Vanishing legacy of Maharaja

Rubon Saproo
The royal Dogra dynasty ruled over the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir for a period of 100 years and during their rule they contributed a lot in different fields for the welfare of the state and its people.
Every Dogra ruler from Maharaja Gulab Singh to Maharaja Hari Singh had shown keen interest in the development and infrastructural activities apart from administrative affairs of the state. Besides it, the royal dynasty had erected some monuments of historical and archaeological importance. The colleges of Amar Singh and SP in Srinagar, SMHS hospital in Srinagar and SMGS in Jammu, the Raghunath temple, SRHS school Jammu, Women College Parade, SP museum, Banihal cart road, Mirpur- Poonch road and Jammu-Kathu road are few evidences of the Dogra history and identity. They are perhaps the things that come to your mind when you think about Dogra architecture and period.
Many of us know or have heard about the royal palaces and architectural marvels of the Maharaja’s era that are scattered all over the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir but very few may be aware of the present condition and status of the monuments built by him which reflected the rich cultural heritage and imperial glory of the state and Dogra dynasty. The last ruling Maharaja Hari Singh of the princely state had erected some beautiful palaces and rest houses particularly in Kashmir for the living purpose of the royal family which used to visit summer capital during summers to spend hot days in cool environs of Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg. He built Hari Niwas Palace, Tara Niwas and Tali Manzal on Gupkar road besides few other villas in its neighbourhood where the family lived till tribal invasion. Presently, the Hari Niwas palace is under the Government control and serving as a State Guest House. It has been renovated many times in the past that may have affected to its original glory.
The Gulab Bhavan which is now a luxurious hotel The LaLit Grand Palace was home to the royal family during Maharaja Pratap Singh’s rule. He constructed the palace in 1910. It was built under the supervision of Janki Nath Madan who had attained his engineering degree from Kings College London and was working as a royal engineer in the court of Maharaja. The Palace located in the foothills of Zabarvan mountain range and overlooking the Dal Lake on the Gupkar road was further given a splendid look by Maharaja Hari Singh. He decorated, beautified and converted it into an elegantly upscale palace. The interiors and exterior look of the mansion was reminiscent of native and Eureopean architecture. It also was a testament to luxury, royalty and heritage. But, this palace was soon converted into a hotel after Maharaja moved to Mumbai in early fifties. First the hotel was taken by Bharat Hotels in 1998 and later the LaLit group in 2008.
Maharaja Hari Singh also erected architectural masterpiece known as Maharaja’s Palace at Gulmarg hidden among lush green pine trees in which treasure of art and fragile reminders of the glorious past of Dogra ruler are quite visible .This palace is a historic monument visited by visitors every year who get impressed by its splendid look and edifice. It is a single-storey palace constructed over an area of 8700 sq ft by Maharaja around first quarter of 20th century. It is entirely a highly decorated wooden structure with stone rarely used except for the pedestal. The exterior design of the building is magnificent with towering turrets, grand entrance portico and large number of windows fitted with glasses. The building exteriors are reminiscent of the Eureopean architecture. The palace remained a favourite palace in winters for the European guests of Dogra court.
The wooden castle comprises 15 rooms of varying dimensions as well as a central banquet hall with richly crafted Khatamband ceiling and paneled walls of different geometrical patterns. It highlights the outstanding skills of the artisans of yore. There are some bedrooms in the palace in which beds and little furniture of the Dogra period was found intact. The bedrooms have fireplaces to keep rooms warm in winters. The weapons used by Maharaja were also found in one room but it was locked for the public view. The palace has a horse stable in the underground on one side with its smoky old wooden beams and timber ceiling. It has been converted into a restaurant. In fact, the interior presents an astonishing look except rare side which is in dilapidated condition. The black granite engraved inauguration stone on front wall gave an impression that the castle has been renovated in the recent past by the Gulmarg Development Authority and later inaugurated by ex CM Ms Mehbooba Mufti. However, the traces of decay can be found in the building and needs immediate attention of the concerned authorities.
Beyond Srinagar and Gulmarg, there were two famous palaces built by Maharaja Hari Singh at Akkad and Nambal villages in Anantnag. Besides , a guest house was built by him in a wildlife sanctuary in Pahalgam. But, as of now, none of the structures of his period stands at the spots. The palace that once stood at Akkad on Khanabal –Pahalgam road is presently famous as Akkad Park. In this park Maharaja had erected a beautiful palace during his rule and his family members used to stay in it during summers. This palace was known for its engineering skills and architectural excellence. He has constructed a stream in front of the palace known as “trout Nallah” which contains trout fish and crystal-clear cold waters from river Lider. In the neighbour hood of the palace he had established a trout fish farm which is yet seen opposite side of the park. It is believed that Maharaja also conducted public darbar in this palace and listened to the needs of the common man.
Those who had seen the palace and King have narrated some interesting stories associated with the emperor’s summer tour to Pahalgam and subsequently his stay at Akkad palace. My aunt Shobawati Raina, an eyewitness who passed away in 2018, had told the author that “one fine morning in summers, news of Maharaja and his son’s arrival in the bungalow spread and people of neighbouring villages rushed to see them. About ten thousand people gathered on the opposite bank of the trout nallah to have a glimpse of yuvraj Karan Singh who was expected to enjoy fishing but unfortunately on that day yuvraj was not feeling well and he did not turn up on the spot. The next day, again people gathered and yuvraj came out for enjoying fishing. He was welcomed by the crowd with loud cheers and flowers.” Another local inhabitant of the nearby village of Akkad said that, “it was actually the palace where number of accords had been signed and with the result this village came to be known as Akkad. He also said the Maharaja was an enlightened ruler and his rule was a golden era as there was at least a say to people in every case.”
But, the Akkad palace had a unique history of vanishing as a heritage marvel. Usually, it has been learnt that monuments perished either by natural disastrous or through neglect but this palace finished in the fire incident that occurred soon after the Maharaja left the Kingdom. It was believed to be a political conspiracy to torch the palace in 1953 and the role of one of the top politician of the period who belonged to the Anantnag district was suspected behind the incident. Although, the key conspirator was not arrested but number of persons linked with different political parties had been picked up for investigation. Further, it was learnt that number of valuable items had been looted during the incident which included valuable carpets, silver utensils and antique furniture. After the incident, the government constructed a guest house on the same spot in which some items of the old palace were found till 1990. However, this guest house also engulfed in fire in 1990.Presently, no traces of the palace can be found on the spot except memories of the great ruler.
Another palace was located at Nambal village in close proximity of river Lider. This village is located just right side after crossing the bridge over Lider on Mattan – Aukura road. Nambal is hardly 9 kms away from district headquarter of Anantnag. This village also had a palace built by Maharaja. He had also constructed trout Nallah on the site which is still there and received waters from river Lider. The palace built by Maharaja Hari Singh on the spot housed large immovable property and antique items. It has been learnt that Maharaj only visited this palace in a day for fishing and hardly had passed any night in the palace.This palace had also finished in fire incident. Presently, a guest house of the fisheries department is seen on the palace spot and trout rearing unit.
Maharaja was a natural lover. He also loved fishing and playing polo game. He always used to visit places around Pahalgam to enjoy the scenic beauty of the area. He had built a hut in the overa wildlife sanctuary in Pahalgam for relaxation during his visit to the habitat of animals. In this forest area he enjoyed watching animals, birds and tried to learn about them. He never chased animals for hunting. Today, the traces of his hut can not found there as the department of forest has constructed a new hut on the same spot. It is very difficult to imagine that once the places in Kashmir well-known for Maharaja Hari Singh’s bungalows and some other reasons had lost such popularity with the passage of time clearly indicated neglect and ‘ malicious intention’ to erase every mark of the ruler from the soil.
It is very difficult to imagine about the circumstances which led to the destruction or complete disappearance of number of heritage buildings of the Maharaja’s time and nothing much was done to protect them after he left the state. Sadly, there has been systematic decline in the historic things that belonged to his era. On one side some of his palaces had been taken by the Government for the use of guest houses and administrative offices where on the other side few had been gutted or demolished without knowing their historic importance. So, it is duty of the government and the concerned departments to locate the places where the King had built something. These places can be preserved as heritage sites for historic perspective. Heritage is very important asset and to protect it is our responsibility as it helps us to know about our past history and traditions.