Indrajit-Padmini Mahal – also known as Vadia Palace – is a marvel of architecture and one of the iconic palaces of India. Located in the erstwhile royal town of Rajpipla, now the headquarters of Narmada district, Indrajit-Padmini Mahal was dubbed as ‘The Taj of Gujarat’ in its heyday in the 1940s. Indrajit-Padmini Mahal is a great heritage which shall be restored to its former glory soon, put to appropriate use and showcased to the world.
It was in the spring of 1934 that His Highness Maharaja Shri Vijaysinhji, the last ruler of the 4,000 square kilometres first-class princely state of Rajpipla, decided to develop a beautiful garden on 151 acres of land on the eastern outskirts of Nandod, as the capital of the State was known at the time. He named it Indrajit Park after his then eight-year-old son Prince Indrajitsinh.
The same summer, on 6th June, Maharaja Vijaysinhji achieved a feat that no other Indian racehorse owner had managed earlier, nor anyone since. His horse Windsor Lad won the coveted Epsom Derby of England, which is considered the world’s greatest horse race, dating back to 1780. The jubilant Maharaja, affectionately known as ‘Pip’ in the UK and Europe, was cheered by a mammoth crowd estimated to be between a quarter and a half million people on the Epsom Downs that damp afternoon. Present in the royal box high above the finishing post was the entire royal family of Britain led by King George V and Queen Mary, and royalty from Europe. Minutes later, the King invited the Maharaja to the royal box and raised a toast to the exhilarating triumph.
On return to India after this brilliant victory, Maharaja Vijaysinhji asked for plans to be drawn up for building a magnificent palace in Indrajit Park. He commissioned the renowned architect Burjor Sohrab J. Aga of Shapoorjee N. Chandabhoy & Company to design an edifice like no other. After extensive tours, and several detailed discussions with Maharaja Vijaysinhji, Burjor Aga planned the most exquisite monument of his life in Art Deco design, which was the trend in those decades between the two World Wars. And so Indrajit-Padmini Mahal – named after Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s son Prince Indrajitsinh and wife Maharani Padmini Kunverba – was built in a predominantly Indo-Saracenic Revival style with a few western features. Some of the famous examples of Indo-Saracenic or Indo-Gothic style of architecture in India are the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata; Victoria Terminus (now renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai; Central Secretariat in New Delhi; High Court Building in Chennai; Mysore Palace; and Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, among others.
The finest Italian marble of various colours was used in different geometric patterns, such that no two rooms or galleries are floored alike. The 1,000 doors and windows, and the two large spiral staircases in either wing of the Palace winding right up to the terrace, have been crafted in the best Burma teak. The breathtaking pristine white Palace was ready in 1939, having cost around Rupees forty lakhs or four million to build, a huge sum in those days, one of the costliest and last palaces to be constructed in India.
Indrajit-Padmini Mahal has a unique shape, and is built in a manner that the two private porticos on either side are not visible as one approaches the Palace, subtly guarding the privacy of the royal family. The main portico in front was meant for guests and other visitors. The palace buildings cover an area of almost an acre – 4,320 square yards, including the outhouses comprising a large circular kitchen complex and a small secretariat on the other side. The kitchen is partially sunken, so that it did not disrupt the view of the enchanting estate from the galleries, or of the intricate facade of the Palace from the grounds. A 30-yard long insulated underground passage took food in trolleys from the kitchen to the pantry in the main building.
Inside, the Palace retains much of the European character that one would expect from one erected during the 1930s and 1940s. There are marble globes, which were filled with exotic perfumes, and a water circulation system in them spread the pleasant aroma all around. An elevator took the royal family and their guests to the first floor and the terrace. At the rear is a marble fountain with intricate patterns matching the flooring of the piazza in which it is situated. Much of the palace was centrally air-conditioned, with ducts still visible on the walls. The lavish bathrooms had towel rods with heating elements.
The various rooms of the Palace are adorned with wall and ceiling frescoes by Polish artist and interior decorator Armande Herman Vallee Wolinski (Armande Vallee), whose depiction of even Indian devotional and local themes is flawless. Every room has its own unique character. The reception behind the portico is painted with floral and fauna subjects. The drawing room has concealed lighting in the ceiling and beautiful paintings from Lord Krishna’s life. The dining room has paintings of wildlife, while the bar has murals of drunk monkeys. The ballroom has Burma teak flooring, and the sitting room is done up in frescoes of dancing girls. The puja or prayer room has a series of wall and ceiling murals.
The sprawling estate of Indrajit-Padmini Mahal had well laid out gardens, fountains, and mango and lime orchards. The Rajpipla State band would play near the main gate.
Indrajit-Padmini Mahal is indeed an architectural marvel that houses many delightful features, and an enchanting heritage of Indian royalty. It became the final symbol of the 600-year rule of the valiant Gohil Rajput dynasty over the state of Rajpipla.
Integration of the sovereign states with the Union of India led to the fading away of the royal way of life. For a long time Indrajit-Padmini Mahal became a lost heritage. Over the last few years, however, Prince Indra Vikram Singh, grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji and elder son of Maharajkumar Indrajitsinhji, on behalf of himself and his younger brother Prince Indra Vadan Singh, the two surviving original owners of this magnificent legacy, has taken up the task of rehabilitating it. The work of restoration of Indrajit-Padmini Mahal is scheduled to begin soon. It will not be long before people from around the world will be wonderstruck by the grandeur of The Taj of Gujarat.