Named after the great Maharaja Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the quiet little town of Baroda reflects the glorious past of its own.
India has a lot to boast about its rich history of the Maharajas and their reign in different regions for years. The stories that we hear about their valour, the battles that they fought or even about their riches and their extravagant lifestyles don’t cease to enthral us. The history is replete with stories of Maharajas winning wars and battles, getting hold of a region and through their visionary approach and revolutionary reforms developing an entire region. They spread their legacy for the coming decades and left a mark in many towns, states and cities. Significant landmarks in towns and cities are named after these once upon a time royal rulers.
The Baroda province was ruled by many dynasties like Gupta Empires, Chalukyas,Rajputs, and Mughals until the Maratha Gaekwads made an entry. Damajirao Gaekwad defeated the Mughal armies and conquered Baroda in 1734. Slowly and surely, the Gaekwads became the most powerful rulers in the region. The golden period of Gaekwads and Baroda started when the visionary Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III came in to rule.
ADOPTING THE KING
The story goes like this. When the king of Baroda, Maharaja Khanderao, passed away without leaving a male heiress, his widow Maharani Jamanabai was allowed by the British government to adopt a male heiress, a king for Baroda. Jamanabai announced her desire for adoption of a boy and many aspiring boys came on their own or accompanied by their parents and some were also brought to Baroda by the officials of Baroda state.
A farmer by the name of Kashirao also came with his three sons, Apparao, Sampatrao and Gopalrao. When they were asked, ‘Why have you come here’, Gopalrao replied “To rule”. Later at the dinner table, Gopalrao insisted to take his dinner using fork and knife. He said, “Tomorrow I am going to become a king, so I will eat like a king.”
Gopalrao, was adopted by Maharani Jamanabai and she renamed him Sayajirao. Great teachers, artists and officials were appointed to train Sayajirao.
ADMIRER OF ART
Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad was very well read and had widely travelled. It was during his reign, between 1875 and 1939, when he changed the face of the city of Baroda turning it into a commercial centre and also gave a lot of importance to education, art and architecture. Sayajirao had a special liking for art. He was the patron of art and artists.
One of the most acclaimed artists during that period was Raja Ravi Verma. His paintings had won prizes in Vienna, Chicago and in India. In 1881, Ravi Verma was invited to Baroda state to paint the portraits of Maharaja Sayajirao III and his family. Later, he was commissioned to paint 14 mythological paintings for the newly built Lukshmi Villas Palace. Sayajirao specially built a studio in the palace ground for him to work in the serene surroundings. That was probably the first art studio of India.
THE PALACE MUSEUM
To relive this historical journey of the Maharajas and to know about the Gaekwad dynasty, one must visit the Maharaja Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad Palace museum in Baroda. The Palace museum was originally a school for the children of the Gaekwad family and there was a mini train that brought the children from the Palace to the school. That train is now put up for display outside the museum building.
The major attraction at the museum are the twenty six paintings of Raja Ravi Verma and fourteen other paintings made by him are at the Lukshmi Villas Palace. The Gaekwads of Baroda own the largest collection of Raja Ravi Verma’s original paintings.
The Palace museum also houses some beautiful sculptures. There is a statue of a ‘Tanjore Nauch Girl’ sculpted by an Italian sculptor named Felici. There is an interesting story behind this statue. In 1883, Maharaja Sayajirao got married to beautiful Chimnabai, the niece of Thanjavur king. As part of her dowry, the bride brought a troupe of dancers and musicians. In this troupe were two dancers – Gaura, who was the daughter of Tanjaour’s palace dancer and Bhanumathi, a Devdasi from Kumbhakonam. Two nattuvanars (musicians) Vadivelu and Sabhapathi, father and son, accompanied the dancers. Gaura stayed on, but Bhanumathi returned to Kumbhakonam and another dancer, Kanthimathi replaced her. Gaura and Kanthimathi danced as a team. Initially they danced Bharatanatyam repertoire, but soon they realised that not many in the court either enjoyed or understood their dance, so they came up with original experimental pieces like Radha-Krishna, Kite and Snake-charmer which became all the rage.
Gaura and Kanthimathi also trained two other palace dancers Saraswati and Ratnamala. These dancers performed mostly at the Nazarbaug Palace and at the Motibaug Palace, but Indumati Palace was the place where they practised everyday. A room was reserved for them to rehearse and take rest. Kanthimathi remained in the service of Baroda court for 35 years. She passed away in 1953. Gaura remained in the service of Baroda court for 32 years; she died in 1940 or 1941. It was her dearest wish that the people of Baroda should remember their Tanjore connection. Hence, the Maharaja put up her statue in the Palace Museum.
LUKSHMI VILLAS PALACE
After the death of Sayajirao’s first wife Maharani Luxmi Bai, he found the palace very dark and gloomy so he decided to build a new palace. He commissioned a very well known British architect Major Charles Mant to design the palace. Luxmi Vilas Palace which is now Lukshmi Villas Palace was named after his first wife. The construction of the Palace started in 1878 and it was completed in 1890 by another British architect Robert Fellowes Chisolm. The style of architecture is Indo-Sarcenic, the same style that you would see in the heritage sites like the Siddi Saiyyad Ni jaali and the Sarkhej Roza in Ahmedabad. This Royal residence is not only an architectural marvel, but is a true example of sheer magnificence combined with traditional detailing in design. The carving of Sun on the palace walls represents the Gaekwad’s lineage.
Written By & Photos: Ravikiran Rangaswamy