Exquisite. Grand. Opulent. Dignified. Words raced my mind at an usually fast pace as I walked through the Hathi Hall where Raja Ravi Varma's paintings of the Lukhsmi Vilas Palace are hung. The audio blared through the headphone set I had been handed before embarking on this hour and a half long stroll. Matching the beats of the traditional Gujarati music in the background, the narrator divulged one quick piece of information followed by another. He spoke at great length describing many fine details. Sadly for him though, I wasn't listening. Engulfed by the unreal beauty of the palace, I was busy racing my fingers through the delicate carvings on the wall and scrutinising the fine details of sculptures that were placed on short intervals across the grand mansion.
Encompassing nearly 170 rooms for merely two people, the Maharaja and Maharani, the prime location also houses the Moti Baug Palace and the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum.
The majestic palace, built by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III in 1890, continues to house the members of the royal family who are held in high-esteem by the people of Baroda. Four times the size of Buckingham Palace, the Lukshmi Vilas is reputed to be the largest private dwelling ever to be built. Designed in the Indo-Saracenic style by architect Charles Mant, the interiors of the grandiose home are reminiscent of several European schools of architecture. Mant, who was a perfectionist, committed suicide after he believed that he had miscalculated the height of the supporting pillars and came to the conclusion that the palace would collapse soon after. Over a century later, the mansion still stands.
Upon entering the palace, one can expect to make their way to the reception from where they can collect audio headsets. The audio is available in several languages, from the likes of Hindi and English to even Gujarati. Divided into ten segments, you will venture on an exclusive journey where you'll be taken from the courtyards of the palace to the Coronation Room, Gaddi Hall and even the Royal Armoury. Only the first floor is open to visitors, the second floor and beyond is for the family.
The Gaddi Hall is iconic as it holds the throne upon which many kings previously have taken their rightful place. The elaborately large room is embroidered with an overwhelming amount of incredible paintings. Meticulously arranged, the paintings of Goddess Saraswati, Laxmi, Lord Krishna, among others bring about a sense of symmetry and balance.
Nearby the Gaddi Hall lies the Royal Armoury. Weapons of different kinds are hung and placed in abundance. Swords, knifes, shields, you name it - all can be found in this relatively smaller room. A dream place if you are a history aficionado, you can also find Shivaji Maharaja's favourite weapons like the Khanjar and the Wagh Nakka.
Connecting to the Hathi Hall is the largest and probably the most desirable room of the entire palace, the Darbar Hall. The interior of this gigantic room are embellished with chandeliers, Belgian stained glass, and large artworks. This is also where cultural performances took place. If you are having a difficult time picturing the glamour of this particular space, then remember the set used for the song Deewani Mastaani from Bajirao Mastani. Although, the set used in the movie was fancier, both places carry the same prestige.
A representation of strong faith and belief among the locals, you cannot miss out on this place when visiting the cultural capital of Gujarat.