The first thing that comes to mind when someone brings about the topic if architecture in India is the Taj Mahal in Agra. While the Taj Mahal is a gleaming testament to Indian architecture and technological advancement, there are other great examples of architecture in India. A widely unappreciated building typology is the Indian palaces built by the Maharajas, Nawabs and the Viceroys of India during the British Raj (till 1947). These palaces were an amalgamation of Indian, Mughal, Rajputana, Colonial, Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance styles of architecture.
The Maharajas of India were fabulously rich. This was primarily due to one of the highest tax systems in the world. The Maharajas were god-like figures for their subjects who obeyed their every command. This made the Maharajas unanswerable to anyone. They were free to spend their wealth as they pleased. Most of them for well traveled, foreign educated and bought up in extreme luxury. This made them want to build grand palaces for themselves to come to par with royalty around the world. Thus, slowly and steadily the Indian princes shifted out their medieval castles to modern-day palaces which were tailor-made for them. Another reason behind this was that during British rule their were hardly any wars and instability. This further encouraged the princes to shift base.
Thus, the Indian palaces of the British Raj give us from a totally different perspective of Indian architecture. Far away from the poverty of the nation at that point, these magnificent palaces were symbols of the might and the affluence of the ruling class. The sheer magnitude of these buildings and their rich interiors was and remains unparalleled in the world. Golden chandeliers, Persian carpets, the splendid darbar halls, draperies, fantastic gardens, treasure vaults, art collections, impressive china are just some things which characterized these palaces the best. Let us know walk into the world of the glittering world of India’s lost palaces.
Cooch Behar Palace, West Bengal
The Cooch Behar palace in West Bengal is probably one of the most beautiful palaces unknown to most. The erstwhile seat of the Koch dynasty, it is somewhat hidden away from public gaze in the small town of Cooch Behar. Now, managed by the Archaeological Survey of India it was the birthplace of the famous Gayatri Devi. The palace which was built in 1887 by the then Maharaja Nripendra Narayan. Modeled on the Buckingham Palace in London, it is a double storied impressive structure which was built in the Italian Renaissance style. Th impressive darbar hall, the peculiar and grand dome, Corinthian columns all make the palace a place that you definitely want to visit.
Umaid Bhavan Palace, Jodhpur
The Umaid Bhavan palace is perhaps the most famous of the Indian princely palaces. It has been host to a number of celebrities and royalty around the world. Form industrialists to world renowned artists, the grand palace has seen them all. Completed in 1943, the palace was built to provide employment to the thousands of subjects of the Rathore clan Maharaja, Maharaja Umaid Singh. It is of the Beaux-arts style and a strong influence of architecture of the Angkor Wat, Cambodia. It also draws upon the indigenous styles of the region. The palace is known to be of the largest private residences in the world, for its art deco interiors and its rather impressive 13-meter dome.
Lake Palace, Udaipur
The Lake Palace in Udaipur is one of the finest and most exclusive palaces in India. Also known as the Jag Niwas (named after the Maharana who built it) it is a gleaming gem on the Lake Pichola, Udaipur. It is now run as a high-end five-star resort, reserved for the rich and famous. The palace is inspired by the purity of the Taj Mahal in Agra. Set on a four-acre site, the palace has been designed in the local Rajputana style of architecture. The buildings is also known for its passive cooling techniques and providing its guests an oasis-like experience.
Faluknuma Palace, Telangana
The Faluknuma palace is perhaps one of the most lavish palaces in India. One of the many famous palaces owned by the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Faluknuma Palace is a great representation of the lavish lifestyles of the ruling class of India. Built in the Palladian style, the entire structure is built in Italian marble and stained glass windows. The palace also draws inspiration from the Tudor and the Italian styles of architecture. The palace is known for its scorpion-shaped design, use of lavish materials, frescoes, artworks and so on and henceforth. It is definitely a place that you have to visit.
Jai Villas Palace
The Jai Villas Palace in Gwalior has been the residence of the powerful Scindias of Gwalior. It was built in 1874 by Jiyajirao Scindia as his private residence. It remains the royal residence of the Gwalior royals. It was built in the Tuscan, Doric and Corinthian styles of architecture. The palace boasts of the world’s largest woven carpet, largest twin chandeliers and an impressive hall unlike any other in the world. The walls of the hall are painted with gold paint. It is estimated that a minimum of a 100 kg of gold has been used for the same. A part of the palace has been converted into a museum which is open to the public. The Jai Villas Palace should definitely be on your list if you go to the city of Gwalior.
City Palace, Jaipur
The city palace of Jaipur has been the official residence of the Maharajas of Jaipur for centuries. It is one of the most traditional and well-preserved palaces in the country. A part of the palace has been converted into a museum open to the public. It showcases artifacts of the erstwhile Maharajas ranging from huge vessels for carrying Ganga water with the Maharaja (while he was traveling to other countries), weapons, armor, photographs of the erstwhile royal family and so on and henceforth. The palace has been built in the traditional Rajputana style of architecture and consists of multiple levels which are closed to the public. The palace is one of the places that you need to visit while traveling to Rajasthan in India.
Udaivillas Palace, Udaipur
The Udaivillas Palace in Udaipur is widely considered to be of the most opulent palaces in India. It has won several awards over the years for its hospitality and architecture likewise. It has been recognized as one of the best hotels in the world. The “palace” is located on the 200-year hunting grounds of the Maharana of Udaipur.
This building is the only palace in this entire list which was not used as a palace but was built like one by the Oberoi Group of Hotels and Resorts. The major features of the “palace” include pools and water bodies along the lines of the lakes in the city itself, domes, extravagant entranceways and luxurious interiors.
Mysore Palace, Mysore
The Mysore palace has been the seat of the Wodeyar kings of Mysore from 1912. The iconic Palace is one of the major tourist attractions of the state, receiving around 6 million visitors every year. The architecture of the palace is a blend of Indi-Saracenic, Mughal, Gothic and Rajputana styles of architecture. One of the main features of the beautiful palace includes gilded interiors, pietra dura, stained glasses, magnificent chandeliers, marble domes, grand entranceways, a breathtaking durbar hall, etc. The palace has created for itself a unique style of architecture which has become its hallmark.
Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner
The Laxmi Vilas Palace part of the bigger Lalgarh Palace has been the family seat of the Bikaner royal family since completion was finished in the year 1926. The palace which has been built in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture is one of the lesser know palaces of the state of Rajasthan. The palace is known widely for its distinctive chattris, jaalis, the excellent use of red sandstone, interior courtyards and design of well-proportioned courtyards. It is one of the places that you have to see if you visit the city of Bikaner on Rajasthan.
Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara
The Luxmi/Laxmi Vilas Palace has been the seat of the powerful Gaekwad family based out of present day Vadodara. The palace has been built in the Indo-Saracenic Revival style of architecture. The residence of the erstwhile royal family has been considered to be the largest private residence in the world, four times the size of the Buckingham Palace in London. The palace is known for its distinctive style of architecture, its huge size, a golf course, its impressive Darbar Hall and much more. The palace was recently in the media over a dispute in the royal family over the vast property valued at over 4 Billion dollars.
Hazarduari Palace, West Bengal
The Hazarduari Palace in West Bengal along with the Cooch Behar Palace are one of the most undervalued and unappreciated of all the palaces in India. This is primarily due to its remote location and the sheer ignorance of most. The Hazarduari Palace, built by the Nawabs of Bengal was completed in the year 1837. The palace has a strong colonial influence and has an astonishing 1000 (hazar) doors (duari). These doors were designed to make it difficult for assassins to escape from the palace security. The palace has been converted into a museum which houses the Nizams collection of antiques, furniture, art collection and other valuables. The palace also boasts of a huge pediment, one of the largest flight of stairs in any palace, its deep foundation, its proximity to the Bhagirathi river, its strong colonial influence and sheer grandeur. It is a must visit for architectural cretins like me.
Ujjayanta Palace, Tripura
The Tripura palace also is known as the Tripura palace currently serves as a museum for the northeastern state of Tripura. The ancestral seat of the ancient Manikya family, the palace has been constructed in the neoclassical style. There are also influences of Mughal, Rajputana and local styles of architecture. The palace which has been featured in many a movie, ad campaign, etc. The place is well known for its glistening white exterior, four-storeyed tower, domes and its peaceful and tranquil yet majestic appearance.
Wankaner Palace, Wankaner, Gujarat
The 100-year Wankaner Palace has been the seat of the Jhala dynasty and the brainchild of famous Amar Singh, Raja of Wankaner. The palace is designed in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture and has a strong western influence. The building has influences of gothic Venetian and the Baroque styles of architecture as well. Some of the highlights of the Palace are its Corinthian columns, baroque carvings, its clock tower, its underground vault and its impressive reception hall.
The palace situated in Wankaner, Gujarat has gone into decline since the earthquake in 2001, which bought the clock tower of the Palace down. This reduced the number of the visitors to the palace but only adds to its mystery. According to us, the Wankaner Palace is a must visit for all architectural enthusiasts.
Rambagh Palace, Jaipur
The Rambagh Palace is widely considered to be one of the most luxurious hotels in India. The palace was initially used as a hunting lodge of the Maharajas of Jaipur but later converted into a full palace complex by the famous architect Sir Swinton Jacob. The palace is particularly famous for its large char bagh styled gardens, spacious areas, stone jaalis, its swimming pool and its laid back timeless elegance.
Viceregal Residence, Shimla
The Viceregal residence in Shimla was the summer retreat of the erstwhile Viceroys of the India. The viceroys of India were administrative heads for the British Raj in India and were responsible for the efficient functioning of the entire subcontinent. The Viceroys were high ranking officers who wanted to retreat in the summers to a cooler place similar to Britain. It was in this stride that the building was constructed. Some of the architectural highlights of the residence are its Tudor style of design, fantastic vistas, modern amenities (sanitary systems, an electric system, rain water harvesting, etc.) which were ahead of its time, overwhelming use of gray sandstone, an indoor tennis court, a vast wine cellar and so on and henceforth. It has been since converted into an educational institution – The Indian Institute of Advanced Study. If you ever visit the town of Shimla the building is a must visit as part of it also functions as a musuem.