Travel Journey so far
Hello there, I am Viraat Kothare, a former freelancer in software development, 2 time national record holder in hobbies & arts and International record holder in sports in group backward running. But now I am full time traveler and pursuing my passion of photography and travel research. I want to travel across the length and breadth of India and World. And I intend to do so in a phase wise manner focusing on its rich culture, traditions and architecture. I have keen interest in documenting and indexing heritage sites and archaeological sites. And have been doing so for past few years mostly in the interiors of Maharashtra.
Visiting Heritage Houses, Royal Houses, Palaces of India: Forgotten Architecture perspective
Having a penchant of trekking and visiting forts initially in my travels, I came across various types of heritage houses, royal houses and palaces scattered mostly around smaller towns and districts of Maharashtra. These monuments are somewhat been forgotten in spite of being an intangible heritage of our glorious history. These monuments need be preserved for future generations, as I firmly believe the heart and essence of India lies in its interiors and the culture preserved by people living there. Not all of these heritage houses lay in ruins, some are in good shape due to the current generation of families still residing. So over a period of time, I took keen interest in discovering and documenting various houses. I have especially fallen love with the interior and the exterior architecture. Each house having its unique design of its own, apart from the standard construction techniques prevalent 400-500 years ago.
These houses provide us a peek into the lifestyle of the past based on the usage of items for decorations as well as distinct architecture each house has based on the skills of laborers during that era as well as aesthetic tastes of the zamindar or jagirdar known as landlords and kings.
Common aspects of heritage houses architecture
One of the common aspect of heritage houses is their locations. Heritage houses were mostly constructed in the center of the village or near rivers, mostly guarded by high wall fortifications, bastions and some water ditches (moats) for security. These houses belonged to either princes of small kingdoms or jagirdars (royal courtsmen) of King Chhatrapati Shivaji and his kins or Peshwas. The king would grant jagir (piece of land consisting of few villages) to their royal courtsmen for their valour in wars. The jagirdars would then construct their houses (wada) typically in the center of the village. Many houses were constructed based on the Peshwa style of architecture with prominence of artistic balconies and viewing galleries. It is especially peculiar to note that most of these heritage houses had many secret passageways for security purposes. Almost all heritage houses have emblems of the family artistically designed. Other common aspects of heritage houses include store room, inner & outer courtyard, temple, Vihir or small well, personal chambers. The kitchen space was large with common kitchen items like grinding stone, mortar & pestle etc. Toilets were mainly built outside due to traditional beliefs. Over a period of time, however, toilets were reconstructed inside. There was plenty of space for granary store and extra storage space for wartime.
Contrasting Architecture of Heritage Houses
The main distinguishing feature of the heritage houses in Maharashtra and some parts of Karnataka with the ones built in North India was that the houses weren’t so elaborate or lavish as North Indian palaces. They were mainly built for security and safety of the members residing and mostly all were built as a single building structure with separate rooms for its members. This was because of scarcity of money due to recurring battles with neighbouring kingdoms and Mughal Empire. In contrast, we can observe many buildings each being built for a specific purpose in Northern India. A few examples are Sheesh Mahal or Mirror Palace, Rang Mahal or Color Palace, Hawa Mahal or Wind Palace, Jal Mahal or Water Palace in Rajasthan and Agra. King Akbar’s fort in Agra had separate palaces for the king and queens’ Harem, Diwan-e-aam for all of public audience and Diwan e Khas(Hall of Private Audience). There was elaborate system of deep cut step wells as water being a scarcity during summer months. Also, there was a Sarai system or small inns for travelers and merchants. Kabutar Khana or keep for messenger Pigeons, Drum Tower for alarm of enemy approach, Bell Tower for important events and time keep.
Such elaborate structures did not exist in the heritage houses of Maharashtra.
My Experiences of documenting heritage houses
When I travel in solo or in group, visiting villages and smaller towns, villagers warmly welcomed me. At the same time, they were somewhat surprised that I was curious to know about their village. I would enquire about ancient spots, heritage houses and palaces. And they would be eager to show their village with great enthusiasm. They also offer food and water. After visiting many villages, I somewhat avoid drinking water due to it being salty or heavy ground water which has caused stomach ache in the past.
While visiting heritage houses, I would gather information from the house owners if present. I would sit and listen to stories about the place. One needs to be careful while visiting these places, as being old and without repair, they could fall at any time. But villagers and owners of houses take pride in their heritage and legacy, in spite of poor conditions and lack of money which makes it difficult for them to maintain upkeep of the of the houses. The house owners may not be able to keep the houses in their past glory but they are still preserving its unique culture. Sometimes, they preserve their uniqueness through smaller antiquities such as stones, distance markers, old step wells, old armoured gates, armoury equipment. Some peculiar stones are Veerghals or herostones, Gadheghals or ass curse stones. Also, sati stones for female sacrifice after husband’s death in war.
About various houses
I am sharing brief information on some of the houses which I have noted and published in my eBook. It showcases a combination of around 50 gadhis, wadas and palaces in Maharashtra state that I have documented. Personally, I have noted around 600 gadhis, wadas, havelis, palaces in Maharashtra which I have marked for visit.
Lokmanya Tilak House
Lokmanya Tilak House is located in Ratnagiri district, in Ratnagiri city. Unlike other heritage houses belonging to kings and jagirdars, this house is the birthplace of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Lokmanya Tilak was early leader of the independence struggle and is also known as “Father of the Indian unrest”. His famous slogan was “Swaraj ins my birth right & I shall have it” against the British rule.
Born in 1856 in Ratnagiri, Lokmanya Tilak lived in his ancestral Konkani house for located in Tilak Ali (colony) in Ratnagiri. The ancestral home has now been converted into a small museum. The house is well maintained and has no entry fee. You just have to put an entry in a register. It houses a few belongings and photographs of Lokmanya Tilak and his family. There is also a statue of Lokmanya Tilak.
The rear portion of the premises has quarters of caretaker Sawant who has planted trees within the premises few years ago. No doubt it adds to the beauty of this important structure. One is not allowed to click snaps inside the house. I loved the old architecture of the house. At a walkable distance from Ratnagiri ST Stand, one can easily reach this hidden gem from Ratnagiri station with auto rickshaw.
Sawantwadi Palace – Royal Palace of Sawantwadi
Sawantwadi Palace is located in Sawantwadi town, in the district of Sindhudurg. The palace is located opposite small waterbody Moti Talav against the background of Narendra Hills. The Sunderwadi town was established by Raja Sawant Bhosle as capital of his estate in 1692. Subsequently it’s name changed to Sawantwadi. The huge old palace belongs to same family has it’s own charm. It is now place for exhibition of handicrafts items, photographs and old antique items. The rooms are filled with artifacts & takes us back to 17th century. Especially interesting is watching local artisans in the royal darbar hall painting Ganjifa cards, cooking local pastries, pottery and sand painting. The Queen of the royal Sawant Bhonsle family still lives in the palace and shares interesting stories with visitors on selected days.
Shalini Palace is located in Kolhapur district in the city of Kolhapur facing the Rankala Lake. Built in the 1930s, it is named after Princess Shrimant Shalini Raje of Kolhapur. The Palace is built from black stone and Italian marble. The stained glass arches and clock tower has been restored to their former glory. In 1987, this Palace was converted into a hotel, making it the first and only Palace hotel in Maharashtra State.
Jai Vilas Palace
Jai Vilas Palace, located in Jawhar village,in Palghar District of Maharashtra. Jawhar was a capital city of the erstwhile Koli, princely state of Jawhar. Situated in the ranges of the Western Ghats, Jawhar is known for its picturesque setting and a vibrant cultural heritage. It is one of the few remaining tribal regions of Maharashtra and is famous for its vibrant Warli painting that are a characteristic landmark of this place.
Jai Vilas Palace was built by then King Jayaba Yashwant rao Mukne,in the 13th century, residence of the Mukne Royal family. Built on a hill top, this palace is a master piece of architecture with blend of Western and Indian styles of architecture in majestic pink stones. Built in neoclassical style in Syenite stone, taken from a quarry in sakhara, which has been lost in time. The interiors of the palace showcase various portraits of the family members along with small artifacts of royal heirloom kept in a small room in the terrace. There is an older rajwada & kacheri known as small courtroom which can be looked upon as well during the visit. Due to its unique architecture style and location, the palace has featured in several films in Marathi and Hindi.