Building an edifice out of ashes

history The whole city was in a celebratory mood, as it was the wedding day of Maharajakumari Jayalakshammanni when the disaster struck. Ravindra Bhat

Mysore is always known for its heart, art and architecture. It is also the city of palaces. It is well-known that the Amba Vilas Palace, as it stands now after 100 years, is not the original one. The original palace was built of wood.

On that black letter day, February 28, 1897, the whole city was in a celebratory mood. It was the wedding day of Maharajakumari Jayalakshamanni and the preparations were being taken care of under the watchful eyes of the dowager queen Kempananjamanni — Vani Vilas Sannidana. The groom was Sirdar M Kantharaj Urs.

The palace was agog with excitement. Guests of the Mysore kingdom had arrived from all over the country. Even as everyone was enjoying the wonderful moments of the marriage, disaster struck.

The flames of the lamps kept in a line, the fire in the homa kunda or due to negligence of the staff or due to throwing of ember, suddenly the palace caught fire. One of the pillars of the marriage mantap first caught fire and it immediately destroyed the whole mantap.

The whole palace was an inferno within no time, as it was built of wood. Since wax was used in the construction, it hastened the spreading of the fire. There was chaos all around. People running helter skelter. Everyone gathered in the courtyard and started shouting ‘fire, fire, water, water.’ But, as ill-luck would have it, there was no water in the tap that day. There was also no water in Doddakere in front of the palace.

Right from the royalty, dewans, soldiers, peons everyone rushed to the dried up lake and collected the soil and tried to douse the fire. There was no fire brigade then in Mysore. By the time fire engines from Bangalore could reach Mysore, the whole palace was gutted.

The efforts made by superintending engineer Mechkin, A Venkat Rao, Chengaiah Shetty and others to put out the fire was futile. Vani Vilas Sannidana and other relatives of the royal family were moved to Jagan Mohan Palace. Nalavadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar was then just 13 years old.

The news of the Palace burning spread like wildfire all over Mysore. Like a wave, people from all over congregated. The throne, vairamudi, state sword and other valuables were shifted to Jagan Mohan Palace. By then, important landmarks in the palace like Kudure thotti, kannadi thotti, Sarswathi bhandaar, Madan Vilasa thotti,
Balakhane, Amba Vilas, Rama Vilas, Sajje and others had been consumed by fire.

Little caring for their lives, people rushed into the raging inferno and retrieved costly jewels, gold, silver, silks and other valuables and passed them from hand to hand and piled them up outside the palace.

For two nights and two days, the treasure trove was lying on the palace premises. More than 2,000 people cried their hearts out for two days. But not a single person touched the ornaments. They protected the treasure of the palace like it was their personal property.

The teenager Nalvadi Krishnaraj Wadiyar, who had still not ascended the throne, pacified his mother and sisters. “Please do not cry. Let us face the calamity.” Even the citizens comforted the royal family with kind words.

The way the people responded to the tragedy left a permanent place in the hearts of the royal family. They cried in unison, “What if this palace is burnt down. We will build hundred such palaces.”

Even the dowager queen did not lose her demeanour. She was calmness personified in the face of such a heart-rending tragedy on such a momentous occasion. In the very place, where the palace turned into ashes, later stood a magnificent marvel, which is the cynosure of all eyes. The foundation stone was laid and the construction of the new palace began in October 1897. After 15 years of hard labour the palace was completed in 1912. It was built at a cost of Rs 41,47,900. It was built incorporating anti-fire elements.

The whole palace was built like no other structure in the world and in the last 100 years it has rightly justified that tag.
This is true Mysore culture. Their heart is as big and as glittering as the illuminated Mysore Palace. They are able to build a palace out of ashes. They are able to respond to pain. This is the essence of a true Mysorean.

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