In the late 1890s, a wealthy princely state tucked away in Gujarat was celebrating with great pomp: the royal family of Baroda was welcoming a young bride from Thanjavur! Of course, the new Maharani of Baroda – the beloved bride of Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III – could only be welcomed with an equally beloved gift: the grand Lukshmi Villas Palace, her new home.
Vadodara is often called the cultural capital of Gujarat – the sanskaari nagari, in local vernacular. This vast city is influenced – both, architecturally and culturally – largely by the people’s most favourite maharaja who reigned over them – Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekward III. In the heart of Vadodara lies the Maharaja’s greatest vision: the Lukshmi Villas Palace. Spanning across 700 acres, the Lukshmi Villas Palace is about four times the size of the Buckingham Palace. It is also the largest private dwelling in India – and one of the most beautiful ones too. The present-day titular royal family of Baroda resides in the Palace now.
The erstwhile State of Baroda was one of the biggest and wealthiest princely states alongside the British India. So, when Maharaja Sayaji Rao sought to build a palace for his family, he made sure to pull all the stops. He hired the slightly infamous architect Charles Mant and within days of his wedding, the foundation for Lukshmi Villas Palace was built. Bathed in Indo-Saracenic glory, the palace boasts of a fusion of Islamic and Hindu architecture. It is not unknown that the Maharaja favoured the simple design of a dome, an element of traditional Islamic architecture. The Lukshmi Vilas Palace is not the only structure to sport beautiful domes – Vadodara is sprinkled with age-old buildings that the Maharaja erected in his times, each one with the signature dome. The Maharaja Sayaji Rao University and the several departments of this university that are located across the city are the most prominent example of this.
Past the sprawling lawns and the Italian water fountains, the beautiful red-sand pillars on the exterior of the structure welcome you into the Palace – an edifice reminiscent of a country-side European house, consisting of 172 rooms. Of these, the Darbar hall is perhaps one of the biggest and grandest. When Chimnabai, Sayaji Rao’s bride came to Baroda, she brought with her an elaborate company of dancers, musicians and performers of Thanjavur. Bharatnatyam was thus introduced to Baroda. The Darbar Hall, a room boasting of Venetian mosaic floors, Belgium stained glass windows and intricate decorations saw many of these grand performances and other cultural events.
There was a time when India was but a mish-mash of princely states and colonial holdings – and during this time, the riches of the royals flowed in every direction. In Baroda’s heyday, the Maharaja invited guests from all over the country to his grand palace. The palace bustled with guests, relatives, children, a great number of servants – and of course, there was room for everyone. Every room in the Palace stood out. The Veena room (which is now used as a playroom by the princesses) was inspired by the Ajanta caves. The Gulabi room, in hues of pinks, creams and beige was a private Parlour for Maharani Chimnabai, laced with murals of angels and cupids. Apart from the bedrooms, the palace also extended an old school house in its backyard, with a functioning toy train to take the children to their lessons. An important part of the Lukshmi Villas property is also the Kirti Mandir, which is used for Durga Pujas and other celebratory events to this day.
The Lukhsmi Villas Palace stands for great architectural wonder – especially for its time. Built with materials sourced from across the world at a cost of 180,000 pounds, it brings an intersection between a modern vision and a traditional décor. But in all its grandeur, the Lukshmi Villas Palace also stands for a history of cultural confluence. Maharaja Sayaji Rao – the face of the Gaekwad Dynasty of Baroda built the palace with a vision of encouraging a city of bearing a cosmopolitan culture. He invited people from across the country to come settle in Baroda, the sanskaari nagari. After Sayaji Rao, Maharaja Pratapsinh built a golf course around the palace, which now is home to a club with about 900 members of Vadodara. Though the humongous is now home to a small family of five, it retains its wonder.
Today, Maharaja Sayaji Rao’s Vadodara paints a picture of art, culture, business and innovation. And Lukhsmi Villas Palace stands at the very forefront of it.
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