“Huge stone pillars, placed like a grid in the spacious foyer, hold up the building and greet you as soon as you walk in. This was where, I suppose, Tipu Sultan held court, looking down on his faithful subjects from the balcony,” writes Kameswari Padmanabhan.
It was a warm enough Sunday afternoon, and I finally attempted to head to Chamrajpet. With a hearty mid-morning meal for courage to battle the distance and traffic, I set out in a rickety auto from a part of Bangalore that quite literally borders Tamil Nadu.
Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace had been on my list of sites to visit for a long time. Commissioned by his father Haider Ali in 1781, the palace was seen to completion by Tipu Sultan in 1791. It was eventually used by the British as their secretariat after his reign.
I was expecting to be transported to a world filled with grandeur and history. I wondered at all the durbars that would have been held, the sumptuous meals prepared and the women dressed in the finest silk of the land. Believing I would see remnants, bits and pieces of history, I sat forward in the auto, eager to be impressed.
The journey itself was pleasant enough, and one must be grateful for the small mercy of moving traffic on a Sunday afternoon. I was dropped off at the corner, right outside the Kote Venkatramana Swamy premises which shares a wall with the Summer Palace. The area wasn’t as busy as expected on a Sunday afternoon, with only a few families and young people milling about the premises. Each ticket was a very affordable Rs. 30 and after gaining entrance, I was prepared to step into a world of intrigue, politics and art.
Neatly laid paths divide the garden of the palace into well-tended lawns, with huge sunflowers and other floral delights lining the perimeter. But upon nearing the entrance, one can’t help but notice the metal rods holding up various parts of the structure, with construction equipment and debris lying around the sides and the back of the building. Hiding my disappointment, I joined the rest of the history-seekers inside.
Huge stone pillars, placed like a grid in the spacious foyer, hold up the building and greet you as soon as you walk in. This was where, I suppose, Tipu Sultan held court, looking down on his faithful subjects from the balcony. The entire building is made up of stone and teak, and the pillars, themselves enormous structures, demonstrate the feat of construction even in today’s times. Walking into the rooms on the ground floor, one notes the fusion of Indian and Islamic architecture with many miniature arches carved into the walls and the intricacies of the designs seen on the pillars and the walls. Two large staircases in the front lead up to rooms which were supposedly used as zenanas. The only eyesore in my line of vision was the graffiti lining the walls outside the locked rooms of the zenanas. Towards the back, on the ground floor, lies an empty rectangular pit, which brought to my mind images of a water tank or a small pond, but since I found no information about that anywhere, I let my imagination run free.
Tipu Sultan is praised for his groundbreaking ideas in rocket artillery (which he used against the British successfully for a period of time), investing in the silk industry and making Mysore silk (sought after, even today), as well as his many modernizing moves in technology and administration. These achievements stand in sharp contrast to his polarizing views on religion and his animosity towards people who did not hold his own religious and political ideologies. Although this dichotomy isn’t explicitly mentioned, a lot of history and interesting tit-bits about Tipu Sultan’s time as a ruler can be found on the many posters adorning the walls in the rooms of the ground floor. A drawing of the throne that he had commissioned, meant to be one of the grandest in the land, can be seen on one of the posters with descriptions of which gems and designs were used. Sadly, since he had vowed that he would never sit on the throne till the British had been defeated, it wasn’t used, and has since been broken down into many parts after his death in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war. A few pieces of it remain in the Queen’s collection.
He was also known as the ‘Tiger of Mysore,’ apparently after he killed a tiger with only a dagger as it pounced on him. A small version of that tableau is seen within a miniature curved arch on one of the walls, making for very interesting storytelling.
Aside from the minor disappointment about the construction debris and the inability to check out the back of the building, Tipu Sultan’s summer palace is a must visit for any history buff, who like myself, loves the idea of being transported to a time and place quite untouched by modern development.
Kameswari Padmanabhan is a doctor and loves reading books written by strong female authors. She has recently discovered a love for history and John Oliver.