Monday, 23 April 2012

Durbar Mahal, Bahawalpur Pakistan

Durbar Mahal, originally known as Mubarak Mahal after the real name of Ameer Muhammad Bahawal Khan V; was purpose-built to accommodate the central offices of the state. Later, when Ameer Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi-V introduced a democratic system in the state in 1947, the palace was used to house ministers' offices and conduct state assembly sessions. Thereon, it became known as the Durbar Mahal.

Square in plan and symmetrical in design, the palace stands on a four-foot-high platform. It is a double-storey building constructed of burnt brick set with mud mortar. The point-load structure of the palace is enclosed by an arcade decorated with multi-foil arched openings and blind multi-foil arches, and supported by octagonal spaces that measure 15.10 x 15.10 feet at each corner. The palace has four main entrances built on massive platforms with double-return stairs that lead through to the central octagonal transit hall that measures 35 x 35 feet. Two spiral staircases lead to the first floor, and there are two U-turn staircases just near the entrances on either side. Each corner of the Palace is enclosed by two vestibules containing rooms for official use. The ground-floor plan is identical to the first-floor plan. The roof of the central hall is at the second level.

The facade at plinth level starts with a moulded base putty, rectangular stone panels dressed vertically, and a dasa[1] (impost) at the top, all in red sandstone—distinctly Mughal influence. Each corner has a two-storey turret and blind arches on every side at ground level and on the first floor below the palace's chhajja[2] (eave). Its third storey has five arched openings and two blinds carved in relief just below the chhajja. The fluted domes on top of each corner have horizontal louvers, lined by sculpted anthemions and bearing an inverted lotus with pinnacles. In addition to this, a series of acroterium runs along the edge of the parapets. The parapet wall, which is very high, is set with slanting, red sandstone slabs among the rectangular brick vertical posts. The top of the parapet is set with white, fluted goblets. The turrets at the top of the four corners are designed in Sikh style.

The entire roof of the palace is trabeated[3], apart from the dome of the bastion at its top, which is vaulted. The central corridors on the first floor are roofed with wire gauze to let natural light in, and holes for ventilation. The building's doors, windows, and ventilation ducts are made of diyar wood with trefoil arches at the top, and fixed with brightly coloured European panes. There are also grills of cast iron installed at different points. The surface of the walls is generally finished with lime mortar—a mixture of lime, kankar, jute, and pulses, etc. Masons currently employed to conserve the palace report that the brick structure itself was probably set in mud mortar.

The Durbar Mahal still bears some decorative traces—engaged columns, pillars, pseudo-arched frames, and floral and geometrical designs created through carving, moulded brick, or stucco in relief. Shamsas[4] and figures of pelicans stand out in stark relief against their backdrop of red sandstone and white marble. The palace's interior is embellished with a running band of naqashi with intricate floral motifs bordering the doors, windows, and ceiling. The ceiling of the main hall is decorated with five eight-petal flowers in pasted paper, four of which encircle a number of ceiling fans, and a large flower in the centre that sets off a chandelier.

A hanging wooden circumbulation decorated with motif gauze of fastened bracket supports in the octagonal hall, is worth examining. Kashmiri floral patterns known as 'kunj boota' appear to be the most popular decorative motifs, although the relief border of the palace's arches and balconies also bears traces of Mughal, Sikh, and British influence.

A comprehensive project executed by the Pakistan Army has helped substantially in conserving the palace. Overseen by prominent conservation architects, the project was aimed at preserving the original at the character of the palace.


dasa[1]: impost; wall, abutment, or stones at the tops of a pillar supporting a lintel
chhajja[2]: ave
trabeated[3]:roof resting on horizontal beams or battens
Shamsas[4]:a ornamental roundel

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