Udaipur’s City Palace museum gets a restoration plan

June 15th, 2008 - 11:39 am ICT by IANS  

By Sahil Makkar
Udaipur (Rajasthan), June 15 (IANS) A museum within Udaipur’s majestic 16th century City Palace whose catacombs and tunnels may have had explosives planted inside during the Mughal era has drafted a major conservation and restoration plan. The museum, which registers a footfall of 650,000 tourists each year, is home to precious paintings, pictures and armoury belonging to the Sisodia Rajput royals. It is these that the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation (MMCF)-Paul Getty Project seeks to preserve.

“In the 16th century, Mughal emperor Jahangir captured Udaipur in his desperate effort to crush Mewar, so the existence of antique explosives in unexplored areas of the palace complex needed investigation,” Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, the erstwhile prince, told IANS.

“My father, Arvind Singh Mewar, directed that as part of preliminary measures, a survey and search should be carried out with the latest explosives detection instruments to ensure that there were no remains of antique explosive devices,” he said. His father is chairman and managing trustee of MMCF.

The City Palace, whose foundation was laid in 1959, is built in granite and marble. Located on a hillock, it is surrounded by crenellated fort walls.

A blend of Medieval European and Chinese architecture, the palace complex has several remarkable buildings, gardens and fountains. It houses two heritage hotels - Shiv Niwas Palace, Fateh Prakash Palace - besides the museum.

The museum itself comprises the Mardana Mahal and Zenana Mahal.

Mardana Mahal, originally for royal men, has Mor Chowk with unique glass mosaics of peacocks set in the walls and showing the seasons of summer, winter and monsoon. It also has Moti Mahal and Sheesh Mahal, which boasts of inlaid mirror work.

It also has Bhim Vilas with the stories of Hindu gods Radha-Krishna painted on the walls and a glass mosaic gallery and a panoramic view of the city below.

Zenana Mahal, the queen’s quarters to the south, has frescoes, wall paintings and an art gallery that boasts of a distinctive collection of Mewar paintings. It also has a remarkable collection of miniature paintings depicting royal processions, festivals and games of the Maharanas.

But this rich legacy was believed to be in danger due to the possible presence of the hidden explosives. In 1943 and 1984, two blasts from such explosives within a striking distance of the museum had killed four people.

As part of the project, searches were conducted inside the catacombs in the complex, spread over an area of 600,000 sq ft, and a tunnel, which passes below the museum over an area of 29,000 sq ft to find any hidden explosives.

Shikha Jain, director of the Gurgaon-based NGO Dronah, who is principal coordinator of the MMCF-Paul Getty Project, said the draft was prepared last year.

A Pune-based charitable trust, Horizon, was engaged to remove any explosive material if still buried in the catacombs and tunnels.

Sashikant Pitre, the director of the Pune trust, said: “We used modern equipment, specially imported from Britain, to conduct the searches. It took nearly 20 days to scrutinise the large area and no explosives were found during repeated checks.”

Lakshyaraj Singh said as the explosives detection work was complete, “we hope to get an equal matching grant of Rs.50 million from the Paul Getty Foundation to start disaster management work at the museum.

“It is expected to kick off in another one year. Our effort has gained more significance after the Jaipur blasts.” The serial blasts in May had killed at least 60 people.

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