Like all dynasties, this one also saw humble beginnings. Two brothers Yaduraya and Krishnaraya, leave the comfort of their royal home in Mathura (they belonged to the Yadava Dynasty) in search of newer beginnings and find themselves in the vicinity of Mysore.
In 1399, Mysore could not have been more significant than a small village. It was under chieftain Chamaraja until he died, leaving behind a wife and an unmarried daughter. The ladies could not bear the ill-treatment meted out by Mara Nayaka, who had his eyes on Chamaraja’s lands. Our knights in shining armour, Yaduraya and Krishnaraya, save the day. Together they raise a small army and oust Mara Nayaka. Yaduraya gains a piece of land and becomes its ‘oDeya’ (owner). He also lands a bride – Chamaraja’s daughter. He ruled for 24 long years.
When Yaduraya passed away, his son Hiriya Bettada Chamaraja Wodeyar (oDeya over time became Wodeyar and now Wadiyar) took over the reins and ruled for 36 years. Over the next 150 years, by the time Raja Wodeyar became king, the Wodeyars were masters of a moderately large principality. From 33 villages and 300 soldiers, they had grown a large army with over a lakh footmen, nearly 12000 horses and 100 elephants. Raja Wodeyar was known for his political acumen and military talent. In 1610, the Viceroy of the Vijayanagar Kingdom, based in nearby Srirangapatna, was literally sent packing by Raja Wodeyar’s army. On March 21st that year, he moved his capital from Mysore to Srirangapatna. In fact, it was he who introduced the now-famous Navaratri festival known worldwide as the Mysore Dasara.
After Raja Wodeyar, there never always was a direct descendant to take over the throne. According to legend, this lack of progeny was due to Mrs. Viceroy’s curse that the dynasty never produce male heirs. When there was no direct descendant to become king, brothers, cousins, step-sons, nephews sat on the throne. Every alternate generation produced a male heir.
While it has been recorded that Mysore mostly saw peace, prosperity and stable administration, the kings at various points in time had to face more robust and bigger armies from the North, famines, accusations of unnecessary extravagant expenses and the biggest challenge of all – the succession to the throne. Minor children, warring factions within the palace and outside sometimes made things very difficult.
When talking about the Wodeyar dynasty, it is vital to remember two queens, the first, Lakshammanni, credited with keeping the conversation going with the British even when they showed little or no interest to help in her quest to thwart first Hyder Ali and then Tipu’s ambitions and put the boy of her choice on the throne. It took nearly 40 years for her dream to come true. On Tipu’s death in 1799 and on the occasion of the coronation of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, the capital was moved to Mysore from Srirangapatna.
The other, Regent Queen Kempananjammanni Vani Vilasa Sannidhana. Her skill and patience combined with forward-thinking and diplomacy, kept the British content and ensured her son Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV succeeded to the throne when he came of age.
Mysore ravaged by Tipu was being rebuilt, and it was only natural that a place of residence befitting the king and his family members took shape. The first palace was built with wood, and it burned down. So a second one was commissioned by Queen Kempananjammanni and her son the king, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV. This Amba Vilas Palace, commonly known as the Mysore Palace, is located where the old fort used to be, and one can see remnants of the fort wall even today.
The palace grounds covers 70 acres, and the palace complex with its 80 rooms stands on 5 acres. There are six gates and 14 temples in the compound. Today one can visit nearly 60% of the palace; the rest of it is the private residence of the current custodian of the erstwhile Wodeyar royal family.
The palace architecture is a blend of several styles – you can easily spot Mughal, Gothic and Hindu elements. If you hire a guide, you will repeatedly hear the words ‘Czech’, ‘British’, ‘Italian’, ‘Scottish’ and ‘Belgian’ as the source of various elements that make up the palace. The guide will even tell you how some of the exhibits and sections of the palace are part of the world-famous Dasara Celebrations that take place even today. Take, for example, the statue of Goddess Chamundi that one sees on starting the tour of the palace, or the section devoted to dolls or the cannons – all these have a role to play during the celebrations.
Walking along the corridors with beautifully decorated pillars, arches and painted ceilings, past large gates, you will notice an inner courtyard that comes alive during the Dasara celebrations and even hosts a traditional wrestling match that members of the erstwhile royal family will witness. A pair of fierce lifelike bronze lions guard the steps to the courtyard; three more pairs of lions can be found on the outer periphery of the palace.
Click for more pics of the corridors.
Past the courtyard, we come across a large hall which serves as the Kalyana Mantapa, a place that is used for weddings and other ceremonies. Tall slender iron pillars located to give the hall an octagonal shape, hold up a central glass painted dome with a large chandelier hanging down low from the central apex.
All along the length of the corridors, you will see 26 sets of paintings that depict the Dasara procession that took place when Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV was the king. The cavalry, infantry, music bands, the courtiers all took part in the procession. The ambulance marks the end of the procession and still does. If you look closely, you can see the signatures of the artists who worked on these panels. Artists like Keshavayya, Y. Nagaraju and Y Subramanyaraju came from families of court painters. They studied under royal patronage in what were then India’s best art schools and even got a chance to assist Raja Ravi Verma. More pics.
Just off the kalyana mantapa in what used to be the maharaja’s dressing room, the rosewood ceiling with teak inlay work has a very Moorish feel to it. Visiting VIPs were the lucky ones to rest their weary bottoms on the velvet seats of the silver chairs on display in this room.
In another longish room, you will find portraits of a few royals, including that of baby Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV and another one with his siblings painted by none other than one of India’s finest artists Raja Ravi Varma (see here). Another small room displays wooden and silver boxes that were received by the Wodeyars. Most times these boxes included or came with invitations or letters.
A short flight of stairs lead to the first floor. A lifesize, lifelike plaster of paris figure of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV greets you.
The door in front leads to a massive hall, the king’s public durbar (audience) hall. The pillars, ceiling and colour scheme is simply mesmerising! The stucco art work – creepers, flowers, animals inspired by Mughal art adorn the pillars and arches. Huge paintings of gods and goddesses in the Mysore art style adorn a far wall. The ceiling art – plywood panels stitched together to produce the sky and stars, very European in nature alongside the dashavatar! The king gave audience to his people here. Today the place where the king used to sit is marked by a short marble table. More pics here.
Just while you think you have seen it all, another door leads to a private audience hall that is lavish! VIPs and state visitors met the king here. A smaller version of this hall is what I suppose the anteroom before the guests formally entered the main hall. Two sets of silver and teak doors with intricate ivory inlay work lead from the anteroom and the main hall. Click for more pics of doors in the palace.
Even today, the Dasara celebrations see the use of these two halls. The throne (that you see in one of the earlier pics on which Krishnaraja Wodeyar is seated) is brought out and placed in the private durbar hall during Dasara.
Small temples dot the periphery of the palace grounds from within, and a few others are outside the walls. The stone pillars in the quaint Sri Prasanna Krishnaswamy temple are painted with bright colours adding some cheer to the place.
The coronation of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III took place in Sri Laxmiramanaswamy temple. A few words in old Kannada are etched in stone and record the event.
Iron, glass, wood, ivory, silver, gold paint, ceramic, marble, stucco art, all came together in the 15 years it took to build this palace.
Six elephants live on the grounds. They are used during private festivals and ceremonies of the erstwhile royal family and play a small role during the Dasara celebrations too. Honestly, I wish they were not there! They are chained at all times except when they are taken on a walk twice a day 😦 Honestly it was evident even to my layman’s eyes that they were unhappy, agitated actually, to be tied up all the time! I am surprised there has not been any furore over this in this day and age! From time to time there has been some anger expressed over the use of elephants during the Dasara procession. However it seems to continue in the name of tradition. I really wish something could be done to stop using these sensitive jumbos.
Cloakroom and drinking water facilities are available just past the ticketing counter.
Footwear is not allowed inside the palace; storage facility (INR 2/- per pair) is available at the entrance to the palace.
More pictures of the palace here.