Tipu's summer retreat


Tipu's summer retreat

A feature of this Indo-Islamic style palace is its remarkable symmetry in plan and elevation. Photos by the author

When the mercury rises, and we feel the heat, we make alterations in our homes. We bring out the summer clothes, clean out our air-conditioners/coolers and get them going and change our furnishings to cooler colours and materials. The maharajas, however, had a simpler solution. They just moved house. It might have been an infinitely more expensive answer to the problem but then they were kings.

Most Indian rajas and maharajas had a palatial summer residence––sometimes several of them––built in cool-weather regions where they headed to escape the heat and dust of summer. The erstwhile ruler of the kingdom of Mysore, Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu (1750—1799) or Tipu Sultan as he is popularly known, was one of these kings. One of his summer retreats was the Tipu Sultan Palace located near City Market in the Chamarajpet area of Bangalore. This palace sees hundreds of visitors daily.   

First palace, then Secretariat

The construction was begun by Hyder Ali in 1781 and completed about a decade later by his son Tipu Sultan. Later, the British found this centrally located building convenient for their use as a Secretariat and they used it as such for decades, we were told by our self-appointed guide. Today, it is a monument kept open for public viewing and is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.

One of the most appealing features of this Indo-Islamic style palace is its remarkable symmetry (with the exception of an additional northern part) in plan and elevation. Also, the Summer Palace is actually a two-storied structure but that is not really evident from the road or the entrance given that the tall pillared facade and a parallel row of more pillars obstruct the view of the upper storey. The palace has been built using stone for the foundation and basement of the pillars, clay for walls, and wood (largely) for the pillars, arches, beams and ceilings.

Don’t go in expecting anything very grand or opulent. No lavish décor or ornate accessories the way you would see in Mysore Palace. However, what you can expect is an imposing, elegant residence with symmetrical architecture including rows of pillared arches, frescoes on walls (albeit faded), well-maintained gardens and a place which houses interesting artefacts. Besides being a home that is amazingly cool! Even in the midday heat of a peak-summer day we felt cool inside. There was a palpable difference between the temperatures outside when we were on the road, and what we felt inside the palace.

Cool floor on a summer day...

When we were in the first room of the ground floor, a female caretaker came up to us and said: “Take off your footwear and feel the ground.” We did so, and felt a wonderfully cool, smooth floor caress our soles. She watched our delight with a gratified smile. We decided promptly to discard our footwear for the rest of the palace tour. The gentle breezes added to the comfort and whenever we pressed our hands against the windows of the closed rooms––on both storeys––it was palpably cool air that was circulating inside.

There is a flight of stairs abutting the side walls which lead up to the upper storey. Before you climb the left-hand staircase you will see a small inscription, which describes this summer residence of Tipu as the ‘Abode of Happiness and Envy of Heaven’. The Palace has three quadrangular halls––one each on the north, south and west. A central oblong hall stands in between the two eastern and western halls. There is a small room at either extreme and in between a rectangular hall and two projecting balconies. The interior walls, ceiling and many niches are decorated with brightly coloured paintings––mostly floral motifs. The front and left side of the palace are flanked by gardens which are well-maintained. The lush-green, well-manicured lawns are a perfect complement to the wooden and stone structure of the palace with its hues of brown, cream and blue. This garden area contained fountains long ago, we were told.

Tiger mauling a British soldier...

The ground floor has rooms housing relics revealing not only the conquests and political events of Tipu’s reign but also that he, interestingly, recorded all his dreams in a handwritten book. An eye-catching display is the musical instrument or organ which has one of the most unusual shapes you have ever seen––it is designed as a tiger mauling a British soldier to death. The plaque below tells us that Tipu Sultan got this made to satiate his hatred of the British. With the tiger being the official symbol of Tipu’s empire and looking disproportionately larger than the hapless soldier underneath, the artist has hardly been subtle about representing Tipu’s feelings for the British.

All the displays are encased in glass as a protective measure. Fortunately, the walls of the palace––both inner and outer are clean and free of graffiti. In fact, the palace itself is quite well-maintained––no musty corner or unpleasant odours as you find at some of the less-cared-for heritage structures in our country.

Putting on our footwear again we walked across the sandy rear-side of the palace and then towards its northern side. We walked across to the right hand side and found rooms, but they were all bolted up and not open to public view. Below were a couple of small rooms which are used by the staff. Returning to the front area and pillared facade, we found a large room on the right which has been converted into an office complete with phones, desks, chairs and yes, piles of files.

Overlooking the palace is the centuries-old Venkataramana Swamy temple built by the Wodeyars. To the north is the Bangalore Fort, or rather, remnants of that old fort. This part was used as a link gate between the royal complex and the civilian area. The fort was largely destroyed in the Anglo-Mysore war fought between Tipu and the British.
The palace is located in Chamarajpet area and easy to find. Look for two landmarks––City Market and Bangalore Medical College. There is no parking facility, however, and you have to find space in a nearby lane for this. You can also check out the next-door Venkataramana Swamy temple built by the Wodeyars.   

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