HISTORY & ARCHITECTURE
The Deogarh Mahal
As soon as you glimpse the Deogarh Mahal, you can see that its rulers must have been serious players in the Mewar aristocracy, their magnificent fort a fitting stronghold for one of its sixteen “umraos” – the most senior feudal barons attending on the Maharana of Udaipur. Even so, you might not necessarily guess that the Rawats of Deogarh (a local title equivalent to “Raja”) once ruled over the fourth largest jagir in the whole of Rajasthan. At its most extensive, their territory comprised some 210 villages, with one of their defensive forts as far as 100 km away. Yet there is little ostentation and even less gold to be found in their palace. Like most of the Mewar nobility, they spent too much time fighting to have much to spare for amassing great wealth.
And yet if one of their ancestors, had had a better sense of humour, the throne of Mewar might even have been theirs…
Entering the Palace
It is the public face of the Deogarh rulers that we encounter first. The gateway into the front courtyard passes beneath the “Kacheri” where justice was administered reminding us immediately that they held powers of life and limb over their subjects. Then the richly painted palace entrance leads us up, past a couple of small family shrines, through a series of narrow passages and staircases. (A grander entrance route would have been harder to defend!)
But notice how well-worn the steps are here, compared with other parts of the palace. This is the area that saw the heavy traffic, the villagers coming to pay their feudal dues or seek some judicial remedy. Their business took them only as far as the first floor, where the revenue and general administration departments were located at the front of the building.
The Central Courtyard
Emerging onto the second floor where the hotel’s house keeping desk is now located, it is difficult to imagine that this little “piazza”, proudly displaying the white marble Deogarh throne, was a relatively late addition to the palace. Not the surrounding buildings but the actual floor on which you are standing. It used to drop straight down to a garden on the level below. There is another room on the first floor, exactly like the bar lounge immediately above it on this level, giving the building a symmetry that has now been obscured. But originally, if you had wanted to cross from here to the Bar on the other side, you would have had to use one of the narrow galleries that once encircled this space.
Perhaps more intriguingly, the back wall used to be a shallow, almost two-dimensional “screen”, with many more than the handful of “jali” windows that you can see today.
It must have been remarkably like a rustic variant of the famous Hawa Mahal (or Palace of the Winds) in Jaipur – that extraordinary building, little more than a façade, that was designed to give the Maharanis in the City Palace a discreet view of the outside world from its dozens of “jalis”. According to one version of events, this similarity is no coincidence. Pratap Singh, the younger son of Maharaja Madho Singh I of Jaipur and Princess Kundan Kunwar of Deogarh (see Room 218), came here as a child to escape the dangerous plottings of the nobility in Jaipur. His decision to build the Hawa Mahal in 1799 is said to have been directly inspired by his happy memories of Deogarh.
The Bar opening off this courtyard, is a former reception hall. It is hung with numerous portraits, including those of Maharana Raj Singh of Udaipur (1754-1761) on the left wall, Rawat Gokuldas II on the left-hand side of the back wall and Rawat Ranjit Singh on the right wall. There are also some interesting photographs here. On the left wall, top left is Sangram Singh II with his two sisters – looking exactly like three brothers, except that the girls are given away by their ankle bracelets. Bijay Singh also appears bottom left and top right (with his staff). On the right wall are two more photographs of Bijay Singhji, top left and centre, and one of Sangram Singhji , bottom centre. There are a number of photographs that feature Mayo College where the late Rawat Nahar Singh ji II taught as a History professor after Independence.
The Heart of the Palace
Anop Singhji’s adoptive father, Kishan Singh ji (1867-1900) is commemorated by Room 206 – “Kishan Kunj”. Kishan – pictured here in a couple of photographs – seems to have been a colourful man with several wives and numerous concubines. But he was also a great devotee of Lord Krishna and this is reflected in the decoration of this room, with various paintings of Lord Krishna and even a canopied ceiling of stars to evoke Kishan’s favourite deity. However, the room was never a bedroom in Kishan’s own day. It was originally a broad passage, leading behind the “Hawa Mahal” look-alike. The room incorporates some of the few small jali windows that survive from this, with other original stained glass windows on the opposite side. It also enjoys the benefit of a small private terrace.
Deogarh is accessible both by rail and road. It is a couple of miles east of National Highway No 8. By rail, it is on the Western Railway Route, between Udaipur and Marwar junction.