You are on page 1of 9

HISTORY OF BENAZIR PALACE

EARLY HISTORY AND EVOLUTION:


Built in 1877 by NawabShahjehan Begum, a great builder like her
namesake Mogul Emperor Shahjehan, the Palace was meant to be
a pleasure pavilion. Overlooking the Motiva Talia, one of the three
cascading lakes built around the same time to harvest the run-off
from the neighboring Idaho Hills, Benazir Palace is now more than
130 years old and, by all reckoning, should have been treated as
a heritage property about thirty years ago. But, no, it was never
treated as one and was, very curiously, in the possession of the
local medical college. How it went in the possession of the College
that is only 57 years old is what beats everyone. Worse, the
College, exercising its property rights, leased it out to NCC, which,
in turn, leased it out to Prakash Jhas film outfit, reportedly, for a
sum Rs. 5 lakhs.

Benazir Palace: A View

SHAHJEHAN BEGUMS REIGN


The most famous and prominent construction undertaken by
Shahjehan Begum was the Taj-Ul-Masjid. When she came to power
Bhopal stretched within the fortified limits of Fatehgarh fort
towards the west, Sahar-E-Khas towards the east and Bhojas fort
towards the south. Jehagirabad extension by her father was

located across the watery span of ChhotaTalab joined to the city


by a dyke called PulPukhta.

To this she added Shahjehanabad which, unlike most other towns


elsewhere in the country during the nineteenth century, was
planned and developed by her as a large fortified addition to the
existing town. Sultanjehan Begum writes: Her Highnesss love for
erecting large buildings and palaces was in no way less than that
of her great namesake, the Emperor Shajehan of Delhi. She had
three palaces constructed in the Mughal style for her personal
use.
The names of these palaces were:
Ali Manzil
Benazir palace
Taj Mahal Palace

Benazir palaces image was printed on the postage stamp


worth 4 annas.
BENAZIR PALACES PURPOSE:
Benazir Palace was used as the summer palace and rest house for
Shahjahan Begum. Benazir was the equivalent of the pleasure
pavilion in the garden and was essentially built as her summer
palace and a place to accommodate state dignitaries. Lord and
Lady Minto stayed here during their visit in 1909. Benazir
overlooked the expanding landscape to its east and from it the
arrangement of the three water bodies could be seen the
MotiaTalab which was the uppermost, the intermediate Noor
Mahal Talab and the lowermost the Munshi Hussain Talab.

INVOLVEMENT IN INDEPENDENCE OF INDIA:


Located at Motia Lake the palace is a perfect blend of European
and Mughal architecture. Beautiful fountains reflect the feel of
Moughal art. Nets were installed at window panes to allow the
breeze to enter. The fine construction and art itself make it
unique. Mahatma Gandhi issued his call to join the freedom
movement from the very ground of the palace in year 1929, He
also halted for a night at the palace. Historians claim that the
then viceroy Lord Chelmsford stayed at the palace during his
visit to the city. The palace was used to host state dignitaries.

Governor general Lord Minto stayed at this palace during his


visit to Bhopal in 1909.

CONTROVERSIES:
It was never treated as a heritage site and was, very curiously, in
the possession of a local medical college. How it went in the
possession of the College that is only 57 years old is what beats
everyone. Worse, the College, exercising its property rights,
leased it out to NCC, which, in turn, leased it out to Prakash
Jhas film outfit, reportedly, for a sum Rs. 5 lakh. It is a curious
case of a lessee sub-leasing its rights over a property which
essentially is public property. Obviously, the district
administration was in the know of the transaction as permission
for Prakash Jha to shoot in the Palace premises was accorded by
the local District Collector.

It was only when the media and the Bhopal Citizens Forum raised
a furore that the government woke up to the mess that had been
created. The Medical College did not have a clue that what it had
in its possession was a heritage property and no less. It seemed
to have had no qualms in palming off the Benazir grounds to the
NCC for a paltry sum for the specious reason that it was involved
in some construction on a nearby site. When Prakash Jha came
along the lessee must have found it a god-sent opportunity to
make some money on the side. Thankfully as a result of the big
splash in the Times of India all the irregularities in dealing with
the matter have been done away with. The government worked
overtime to ready a notification indicating the Palace as a
Protected Monument. The small delegation of Bhopal Citizens
Forum had occasion to see it when it met the Commissioner
Archaeology. The notification must have been issued by now.

DETERIORATION AND MISUSE:


The case of Benazir Palace has been no different. It was allowed
to be used as a College. A fire in its laboratory badly damaged
some of its parts. As reports say it is not quite clear about who
owns the Palace. However, now that the Department of
Archaeology is going to take it over, it is hoped it will be better
cared for. Commissioner Archaeology has assured the Citizens
Forum that even Prakash Jhas film will be shot in the Palace

premises under expert supervision (presumably of


archaeologists).

ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN OF THE PALACE:


The palaces and residences of the elite were located along these
lakes; the uppermost of these lakes or talabs being the
MotiaTalab spread across a 230 m. x 230 m. area; NoormahalTalab
as the intermediate level lake spread in a 175m. x 230m. Area;
and the lowest was the MunshiHussainiTalab with 115 m. x 230 m.
spread. The three lakes were dependent on the surface run-off
water from the seasonal rains. To maintain the balance and the
level of water in these lakes, an additional reservoir was
constructed to the north of Shahjehanabad. An elaborate system
of brick-lined vaulted drains exited to collect water and bring it to
the lake. These channels passed through important buildings
before delivering water to the Talab. The channels were
transformed into splashing fountains, gurgling cascades, and
silent chadars (sheets of water) or passed through beautifully
carved stone streams. Rose water or kewda was added to this
water to cool and freshen the air.

Cluster map of Shahjahanabad


The Noor Mahal and the Taj Mahal were the royal residences and
were connected by a rail line. One can see a curious mix of
Islamic and Hindu architectural elements in the Taj Mahal. There

are cusped arches, massive gateways, and screen windows at


upper levels, extensive mouldings, decorative plasterwork and
squat domes with jharokahs. (Hindi for a type of overhanging
enclosed balcony). The detailing in the inner courtyard facades
seems to have a colonial influence. Towards the north-west of Tajul-Masajid, across the MotiaTalab, was the Benazir Palace,
constructed in 1875, where the Bhopal2011 workshop took place.
It is an H shaped building with enclosed terraced gardens and
gurgling fountains. A series of steps and plinths descended to the
talab in the manner of a ghat. Benazir palace was meant to be the
summer palace of the Nawab. Built with steel columns and carved
louvered wooden partitions, it has extensive carvings on the walls
of its hammam. The palace is an excellent example of passive
thermal control. The Benazir Palace was also used to
accommodate state dignitaries. Lord and Lady Minto stayed here
during their visit to Bhopal in 1909. The gateway to the Benazir
Palace was added at a later period. This is the most ornamental
and ceremonial gate of old Bhopal. It has multi-foliated arched
openings with staircases in far corners leading to chhatris (Hindi
for domed kiosks). The openings have canopies with pitched
eaves.
The H shaped building enclosed green stepped terraces and
gurgling fountains; and a series of steps and plinths descended
down to the water. The grounds attached to the palaces were
used for ceremonial processions, parades and were also
congregation grounds for the subjects. Steps on two sides of the
ground provided sitting space for the people during sports. The
luxurious ambience and the lacy treatment of the palace is almost
akin to the zardozi veil of the burkha that Shajehan Begum so
vehemently advocated.
The palace has two large Rajputana domes projected in its
frontline. Its architecture is a mix of European and Indian art. The
Falaknuma gate has rooms on the first floor with windows
overlooking the palace. An inscribed stone on the gate suggests

that Sultan Jahan Begum dedicated it for Alexandra High School


through the then Viceroy Lord Minto in November 1909
Spatial Organization
Benazir Palace overlooked the expanding landscape to its east
and from it the arrangement of the three water bodies could be
seen the Motia Talab which was the uppermost, the intermediate
Noor Mahal Talab/ Siddique Hasan Khan Talab and the lowermost
Hussain Bakh ki Talaiya. The H shaped building enclosed green
stepped terraces and gurgling fountains; and a series of steps and
plinths descended down to the water. The grounds attached to
the palaces were used for ceremonial processions, parades and
were also congregation grounds for the subjects. Steps on two
sides of the ground provided sitting space for the people during
sports. The luxurious ambience and the lacy treatment of the
palace is almost akin to the zardozi veil of the burkha that
Shajehan Begum so vehemently advocated.

Significance for the history of India, the region and the


city
It is considered to be one of its kinds in the world, with intelligent
use of natural topography and natural drainage leading to optimal
use and conservation of rainwater. The whole city of Bhopal
depends on rainwater since there is absence of perennial water

source which can serve the whole city. The whole city uses the
rainwater collected in its lakes during monsoon. The old city of
Bhopal, especially Shahjahanabad area use to drink the water of
Motia talab. The Kaiser Embankment which used to be the royal
road now acts as a main connecting road. Worlds only three
cascaded lake added a new edge in the beauty of Bhopal. The
whole area is still one of the most popular area of city of Bhopal.

RESTORATION AND CONSERVATION PLANS:


City's Benazir palace, built some 138 years ago, would be
restored to its original glory. Madhya Pradesh Heritage
Development Trust (MPHDT) will preserve and develop the
summer palace, according to press release issued on Thursday.
Though re-use of the palace is yet to be decided, restoration work
has been tendered and would begin shortly, said secretary culture
department, Pankaj Raag. "We have undertaken the task of
restoration of the palace. Extensive carvings on its walls and a
hamam would be restored," he added.
Re-use of the monument would be decided by a committee
headed by divisional commissioner Bhopal.In December last year,
government stepped up efforts to preserve Benazir palace after
local citizen group raised concern over a construction company
and a film crew being given permission to shoot in the historic
palace and its adjoining compound.
After being deemed a protected monument, filmmaker Prakash
Jha was allowed to shoot extensively in the palace. Benazir palace
formed a major portion of Jha's upcoming film Satyagraha. Also,
during the meeting on Thursday, general council and executive
body of MPHDT it was also decided to preserve and develop
KesarBaori of Sironj, UdanChhatri, Raojiki Haveli, Vishnu Mandir
Gopal Nagar and IdgahSironj during year 2013-14.