The Hidden Palace Where Secrets Sleep - The New Indian Express

The Hidden Palace Where Secrets Sleep

Published: 13th April 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 14th April 2014 03:54 PM

The mountains and the rivers vanish almost abruptly as if by the mischief of a mirage. It is almost midday in Shivamogga, Karnataka, and almost the entire town seems to be out on the roads. Wading through the cacophonic clutter, a detour appears from nowhere as if a magus had just winked, leading us down a path somnolent with history, towards a serendipitous discovery—a 16th century Shivappa Nayak Palace asleep right in the heart of the city.

Parakeets sound alamed at our entry. A colony of bats upside down in the foliage seems annoyed at the disturbance. The caretaker is out for lunch and there is nobody around. Amid ancient trees and green lawns stands a petite wooden house. It is exquisitely designed, carved in rosewood and decorated with figurines. Mangalore tiles cover its sloping roofs. A huge bell rests on the ground; its days of tolling are done.The open courtyard supported by wooden pillars seems inviting. I climb up the two narrow staircases that lead to the durbar hall; an open balcony flanked by rooms. Standing there, I take in the vast expanse of space in front of me. The lawns are a veritable art gallery, populated with old sculptures in repose. It barely seems like a palace, yet the royal touch lingers like a nostalgic ghost.

The caretaker arrives and beams to find tourists visiting this lost piece of heritage. He tells us the story of the palace, which changed several hands from the Nayaks to the British over 500 years. He speaks of the time the Vijaynagar Empire was on the decline and the Keladi Nayaks ruled as chieftains. The original palace was apparently built by Hiriya Venkatappa Nayak of the Keladi Dynasty in the 16th century. The Nayaks revolted and won the battle after which they built the palace and a fort. Their victory was short-lived as Adil Shah of the Bijapur Sultanate destroyed the buildings after another bitter battle. The formidable Shivappa Nayak rebuilt the eponymous palace, but the story does not end here.

The palace is a repository of secrets. According to legend, the Maratha ruler, Rajaram, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s son, hid here after Aurangazeb pursued him in the 16th century, when Rani Chennamma was queen. Rajaram, along with his aides, entered her court dressed as monks and sought sanctuary. Chennamma hid him for a few days against the advice of her officials, until he moved on. Aurangazeb, infuriated at the Maratha’s escape, sent his army to defeat the queen, but in the battle that followed, the Mughals were defeated, forcing them to sign a treaty with the Nayaks.

History is full of inescapable irony; the magnificent palace with its tumultuous royal heritage was turned into a sawmill by the British and was later abandoned, leaving it to the ASI to restore it after Independence. Today, it is a hidden jewel, having disappeared from both historical and tourist maps. Standing on its expansive lawns where once royalty walked, and the blood of slain soldiers moistened the earth, I listen to the call of the parakeets whi

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