Impossible to miss and even harder to forget, Udaipur City Palace represents the highlight of a visit in what is called (in my opinion exaggerating) the Venice of the East. Venice it is not but the palace will be a literal feast for your eyes. The Mewar dynasty, the oldest serving dynasty in the world, is who we have to thank for this fairy masterpiece.
Not everything is perfect though, all the positive adjectives that you might read everywhere will be fading away as soon as you have to deal with souvenir sellers and ‘friends’. But if you have been in the “Rajasthan tourist trail” for at least a few hours you will be more than used to it. No potential hassle should divert your attention from the orgy of architectural beauty that is awaiting you behind the Badi Pol (Great Gate).
In this article I followed more or less what is the logical loop into the complex. You might find yourself visiting using a different ‘route’, it should be pretty easy otherwise. The comment section is open for clarification or error warnings.
Majestically lying down on the bank of Lake Pichola, the construction of the complex started in 1553 thanks to Rana Udai Singh II (reign 1537-1572).
All right let’s start from the main gate Badi Pol where the ticket counter is located.
BADI POL (The Grand Gateway)
It is the grand gateway from the City side through which all of us enter The City Palace Complex. Rana Amar Singh I in 1616 built the Badi Pol. For centuries it remained the royal gateway for ceremonial and official purposes to the palaces. Just inside the gateway a stone marks the spot where Rana Udai Singh II hunted a hare and then met a sage Goswani Prem Giriji Maharaj who told him to build his palace on these grounds. On top of Badi Pol it is worth noting the two octagonal minarets built during the reign of Rana Amar Singh II (1698-1710). Open on all sides with stylistically cusped arches made of solid stone with ribbed/foliated domes topped with golden spires (Kalash).
The Palace grounds in front of the Mardana Mahal were built during the reign of Rana Karan Singh in 1620. Public meetings, ceremonial processions and festivals have been traditionally conducted at these palace grounds; now forget old tradition the main “attractions” are souvenir shops (plus a fancy cafe). There are two platforms projecting from the facade of The Merdana Mahal; Nagina-badi and Naharon ka Darikhana. Between these two platforms is the main entrance to the Mardana Mahal adorned with the Royal Crest of the house of Mewar The Almighty protects those who stand steadfast in upholding righteousness: the House of Mewar enshrines this value-loaded motto. The figure of a Bhil tribal and Rajput soldier is depicted on the crest, along with the rising sun.
An ornate idol of Lord Ganesh blesses the entrance to Rai Angan. The statue, sculpted from marble, is placed in a niche with fine marble and glass inlay work around it. Rana Karan Singh built the Deodhi in 1620. The Ganesh Chowk, opposite the Deodhi, is a public space where visitors pause before entering the central ceremonial chowk, Rai Angan. Maharana Bhupal Singh (1930-1955) added the ornamentation of the entire Ganesh Deodhi.
It’s the most important courtyard of the Mardana MahalPalace for the Royal Men; the ceremonial chowkA courtyard where the MaharanasMaharana is a variation on the Indian royal title Maharaja, also meaning Great king in Hindi were appointed as Rulers of Mewar. By 1559, Rana Udai Singh II had witnessed the building of Rai Angan and the Nav Chowki Mahal, the oldest structure within the entire City Palace complex. Nav Chowki Mahal is a room with 16 pillars divided into 9 equal sections, built by Maharana Udai Singhji in 1559. Later Maharana’s have renovated the room by marble like plaster and brass doors and railings were added. The coronation of the king takes place in front of this room. On the western side of Rai Angan is the entrance to the Chandra Mahal above the Nav Chowki Mahal, and on the eastern side is the Nikka-ki-Choupad. This entire courtyard is part of the original sixteenth century construction.
In the middle of the courtyard of Rai Angan there is an auspicious pitcher with adornments. It was placed there when the museum was established in 1969. This is a unique example of Indian architectural style. The base is a semi-open flower like creation in stone projecting in the four directions of the earth; East, West, North and South. The corners of the square shaped stone is indicating the four corners, like ‘Ishan’ i.e. North-East, ‘Nairtya’ South-West, ‘Vayavya’ North-West and ‘Agneya’ South-East. The lotus which is the flower from which Brahma the creator of the universe appeared is indicative of the sky. On the lotus is placed the pitcher indicating fullness of life. The coconut is a symbol of auspiciousness and is a pre-eminent fruit in Hindu mythology. The way it points towards all the 10 directions of the universe is for the five elements of Water, Earth, Sky, Fire and Wind. The message this gives is that the human being should have the purity of Lotus and attain unsullied reputation and get deliverance from an earthly life.
A chamber of the Nikka-ki-Choupad is dedicated to the memory of Rana Pratap (1572-1597) the most famous warrior-king of Mewar. There are paintings and murals depicting the Haldighati battle between Rana Pratap and the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s armies. Rana Pratap’s armour, life size statues of Chetak his brave horse are some of the displays in this gallery. Along the walls of Nikka-ki-Choupad are framed original documents announcing the formation of the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation in 1969 by Maharana Bhagwat Singh (1955-1984).
A narrow staircase from the Nav Chowki Mahal side leads up to a small chowk; there is Lakhu Gokhda on one side and Chandra Mahal on the other. Chandra Mahal is located directly above Nav Chowki Mahal and was built during Rana Karan Singh’s reign. It has a ‘GokhdaSort of balcony from where the Maharana shows himself to the public‘ overlooking Rai Angan; a jharokaType of overhanging enclosed balcony used in Indian architecture with carved jaalisA perforated stone or latticed screen, usually with an ornamental pattern constructed through the use of calligraphy and geometry. and a panoramic view of Lake Pichola. Rana Sangram Singh II (1710-1734) added the Lakhu Kund in the Chandra Mahal. The Kund is carved from one block of marble. After the coronation of the king this basin was filled with one lakh (100.000) silver coins. One fourth of the coins were squandered to the general public collected down below in the courtyard and the rest were used for giving alms to the poor.
A tortuous passage from Chandra Mahal leads to Baadi Mahal or Garden Palace. Built during the reign of Rana Amar Singh II (1698-1710) it is also known as Shiv Prasanna Amar Vilas. It’s the highest point of The City Palace Complex, a garden courtyard with verandahs on three sides; the flowering trees and shrubs are on the natural hill. The Maharana’s window overlooks Tripoliya and the entire city of Udaipur. Baadi Mahal has often been compared to legendary ‘Hanging Gardens’The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World..
It houses the ‘picture gallery’ with some of the finest and rarest paintings of the Mewar school that flourished between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. Dilkhushal Mahal was built during the reign of Rana Karan Singh and is directly above the Nikka ki Choupad. (Below the Nikka ki Choupad is Silehkhana, the armoury hall. These three structures complete the eastern wing of the Rai Angan,) The Dilkhushal Mahal has extensive red and green windows that filter the natural light. The last Maharana to use these rooms as his private residence was Maharana Fateh Singh (1884-1930). His is the 2nd longest ruling period after Maharana Bhim Singh who ruled for 50 years.
KANCH KI BURJ
Kanch ki Burj is a breathtaking chamber with its walls, dome and ceiling decorated profusely with red and golden glass-mirror work. My pictures actually don’t do justice to the grace of these rooms. Rana Karan Singh originally built it, and both Rana Sangram Singh II (1710-1734) and Maharana Shambhu Singh (1861-1874) added the awesome ornamentation. Chitram ki Burj is the chamber with elaborately painted murals. The murals depict important court scenes and battles; to prevent damage the murals have been covered with glass. Maharana Bhim Singh, the longest serving ruler is believed to have commisioned artists to paint these murals. Between the Kanch ki Burj and Chitram ki Burj is the Chini Gokhda or the terrace-window with blue China tiles. Chini Gokhda offers a spectacular view of The Manek Chowk below and the city of Udaipur beyond. This ornate gokhda was built during the reign of Rana Sangram Singh II, a period of prosperity and peace in Mewar.
From the Chitram ki Burj you will reach another spectacular courtyard called Badi Chatrashali chowk. With Rai Angan and Baadi Mahal, this courtyard is among the most important landmarks of the City Palace Museum. It has impressive pavilions, small chambers with paintings and murals, and stunning views of the Lake Pichola and its island palaces through the windows. Rana Sangram Singh II is credited with the construction of Badi Chatrashali Chowk. Among the chambers it is important to notice the one called Vani Vilas. In this small chamber It is said that Kaviraj Shyamaldas, the author of the epic ‘Veer Vinod’, used Vani Vilas as his study. ‘Veer Vinod’ is a four volume history of Mewar written in the 1880s.
Moti Mahal, the private residential palace of Rana Karan Singh is ornate and decorated with mirrors and tiles. Maharana Jawan Singh (1828-1838) added to the ornamentation almost two hundred years later. Bhim Vilas was the private chamber of Maharana Bhim Singh. This chamber is relatively less opulent but the royal blues make it unique and eye-catching. This palatial residential chamber was the favourite palace of Maharana Swarup Singh. Pitam Vilas built for Rana Jagat Singh II (1734-1751) is yet another serenely beautiful royal chamber. Maharana Bhupal Singh (1930-1955) also preferred these chambers.
It’s the emblem of Surya or the Sun God whose worthy descendants are the Maharanas of Mewar. Surya Gokhda can be seen from The Manek Chowk, in line with the Toran Pol. It’s the most famous Surya emblem, personifying the Suryavanshi Rajputs. Surya Choupad is the room below Pitam Niwas with the equally famous Surya emblem which is gold plated with gems and mirror-inlay. Maharana Bhupal Singh is considered the creator of this glorious image of Surya that has become a part of the rich heritage of Mewar.
THE MOR CHOWK
From the Surya Choupad into The Mor Chowk is an entry into a royal courtyard that is most likely one of the most astounding in India. The Mor Chowk (Peacock Courtyard), built during the reign of Maharana Sajjan Singh, witnessed many formal durbars. The richly decorated balcony with delicate glass-inlay work, three imposing peacocks created with blue glass and mirrors, and the ornate pillars make this Chowk a unique landmark. Long before independent India could make ‘peacock’ the national bird, Mewar paid its homage to this dazzling Indian bird.
THE ZENANA MAHAL
An integral part of The City Palace Museum, The Zenana Mahal (Palace for the Royal Ladies) is built around the Lakshmi Chowk, with a spectacular Choumukha pavilion dominating the courtyard. Like The Mardana Mahal, the Zenana Mahal too has been continuously developed since the 1600s. The colonnaded verandahs of the Zenana Mahal have displays of royal palkis (palanquins), buggies and interesting articles of daily use by the royal ladies. The first floor, on the western wing, houses another ‘picture gallery’ of paintings of the Mewar school. There is a gallery dedicated to Shriji Arvind Mewar, the 76th Custodian of the House of Mewar.
From here you will get out most likely passing through the Torana Pol that will give you access to the Manek Chowk.
As a final gift I posted a video of an aerial view of the Udaipur City Palace complex made by the EternalMewar foundation.Last updated: January 5, 2014 at 19:40 pm