September 6, 2017

Amir Mahal

As I had written earlier in the blog post about Chepauk Palace, not many citizens of Chennai know that there are palaces in the city. Amir Mahal is one of the important palaces with heritage value. It is located in Royapettah locality. It is the residence of Prince of Arcot and his family members.

Brief History of Carnatic Nawabs

As a reward to the victory in the battle against the Marathas, the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb appointed Zulfikhar Ali Khan as the first Nawab of Carnatic in 1692 CE. Thus, an important era in South Indian history started. The Nawabs are also referred as the Nawabs of Arcot, as they initially had their capital at Arcot. The province which was roughly extended from Krishna river to Kaveri river had accepted the supremacy of Nizam of Hyderabad.

The first Carnatic Nawab was on the throne till 1703 CE. He was succeeded by six Nawabs. The eighth Nawab was Muhammad Ali Wallajah. In 1765 CE, the Delhi Emperor made him as the independent ruler. Thus, he became the first sovereign ruler of Carnatic. Wallajah built the Chepauk Palace in 1768 CE.

The tenth Nawab was Azim-Ud-Daula. The Carnatic Treaty was signed on 26th July 1801 CE during his period. Based on the terms of the treaty, he had to give up the civil and military administration of the Carnatic to the East India Company. Thus, he became the first Titular Nawab of the Carnatic.

Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse Khan was the twelfth and last Nawab of Carnatic. The Nawab created the Muhammadan Public Library and Langar Khana. He died in 1855 CE without male issue.
At this stage, the Doctrine of Lapse of Lord Dalhousiewas applied and his sole legal heir, his paternal uncle Azim Jah, was denied the succession.

Brief History of Princes of Arcot

After the death of the last Nawab of Arcot, Azim Jah had to negotiate hard with Queen Victoria. Ultimately a new title of "The Prince of Arcot" was created in 1867 CE with several privileges and honors. He was made as the first Prince of Arcot.

As the Chepauk Palace was taken over by the Government in 1855 CE, Azim Jah moved to a new palace called Shadi Mahal on Triplicane High Road. Later, as part of settlement with the Prince, the Government decided to give "Amir Mahal" to the Prince in 1870 CE.

Sir Zahir-ud-Daula Bahadur, shifted his residence to Amir Mahal in 1876 CE. Since then, it has become the official residence of the successive Princes of Arcot.
Although the Amir Mahal was constructed in his period, Azim Jah did not move there. His successor,

The current Prince of Arcot, Mohammed Abdul Ali, also resides in this historic palace.

Amir Mahal

The Amir Mahal Palace was built by the British in 1798 CE in Royapettah. It was built in Indo Saracenic architectural style. The entire area covered around 14 acres of land.  It was used by the Chief Court of Civil Judicature. In 1870 CE, the Government gave this palace to the Prince of Arcot. As his family did not move there, the Royapettah Police Court functioned there between 1872 and 1875 CE.

In 1876 CE, the structure was renovated and was made as the official residence of the Prince of Arcot and his family. It is said that Robert Chisholm, who was known for the Indo Saracenic style, designed the palace during the renovation.

It is unbelievable to find such a magnificent and iconic structure in the congested Royapettah. The ornamental gateway on the road is a major landmark. The palace is tucked deep inside the compound. The distance between the gateway and the palace is about 300 m. The well laid path to the palace has tree lined up on either sides. The palace is surrounded by spacious lawns. Few cannons are lined up on the true left side of the palace portico.

The Durbar Hall in the first floor displays a lot of rare paintings of former Nawabs. In few of the paintings, the British officers are also found along with the Nawabs. The palanquin, photographs, shields, art materials, rifles and guns are displayed in the ground and first floors. The wooden staircases look elegant and they are so wide. The dining hall in the first floor is very spacious and it could accommodate around 200 people. The size somewhat matches that of a restaurant.

All the floors have beautiful chandeliers of various designs hanging from the ceiling. The floor is completely covered with the costly carpets.

It is said that there are about 80 rooms in this palace. The Prince of Arcot has his own flag hoisted in the front side of his palace.

In the beginning, only 30 royal members lived here. But, now around 600 people including the extended relatives of the Prince of Arcot and his staff live in the palace.

Amir Mahal is an important heritage symbol of the city, which should be part of Chennai heritage itinerary.

Happy travelling.

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