  The original roof of the Palace was constructed with Kashmiri style wood work. Later on it was replaced by G.I sheets.
After the happenings of 1947 AD, Baldev Palace was taken over by defense forces. The Palace was maintained properly and all necessary repairs and alterations were also done from time to time and kept this old historical monument intact and in original position. However, due to the earthquake of 2005 AD severe damages occurred in the Palace which is being renovated now.
There is an interesting story history behind the construction of Baldev Mahal. In 1898 AD, an English Officer Captain R.E.A Hamelton was posted in Poonch as Land Settlement Officer. At that time, Raja Baldev Singh was putting up in Fort building Poonch along with his family and staff. Raja offered accommodation to Capt. Hamelton in the Fort complex. However, Hamelton refused to shift in the Fort building and proposed for the construction of a bunglow at present Baldev Mahal for his residence and office. Raja immediately approved the proposal and the first phase of the building was completed in 1903 AD and Mr. Hamelton shifted there. In the meantime, Raja Baldev Singh approached British Government for the status of state for Poonch principality. Since Raja had a strong lobby at Lahore within British officers. Therefore, he succeeded in inclusion of Poonch in the Atchison’s treaty (Page 251) and thereafter British Government started writing Poonch as ‘State’ and created the post of Special Assistant Resident for Poonch in 1905 AD. Captain R.E.A Hamelton was appointed as first Special Assistant Resident. Therefore Hamelton converted this building into Residency.  But in 1908 AD when Hamelton was transferred from Poonch, the new Special Assistant Resident D.M Field was provided another newly constructed building which is presently known as Residency office located near the Moti Mahal and the Raja Baldev Singh after partial modifications and additions shifted in the present building and named this building as Baldev Mahal.
In 1917 AD, after the death of Raja Baldev Singh his son Sukhdev Singh was nominated as the Raja of Poonch by Kashmir Darbar. He also stayed in this Palace upto 1926 AD.  In 1921 AD when Raja became mature he was given full power to rule the Poonch principality by the Kashmir Darbar.  In the same year, the marriage ceremony of Raja Sukhdev Singh was conducted in the Palace with great pomp and show. In 1922 AD, the post of Special Assistant Resident was revoked by the Britishers on the request of Kashmir Darbar. The large scale demonstration started against Kashmir Darbar in Poonch principality. Baldev Palace had become the centre of intrigues against Kashmir Darbar because the status of Poonch State was reduced to Poonch Jagir. Raja Sukhdev Singh was prevailed upon by the local religious and political leader Pir Hassam-ud-Din, Chowdhary Ahmed Din the Wazir of Poonch and Mian Nain Singh the Commander of Poonch forces for revolt against Kashmir Government on the assurance to Raja that he is having the backing of 26000 ex-servicemen of First World War residing in Poonch principality. After knowing about the Poonch revolt and the involvement of Raja Sukhdev Singh, Kashmir Darbar deputed Thakur Janak Singh the revenue advisor along with army for the arrest of Raja Sukhdev Singh.
Thakur Janak Singh came to Poonch, met Raja Sukhdev Singh in Baldev Mahal and asked him to accompany him to Srinagar otherwise he will be arrested. At that time, Baldev Mahal was surrounded by thousands and thousands of rebels. They were shouting slogans against Kashmir Darbar and in favour of Raja Sukhdev Singh. At this stage, RajMata the mother of Raja Sukhdev Singh motivated his son to go to Srinagar. Therefore Raja Sukhdev Singh came out from Baldev Palace, addressed the mammoth rally of rebels in front of the Palace and left for Srinagar. Raja was then deputed to England for higher education and after that, he was dispatched for Ladakh on tour and never given the power of the Raja of Poonch. In 1925 AD Raja Sukhdev Singh came to Poonch but now he was a powerless Raja. Raja was confined to Baldev Palace and this was a big shock for him. He tried to divert his attention and started engaging himself in other activities and converted the Baldev Palace into the centre of great hustle and bustle. The Raja was fond of art, culture and music. The music and dance show were organized in the Palace every month. Wrestling, Bull fighting, Ram and Cock fighting were also organized in the premises of the Mahal  but the Raja could not digest the new scenario. Therefore, Raja died due to shock in his prime youth at the age of 26 in 1926 AD. In 1927 AD, Jagat Dev Singh the younger brother of Sukhdev Singh was appointed the Raja of Poonch by Kashmir Darbar. He ruled Poonch principality from Baldev Palace upto 1935 AD when he shifted to newly constructed Moti Mahal Poonch. After that the Baldev Palace was used by the relatives of Raja Jagat Dev Singh.