After the passing away of the scion of Mysore Royal Family Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, his wife Pramoda Devi Wadiyar had embarked on a mission not only to restore her late husband’s dream projects but also to protect his properties.
This journey has led her to secure the helipad and also the Devikere. She has also won cases concerning Survey No. 4 extending to thousands of acres and also the ownership of Chamundi Hill !
In a candid chat with Star of Mysore Managing Editor Vikram Muthanna, Pramoda Devi Wadiyar speaks about Rajendra Vilas Palace on the Hill and, most importantly, plans for Survey No. 4 and the Chamundi Hill.
Vikram Muthanna: Mr. Wadiyar wanted to restore Rajendra Vilas Palace to its old glory, and now you too are trying to do the same. Why?
Pramoda Devi: It was his dream project and I want to take it forward. Also, I like doing this kind of restoration work but finding artisans who do such skilled work is difficult. But most of the ceiling work has been done.
Unfortunately, there has been some damage but we will have to figure out a way to fix it. For now, my primary intention is to prevent damage to the Palace because of the weathering.
Vikram: Is the Palace structurally sound?
Pramoda Devi: Yes, it absolutely is. There was some damage caused due to the construction of the parking area atop the Hill when dynamite was used to break rocks. This has affected the Palace as the site is so close to us. It may not have damaged the building as such, but it has caused some plaster cracks here and there. For now, my main intention is to safeguard the domes.
Vikram: Do you ever feel it would be better to lease out this Palace to hotel groups like Taj or Oberoi like other royal families?
Pramoda Devi: I’m not a marketing person and I’m not good at marketing. I could use certain groups for marketing. But running and maintaining, I like to do that myself. If I give this to someone else, for them it will be a job. But for me, this is a labour of love.
Vikram: Your other property, the Gun House, do you plan to restore and rejuvenate it too?
Pramoda Devi: Somebody was keen to run it for me in between, but there is a problem now. It takes a lot of resources to restore these properties. I haven’t taken any finances from anywhere. And you know what kind of difficult times I went through after my husband passed away. Maintaining the staff, and the properties, it’s a lot of pressure.
But somehow, God has been extremely kind. And she (Goddess Chamundeshwari) has given me courage. I get the right guidance at the right time. And she gives me the resources to do whatever I can. So, I have to use my resources wisely to do all this. I cannot take up everything simultaneously. I’ll have to wait. Finish one by one.
Vikram: Do you have any timeline for completion of Rajendra Vilas Palace?
Pramoda Devi: I usually don’t keep a timeline. It’s difficult to work with a timeline when it comes to heritage structures. If you do something here, the consequences are felt in some other place in the structure. It’s constant fixing until it all stabilises. That said, I would like to finish it as quickly as possible because I have to take up many other things.
Vikram: Speaking of so many other things, you recently won the Survey Number 4 case. Then, it is said that according to the Instrument of Accession Treaty, Chamundi Hill belongs to the Royal Family. So, instead of the Muzrai Department, will you manage the Temple from now on?
Pramoda Devi: After Survey Number 4 victory, I still don’t have my property. As you know, recently Devikere work was started. But how can you work on someone else’s property? Is it fair? I was shocked.
I was away for 15 days in Jodhpur and Delhi, and then I came. The first thing I saw is the Devikere news in your newspaper. I was shocked to read the whole thing. I cannot imagine the elected representatives doing these things without checking.
I came for last year’s Teppotsava at Devikere. There is nothing that is required to do there. They have broken a wall. I don’t know how much it may cost. I have to look into how much it might cost to rebuild the damaged wall.
Vikram: And the Royal Family owns the Chamundeshwari Temple?
Pramoda Devi: No, rather the deity owns the Temple. It is just the right to manage the Temple as the Managing Trustees. As far as ownership is concerned, it is the deity.
Vikram: You have locked the gate to Devikere…
Pramoda Devi: That gate was made 30 years ago and was locked earlier. Sorry to say this, but the Police only broke the gate years ago. We just ignored it and left it unlocked. But after the recent Devikere incident, I got the gate fixed and locked it.
Vikram: According to the Instrument of Accession Treaty, Chamundi Hill belongs to the Royal Family. Am I correct?
Pramoda Devi: Partly. I have to go through the details, but there is mention of Chamundi Hill because Lalithadri Cottage belongs to that. But what is the use?
The Government went to the Divisional Bench, and they lost the case. They went to the Supreme Court and lost the case, but they have no respect for the Court order and they have not complied with it.
Vikram: Many are worried that if Devikere gate can be locked, will access to the Temple and Hill also be restricted?
Pramoda Devi: I am not that kind of a person. The deity is for all, no matter which class or wherever they are from. That said, I will definitely protest unscientific development. The ropeway, I protested. Everyone protested. Now I hear that they are bringing it back under Gati Shakti as of last week.
Vikram: Since the claim is that the Hill belongs to the Royal Family, what happens to the people living atop the Hill? How will you handle that?
Pramoda Devi: I have to examine the whole thing. As of now, I am taking care of Devikere and the unauthorised construction around it because the Government needs to check who the land belongs to before they take up work.
Also, on the Hill, other owners own small bits of land. So, I need to look at the holistic view of that. But right now, I’m very confident of the Temple, so I am proceeding as the case is anyway pending.
Vikram: You have taken over Lalitha Mahal helipad also, but it is the only helipad for the city. Will you respond positively if the Government offers you compensation to acquire it?
Pramoda Devi: I have allowed helicopter personnel to use the facilities. Anybody can land taking permission. The Government does not want to ask me for permission. It is their ego which stops them from asking me. Anyway, I don’t blame them because they cannot take permission from a private person.
Vikram: Can they acquire the helipad?
Pramoda Devi: They can only do so after paying compensation. I will not allow and agree to it because I have put my father-in-law’s name there. I am running it as Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar Helipad. Flights are landing. I have allowed a person to handle the landings over there. I think the Health Minister landed here recently after we got permission from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
Vikram: Would you be open to it if the Government offers you compensation for Chamundi Hill because people from across the country visit the Goddess and take a look from the View Points? Or do you feel you will do a better job of protecting Chamundi Hill and its greenery?
Pramoda Devi: It is a very difficult question to answer. Protecting Chamundi Hill, I don’t know what other things are involved, like Forest Department or the public. Everything and everybody is involved, but I will not do anything against the nature or interest of the public, hurt the religious interests of the public, or hurt the religious sentiments. Again, I must say I will not allow unscientific and indiscriminate development, which is happening now.
Vikram: Do you feel overwhelmed with all the cases and work?
Pramoda Devi: I can take up more works because I love to work. But sometimes I don’t do anything. I take time to introspect.
I will work as long as I can. After that my son will have to look after things. Also, I want to leave something for the public and safeguard things for my future generation. People have given me so much affection, particularly after my husband passed away. That motivates me to move on because I have to consolidate so many things.
Sometimes, the Government also misleads the public more so in the Survey No. 4 case. They say what are you going to do with 1,563 acres. I said let me find out how much is left. There was so much fraud in the deals and so much forgery that happened.
I am of the opinion that you can make buildings, start industries and manufacture things, but you cannot manufacture land; hence it is precious. That said, I don’t mind horses or cattle in the land. They also need some place.
Vikram: In Survey Number 4, most people are expected to sell it off and make money. Since you love nature, would you be interested in turning a large part of your property into an urban forest to give back to Mysuru city?
Pramoda Devi: What do I need to sell the land for? Unless I am driven to sell it for my own survival. As I said, Goddess Chamundeshwari has been extremely kind to me.
While Pramoda Devi Wadiyar pursues her husband’s vision of a glorious Rajendra Vilas Palace come true and reclaims her family properties around Chamundi Hill, let us hope that she also manages to restore the hopes of Mysureans in keeping Chamundi Hill and the area around it green and turning it into an urban jungle instead of a concrete jungle. —Ed