Heritage Travel

A tour of Mysore Palace (Amba Vilas Palace).

Also known as the Amba Vilas Palace, this grand structure is located at the heart of Mysore city, dominating the city’s skyline.

The first iteration of this palace was built in the 14th century by Yaduraya Wodeyar, after which this palace has been reconstructed and renovated several times, to become the architectural and artistic marvel it is today.

Table of Contents:
Mysore Palace at a Glance
  1. How to reach, Tickets & Timings

My journey to Mysore Palace
  1. Gateway of Mysore Palace
  2. First Impressions
  3. History of Mysore Palace
  4. Architecture of the Palace
  5. The Palace Grounds
  6. Temples inside the Palace complex
  7. Tigers on duty
  8. Ane Bagilu – The Elephant Gate
  9. The Wrestling Courtyard
  10. Dolls Pavilion
  11. Kalyan Mantapa
  12. Royal Photographs and Caskets
  13. Royal Furnitures
  12. Public Durbar
  13. Ambavilasa – The Private Durbar
  14. Final Thoughts

It was an overcast July noon when I set foot in Mysore with my wife, to visit the famous Mysore Palace. The drive down from Bangalore was as pleasant as it could have got, with the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds throughout the route. It was as if we were taking the pleasant weather of Bangalore wherever we were going. The cloud cover also meant that we would not have to bake in the scorching sun while roaming around the palace grounds.

After a quick lunch stop at some crappy restaurant, out cabbie drove us towards the palace which happens to be the second most visited landmark in India after the Taj Mahal. Almost 6 million tourists visit the Mysore Palace every year, to marvel and wonder at the abode of the Maharaja of Mysore.

How to Reach:
Bangalore is the nearest big city to Mysore. Even though Mysore has a railway station which is 1.4 KM from the Palace, most tourists prefer to have Bangalore as the first stop. Once in Mysore, finding the Palace is not a difficult task at all, as it is located in the Heart of City.

As of 2019, Photography inside the palace is allowed WITH NO FLASH. It wasn’t allowed earlier, but now the rules have been relaxed.

Palace Entrance Timings:
    Everyday from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM.

Illumination Timings:
    Sunday & Public Holidays from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM.

Light and Sound Show:
    In Kannada Language – Mon to Wed (7.00 PM-8.00 PM) & Sat (8.15 PM-9.15 PM).
    In English Language – Thurs to Sat (7.00 PM-8.00 PM) & Sat(8.15 PM-9.15 PM).

Palace Entrance:
    Adults – Rs 70, Teenagers (age 10 to 18) – Rs 30, Children below 10 – Free.

Light and Sound Show:
    Adults – Rs 70, Teenagers (age 10 to 18) – Rs 30, Children below 10 – Free.

The Gateway:

The palace complex has quite a few gates, it is however the southern gate from where tourists are allowed inside. The huge yellow colour gate is perenially baricaded by the police, flocked by small vendors selling knick knacks and teeming with tourists.

Besides the gate there is a ticket counter, for which the queue is usually pretty long. It took me around 5 minutes in that queue, to get the tickets to enter the complex and another 5 minutes to pass through the security check. Once in, a short walk later, we were able to catch our very first look at the wonder called the Amba Vilas Palace a.k.a the Mysore Palace.

First Impressions:

The palace is a humongous 245 feet by 156 feet structure, with it’s main building being three and central tower being five storeys tall. Made up mostly of granite and adorned with pink marble domes the palace faces the revered Chamunda Hills, the abode of Goddess Chamundeshwari. The royal family, the Wodeyars, still own the palace, it is however maintained by the Karnataka government as a heritage structure.

Huge manicured gardens cover the entire area between the palace and the boundary wall, adding to the aesthetic appeal of the already pretty palace. There are thousands of light bulbs fixed to the edges of the pillars, domes, arches, and every other feature of the palace. These bulbs, light up on special occasions and provide for the most dazzling display of opulence and grandeur. We were not lucky enough to witness this, however if pictures could speak, the picture below is worth a thousand words.

Pic courtesy : mysurudussera facebook page

History of the palace:

The Wodeyars are the descendants of the Yadavs from Gujarat who settled down in Mysore sometime in the 1300s. Shri Yaduraya Wodeyar, who was the patriarch of the dynasty, built a wooden palace, in the same spot, where the Mysore Palace stands today, in 1399 AD. This palace got destroyed by lightning sometime in the 15th century thus making way for another wooden but more elaborate palace.

Followed by massive political instability in the 18th Century, a maverick general of the king’s army, Hyder Ali rose to became the de facto ruler of Mysore, followed by his son, Tipu Sultan. During these turbulent times the Mysore Palace slipped into a state of neglect culminating in its demolition in 1793.

In 1799, upon the death of Tipu Sultan, the five-year old Krishnaraja Wodeyar III assumed the throne, and commissioned a new palace which was completed in 1803. This palace was again struck by calamity as a result of a fire in the year 1897, which razed it to the ground.

The royal family then enlisted a British architect, Henry Irwin, to design a brand new palace. Completed in 1912 and at a cost of Rs. 41,47,913 the result was the Mysore Palace you see standing today. It has undergone some expansion in the year 1940, quite notable of that being the Public Durbar.

Architecture of the palace:

The most significant feature of the palace is the mix of styles. The palace heavily borrows the Indo Saracenic structure and blends in elements from the British, Rajput and Mughal styles. The deep pink domes are a clear remnant of Mughal design, almost similar to the domes of many palaces and forts in Delhi and Agra.

The arches and pavilions remind people of the Rajput architecture, very similar to the forts of Jaipur. The widows and floors sport a very British feel, owing to the pillared look. Even the towering central dome, appears like a gothic cathedral of Victorian England.

The fact that the palace is so recent has ensured all its features remain intact, which adds to its appeal. The amalgamation of all these distinct styles is a rare combination not seen elsewhere.

You may also like : Padmanabhapuram Palace – Asia’s largest wooden palace.

The Palace Grounds:

Before entering the palace, we thought of taking a stroll around the palace. A lazy walk took us to the grouds just infront of the palace, which is paved with concrete. This is where the Dushera procession starts and other than that serves as a viewing station for the light and sound show that happens in the evening. This is also the place from where one can get a clear look at the whole face of the palace.

While walking besides the exterior of the palace, we got to close look at the bulbs that light up the palace during special occasions. These were the regular incandescent bulbs we used to have at our homes earlier, before CFL and then LED bulbs came into being. They were attached to a narrow wooded plank which inturn was attached to the palace’s exterior.

Temples in the palace complex:

There are a lot of temples within the palace boundary, the most important of these temples is the Sri Lakshmiramana Swami Temple. This is apparently the oldest and is revered as devotees are mysteriously cured of their ailments after offering prayer in this temple. This temple is also, used for the coronation ceremonies.

Other temples in the complex are Sri Shweta Varahaswamy Temple that dates back to the Vijayanagar days, Sri Bhuvaneshwari Temple, Kille Venkatramana Swamy Temple, Kodi Bhairavaswami Temple, Sri Prasanna Krishanswami temple and Sri Trinayaneshvara Swami Temple and Sri Gayatri Temple. The Trinayaneshvara Swami Temple used to be outside the palace complex earlier, but when the boundaries were redefined, it was enlarged and included in the Palace premises.

Tigers on Duty:

Six huge bronze tigers are located on either side of the east, south and north pathways radiating from palace. Built by a Renouned British Sculptor, Robert Colton in 1909, these tigers now bear a dark, blackish colour owing to the elements of nature they are exposed to.

I have come across plenty of tiger sculptures around palaces and some temples, but the ones at Mysore palace look really different. Instead of the regular standing posture, these tigers stood low, as if they had marked their prey and ready to attack. The posture, even though made them look smaller, but showcased them as more aggressive. It’s as if they were held with a light trigger, and will pounce any moment now.

Ane Bagilu – The Elephant gate:

After having enough of the palace from the outside, it was time to move in, and take in all that mysore palace has to offer. First off, we had to drop our shoes in the designated shoe stand. There after we started following a group of tourists who were gradually making their way towards an ornate gate.

This gate that leads into the palace is called Ane Bagilu, which literally translates to the ‘Elephant Gate’. The gate has beautiful brass filigree and sports the royal crest & coat of arms. A two-headed eagle forms the centre of the crest below which is written “nabhibhatikadachan” in Sanskrit. It translates to “never being scared”.

Earlier the gate used to remain closed and opened only for the Royal family and VVIPs, however now a days this is the main entrance into the palace. Once we entered the gates, it was like we had entered an art exhibition.

The Wrestling Courtyard:

Inside the gates, we were welcomed by high symmetrical arches leading towards the insides of the palace. One side of which was adorned by paintings of various festivals, celebrations those have taken place in the kingdom. the beautiful paintings were so well maintained that I felt these were just created a few days ago.

On the other side however was a courtyard that looked very humble, except for two bronze tigers those guarded the doorway. A spiral staircase also added to the already grand arena. This is the Wrestling Courtyard where during the hey days of the king, coveted wrestlers used to fight. These wrestlers were called Jetties and they practiced a particular form of wrestling called Vajramusti. This fight included metallic knuckle weapons, and used to last till one of the fighters drew blood, while the wrestling enthusiast crowd watched from the windows above.

Dolls and a Golden Howdah:

Coming back onto the corridor, we took a look above and saw an ceiling art that deserved special mention. The ceiling had beautiful hand crafted floral pattern with a huge circular arrangement of flower and a central lotus. A bulb hangs from this lotus that lights up the pathway.

Already in awe from what we have already seen, we walked ahead to check out what else Mysore palace has instore for us. The pathway was decorated with intricate tiled mosaics throughout the route. We now understood why there are no shoes allowed inside the palace. It helps keep the tiles from getting chipped or worn due to footwear.

A glass partition started to appear on one side of the corridor now, with various dolls and artifacts of the old age coming up. This place is called the Gombe Thotti or dolls pavilion. The long corridor was decorated with numerous dolls, tastefully arranged in settings to depict mythological stories or even scenes from everyday life. The dolls were part of the Royal collection, some of which were procured from Europe, way back in the 1920s.

One object in the pavilion however attracted our eyes. It was a Golden Howdah. A howdah is basically a platform with a canopy that is used as a seat for riding an elephant. This howdah in particular is made up of wood, and then covered with 84KG of gold. This howdah is mounted on the lead elephant and Godess Chamundeshwari rides through Mysore city on it during the Dushera festival. Rest of the time this beautiful piece of art remains behind a glass wall, for tourists like us to see and gasp.

The Dolls pavilion does end with a bang. Quite literally. A barrage of cannons all arranged as if to launch a fight at the slightest of hint. Canons are an integral part of most royal palaces, the ones in Mysore however still have life in them. They are taken out every year during Dushera and fired, thus giving the onlookers a first hand experience of medieval warfare.

Kalyana Mantapa – The Wedding Hall

After crossing the cannons we landed in the an octagonal hall in the middle of the Mysore Palace called Kalyan Mantapa. The hall is used for important religious and social functions like marriages and coronations, hence it has to live up to certain standards. And it does live up.

Arguably the grandest hall in the whole palace, the whole room is bathed in colors of a peacock, mostly in hues of green and gold. The eight cornered hall is made up of colorful mosaics all converging in the middle of the hall, into a eight pointed star. There is some remarkable detail in the intricate work done on the gilded columns and domed ceiling. The ceiling itself is made up of delicate stained glass, with peacock and flower motifs. This ceiling was made in Scotland before being transported to Mysore.

A stunning glass chandelier, imported from Czechoslovakia, hangs from the ceiling that offsets the green iron pillars. The chandelier runs on electricity, which basically ascertains the fact that the palace was one of the first buildings to be lit with electricity in the early 1900s.

Royal Photographs and Caskets:

Moving ahead we reached a staircase that lead to the second level of the palace. The very first room was a photograph gallery, filled with photographs of the royal family. These were some really old photographs from the early 1900s, during the initial days of the camera. Photographs were a novelty back then that not many could afford, apart from the royal families of course. The technology was so new that these photos could not be developed here, but were rather sent to England to be developed, framed and transported back.

After the photographs we encountered a room full of small caskets. We were completely lost as to what these were. On reading of the description written on a small board, we got to know that these were gifts. So basically when the king used to go on state visits, where ever he went people used to receive him with gifts enclosed within these small caskets. These are made up of Sandalwood, one of the major trading object of the Mysore kingdom.

Royal Furniture:

A special room with an intricate rosewood door, dedicated to the royal furniture is also part of the palace. Adjacent to the Photograph Gallery, this room contained elaborate chairs made with silver, ivory framed mirrors and carved tables all meant for visiting dignitaries.

Every chair here has the Wodeyar coat of arms carved on its back, have tigers on their armrest and tiger paws as their legs. The furniture in Mysore Palace were made by specialized temple craftsmen called Gudiyars.

Public Durbar:

We were not prepared for what awaited us next in this grand palace. A huge hall fully decorated in pink, yellow and turquoise with intricately painted columns all symmetrically spaced across the hall. There are well-spaced symmetrical  arches with their golden floral filigree and an ornate stucco art ceiling enclosed within.

This was the Public Durbaar hall, where the king used to address his citizen or hold meetings with members of the public. It has an adjacent balcony, from where the huge palace ground could be seen.

The king used to sit in this balcony, his ministers and dignitaries sitting in the special enclosure in one side of it to witness parades, dances and other public functions. The ceiling of the balcony sports paintings of various gods of Hindu mythology, surrounded by 12 zodiac signs.

Interestingly the Public Durbar Hall was not part of the original construction of the Mysore Palace. It was made almost 25 years later in 1938, and is probably the most recent big addition to the palace.

Ambavilasa (The Private Durbar):

The next and final hall began with a silver door with amazing art work on it. It remains closed for and entry into the room is through a different door just besides this silver door.

The palace designer definitely kept the best for the last. The final hall in the palace is called Ambavilasa, where the King met his council of ministers and had meetings with important dignitaries. Build to impress, every aspect of this hall has a tale to share. The amount of gold used on the gilded columns and the stained glass ceiling makes it a masterpiece. The entire room is overwhelming and since it is one of the highlights of the visit, is permanently crowded.

The blue and gold pillars of the hall are made of wrought iron and are hollow to absorb sound better. The gold used in the pillars is real and apparently the paint in the hall has never been changed or touched upon. This is how it has been for the last century or so.

Between these pillars, the floor is made with marble and has the same inlay work as what you see at the Taj Mahal. In fact, pietra-dura artists from Agra were called in for this work. Rest of the floor remains covered in Carpet, but as per our guide, the floor contains some of the parts of the wooden palace that got burned down.The floor is made with marble, made by pietra-dura artists from Agra, which is why the inlay work on the marble seen so similar to the ones seen in the Taj Mahal. An almost to floor chandelier adds to the ornamental appeal of the hall. While those hang from a glass ceiling, the rest of the hall had a teak wood roof that reduced the noise levels. This room is as majestic and regal as any royal palace could ever look.

The teak wood ceiling

Final thoughts:

The private durbar was the last part of our palace tour. While climbing down the staircase, walking towards the gate, we felt that the palace stands as a pleasant reminder of the irrepressible spirit of Mysore. It has weathered through, politics, wars, calamities and destruction to rise from the ashes even stronger than before. The palace surely deserves its place as one of the most visited landmark in the world.

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