The City Palace museum in Udaipur, India is reporting that 2016 saw a million visitors pass through its 450-year-old gates for the first time, with Britons forming one of the largest groups of overseas visitors.
The spectacular 200,000 sq ft museum is rated as one of the world’s most significant heritage sites and is one of the finest examples of the living heritage of India. Sitting on the banks of Lake Pichola, the museum houses exceptional collections of paintings, photography, silver, armoury, textiles, besides vintage cars and crystal.
The City Palace Museum, which is still owned and curated by the former royal family of Mewar, said visitor numbers had also doubled in the last ten years with consistently high numbers of heritage tourists from the UK as well as Europe, Australia and North America. Domestic tourists made up the largest number of visitors.
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur is the 76th Custodian of the House of Mewar and the Chairman and Managing Trustee of Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation (MMCF) and has managed the Museum since 1969. He said the growth in popularity is the result of a careful campaign of curation of the priceless 1400-year heritage of the former Princely State of Mewar.
“Visitors are coming for an authentic heritage experience, that is the key to understanding our present success and future plans,” he said. “My family has for centuries seen it as our moral responsibility to serve the people of Udaipur and preserve their heritage and create sustainable income for our city. It has not been easy.”
“We recognised after Independence in 1947 we would have to find new ways to support our city and heritage tourism was the route chosen by my father, High late Highness Maharana Bhagwat Singh. Udaipur is now one of the prime tourism cities in India and the magnet for visitors remains the City Palace Museum as these new figures show.
Shriji said the challenge is to keep improving the museum to global standards while staying true to his family’s ancient values of selfless service to the people of Mewar and Rajasthan.
“We are custodians of our heritage, the living heritage of Mewar,” he said. “We have always put the interests of the people before ourselves. It is the reason why we are attracting huge number of visitors. We have continuously reinvested our resources into revitalizing the museum.”
The City Palace Museum is collaborating with some of the leading global and Indian heritage agencies to maintain and improve itself including The Getty Foundation, USA, Oxford University’s eResearch centre the Domaine national de Chambord, the Ministry of Culture of the Government of India and UNESCO’s India Office. Investment in information technology, the services of professional consultants and heritage management experts have also given the museum its distinctive growth trajectory.
MMCF CEO Vrinda Raje Singh said the big push in 2017 will be to raise awareness of the City Palace Museum with cultural tourists in Europe and America.
Udaipur, also known as the “Venice of the East” and was voted the world’s best city for travellers in 2009 in an online poll by Travel + Leisure magazine.
The City Palace has hosted the World Living Heritage Festival thrice since 2012. Instituted by MMCF and jointly organized with UNESCO India Office, the Festival explores the concept of ‘living heritage’ to support the development of heritage-cities like Udaipur covering the natural environment, historical spaces, traditional skills and knowledge of its people.
Galleries within the City Palace include:
- Bhagwat Prakash Gallery: Mewar Miniature Painting Exhibition – The museum holds a unique collection of more than 200 Mewar court paintings that depict the art, architecture and culture of Mewar from 18th century to the early 20th century.
- Fateh Niwas Gallery: Long Exposure – The Camera at Udaipur 1857–1957 – The museum’s photographic gallery has a collection of 30,000 photographs and glass negatives dating from late 19th to the early 20th century.
- Amar Mahal Gallery: Splendour of Silver – Reflecting the Finest of Silversmithy, home to a fascinating collection of silverware.
The gallery contains everything from utilitarian silver pots used to store and cook food, through to religious vessels, incense holders and items of jewellery. The gallery includes a 1939 custom-made silver buggy manufactured in Birmingham, UK part of the current monarch’s late mother Rani Shilakumariji’s dowry.
- Saraswati Vilas Gallery: Symphony of Mewar – A Royal Collection of Musical Instruments – A collection of musical instruments are on public display within the museum. All belonged to members of the Mewar Family and some are more than 100 years old.
- Som Niwas Gallery: Divine Gesture – The Magnificence of Mewar Spirituality – The City Palace Museum’s sculpture gallery is home to some of the oldest pieces within the entire collection. There are more than 300 sculptures in total, some of which date back to the 6th century.
- Salehkhana Gallery: Arms and Armoury Exhibition – The museum’s armoury is home to a fascinating collection of weapons and armour. Ammunition, pistols and rifles.
About Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation (MMCF)
‘Eternal Mewar’ was conceptualized in 2006 to provide an expression to the vision of the House of Mewar. Eternal Mewar, underlined with the words ‘Custodianship Unbroken Since 734 AD’, expresses, embodies and encompasses the core values, principles and legacy of the House. It covers all initiatives of the House of Mewar, which as an institution is bridging a historic past with a volatile, uncertain future in the 21st century. Today, in the age of globalization, Eternal Mewar is no longer just an established heritage brand but essentially a vibrant catalyst which continues to sustain the living heritage of Mewar and the civilizational ethos of India. The City Palace at Udaipur is a rare and exemplary living cultural heritage under Eternal Mewar.
House of Mewar, Udaipur background
- The House of Mewar is the oldest-serving dynasty in the world dating back to 734 CE.
In the 20th century, the House made one of the most successful transitions in modern India: from a Royal House to one that has clearly defined commercial and non-commercial enterprises, comprehensively preserving the its values, legacies and heritage under the laws of India’s democratic republic.
- Spiritual precepts of the House of Mewar: Bappa Rawal is the founder of the dynasty’s supremacy. Bappa recognized Parmeshwaraji Maharaj Shree Eklingnath ji, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, as the Supreme Lord of Mewar. He received the State of Mewar in trust from his guru, Harit Rashi. He thus set a tradition of pious humility and the concept of Custodianship or trusteeship as a form of governance begins with him. In April 1955, Maharana Bhupal Singh created the Shri Eklingji Trust to institutionalise the management of this ancient religious establishment.
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar as the 76th Custodian of the House has demonstrated his commitment, upholding the spiritual precepts as the living heritage of the House. The ambit of the Shri Eklingji Trust has grown and the Temple is now one of the most important pilgrimages of Rajasthan. In honour of Maharishi Harit Rashi, an annual award has been instituted for scholars of Vedic culture and ancient learning by the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation since 1980-81.
- On account of its illustrious history and adherence to values, Mewar was considered the foremost amongst all Princely States of India.Mewar was neither the richest nor the largest of the 565 Princely States of India. In terms of sheer wealth and power, Hyderabad, Mysore, Gwalior, Bikaner and Kashmir were far greater. Yet Mewar was acknowledged as the ‘most respected’ among all Princely States. The respect for Mewar, over the centuries, was the respect for the values and principles it stood for: Honour, independence, self-reliance and a respect for Mankind. The values go back to Vedic times: these are not ‘Indian’ values, as we understand the word ‘Indian’ today. These are ancient values and principles.
At the time of India’s Independence in 1947, the State of Mewar was the first to amalgamate with the Indian Union. Maharana Bhupal Singh, the Maharana of Mewar in 1947 said, “India’s Independence brings to fulfillment the 1400 years’ struggle and endeavour of my forefathers.”
While the accession to India, Mewar ceased to exist as a sovereign State. Its economy, polity, administration, judiciary, lands and resources were now merged with, or handed over to, the Government of India. Members of the former Royal families were now citizens of the free democratic Republic of India.
- In the mid-15th century CE, Rana Kumbha (r. 1433-1468 AD) emerged as a Renaissance figure whose Vedic knowledge and military leadership took Mewar to unparalleled heights. He was proficient in the arts, a scholar of scriptures and a man of letters.
Kumbha is credited with building 32 fortresses including Kumbhalgarh Fort now a World Heritage Site included in Hill Forts of Rajasthan. Kumbhalgarh Fort has an unbroken wall, 36 km long and is called the Great Wall of India, second only to the Great Wall of China. It is a major tourist spot, just 3 hours’ drive from Udaipur.
In honour of Rana Kumbha, an annual award has been instituted for scholars of history and literature by the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation since 1980-81.
Maharana Kumbha Sangeet Kala Trust, established in 1984 and developed by Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, promotes and encourages Indian classical music, dances, arts, drama, and other activities of cultural importance as part of the living heritage of Mewar.http://www.eternalmewar.in/collaboration/charities/trusts/mkskt/index.aspx
- Maharana Pratap (r. 1572-1597 AD) is one of India’s iconic historical figures. He fought for the independence of Mewar against the might of the Mughal Empire and Emperor Akbar. His determination, self-sacrifice and military strategy puts him in a pantheon of mythical, legendary heroes. Four hundred years after his death, Rana Pratap’s life and deeds are recounted in folk stories, songs, popular films and television serials besides works of history and literature.
In popular lexicon, Rana Pratap’s name has become a pre-fix to the words: honour, valour, bravery, sacrifice and freedom. The closest equivalent would be Mahatma Gandhi of the 20th century.
In Udaipur today, the international airport, railway station and bus station are named after Maharana Pratap. In 2009, at Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar’s behest the President of India Smt Pratibha Patil unveiled a 15-foot high statue of Rana Pratap at the airport complex. It is probably the biggest statue of the Rana in India today.
- The future King Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, visited Udaipur in 1875. The Prince was given a dazzling sarpech (turban ornament) made of three large emeralds and bordered by bands of bright red enamel and diamonds by Maharana Sajjan Singh (r. 1874-1884) and will appear in the Royal Collection exhibition ‘Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875–76’ being held later in 2017 in Bradford and Leicester. See:https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/11286/turban-ornament
- Maharana Fateh Singh(r. 1884-1930) considered King George V ‘an equal at best’. The story most often recounted is that of the Maharana who ‘refused’ to be a part of the Delhi Durbar of 1903 and 1911. In his own quiet and unassuming way, he made the British realize that Mewar could not, and would not, be equated with any of the other ‘subservient’ Princely States. He knew how to make his point of independence and honour without creating a conflict or controversy.
Maharana Fateh Singhji remains an inspiration for all Rajputs till date.
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, his great-grandson, recounted this story during several events in 2011, commemorating the 100 years of Delhi Durbar of 1911. It struck a chord with many 21st century Indians and foreigners who realized what a demonstration it was of Mewar’s inherent strength and sense of nationalism. In every way, he was an honourable Custodian, upholding the flame of freedom just as his forefathers had done. “For me, Maharana Fateh Singhji remains a quintessential up-holder of India’s dignity and autonomy,” said Shriji.
- Udaipur was visited during Prince of Wales 1921 tourwith the future King Edward VIII saying: “There is nothing between Madras and the Northern Passes like Udaipur.”
- Udaipur and the House of Mewar have played host to royal guests and celebrities from all over the world. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1961, Lord and Lady Mountbatten of Burma in 1963, the Duchess and Duke of Kent in 1984have enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the Maharanas of Udaipur. http://www.britishpathe.com/
Jacqueline Kennedy’s visit in 1962 is being recalled in the global press even today. http://www.britishpathe.com/
The historian Brian Master recounted in his book, Maharana, “Queen Elizabeth II was received as a guest at Shivniwas by Maharana Bhagwat Singh. When he naturally offered the Queen precedence, she demurred, saying ‘Please lead the way. You come from a much older family than I do!’”
- The City Palace and Udaipur were the setting for the James Bond film Octopussy in 1983.
Maharana Bhagwat Singh took the lead in inviting the famous producers Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson to Udaipur, the Lake Palace Hotel and threw open the doors of the new hotel, Shiv Niwas Palace, ahead of time to house the stars. The Indian press recognised the huge multiplier effect which the Bond film was having in Udaipur and Rajasthan.
http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/octopussy-james-bond-comes-to-udaipur/1/392211.html Till date, 33 years after Octopussy release, the film is screened, talked about and often marketed by restaurants claiming ‘the best Octopussy show in town’.
- The Durbar Hall, built during the reign of Maharana Fateh Singhji in 1909-10, was called ‘Minto Durbar Hall’, to honour the visit of Lord Minto, the Viceroy of India. It took 22 years for The Durbar Hall to be completed, it’s an engineering marvel of its times. Today, it’s a glittering exclusive venue for corporate events and celebrations, an integral part of the Fateh Prakash Palace Convention Centre.
- Crystal Galleryis housed in Fateh Prakash Palace. It is the single largest, private collection of crystal anywhere in the world. In 1877, Maharana Sajjan Singh ordered the crystal from the Birmingham-based F & C Osler Company, including objets d’art, furniture, washing bowls, dinner sets, perfume bottles; the Crystal Gallery also houses the only crystal bed in the world. The crystal collection, carrying the crest of the House of Mewar, lay unpacked in cartons for almost 60 years before the present Custodian, Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar curated and developed the Crystal Gallery.
Udaipur’s climate: Mild summers (30 degrees C to 40 degrees C); mild winters (11 degrees C to 28 degrees C). Clothing required: Light tropical in summer, carry hats and anti-sun lotions; Light woolen in winter. Accessories: Come armed with cameras and shoot to heart’s content in photographers’ paradise. Languages spoken: English, Hindi, Mewari. Best time to be there: September to April.