City Palace, Udaipur, is a palace complex in Udaipur, in the Indian state Rajasthan. It was built over a period of nearly 400 years being contributed by several kings of the dynasty, starting by the Maharana Udai Singh as the capital of the Sisodia Rajput clan in 1559, after he moved from Chittor. It is located on the east bank of the Lake Pichola and has several palaces built within its complex. Udaipur was the historic capital of the former kingdom of Mewar in the Rajputana Agency and its last capital.
The City Palace in Udaipur was built in a flamboyant style and is considered the largest of its type in Rajasthan, a fusion of the Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles, and was built on a hill top that gives a panoramic view of the city and its surrounding, including several historic monuments such as the Lake Palace in Lake Pichola, the Jag Mandir on another island in the lake, the Jagdish Temple close to the palace, the Monsoon Palace on top of an overlooking hillock nearby and the Neemach Mata temple. These structures are linked to the filming of the James Bond movie Octopussy, which features the Lake Palace and the Monsoon Palace. The subsequent publicity has resulted in the epithet of Udaipur as "Venice of the East". In 2009, Udaipur was rated the top city in the World’s Best Awards by Travel + Leisure.
The city Palace was built concurrently with establishment of the Udaipur city by Maharana Udai Singh, in 1559 and his successor Maharanas over a period of the next 300 years. It is considered the largest royal complex in Rajasthan and is replete with history. Founding of the city and building of the palace complex can not be looked in isolation as the Maharanas lived and administered their kingdom from this palace.
Prior to moving their capital from Udaipur to Chittor≤≥, the Mewar kingdom had flourished initially in Nagda (30 kilometres to the north of Udaipur), established in 568 AD by Guhil, the first Mewar Maharana. In the 8th century, the capital was moved to Chittor, a hill top fort from where the Sisodias ruled for 80 years. Maharana Udai Singh II inherited the Mewar kingdom at Chittor in 1537 but by that time there were signs of losing control of the fort in wars with the Mughals. Udai Singh II, therefore, chose the site near Lake Pichola for his new kingdom because the location was well protected on all sides by forests, lakes and the Aravalli hills. He had chosen this site for his new capital, much before the sacking of Chittor by Emperor Akbar, on the advice of a hermit he had met during one of his hunting expeditions.
At his capital Udaipur, Maharana Udai Singh soon faced defeat at the hands of Mughal Emperor Akbar. He soon moved to Udaipur to the chosen location to establish his new capital. The earliest royal structure he built here was the Royal courtyard or ‘Rai Angan’, which was the beginning of the building of the City Palace complex, at the place where the hermit had advised Maharana to build his Capital.
After Udai Singh’s death in 1572, his son Maharana Pratap took the reins of power at Udaipur. He was successful in defeating Akbar at the battle of Haldighati in 1576 and thereafter Udaipur was peaceful for quite some years. With this, prosperity of Udaipur ensued, palaces were built on the shore and in the midst of the Pichola lake. Concurrently art, particularly miniature painting, also flourished.
But in 1736, the marauding Marathas attacked Udaipur and by the end of the century the Mewar state was in dire straits and in ruins. However, the British came to Mewar’s rescue in the 19th century and soon the State of Mewar got re-established and prospered under British protection, under a treaty signed with the British. However, the British were not allowed to replace them. Once India got independence in 1947, the Mewar Kingdom, along with other princely states of Rajasthan, merged with the Democratic India, in 1949. The Mewar Kings subsequently also lost their special royal privileges and titles. However, the successor Maharanas have enjoyed the trust of their people and also retained their ownership of the palaces in Udaipur. They are now running the palaces by creating a trust, called the Mewar Trust, with the income generated from tourism and the heritage hotels that they have established in some of their palaces. With the fund so generated they are running charitable hospitals, educational institutions and promoting the cause of environmental preservation.
Historical legend narrated to the selection of the site for the palace is about a hermit meeting Maharana Udai Singh when he was on a hunting trail in the Udaipur hills. The Maharana met the hermit who was meditating on top of a hill above the Pichola Lake and sought the hermit’s blessings. The hermit advised the Maharana to build his palace at that very spot and that is where the palace complex came to be established at Udaipur.
The city palace located in Udaipur city at 24.576°N 73.68°E, which is set with an average elevation of 598 metres.
The climate of Udaipur reflects the climate at the city palace. It is tropical, with the mercury recording between a maximum of 38.3 °C and a minimum of 28.8 °C during summers. Winter is cold with the maximum temperature rising to 28 °C and the minimum dipping to 11.6 °C. The average annual rainfall is 64 cm.
The series of palaces packed in the city palace complex, facing east (as customarily appropriate for the Maharana dynasty – the Sun dynasty), behind an exquisite facade of 244 metres length and 30.4 metres height, were built on a ridge on the east of lake Pichola. They were built over a long period, from 1559 onwards, by 76 generations of Sisodia Rajputs or Suryavanshi Rajputs (worshippers of Sun god). Several Maharanas (the title Maharana is distinctly different from Maharajah, as the former connotes a warrior and the latter a ruler or a king) starting with Udai Mirza Singh II, have richly contributed to this edifice, which comprises an agglomeration of structures, including 11 small separate palaces. The unique aspect of this conglomeration is that the architectural design (a rich blend of Rajasthani, Mughal, Medieval, European and Chinese Architecture) is distinctly homogeneous and eye catching. The palace complex has been built entirely in granite and marble. The interiors of the palace complex with its balconies, towers and cupolas exhibit delicate mirror-work, marble-work, murals, wall paintings, silver-work, inlay-work and leftover of colored glass. The complex provides a fine view of the lake and the Udaipur city from its upper terraces.
Located with the picturesque backdrop of rugged mountains, beside the Pichola lake on its shore, the city palace complex painted in gleaming white color has been compared to the Greek islands, such as the Mykonos.
The famous structures or palaces viewed from the Lake Palace appear like a fort. They are interlinked inside the complex through a number of chowks or quadrangles with zigzag corridors (planned in this fashion to avoid surprise attacks by enemies). Erected in the complex, after entering through the main Tripolia (triple) gate, are the Suraj Gokhda (public address facade), the Mor-chowk (Peacock courtyard), the Dilkhush Mahal (heart’s delight), the Surya Chopar, the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of glass and mirrors), the Moti Mahal (Palace of Pearls), the Krishna Vilas (named after Lord Krishna), Shambu Niwas (royal residence now), the Bhim Vilas, the Amar Vilas (with a raised garden) that faces the Badi Mahal (the big palace), the Fateprakash Palace and the Shiv Niwas Palace (the latest addition to the complex); the last two have been converted into heritage hotels. Details of all these structures are elaborated. The vast collection of structures are termed to form ‘a city within a city’ set with facilities of post office, bank, travel agency, numerous craft shops and also an Indian boutique belonging to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Nature. The entire complex is the property of the Mewar royal family and a number of trusts take care of the running and maintenance of the structures. The earliest royal structure built in the complex was the Royal courtyard or Rai Angan.
Gateways, colloquially called Pols, are set to the east of Udaipur city that was established by Maharana Udai Singh II, concurrently with the City Palace. A number of impressive gateways provide access to the palace complex.
The main entry from the city is through the ‘Bara Pol’ (Great Gate), which leads to the first courtyard. Bara Pol (built in 1600) leads to the ‘Tripolia Pol’, a triple arched gate built in 1725, which provides the northern entry. The road between this gate and the palace is lined with shops and kiosks owned by craftsmen, book-binders, miniature painters, textile dealers and antique shops. Between these two gates, eight marble arches or Toranas are erected. It is said that the Maharanas used to be weighed here with gold and silver, which was then distributed among the local people. Following the Tripolia gate is an arena in front of the Toran Pol and the facade palace, where elephant fights were staged in the past to test their prowess before starting on war campaigns.
The main block of the city palace at Udaipur is approached through a modest door from the Ganesha Deodhi terrace. The door is flanked by whitewashed walls vibrantly painted with martial animals in the traditional Rajput style.
Amar Vilas is the uppermost court inside the complex, which is a raised garden. It provides entry to the Badi Mahal. It is a pleasure pavilion built in Mughal style. It has cussed arcades enclosing a square marble tub. Amar Vilas’ is the highest point of the City palace and has wonderful hanging gardens with fountains, towers and terraces.
Badi Mahal (Great Palace) also known as Garden Palace and is the exotic central garden palace that is situated on a 27 metres high natural rock formation bis-a-bis the rest of the palace. The rooms on the ground floor appear to be at the level of the fourth floor in view of the height difference to its surrounding buildings. There is a swimming pool here, which was then used for Holi festival (festival of colors) celebration. In an adjoining hall, miniature paintings of 18th and 19th centuries are displayed. In addition, wall paintings of Jag Mandir (as it appeared in the 18th century), Vishnu of Jagdish temple, the very courtyard and an elephant fight scene are depicted.
The elephant fight depicted in a painting on the wall was a representation of the real elephant fights, which used to be organized by the Maharanas. It is mentioned that the elephants used to be fed hashish (opium) before arranging the fights. An interesting observation is that the word ‘assassin’ is a derivative of the word ‘hashish’. The last such fight was reported in 1995.
Bhim Vilas has a gallery of a remarkable collection of miniature paintings that depict the real life stories of Radha-Krishna.
Chini Chitrashala (Chinese art place) depicts Chinese and Dutch ornamental tiles.
Choti Chitrashali or ‘Residence of Little Pictures’, built in early 19th century, has pictures of peacocks.
Dilkhusha Mahal or ‘Palace of Joy’ was built in 1620.
Durbar Hall was built in 1909 within the Fatepraksh Palace (now a heritage hotel) Official functions such as State banquets and meetings were held here. The gallery of the hall was used by the Royal ladies to observe the Durbar proceedings. This hall has luxuriant interior with some unusually large chandeliers. Weapons of the maharanas and also some of their unique portraits are also depicted here. The foundation stone for this hall was laid by Lord Minto, the Viceroy of India, in 1909, during the rule of Maharana Fateh Singh and was then called Minto Hall.
Fateprakash Palace, which is now run as a luxury hotel, has a crystal gallery that consists of crystal chairs, dressing tables, sofas, tables, chairs and beds, crockery, table fountains which were never used. There is also a unique jewel studded carpet here. Maharaja Sajjan Singh had ordered these rare items in 1877 from F& C Osler & Co of London but he died before they arrived here. It is said that the packages containing these crystals remained unopened for 110 years.
Jagdish Mandir, located 150 metres north of the city palace, was built in 1652 in Indo-Aryan architectural style. It is a large and aesthetically elegant temple where an idol of Lord Jagannath, a form of Lord Vishnu made in black stone is deified in the sanctum. The temple walls and the sikhara or tower are decorated with carvings of Vishnu, scenes from Lord Krishna’s life and figurines of nymphs or apsaras. A brass image of Garuda (half-bird, half-man image, which is Lord Vishnu’s vehicle), is placed in a separate shrine in front of the temple. Flanking the steps up the temple decoration of statues of elephants are seen. The street square, where the temple is located, is also known as Jagdish Chowk from where several roads radiate in different directions.
Krishna Vilas is another chamber, which has rich collection of miniature paintings that portray royal processions, festivals and games of the Maharanas. However, there is tragic story linked to this wing of the City Palace. In the 19th century, a royal princess was unable to choose from two suitors seeking her hand in marriage, one from the royal family of Jaipur and another from Jodhpur, and hence in a state of dilemma, she poisoned herself to death.
LAXMI VILAS CHOWK
Laxmi Vilas Chowk is an art gallery with a distinctive collection of Mewar paintings.
The Manek mahal approached from the Manak Chowk is an enclosure for formal audience for the Udaipur rulers. It has a raised alcove inlaid completely in mirror glass. Sun-face emblems, in gleaming brass, religious insignia of the Sisodia dynasty are a recurring display at several locations in the City Palace; one of these prominent emblems is depicted on the façade of the Manak Chowk, which can also be seen from the outermost court below. The largest of such an emblem is also seen on the wall of the Surya Chopar, a reception centre at the lower level. Surya or Sun emblem of the Mewar dynasty depicts a Bhil, the Sun, Chittor Fort and a Rajput with an inscription in Sanskrit of a quotation from the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu holy scripture), which means “God Helps those who do their duty". It was customary for the Maharanas to offer obeisance to the Sun facing east, every morning before taking breakfast.
Mor Chok or Peacock square is integral to the inner courts of the palace. The elaborate design of this chamber consists of three peacocks (representing the three seasons of summer, winter and monsoon) modeled in high relief and faced with coloured glass mosaic, built into successive niches in the wall area or jharoka, These were built during Maharana Sajjan Singh’s reign, 200 years after the palace was established. The peacocks have been crafted with 5000 pieces of glass, which shine in green, gold and blue colours. The apartments in front of the Chowk are picturesquely depicted with scenes of Hindu god Lord Krishna’s legends. At the upper level, there is a projecting balcony, which is flanked by inserts of coloured glass. In an adjoining chamber, called the Kanch-ki-Burj, mosaic of mirrors adorn the walls. The Badi Charur Chowk within this chowk is a smaller court for private use. Its screen wall has painted and inlaid compositions depicting European men and Indian women. Proceeding further from the Mor-Chowk, in the Zenana Mahal or women’s quarters exquisitely designed alcoves, balconies, colored windows, tiled walls and floors are seen.
n 1974, a part of the city palace and the ‘Zenana Mahal’ (Ladies Chamber) were converted into a museum. The museum is open for public. There is an interesting exhibit of a freaky monkey holding a lamp and also portraits of maharajas displaying a spectacular array of mustaches. ‘Lakshmi Chowk’ is an elegant white pavilion in the same precinct.
Rang Bhawan is the palace that used to contain royal treasure. There are temples of Lord Krishna, Meera Bai and Shiva, located here.
Sheess Mahal or Palace of Mirrors and glasses was built in 1716.
A shrine of Dhuni Mata is also located in the complex. This location is considered as the oldest part of the Palace, where a sage spent his entire life meditating.
THE PALACE IN FILM & TELEVISION
The palace was used as a hotel in the 1985 James Bond film Octopussy, where Bond (played by Roger Moore) stayed as he began his quest to apprehend the villainous Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan).
A 1991 documentary film directed for television by Werner Herzog is called Jag Mandir and consists of footage of an elaborate theatrical performance for the Maharana Arvind Singh Mewar at the City Palace staged by André Heller.
The palace was used for filming part of Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (English: A Play of Bullets: Ram-Leela) 2013 directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
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