Saturday, April 28, 2007

Baroda - a vibrant city


Baroda is also called the cultural and business capital of Gujarat. Baroda or Vadodara was originally Vadapadraka (a village amidst the banyan trees). Historical and archaeological findings date this place back to the 9th century when it was a small town called Ankottaka (present Akota) located on the right bank of the river Vishvamitri. It was flood-pronel; so Vadapadraka became the administrative headquarters.Ankottaka was a famous centre of Jainism in the 5th and 6th century AD. Some of the Akota bronze images can be seen in the Vadodara Museum.
History of Baroda
The Gaekwads, a Maratha clan who were originally the generals of the Peshwas in Maharashtra, carved out a kingdom for themselves in Baroda. Twenty years later, Damaji's nephew Pilaji became the founder of the house of Gaekwad. Although an English Resident was appointed to the Court of Baroda in 1802, the rulers had a good equation with the British. The wealth of the family is legendary, and stories abound of their priceless jewellery and works of art. The city witnessed a golden age when Maharajah Sayajirao Gaekwad came to the throne in the late 19th century. He brought about many reforms in education, medicine, religious tolerance and administration. Sayajirao was one of the three princes who rated and got a 21gun salute.Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III (1875-1939) is a legend; he was the adopted son of Queen Jamnabai. He took Baroda through a golden age with the help of an astute statesman - his chief minister, Diwan Madhav Rao. Sayaji Rao began constructing the Laxmi Vilas Palace, naming it after his first wife (a princess of Tanjore). Baroda can boast of one of the finest palaces in India. Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad commissioned the famous British Architects, Major Mant and Chisolm to work on Laxmi Vilas palace. Designed in the Indo-Saracenic style, it is quite a long drive from the huge wrought iron gates with the mounted royal emblem, to the portico. You look around in amazement as you step inside - the colourful frescoes in Italian style on the walls of the palace surprise you with their splendour. Beautiful statues, marble fountains, Moorish arcades and stained glass windows adorn the structure. The palace is a marvellous work of eclectic architecture, with a mix of all styles. Built in 720 acres, it was landscaped by Mr Gonderling of Kew. The work started in 1878 and was completed in 1890; it is still the residence of the royal family. The Fatehsinh Rao Museum, located in the palace grounds, houses the royal collection of paintings, sculptures and other objects of art. Here also existed the Raja Ravi Verma studio, where he painted some of his famous works which today belong to this royal family. A garden house which remains shut today and a dargah (mausoleum) also find place here, (which is also shut); besides a pond with crocodiles. Many cricket ball and limb were lost here, when those playing cricket close by ventured into the pond;. There is an in-house cricket club too.Massive black bulls with blue eyes stand in the doorway leading into the palace and the grounds,-- real ones, but stuffed ages ago. The gold gilt work on paintings is a sight to behold; models of the palace can be found under the impressive staircase leading to the top floor, where the personal chambers of the royal family are located. Its ornate Darbar Hall has an Italian mosaic floor and walls with mosaic decorations, lie empty since the day the Republic took over.The convention hall has the entire gamut of carpets, painting, photographs of the royal family, silver, gold, ivory, furniture, Venetian chandeliers, domes and a decorous ceiling, There is a huge garden and a Navlakhi Vav (lucky stepped well) which is dry and covered in creepers said to contain a treasure worth millions, though no one has found it yet. There is a small mandir by the riverbank and the palace is surrounded on all sides by a modern colony - large sections of the palace grounds have been taken over by the government for them. Heritage maintenance does not seem to be a priority in Baroda. Family disputes over property seem to have taken their toll, including the literature on the royal family and the architecture of the palaces is also almost impossible to obtain. Baroda makes for an ideal weekend getaway spot. You can visit the following places:
Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum
A royal collection of art treasures by masters like Raphael, Titian and Murillo as well as modern, western and Indian paintings, Graeco-Roman exhibits, Chinese and Japanese art and a large collection of contemporary Indian art are open to the public and well worth a visit. It was established in 1961, and has an outstanding collection of the portraiture of Raja Ravi Verma, a 19th century portraitist. Another interesting section houses Chinese and Japanese porcelain artefacts, while two rooms on the ground floor are treasure troves of the Roccoco period in art. The ground floor also has a set of crystal furniture specially made for Sayaji Rao Gaekwad. The bed and chairs were part of his personal chambers. They also have royal rooms decorated as they had been in the olden days, which are also open for the public to see.
Nazarbagh Palace
Built in old classical style, the Gaekwads used this palace on ceremonial occasions. It now supposedly houses the royal family heirlooms.
Makarpura Palace
A beautiful palace designed in Italian style, the Makarpura is now used as a training school of the Indian Air Force.
Pratap Vilas Palace at Lalbagh
This was originally built as the residence of the royal family. It is an extravagant mansion built in the Indo-Sarcenic style. It houses a remarkable collection of old armoury and sculptures in bronze, marble and terracotta. The palace is a riot of columns and arches drawn from a variety of traditions including South Indian, Central Indian, North Indian and Islam. The entrance has exquisite carvings as well as stuffed tigers placed on the walls. The Darbar Hall has mosaic floors, seven domes, 12 chandeliers, intricately sculpted cedar balconies and a silver throne. It is spread over an area of 720 acres with gardens and a golf course. One can visit Shastragar (weapons room) to see the Royal armoury.
Kirti Mandir
The family mausoleums of the Gaekwad rulers are decorated with murals made by Nandlal Bose. The memorial busts are shown by the eager old caretaker happy to have a rare visitor. The central spire is 110 ft high and an inner dome decorated with a series of specially commissioned frescoes.
Tambekarwadi
This is an 8th century Narayan temple, is famous for its wall paintings.
Vadodara Museum and picture gallery

Founded by the Gaekwads in 1894, this museum houses, among others, miniature paintings and narrative paintings by different artists. Maharaja Sayajirao III Gaekwad of Baroda acquired choice items from across the world - Silver plated Copper Trays from Tanjore, a Shiva Natraja from 11th Century South India, 6th Century Sculptures from Shamlaji in Gujarat, an exquisite 9th century ivory-inlaid book box from North India, and a Jain bronze dating to 5th century AD. The upper floor of the building has a section each on natural history, ethnology and geology. The adjoining Art Gallery has a great collection of European old masters - Veronese, Giordano, Zurbaran, some Flemish and Dutch scholl paintings; Turner and Constable, a collection of Mughal miniatures, and valuable palm-leaf manuscripts of Buddhist and Jain origin and even an Egyptian mummy. There are dusty Egyptian artefacts, Greek sculptures and 18th Century Paithani textiles. Not even the museum officials are aware of that wonderful contraption, the Delhi Bungalow, located on the premises - a solid looking structure, it used to be dismantled and taken by the rulers to the Delhi durbars.
Nyaya Mandir
This is the home of the Baroda district court today. It was constructed in Byzantine style.
MS University Building

This was constructed in 1880 and boasts of the second largest masonry dome in India and towers to a height of 144 feet.Other places too are the Narsinhji haveli temple, the 1763 AD Maratha Brahmin Ganesha haveli, the Mandvi pavilion, Jumma Masjid, the Maqbara and the 1586 AD stepwell in Qutub Ud Din masjid.Baroda is also known for its bustling bazaars of silver and gold ornaments. A stone's throw away is the Sayaji Gardens a popular haunt for weekend visitors with its small zoo, mini railway museum, art gallery and the relatively new Sardar Patel Planetarium. The museum was completed in 1904, has a landmark collection of Tibetan and European art and also houses the famous Akota bronzes dating back to the 5th century AD.
Close to Baroda city
Dabhoi Fort – is a 13th century Rajput fort, rated among the greatest in India with 4 magnificent gateways. Champaner: An Islamic citadel, rivalling Fatehpur Sikri and Bidar, it has some grand Indo-Saracenic architectural monuments in India.The hill fort of Pavagarh, on the outskirts of Baroda, is a must-see. Pavagarh literally means a quarter of a hill. According to mythology a chunk of the Himalayan mountain fell from the grasp of Hanuman, as he was transporting it to Sri Lanka during the war between Rama and Ravana. Earlier, the fort and its temple were accessible only via a tedious climb but with a ropeway they are able to transport devotees right to the doorstep, and makes the trek all the more enjoyable. (Must-see here are the temple of Kali Ma and Dargah of Sajan Shah Sarmast.)
Baroda Factfile
By air:
Baroda is connected by regular flights of IA., jet airways.

Rail: Baroda is situated on the main rail link between Mumbai and Delhi. The township also boasts road links to the major towns and is situated on National Highway Number 8, connecting Delhi to Mumbai via Jaipur, Udaipur, Ahmedabad and Baroda.

Best Season to visit: October to March Baroda is 112 km south of Ahmedabad and 419 km north of Mumbai. The city is well connected with other cities by road, rail and air.Besides princely palaces, stately homes and museums, short excursions outside the city limits, the traveller can visit local handicraft centres, old temples, the ruins of ancient townships, long ago forts and, of course and places of pilgrimage.

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