The Palace of Mysore (also known as the Amba Vilas Palace) is a historical palace in the city of Mysore in Karnataka, southern India. It is the official residence and seat of the Wodeyars — the Maharajas of Mysore, the former royal family of Mysore, who ruled the princely state of Mysore from 1399 to 1950. The palace houses two durbar halls (ceremonial meeting halls of the royal court) and incorporates a mesmerizing and gigantic array of courtyards, gardens, and buildings. The palace is in the central region of inner Mysore, facing the Chamundi Hills eastward.
Mysore is commonly described as the City of Palaces. There are about seven palaces inclusive of this; however, Mysore Palace refers specifically to the one within the Old Fort. Built by the Maharaja Rajarshi H.H. Krishnarajendra Wadiyar IV, Mysore Palace is now one of the most famous tourist attractions in India, after the Taj Mahal, and has more than 3 million visitors annually.
King Yaduraya first built a palace inside the Old Fort in Mysore in the 14th century, which was demolished and constructed multiple times. The regent of Mysore, Her Majesty Maharani Vani Vilas Sannidhna, and her son, the Maharaja of Mysore His Highness Rajarshi Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, commissioned the British architect Lord Henry Irwin to build a new palace to replace the old one which had been turned into ashes by fire. Meanwhile, the royal family stayed in the nearby Jaganmohan Palace.
Construction of the current palace was commissioned in 1897, completed in 1912, and expanded around 1940 (including the addition of the present Public Durbar Hall wing) during the reign of His Highness Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, the last Maharaja of Mysore Kingdom. The construction was completed in 1912, but the fort continued to be beautified and its inhabitants were slowly moved to the newer extension built off the palace.
Apart from the leonine Ambavilas Palace and Jaganmohan Palace (which, later, His Highness Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar used as his art gallery and it remains an art gallery), the city has several other grand palaces like Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion (now the office of the district commissioner), Rajendra Vilas Mansion (now a private hotel atop Chamundi Hills),Lalitha Mahal Palace (now a five-star hotel), Laxmi Vilas Mansion, Cheluvamba Vilas Palace (the palace which His Highness Maharaja Sri Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar donated to the newly born Govt. of India; now the headquarters of Central Food Technological Research Institute, a national research institute), and Krishnarajendra Vilas Palace (now Krishna Rajendra Hospital). Besides there are buildings a century old or more, like Crowfard Hall (now the headquarters of the University of Mysore), Oriental Research Institute building, Corporation Complex of Mysore City Corporation, et cetera. In all the above palaces, the royal family holds blocks held by the kings traditionally. However, the Bangalore Palace and Ambavilas are entirely under the possession of the royal family. Despite this, the state government of Karnataka has its tourism department authorized the supervision Mysore Palace. Bangalore Palace remains entirely a private property of the princess.
The architectural style domes of the palace is commonly described as Indo-Saracenic and blends Hindu, Muslim, Rajput, and Gothic styles. It is a three-stone structure with marble domes and a 145 ft five-story tower. The palace is surrounded by a large garden. The entrance gate and arch hold the emblem and coat of arms of the kingdom of Mysore, around which is written the kingdom’s motto in Sanskrit: “Never Terrified”.
The palace has three entrances: the East Gate (the front gate, opened only during the Dasara and for VVIPs), the South Entrance (for public), and the West Entrance (usually opened only during the Dasara). In addition, there are numerous secret tunnels from the palace cellar leading to Srirangapatna, other palaces, and confidential areas.
The three-story stone building of fine gray granite with deep pink marble domes has a facade with several expansive arches and two smaller ones flanking the central arch, which is supported by tall pillars. Above the central arch is a sculpture of Gajalakshmi, the goddessof wealth, prosperity, good luck and abundance with her elephants. There are three major exclusive temple buildings within the Old Fort, and about 18 inside the palace heart building. The Maharajas of Mysore were devotees of Goddess Chamundi, which is why the place faces Chamundi Hills. Besides, head of the Parakala Mutt stays the spiritual rajguru (royal teacher and guide) as a reason of which the palace is built next to an even older Parakala Mutt headquarters.
Every autumn, the palace is the venue for the famous Mysore Dasara festival, during which leading artists perform on a stage set up in the palace grounds. On the tenth day of the festival Vijaya Dashami, a parade with caparisoned elephants and floats originate from the palace grounds.
Dasara is the most extravagant festival of Mysore. It is celebrated in September and October of each year. The festival celebrates and commemorates the victory of the great Goddess Durga, also called Chamundeshwari, after she slew the demon Mahishasura, thereby symbolizing the triumph of good over evil according to Hindu mythology.
This festival has been celebrated by the Wodeyars at Srirangapatna since 1610, and in Mysore with great pomp since 1799. The tradition is still carried on, although the scale of the celebrations has diminished. The Dasara festivities have become an integral part of the culture and life in Mysore. To celebrate this festival, the Palace of Mysore is illuminated with more than 96,000 lights during the two-month period.
Mysore Palace is one of the most magnificent buildings. It is a sight not to be missed when it is illuminated on Sundays and festive occasions. The interior of the Palace is equally worth a visit, for its spacious halls, paintings and architectural beauty. The palace is an excellent combination of Indo-Saracenic architecture.
This spectacular room was used by the king as a hall for private audiences. Entry to this opulent hall is through an elegantly carved rosewood doorway inlaid with ivory that opens into a shrine dedicated to Ganesha. The central nave of the hall has ornately gilded columns, stained glass ceilings, decorative steel grills, and chandeliers with fine floral motifs, mirrored in the pietra dura mosaic floor embellished with semi-precious stones. This is where the king would confer with his ministers. It was the chamber in which he gave audience to people deserving special attention.
Entry to the palace is through the Gombe Thotti, or Doll’s Pavilion, a gallery of traditional dolls from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The pavilion also houses a fine collection of Indian and European sculpture and ceremonial objects, including a wooden elephant howdah (frame to carry passengers) decorated with 84 kilograms of gold.
The Kalyana Mantapa, or marriage hall, is a grand, octagonal-shaped pavilion with a multi-hued stained glass ceiling with peacock motifs arranged in geometrical patterns. The entire structure was wrought in Glasgow, Scotland.
The floor also displays a peacock mosaic, designed with tiles from England. Oil paintings illustrating the royal procession and Dasara celebrations of bygone years are displayed on the walls.
The palace houses several rooms of importance. These include:
- The Diwan-e-aam, a public durbar where the general population could meet the king at scheduled times to submit petitions
- An armory which contains arms used by the members of the royal family. It contains lances, cutlasses, and other 14th century weapons as well as those used in the early twentieth century, such as pistols.