Discover Lalbagh Palace: Indore's Opulent Palace Inspired by Versailles
Located in Indore, the Lalbagh Palace is a magnificent example of opulence from a bygone era. Its design was inspired by the famous Palace of Versailles in France. Tucked away in a corner of the city, it once served as a royal residence of the Holkar dynasty. The construction of the palace began during the reign of Tukojirao Holkar II in 1886 and was finally completed after 40 years under the leadership of his grandson, Tukojirao Holkar III, in 1926.
This palace was designed by British architect Bernard Triggs, and built and decorated by Waring & Gillows of London, and Martyn & Co. of Cheltenham. A reflection of the times, this palace marks a coming together of the Renaissance, Palladian and Baroque styles of architecture. It also shows how rulers of the period, like the Holkars, were obsessed with European landmarks. No cost was spared to make this palace and hundreds of kilos of marble were shipped in from Italy to build it. The palace has 35 halls and rooms that include a Durbar Hall, a Billiard Hall, Crown Hall, Council Hall, Ballroom, Dining Rooms, King’s Office and Library. The furniture in the palace is mostly made of mahogany, oak, walnut and rosewood. It has Neoclassical, and Paladin architectural motifs but also elements from Rajput and Mughal architecture.
Let us take you on a tour of the Lalbagh Palace.
The Durbar Hall – Diwan-i-Aam
The first room you come across when you enter the lobby is the Durbar Hall. It was used as the Diwan-i-Aam or the Audience Hall, where common people would assemble to meet the king during festivals like Dussehra and Diwali. The ‘subjects’ of Indore would enter the palace from the lobby to gather, meet and greet the king and then leave from the same entrance. The hall is mostly made of Italian marble and its false ceiling in Rococo and Renaissance style was made from Plaster of Paris, which was added in recent times. Four grand electric chandeliers made from Belgian glass were installed in the hall during the time of Tukoji III.
The Banquet Hall
The large Banquet Hall was meant for foreign dignitaries. The room has a 40-seater T-shaped dining table at its centre and 4-seater round tables on the sides. The T-shaped table had four seats at the top reserved for the King, and his queens. The French chandeliers from the ceiling would light the room designed in Greek style. The room’s ionic pillar columns divide it into parts. The vaulted ceiling is lined with scenes from Greek mythology and an ornamental band.
When you move out of the Banquet Hall, you will be enchanted by a giant 60 feet long and 30 feet wide Ballroom. Here, the guests danced on the wooden floor which sits on a bed of iron springs providing the dancers the right bounce whilst dancing. Interestingly, the room was also utilized as a badminton court by the royals at a point! Three chandeliers hang on the ceiling and you can see the corridors above which led to the private quarters of princes and princesses.
The Crown Hall – Diwan-i-Khas
The Crown Hall acted as the king’s official court. It was also known as Diwan-i-Khas. Here, the king met with his ministers and other important dignitaries. Inspired by European palaces, the Lalbagh Throne Room is spectacular. Its rich embroidered carpet, intricate stucco work, ornate furniture, and fancy light fixtures are enhanced by a ceiling, covered in beautiful fresco paintings depicting themes from Greek mythology.
The Sitting Room
Richly decorated and opulent, the Sitting Room is located in front of the Crown Hall. This acted as a waiting room meant for those who had come to seek an official audience with the king. The round table in the room is topped with Italian marble. Walls here have round mirror panels encased in gold frames and moulding and the ceiling has golden bands and round panels painted with scenes from Greek Mythology. The entire room follows a ‘round’ theme.
The King’s Office
For everyday work, the king chose to work out of his office lined with bookshelves. French windows here overlook the vast expanse of the gardens around the palace.
The Council Room
Attached to the King’s Office is the Council Room, where the king used to have private meetings with his ministers. The pale pastel walls are decorated with golden mouldings and sculpture panels with floral designs, and the Holkar Coat of Arms. The Council Room finds a balance between opulence and functionality. The room’s ceiling is lightly decorated with classical-style English chandeliers.
Western Dining Hall
This was the royal family’s western style dining hall. With a richly patterned carpet on the floor, golden stucco work on the ceiling and amazing crystal chandeliers, this would have been used for smaller more intimate groups and the family . The walls here are decorated with family portraits in golden frames and garlands. An English-style large wooden dining table stands at the centre while a buffet table is on the side.
Interestingly, the kitchen of the palace was constructed on the opposite side of the narrow Khan river that flows alongside the palace. The kitchen was connected to the main palace through an underground tunnel. This was to avert any risk of fire and also to keep the smoke from the kitchen furnaces away.
Indian Dining Hall
The Holkars held Brahmins in high regard and regularly invited them to the palace for dinners. The Indian-style dining rooms were made for this occasion. Here, instead of tables and chairs, the invitees sat on the ground in the pangat system i.e. where they sat in a line and were served . Unlike the rest of the rooms in the palace, the interiors of Indian dining rooms drew inspiration from Indian architectural styles.
The Indian dining room is divided into two sections, one for gentlemen and the other for ladies.
The Gentlemen’s Dining room was inspired by Rajput-style architecture with pillars and arches like jharokhas.
The Ladies’ Dining Room was inspired by Mughal-style architecture and has elaborate arches with intricate designs.
The Lalbagh Palace was turned into the Nehru Centre for Arts and Sciences by Arjun Singh, then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh who inaugurated it on 14th November 1988. Today, a bust of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru stands at the entrance of the palace.
The palace is set within a 28 hectare rose garden that gives the palace its name. The lay-out of the garden is inspired by French, English and Mughal landscaping concepts. The gates of the palace are quite similar to the gates of Buckingham Palace in London. In fact, it is believed that the gates were actually cast in England and shipped to Indore.
The Lalbagh Palace was constructed over a period of 40 years between 1886 and 1926. The original plan was initiated during the time of Tukojirao II (1844-1886), but finally completed by his grandson Tukojirao III, who moved into the palace with his two wives, Chandravati Bai and Indira Bai in 1926.
Even after his abdication of the throne, Tukojirao III continued to live in the palace till his death in 1978. After the death of Tukojirao the palace came under Usha Raje Trust. In 1987, it was converted into a museum and it was acquired by the State Government of Madhya Pradesh.
Today, it is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India and has been restored in parts, recently.
The famous 18th-century Holkar queen Ahilyabai Holkar was a visionary ruler and builder. She is also credited with the creation of the Maheshwari fabric which is a wonderful combination of cool cotton and lustrous silk. You can find a range of Maheshwari Stoles - The Queen’s Collection handmade for you by the weavers of Maheshwar on Peepul Tree Check out the collection here.
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