September 2, 2017

Chepauk Palace

Even those who have not visited Mysore would know that there is a palace located in that city. But, not everyone who lives in Chennai might know that this city also has a palace. Yes, Chennai has palaces. Chepauk Palace is one of the prominent palaces of Chennai. Had it been maintained properly, it would have become one of the heritage symbols of the city. But, the citizens of Chennai had never been lucky to get a Government that cares and respects heritage value of the city. Surrounded by modern day Government buildings, gutted in fire twice, neglected totally and with extremely poor maintenance, the buildings of Chepauk Palace are still there. However, they have lost their original charm. It is unbelievable that it is the same palace which looks majestically beautiful in the pre-independence era photographs.

Let us explore the history, origin, structure and all other details about this site in this article.

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. He had to struggle a lot in the political battle in his initial years. In 1765 CE, the Delhi Emperor made him as the independent ruler. Thus, he became the first sovereign ruler of Carnatic.

Chepauk Palace

Wallajah built the Chepauk Palace in 1768 CE. Apparently, he requested the British to build his palace inside the fort, which was turned down. Later, it was built in the current location on the banks of the river Cooum. The building, which is known for its red brick and lime mortar, covered an area of around 117 acres from the Cooum River to Pycrofts Road. The palace comprised of two blocks. The southern block is called as Kalas Mahal (also written wrongly as Khalsa Mahal). The northern block is called as Humayun Mahal.

Not many know that this palace is one of the earliest Indo Saracenic style building in the entire nation. The palace lost most of its portions today. The Senate House was built on the site where the artillery park stood once. The bathing pavilion of Nawab became the residence of Governor and then became the University Library.

It was probably designed by a East India Company Engineer, Paul Benfield by name. Although the Carnatic state was annexed by the British in 1801 CE, the Nawab's family was allowed to stay in this palace till 1855 CE. In order to liquidate the debts of the Nawabs, the palace was acquired by the Government.

Kalas Mahal was a two storied structure with two minareted entrances. Humayun Mahal originally had single floor. Robert Chisholm made alteration to the building. He added the first floor with Madras terrace. In 1870 CE, he connected this with Kalas Mahal with a 75 feet tall tower.

M.A. Chidambaram Stadium was part of the palace complex originally. The remains of the arch gate pillars with terracotta reliefs are still found at the entrance of the stadium. Further down on Triplicane High Road, two more remains of the pillars of the arched entrance are found. The relief images of Vishnu Avatars are found on these pillars. (It is said that the palace had three arched entrances.)

The building where the Triplicane Police Station is functioning today was called as Langar Khana. It was a kitchen and dining room for vegetarian food prepared by the Brahmin cooks and was served to the poor.

Happy travelling.

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