As the power of the Mughal emperor Akbar began to soar, the various Indian principalities came under proportionately increasing threat. After the fall of Chittor in 1567, Maharana Udai Singh of Mewar sought and received shelter for some time at Junaraj, the old capital of the kingdom of Rajpipla, up in the hills of the western Satpuras. This was during the reign of Maharana Bhairavsinhji, the 11th Gohil Rajput ruler of Rajpipla. Reference to this can be found in ‘Veer Vinod’, a history of Mewar written in the late 19th century.
How quickly power equations change in the face of adversity can be gauged from the tumultuous relations between the rulers of Rajpipla and the sultans of Gujarat (Ahmedabad). Adversaries for nearly two-and-a-half centuries, having had many skirmishes, the tide turned when Akbar’s armies made advances further south. The Imperial troops led by Mirza Khan Khas took Gujarat in 1584. Maharana Bhairavsinhji’s successor Pruthuraj ji gave refuge to Muzaffar Shah, the last Sultan of Gujarat, thereby incurring Akbar’s wrath.
Akbar then levied a tribute of Rupees 35,556 on Rajpipla, along with a contingent of 1,000 men to be furnished to the Mughal army. The district of Nandod in the plains along the River Narmada was granted by Akbar to one of his men, Haider Kuli Khan. This arrangement continued till the last years of Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign when the payments by the Rajpipla rulers not only became irregular but were altogether evaded when possible.
With the march of history and the weakening of the Mughal Empire, the 26th Gohil ruler of Rajpipla, Maharana Verisalji I, asserted his independence and in 1705 laid waste south Gujarat. A force sent by Aurangzeb was defeated in alliance with Maratha Damaji Jadhav at Ratanpur.
The next ruler of Rajpipla, Maharana Jeetsinhji, forged a treaty with Maharaja Peelaji Rao Gaekwar of Baroda, and succeeded in wresting the territories lost to Akbar. He transferred the capital to Nandod (New Rajpipla) in the plains on the banks of the River Karjan in 1730. This is the modern town of Rajpipla, earlier a trading centre.
After such a magnificent triumph, the exquisite Juni Haveli was strategically built between the town and the river, with the Satpuras rising behind the opposite bank. With pagoda-like canopies and a quaint external wooden staircase criss-crossing its way to the first floor, it formed an imposing sight. It was the seat of power for nearly 170 years until the 35th Gohil ruler of Rajpipla, Maharana Chhatrasinhji, built the Chhatravilas Palace on the other side of town.
Juni Haveli saw the rise of the power and domination of the Gaekwars, the emergence of the English East India Company, and the takeover of the reins in India by the British crown. It stood steadfast even after the rulers moved to Chhatravilas, and subsequently to Vijay Palace and Indrajit-Padmini Mahal (Vadia Palace). It was witness to the independence of India and the merger of princely states. With the winds blowing the other way in the socialist republic of India, Juni Haveli was tragically demolished by the Government of Gujarat in the 1960s to make way for a bus depot.
Thus disappeared a wonderful heritage of the valiant Gohil dynasty, but never to be forgotten by those who cherish the glorious history of this country.