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Memories of a garden palace

The Raja Bhagwandas Bagh Pavilion is one of the few examples of a genre of architecture which is slowly disappearing

`THE TIGER of Mysore', Tipu Sultan's favourite summer retreat, an ornate intricately carved wooden pavilion right here in Hyderabad, the city of the Qutub Shahis and the Asaf Jahis? Incredible as it may sound to the present generation of Hyderabadis, a replica of the palace of the valiant warrior who took on the might of the British Empire, is in Karwan once a bustling trade centre for diamonds and other precious stones.

Now encircled by concrete houses and other structures, the Raja Bhagwandas Bagh Pavilion, was then a famous garden palace virtually draped in a shawl of green punctuated by diverse flower and fruit-bearing trees, much like the Daria Daulat Bagh of Tipu in Srirangapatna in Karnataka.

"When we bought it from a Nawab, 180 years ago, the palace, which may have been the Rani Mahal, was in a bagh spread over all of 26 acres. There were such a variety of flowers and fruits. The vast verdant stretch had six irrigation wells and moats from where water was drawn by bullocks. My childhood memories go back to the time when we would spend most of our holidays in the garden", recalls Satish Govindas Shah, well-known gemologist belonging to the Raja's legendary family.

Raised on a high platform, the double-storied pavilion in mellowed teak is one of the surviving examples of a genre of architecture, which is slowly disappearing. The only other palace having a wooden pavilion in the city, Malwala Palace, near Charminar, was pulled down a few years ago. The Bhagwandas pavilion built around 1800 resembles Tipu's palace in toto with open arcades all around and jharokas (balconies) overlooking the arcaded verandahs. The arches are essentially cusped. The fluted wooden columns, the canopies and the window projections are in the later Mughal and Rajasthani styles. The intimacy of scale, the perfection of wooden carvings of floral patterns and birds that dot every square inch of the structure and the fine proportions elevate the palace to a rare architectural specimen.

It is natural then that the official list of heritage buildings too recognises it as one, including it in the Grade I category, embodying excellence in architectural style, design and material usage and for being one of the prime landmarks in the city. Yet the overall structure requires some urgent repairs and a facelift.

"I do my best in maintaining it. But there is no Government support for careful preservation as is required for a Grade I building. They keep sending foreign tourists to have a dekko but never look at the problems faced by individuals in maintaining these buildings", laments Satish.

"It is only my sentimental attachment to the palace that has kept it intact till now". He has a point here as all his cousins have sold their property leaving only the pavilion, a fountain in front and some open area. But for his abiding interest, the palace would have disappeared like many others.

The garden is named after Raja Bhagwandas, the eldest son of Raja Haridas, who came from a family having its roots in Morera, Gujarat. History books say Raja Haridas accompanied Nizam-ul- Mulk Asaf Jah I to Hyderabad in the early 1720s. The hereditary occupation of the family was banking and jewellery. A member of the family, Kishandas was on the committee of bankers known as panch bhaya, appointed to set right the Nizam's state accounts when these were in a hopeless condition during the prime ministership of Maharaja Chandulal. All items of income and expenditure had to pass their scrutiny.

Kishandas excelled both in business acumen and in public affairs. Apart from playing a key role in scrutinising public accounts, he was the main supplier of timber to large shipping companies at Masulipatnam and Bombay. In appreciation of his contribution, the Nizam appointed him honorary talukdar of districts and conferred on him an extensive jagir. The family had a big jewellery firm and it was patronised liberally by the sixth Nizam, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan. An interesting aside is that the family offered Rs.4, 500 for a small cup, at an auction held by Sir Stuart Fraser, the British Resident, in aid of the War Fund.

The chain of Gujarati educational institutions in the city owes their existence to the family's munificence.

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