Entering Khalas Mahal at the beginning of Wallajah Road, you get a clinical feel. The building, part of a two-story structure of the larger Chepauk Palace complex, now houses the National Green Court, parts of the Department of Public Works (PWD) and a variety of Government offices. other. Today, the space is busy with the clattering of keyboards and the dull hum of tube lights. But the domes and minaret are testament to what was once there.
The world’s first Indo-Saracenic structure built in 1768 – Chepauk Palace – was a combination of the affluent life of the Nawabs in the Carnatic, subsequent British work and activism. Daily of Tamil Nadu Government today.
Chepauk Palace | Image credit: The Hindu Archives
“Did you know that Chepauk got its name from ‘Che baag’ which means six gardens in Hindi?” asked Dewan of Arcot, Nawabzada Mohammed Asif Ali, to talk about his ancestors. “The palace used to have six gardens, each with two in the East and West wings and one each in the North and South. The British then called it ‘Chepauk'”.
Much has been written about the palace’s history, but only the few who work here have come into contact with its enduring splendor. Here, we take a look back at the history and the last two remaining parts of the palace – Khalas Mahal and Humayun Mahal.
A quick overview of the palace’s past shows that Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah, who became Nawab of the Carnatic (1749-1795) after the British victory in the Carnatic War, sought to make Madras his capital. to maintain proximity to its colonial counterparts. This ally of the British government, prefers to live within the walls of Fort St George. Instead, it was suggested that he build his residence near the fort on the shores of Marina beach due to space constraints.
Nawabzada Mohammed Asif Ali said that a special gate – the Wallajah gate – was built at the fort to ensure that the Nawab could enter and exit the fort as he pleased.
The late historian S Muthiah, in his book Madras rediscovered, saying that in 1770 the palace grounds were 117 acres. It was probably built by engineer Paul Benfield of the East India Company, who later became a builder. “In its heyday, the grounds of Chepauk Palace stretched from Bell Road to the beach, from Pycroft Road to the River Cooum! Music used to be played one evening on the top floor of this Naubat Khana,” he said.
20th century writer Glyn Barlow in his book The story of Madras write an imaginary account of what the palace might look like. “…Chepauk was not just ‘one of the Government buildings on the Marina’….when it was enclosed within walls that are no longer there, it was the home of the powerful. Islam – sometimes a scene of festive splendor – sometimes a scene of desperate conspiracy.. We can wonder the bright eyes of Lalla Rookhs and Nurmahals of Chepauk are peering sheepishly into the doorway. any tiled windows upstairs.”
Inside Humayun Mahal | Image credit: Johan Sathyadas
However, with the annexation of Carnatic, the British abolition of the ‘Nawabocracy’ regime and the death of the last male heir Ghulam Ghouse Khan Bahadur in 1855, prompted the government to adopt the Doctrine of Drift. Chepauk Palace was then permanently occupied by the British. The auction amount set by the government is ₹5,80,000 that only the State can afford. In 1870, Amir Mahal on Pycroft Road was given to the Arcot family in addition to the title of powerless ‘nawabs’. Renowned Madras architect Robert Chisholm took over the Chepauk residence.
In 1871, he turned the Humayun Mahal into the Revenue Board Building. On the other hand, Khalsa Mahal merged the Technical College and the offices of the Ministry of Public Works, both of which are no longer operating from here, according to Madras: Architectural Heritage (INTACH Guide).
Khalas Mahal with its ‘two beautiful, towered entrances to the south and west’ and an octagonal bath structure, and the Humayun Mahal, a one-story building with a towering dome, remains the last vestige. end of the opulence of the palace. Muthiah writes: “That dome when built must have been a remarkable engineering feat, since it was built in the 18th century.
Chepauk of today
Public Works | Image credit: Johan Sathyadas
Today, as we walk into an almost empty but refurbished Humayun Mahal, which was nearly burned down in a fire in 2012, we find construction workers applying the last coats of paint. on brand new walls, polishing Athangudi tiles on the floor and dusting off. stained glass windows. The building, with its high ceilings and tiki-taka-sized meeting rooms, is preparing to open to the public and to indoor exhibits.
The most recognizable part of the building, the dome abutting the mahal, now takes on a rather bright, perhaps even offensive, brick red and white coat. There is only one way to enter this structure – an unstable white ladder. “Don’t go up there. It is not very safe. But even if you do, you won’t see much. The view of the sea is blocked and there is pigeon and bat droppings inside. We will also be refurbishing this one soon,” said one supervisor.
Over time, the palace grounds have become the face of the building for PWDs, the Presidential College and Ezhilagam, the seat of power for several Government offices in Tamil Nadu.
The windows here have over 250 years of history, but a lot has changed. With recovery over time, we can choose to keep parts of the past that we like. However, we can hardly tell which bright-eyed Lalla Rookhs and Nurmahals Chepauk are shyly looking at this spectacle. The only thing we can probably do is try asking Madras Terrace about the secrets it has gone through and hope we get an answer.
View of Humayun Mahal on the left, dome in the center and Khalas Mahal on the right. | Image credit: THANTHONI WILL