For a city that officially came into existence during the 17th century A.D. and was the first major modern city in the country, presence of a large number of heritage monuments is no revelation. From historic Fort St. George to the church atop St. Thomas Mount, the city is full of buildings proclaiming antiquity and heritage.
|The main hallway at Amir Mahal in Royapettah|
But, very few such buildings can match the grandeur and the regal past of the Amir Mahal located at the western end of Pycroft’s Road in Royapettah. Like so many other citizens of this aged city, this reporter too had until recently only read about the Amir Mahal and gaped at the tall, imposing brick walls and its large wrought iron gates until recently. The snooty watchmen who guard the entrance to this palace only enhanced its mystery.
Situated right in the middle of one of the most impoverished, congested neighbourhoods in the city near the smelly Mesapet Market is a palace whose sheer grandeur can put to shame any present day film set depicting the Mughal era. The palace still exudes the splendor of the Mughal Empire and a Nawabi lifestyle in this age of skyscrapers.
|Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali in the Durbar Hall at Amir Mahal|
The grandeur of the Amir Mahal continues to be kept alive by its tasteful settings. The main building hall has witness boxes from the Mughal period and palanquins that recreate the old world charm while the antique chandeliers, upholstered furniture made of Burma teak, and the plush carpeted floor provide an added impact to this royal elegance.
The glittering Durbar Hall and the huge Banquet Hall behind it in the first floor of the palace has played host to several prominent personalities in the country including the first president of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, former president R. Venkataraman to various religious heads such as Jayendra Saraswathi of the Kanchi Mutt.
Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali Azim Jah, the present Prince of Arcot, says that the royal family of the Arcot House used to live in the Chepauk Palace known as ‘Kalas Mahal’ which was taken over by the British Government in accordance with the Doctrine of Lapse, after the last Nawab of the Carnatic Ghulam Ghouse Khan died without a male heir. The royal family later moved to the palace during the year 1876 and it has been the home of the Prince of Arcot since then.
Ironically, the Amir Mahal was not built by the Nawabs of Carnatic. According to historians, the sprawling palace was built by the British in 1798 and was even used as the Royapettah Police Court between 1872 and 1875. It is one of the few remaining buildings that were built in the Indo-Saracenic architecture in the country.
|Canons lined up at the entrance to the palace|
So how would it feel to live in a palace in this day and age? Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali says that it was just a regular household. “I did my primary schooling at the Church Park Convent and later on moved to the Madras Christian College. I bunked classes like everyone else and brought friends home to play with them,” he says. The Nawab lives at Amir Mahal with his two sons, grand children and their servants.