100 years old, and still drawing admirers

The Durbar Hall, the corridors… everything in the Amba Vilas Palace in Mysore is grand.— Photos: M.A. SRIRAM

The Durbar Hall, the corridors… everything in the Amba Vilas Palace in Mysore is grand.— Photos: M.A. SRIRAM  

2012 is a very special year for Amba Vilas Palace (Mysore palace), one of India's most visited tourist destinations. For, the majestic palace is celebrating its centenary year. The work on the palace was taken up in the Indo-Saracenic style. It took 15 years to build the palace — the work commenced in October 1897 and was completed in 1912 — at a cost of Rs. 41.47 lakh.

To make this occasion even more special, Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowd has allocated Rs. 25 crore to the palace in his budget which was presented recently, for taking up works for restoring the grandeur of the iconic monument. The allocation has been made to undertake renovation keeping in mind the heritage and uniqueness of the art and architecture of the palace and for the upgradation of gardens on the palace premises. This is said to be highest ever one-time grant given to the palace by the government.

So, Mysore Dasara-2012 will also be special, thanks to the centenary celebrations of the palace, which is the prime attraction of the festivities besides the caparisoned elephants, especially Balarama, which carries the golden howdah on its back. Sources here said the palace interiors, including murals and the durbar hall, will see a renovation. “The detailed project reports for the restoration work were getting ready and may be sent to the government for its approval in order to complete the work before the festivities begin,” they add.

The palace is among the country's most-visited tourist destinations. A record three million tourists visited it last year. The number of international tourists visiting the palace — known for its architecture, majesty, maintenance and illumination — is increasing every year. Besides renovation, a portion of the grant will also be used for providing better facilities to tourists, the sources said.

The Mysore Palace Board, the caretaker of the palace, had sought Rs. 35 crore in the budget for taking up renovation works to mark the centenary year. Nevertheless, the Board officials were happy with the allocation of Rs. 25 crore..

Murals to be restored

Board Deputy Director T.S. Subramanya said the allocation will be used for the conservation of palace interiors, including the pillars; painting work using natural colours; and taking up gold leaf painting and glass paintings. “The murals inside the palace will be restored,” he said, adding that the beauty of the palace interiors will be restored without altering the original appearance and ambience.

Experts' advice

The Board is planning to use the services of award-winning Ganjifa artist Raghupathi Bhat, former CAVA dean Ramdas Adhyanthaya and the Regional Conservation Laboratory (RCL), Mysore, in the conservation work. A five-member team of experts from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, had visited the palace to give its suggestion on the Board's conservation plan.

Mr. Subramanya said: “The work will be launched in accordance with the advice from the experts. Plugging the leakage on the roof is another area which will get the focus, besides restoration of the pillars.” The leak detected in the palace in 2010 was effectively sealed with a proven waterproofing method in order to protect and preserve the structure.

The leak was detected on the roof of the children's gallery and dampness had been caused owing to incessant rain during that period. Lightweight material was used to seal the leak on the “Madras terrace roof,” rather than using concrete, proofing tiles or resorting to chemical treatment.

The application of a waterproofing membrane with polyester reinforcement was the method used to seal the leak. “It is a proven and effective method to seal leaks on the roofs of heritage structures. Moreover, it is lightweight and does not overload the structure,” the engineers who carried out the work had said.

Oriental concept

The palace garden will also get a new look as it will be upgraded to go well with the grand structure. The total area of the palace premises was around 55 acres. The lawn could be developed on about 22 to 25 acres, although there was scope for developing the lawns outside the palace fort too.

Nevertheless, the present plan was to develop the garden from the entrance of Jayamarthanda Gate to the palace foreground. Besides installing ornamental lamps, the garden will have a boundary fence designed in ornamental style.

The existing lawn was developed using country grass. Under the project to mark the centenary, the lawn will be replaced with Mexican grass (commonly known as Korean grass) to make the lawn greener and give a cushiony feeling. Notably, the Board can afford to develop a bigger garden and lawn because the palace has become self-sufficient in addressing its water needs, thanks to rainwater harvesting.

Redesigning the garden landscape had been taken up at a cost of Rs. 50 lakh from the funds available with the Board. Besides addressing soil erosion issues and levelling of the garden area, colourful and exotic varieties of plants will be planted.

The current revenue from the gate collection was Rs 6.5 crore to Rs. 7 crore. The maintenance expenditure of the palace is met mainly from this amount. The Board gets grants (for sprucing up the palace and its surroundings) during Dasara. The conservation of the palace is usually done in consultation with heritage experts such as the Regional Conservation Laboratory, Mysore. RCL experts had assisted conservation in the past. “Barring minor conservation works, no major work had been done since many decades. With the palace completing 100 years this year, it is a special moment which can be commemorated by restoring its heritage for posterity,” Mr. Subramanya said.

According to information available, the original palace was destroyed in a fire in 1897. After this incident, a decision was taken to build a new palace on the same site. Henry Irwin, who was the Consulting Architect of the Government of Mysore, designed the new palace. The work was taken up in the Indo-Saracenic style. The work was completed at a cost of Rs. 41.47 lakh.

Eco-friendly projects

The palace has been in the limelight for taking up some eco-friendly projects. Thanks to rainwater harvesting, the palace has minimised drawing groundwater by more than 50 per cent and half of its water needs was met by the rainwater conserved in the last monsoon. The borewells, numbering six, were yielding less water before the Board took up the project of conserving rainwater because of the decline in the water table. Today, the same borewells have been recharged naturally and are yielding more water due to rise in ground-water levels, officials said. Says the Board deputy director: “Water from the borewells is not drawn often since the palace has become self-sufficient in addressing its water needs by way of conserving rainwater. By and large, rainwater is used for the garden and other utilities. We do draw water from the borewells but the quantum has been reduced substantially as we want to save the groundwater table.”

Seven tanks with a total capacity of over six lakh litres have been constructed on the palace premises. The biggest tank has a capacity of two lakh litres. The Board is planning to construct two more tanks with a capacity of two lakh litres each during the last phase of the project, which is expected to commence soon.

Rainwater harvesting was taken up to conserve water, reduce electricity consumption (pumping water from the borewells) and recharge the water-table. Apart from recharging the water-table, the palace is also saving on the electricity bills due to rainwater harvesting.

Notably, the palace is gradually moving towards minimising dependence on regular water supply. Besides six active borewells, the palace has a municipal water connection. This is used for drinking water purposes and also for other utilities. Besides storing 10,000 litres of water supplied by municipal connection daily in a tank, water from it is also used for watering a portion of the garden. The rainwater collected on the ground, from the garden and the palace terrace was let into the tanks through channels.

Once the final phase of the rainwater project is completed, all channels will be interlinked to the water tanks, which are specially designed with compartments for effective supply and management.

Adequate storage

Palace Horticulture Officer Venugopal said the use of borewell water has come down considerably after the palace started harvesting and using rainwater for the garden. The garden and other utilities in the palace require nearly 50 to 60 lakh litres a year, he said.

Even as the city is facing water scarcity with the onset of summer, the palace caretakers are not worried at all as they have sufficiently stored rainwater of the last monsoon and they do not see scarcity until the next rains.

The palace has successfully reduced energy consumption by replacing high-energy consuming light fittings (not those which illuminate the palace, but those on its premises and surroundings) with energy-saving light-emitting diode (LED) lights.

The palace has been saving on the electricity bills since last year by switching over to LED lights.

Shankar Bennur

With Rs. 25 cr. allotted to it in the State Budget, Amba Vilas Palace is all set to see more restoration works ahead of the Dasara fete

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