Umaid Bhawan Palace, located at Jodhpur in Rajasthan, India, is one of the world's largest private residences. A part of the palace is managed by Taj Hotels. Named after Maharaja Umaid Singh, grandfather of the present Maharaja of Jodhpur, this monument has 347 rooms and serves as the principal residence of the Jodhpur royal family.
Umaid Bhawan Palace was called Chittar Palace during its construction due to its location on Chittar Hill, the highest point in Jodhpur. Ground for the foundations of the building was broken on 18 November 1929 by Maharaja Umaid Singh and was construction work was completed on 1943.
Built on the Chittar Hill in southeastern area of the Jodhpur, construction employed more than 5000 men for fifteen years. The building does not use mortar or cement to bind stones together; all of its pieces are carved stones joined together by a system of carved interlocking of positive and negative pieces. A specially constructed train line was used to transport these large blocks of stone. Umaid Bhavan is designed in such a manner that it always maintains the temperature at approximately 23 degrees Celsius.
The palace grounds cover 26 acres (10.5 ha), out of which the constructed area covers 3.5 acres (1.4 ha) while 15 acres (6.1 ha) are devoted to the lawns.
Designed by renowned Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester, the palace is a blend of eastern and western architectural influences. The building's prominent central dome, a majestic high cupola, is influenced by the Renaissance, while the towers draw inspiration from Rajput tradition. The project was to cost the Maharaja Rs 94,51,565. The resident engineer for this project was Hiranand U. Bhatia. The interiors for the palace were designed by Maples of London, however, in 1942 the ship transporting them was sunk by the Germans. As a result, the Maharaja employed the services of a Polish interior designer. The lavish interiors with gilt furniture and elegant artwork follow the Art Deco style, complemented by the exotic murals of the self-exiled Polish artist Stefan Norblin. The new Chittar Palace was a fitting tribute to its ancestor, the imposing and majestic Meherangarh Fort, which was built by Rao Jodha and never invested by force of arms.
Meherangarh was the soul of the Rathore clan that would never change. But tireless builders that they were, Rao Jodha's original masterpiece had been altered repeatedly. And some of the alterations were in the powerful Moghul style that dominated much of the country's landscape. Its scalloped arches, domes, floral carvings, botanical paintings, water courses etc. Umaid Singh's Chittar Palace, on the other hand, brought back the Rajput tradition.
The majesty of the palace was only to be expected. It was, after all, built by a blood line that likely went back all the way to the Rashtrakutas, the Kshatriya kings responsible for creating one of the oldest Hindu architectural traditions in India with the incredible Kailasanatha temple, the most intricate and awesome Hindu temple strewn from living rock.
Umaid Singh grew up on the cusp of a world in transition. The East India Company (aka the John Company) had been humbled by the great uprising in the Indian sepoy troops. The rebellion ushered in the British Imperialist era, and since the Rajputs remained loyal to the John Company, the British aristocracy grudgingly welcomed the princely states into their club. Umaid Singh, already integrated into the traditions of the past, was educated in one of the Princes' Colleges in the tradition of Eton, Rugby, Winchester and the other great British public schools of the time. He, like most of his clan at the time, was educated to be sophisticated, worldly and competitive. At the tender age of sixteen, he was pushed unexpectedly into the role of a Maharaja. Five years later, he gained full monarchical powers. The British and his regent, Sir Pratap Singh, used those intervening years to open the monarch's eyes to the possibilities that order and bureaucracy held for Marwar.
The lead project that would usher Jodhpur into the twentieth century was to be the new palace. It had to be large enough, grand enough, breathtaking enough to deserve taking the place of Meherangarh Fort as the symbol of Jodhpur. In 1924, the Maharaja met with Henry Vaughn Lanchester. He had spent decades travelling the world as architect and town planner, and was no stranger to the traditions of Hindu architecture. While discussing his vision for the palace, Lanchester outlined his strong stand against the Moghul aesthetic, arguing that the States of Rajasthan came under Moslem domination only to a limited extent, and their traditions very rarely made use of Mughal features. Umaid Singh knew he had found his man.
Determined to incorporate the traditions and unique world view of the land in his concept, Lanchester went eons back to the Hindu mountain temples for his inspiration behind Umaid Bhawan Palace. Umaid Singh knew immediately it would be a fitting tribute to his ancestors. But it is by no means a new antique. Umaid Singh was free of the archaic nineteenth-century lifestyle and in love with progress. While his palace may have been inspired by tradition, it was, at the insistence of the forward-thinking monarch, built on the cutting edge of progress.
The eclectic blend of art deco and millennia-old Hindu architectural traditions is still a powerful symbol of the Rathore clan's identity. While Meherangarh was, in the words of Kipling, “the work of Angels, Fairies and Giants”, Umaid Bhawan is, in the words of an anonymous poet, “a majestic, handsome warrior, his arms spread wide for a loving embrace.”