Waiting for Lalitha Mahal to Collapse?
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Waiting for Lalitha Mahal to Collapse?

November 5, 2022

In 2012, the 130-year-old Lansdowne building collapsed. In 2016, a part of the 136-year-old Devaraja Market collapsed. In 2022, a portion of the 95-year-old Vani Vilas Market collapsed. Two weeks ago, a part of the 106-year-old Maharani’s College collapsed. Is Lalitha Mahal Palace next?

I ask because, on a recent visit to Lalitha Mahal Palace, I noticed that it was coming apart, piece by piece. I fear it will meet the same fate as the other prominent heritage structures mentioned above. The culprit is government apathy. 

Our leaders and officers need to understand the value of heritage structures. Even if they do, they must have a sense of aesthetics to restore them correctly, which most don’t.

Worse, their indecision about the restoration of heritage structures takes so long that when the decision is finally made, the structures are no longer worthy of being restored, instead have to be demolished and rebuilt. 

That apart, our government needs to have the ability to prioritise — all old structures don’t have to be classified as heritage buildings just because they are aged. Instead, it must put all its efforts into saving prominent public heritage and architectural wonders. Lalitha Mahal is one such architectural gem of our city that needs immediate attention. 

Built by Krishnaraja Wadiyar in November 1921 over a period of ten years, Lalitha Mahal was initially called the ‘New Guests Mansion.’ It was renamed Lalitha Mahal after the model village nearby called Lalithadripura.

Lalitha Mahal was built in European style so the European guests would feel at home. That is why it is not like the Amba Vilas Palace (Mysore Palace), even though Edwin Wolleston Fritchley, who designed Lalitha Mahal Palace, had worked with Henry Irwin, the man who designed and oversaw the construction of Amba Vilas Palace.

Historian David Cannadine referred to Lalitha Mahal Palace as “an extraordinary architectural fantasy.” One can only imagine how grand it must have been because today, it’s in such a bad state that we can only imagine its grandeur. 

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Today, the grand central staircase made of Venetian marble appears dull and lacklustre. The wooden dance floor in the grand ballroom with springs underneath, with adjustable tension based on the type of dance, is defunct while the planks are coming off, one plank at a time.

The intricately designed roof is leaking, and a tarp has been nailed to the ceiling to stop water from dripping. Many period furniture, bathroom fittings, Belgian mirrors, and paintings have disappeared over the years.

The State and Central governments have never really invested in maintaining Lalitha Mahal Palace. By doing so, the second-largest Palace in our city has lost its glory and opulence. Now we may lose the structure itself. 

If we want Lalitha Mahal to remain intact as the pride of Mysuru, then the government needs to give it to a private hotel chain with expertise in restoring and running heritage structures, such as Taj Hotels.

One only has to see how they have turned a once dilapidated Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad into not just a hotel but a tourist attraction. 

Reports that Lalitha Mahal Palace will be taken over by Taj Hotel has been doing rounds since 22 years! It began in 2000 when the late Union Minister Arun Jaitley, then the Disinvestment Minister, wanted to give it up. We thought Taj would get it. Nothing happened. 

Fifteen years later, in 2015, the then Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma said, “We believe it makes little sense to let these hotels run in perpetual losses.” Again, we thought Taj would get it. Nothing happened.

 Two years later, in 2017, the lease signed in 1973 with ITDC (India Tourism Development Corporation) was terminated, and Lalitha Mahal was given back to the State government. Again, we thought Taj would get it. Nothing happened. Instead, it went to Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a State government body that manages Lodges in the Jungles, as its name suggests! 

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Jungle Lodges does a fantastic job of running forest safaris, but they have no experience running a luxury hotel, that too a heritage palace hotel with a grand history. 

But the government assured us that it was a temporary arrangement and that a more experienced private hotel company would run it soon after global tender was floated. Again, many thought Taj would get it. Nothing happened.

In 2021, it was said that while Taj is the preferred hotel group, the government would still float a global tender as per procedure. Nothing happened. Just this year, there were reports again that Taj would get it. Nothing has happened yet.

The resurrection of Lalitha Mahal Palace is vital to Mysuru. It will give a new lease of life to our city as a tourist destination. Lalitha Mahal, restored to its grand splendour, will reflect our claim of being a royal heritage city. 

For now, while our government keeps waiting to float a global tender so a ‘competent’ hotel chain can restore Lalitha Mahal it to its glory, the grand old palace is crumbling. 

As I watch old, beautiful structures destroyed by neglect around us, I am reminded of an old Kannada adage – Mangana Kaili Manikya (pearl in a monkey’s hand). It means a monkey does not know the value of the precious pearl it holds in its palms. Similarly, Lalitha Mahal Palace is a pearl in the hands of a government that does not understand its value and how precious it is.

 Lalitha Mahal celebrated her 100th birthday last year. She has lived for 100 years, but I fear she will not live much longer.

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3 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Waiting for Lalitha Mahal to Collapse?”

  1. kumar says:

    Since Britishers are long gone and muslims does not rule our country anymore let’s see whom we can find to blame these debacles

  2. Jalandhara says:

    Hello Viktram
    When the British left India, and when India became independent, Sirdar Patel in a hasty rejoinder to Hyderabad Nawab who threaten to annex his state to Pakistan simply abolished Royalty and removed the powers of Nawabs and maharajas. But, like all other Indian leaders, he did not think through properly, as to what happens to their properties like palaces. Instead of leaving these properties in a limbo, he should have nationalised all the palaces. That should have taken care of buildings like Lalitha Mahal. One can see also Mysore Palace go the same way, in a few years. The recent Mysore Palace Fort collapse is a tater of what is going to come.
    Mira Iyer, the Bangalore journalist and archaeology enthusiast of Bangalore ( who I have corresponded with in the past) in her article in the Deccan Herald says this: For their part, Europeans were struck, almost startled, by its obvious similarity to St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The historian David Cannadine referred to it as “an extraordinary architectural fantasy” while architectural historian Philip Davies described it as “nothing less than a bold attempt to transpose St Paul’s Cathedral to a South Indian setting”: https://www.deccanherald.com/spectrum/spectrum-top-stories/lalitha-mahal-an-architectural-fantasy-come-to-life-1059709.html
    The solution: The BJP government of Karnataka should persuade Modi to introduce a constitutional amendment specifically to take over all palaces as the national treasures. This will prevent the Wadiyar clan sitting in Ambavilas challenging it in the SC.
    The mistake was to rent it out as the hotel. I could see taking dinner there once in late 1960s that the building as much misused.
    Without bringing in Lansdowne building and Devaraja market into the heritage pile -these are not heritage buildings compared to this beautiful palace, the priority must be to repair and renovate this building. In my opinion, the only 4 structures deserve heritage tag in Mysore: Mysore Palace, the Chamundi Hill, Lalitha Mahal Palace and Jaganmohan Palace. Just focusing on them alone will get the attention needed.
    Finally until I saw St Paul’s Cathedral in London, I was not aware that the English architects modelled Lalithamahal Palace after it. Now, I pass through this St Paul’s Cathedral every Sunday during my walks with my son towards the Thames and Shakespearean South Bank of this river, I can see the great effort required to maintain this massive structure of Christopher Wren. That much effort is needed in this case of the above 4 really iconic structures.
    I have attended lectures of David Cannadine the historian, he has a great insight in many things, and his observation about this Palace needs serious thinking.

  3. Ganesh says:

    we have jokers ruling our country and state now, do not expect anything better than jokes or jumla’s.
    All these progressive mindset we have left behind, we are busy with useless things like halal cut, hijab ban and rubbish things in real life.
    In fact you should be writing an article why there is no Jatka cut in lalith mahal ?
    Why the name Mahal an “URDU” word, we need to rename it lalith Bhavan !
    Rulers and public will be happy.

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