Lost Grandeur – Quila Mubarak

The '' jewel '', if it can be called that, cannot be viewed from a distance. Congested lanes lead to it and it is partly obscured by the shops built alongside its walls . Passing through the lanes leading to the Quila, you have to strain your neck to view its ramparts. The grandeur of the outer gate also cannot be enjoyed as you can hardly take in the full view from the narrow road in front of the fort.

However, as you enter the courtyard it takes your breath away. Right in the front is the main gate to Quila Androon which housed the residential quarters. To the left is the ''Ranwas'' building made in 1847 by Maharaja Narinder Singh. It was essentially used for banquets and marriages. To the right is the Darbar Hall which has now been converted into a museum. There is a Sard Khana done up in British style further to the right, besides other structures.

As one enters Quila Androon, there is the gaddi of Baba Ala Singh who founded the Phulkian dynasty and laid the foundation of the fort in1763. It has a portrait of Baba Ala and the Granth Sahib has also been placed there. In the front there is a massive mirror and you have to take a sharp left turn to reach the courtyard after passing through two doorways. The courtyard was cleaned and restored during restoration work done in 1995 – 96. The flooring has been designed geometrically with small lahori bricks.

Quila Androon is divided into nine big and small courtyards, each one of which is well defined as a separate palace but is interconnected with the others by common galleries. Six courtyards have water tanks with fountains, while the main courtyard has a series of floral fountains covering practically the entire area. The entry gates to these palaces have traditional names like Moti Mahal and Hira Mahal. The entry gates to two of the mahals have ivory work done on them.

The inner side of the thick walls of the fort shows the use of clay and burnt brick. The outer walls are plastered with lime and painted all over in floral and animal motifs. These eye-catching designs as well as the rich variety of miniature paintings in various chambers of the quila have been done by Rajasthani karigars. The painted motifs all along the inner wall which are seen only in parts now due to the repeated coats of paint on them speak of the festive spirit created by Sikh rulers.

The quila was built in phases. Its construction started after 1762 when Baba Ala , a descendent of Phul by whose name the states of Patiala and Jind came to be known as the Phulkian states, was recognised as a " Raja" by Ahmed Shah Abdali, the ruler of Kabul. After Abdali's seventh invasion in 1763 there followed a two-year period of peace during which Baba Ala established a stronghold over Patiala. Baba Ala laid the foundation stone of the fort in 1763. He, however, died shortly afterwards in 1765 and was succeeded by his grandson Raja Amar Singh .

Maharaja Sahib Singh succeeded Amar Singh in 1783, and he too added structures to the fort. With the rise of power of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the last years of the century, Patiala and the other Sutlej states sought British Notation, which was accorded in 1808. Maharaja Karam Singh ruled in relative peace from 1813 till 1845 during which massive construction was carried out in the fort. The next ruler, Maharaja Narinder Singh, got the Darbar Hall constructed in 1859, with Maharaja Mohinder Singh also adding structures to the fort. After Maharaja Rajinder Singh shifted his residence out of Quila Mubarak to the Baradari Gardens, the fort became the abode of old ladies of the house .

Among the structures constructed later is the Sard Khana built by Maharaja Mohinder Singh who had been brought up under European influence. Due to this the Sard Khana has arches, wooden floors and marble fireplaces. The earliest construction in the Sard Khana using wood, lime and burnished brick has survived to this day while the parts constructed with cement and brick have collapsed. Today the Sard Khana, which was used for the stay of Europeans, is in a dilapidated shape as the roof of its drawing- room has caved in. All that is left is a magnificent fireplace which stands out in pristine white amidst the ruins.

Other places of interest include the bagichi with its Persian landscape. It has water cascades, pathways, fountains and lawns. The fort has a unique lavatory system with the night soil going down to the ground floor from holes made at separate floors. There were separate galleries for servants so that they did not mix with the royalty, separate jails for queens and criminals and one of the t unique features is a ' flame ' which has been burning for the last 300 years. Kiladar Jagjit Singh said the flame, on the third floor, was placed on a solid brick platform touching the ground floor. It is believed that Patiala would be destroyed if the flame stops burning. Jagjit said guards changed duty every four hours at the site to ensure this did not happen.

Another interesting palace in Quila Androon which has a striking western influence is the one which was made for Florence, the English wife of Maharaja Rajinder Singh. The building with Gothic arches has partly crumbled but it still stands out majestically. It was the only building in the quila which had running water, bathrooms and false flooring. It is probably also the only building bereft of paintings.

The rest of the quila is adorned by paintings done by artisans who flocked here and to other principalities after the decline of the Mughal dynasty. These works of art are concentrated in the Main Chamber, Moti Mahal and in the uppert storey of Quila Androon. The paintings mainly depict Krishan leela and Rajasthani folklore. There are Sikh religious paintings and Muslim motifs as well. At t places the paintings are alt in a state of ruin, except for those preserved in a few masnads. It is heart-rending to see the way in which the Krishan leela paintings on the king's courtyard wall have been destroyed in the last few years. The two ante chambers built on both sides of the main room seem beyond repair .

The National Research Laboratory for Chemical Conservation (NRLCC), Lucknow, has preserved about half of one of the chambers in the quila. Though the work is negligible compared to what is needed to be done, the beauty it has uncovered is mind-boggling. The originality of colours and intricacy of brush strokes have been laid bare for the connoisseur. Experts from the NRLCC, however, have not been coming to the quila for the past two years as they have reportedly not been feeling welcomed. Although a chemical conservation laboratory is housed in the quila complex, it has not done anything to restore the paintings.

Experts say that it will take a few score years to complete the amount of restoration work needed to save the paintings in various chambers. This means that it is vital to have the state's own trained chemical conservationists and artists. Additional Deputy Commissioner, Patiala, RSRandhawa , who oversaw the restoration work in the quila in 1994 -95, said this was t important as not much headway can be made if only the NRLCC experts were employed to work on the paintings .

Randhawa said other things which demanded attention were the removal of vegetation from the quila compound, treatment of decaying wooden batons, water-proofing of the entire structure, mapping, chemical analysis of the building as well as its strength analysis. He said the conservation laboratory that existed in the compound had failed to check the growth of vegetation. He said the 250-year-old wooden batons had lost their oil content and had to be treated chemically.

Quila Mubarak fits into the criteria for selection of world heritage sites and could be projected as such to get funds from international sources . However, an attempt to do so failed. The move to collect funds for its restoration and making it a heritage site picked up momentum in 1995 when a scheme was mooted to hold the Patiala Heritage Festival in 1996, which while concentrating on Quila Mubarak would have brought Patiala on the international tourism map. However, after the establishment of the Akali – BJP government in the state in 1997, the festival ran into rough weather and the scheme was finally abandoned.

At present no restoration work is going on in the Quila Mubarak complex . The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had stepped in around eight months back to restore the roof of the Ranwas complex after a part of it had caved in. The Punjab government however did not pay the ASI Rs 42 lakh demanded by it to restore the complex. The ASI started work after it was paid a few lakhs but it stopped work after the funds were exhausted.

The Department of Cultural Affairs has spruced up the Darbar Hall and is re-fixing the chandeliers which had been dismantled to strengthen the roof. It is believed that the chandeliers were bought from a shop in Calcutta by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh. While the department is putting up the chandeliers, thousands of weapons, including guns, swords and shields are rusting in several stores in the quila complex . People feel the weapons could be displayed in Quila Androon and at other places in the city.

Quila Mubarak evokes images of the past. The work put in by artists, artisans and craftsmen guided by their enthusiastic patrons, the rulers of the time, is a unique blend of the region's composite culture. Its restoration is a challenge for the present generation and a gift to the future ones.

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