As a creative writer working on a historical novel, I have long been fascinated by heritage structures, royal palaces, and the stories about the lifestyles of kings and queens. Last November, I planned to explore the Sawantwadi Palace, and it turned out to be a visit that held a few surprises.
A Former Royal Kingdom
The town of Sawantwadi. in the Indian state of Maharashtra, was the former capital of the Kingdom of Sawantwadi during the pre-independence era. Khem Sawant Bhosale founded the kingdom in 1580 and it was ruled by the Bhonsale royal clan of the Maratha until Indian independence.
The Sawantwadi kings were known as hardcore warriors who had fought the Portuguese and had brief associations with the Sultan of Bijapur and Marathas, but later started ruling independently.
During the British rule, they had a 9-gun salute status and were further recognised in the aristocratic world for being role models, as they reflected justice and courage in all their administrative, political and philanthropical pursuits.
In 1947, it merged into the Dominion of India. From then on, the rulers were mere titular heads of their Kingdom, yet they continued contributing to the welfare of their regions.
Day two was dedicated to my visit of Sawantwadi Palace but kicked off with an early morning walk around the Moti Lake, which is situated in the heart of the Sawantwadi. The chill weather of 19 degree centigrade and the sun cracking out of the fading dawn was a mesmerising experience! Figurines of royal dignitaries of the past, along with beautiful sculptures, added grace to the lake walk.
After breakfast, I was ready to visit the Sawantwadi Palace, finally.
Sawantwadi is the only remaining place in India where the ancient art of Ganjifa is still practised.
The ancient Indian card game was played among the post-Medieval kings and nobilities, and the name Ganjifa comes from the Persian word “Ganjifeh” which means playing cards. These cards are usually circular and are traditionally hand-painted with floral and mythological motifs in vivid colours, painted on various types of wooden objects. In recent years, Ganjifa has lost its familiarity among the masses. However, there have been initiatives to revive the art form.
The Sawant Bhonsle family is persistent in upholding the art of Ganjifa and Lacquerware art forms.
The Palace Plus A Surprise
The Palace of Sawantwadi is truly an architectural masterpiece of native workmanship and vibrant red laterite stones.
As I entered the palace premise, I could feel a time zone switch within my head, transporting me into the past. The very first thing that intrigued me was a huge photo frame that displays the royal lineage of the Sawantwadi Kingdom. The Sawantwadi Royal family belongs to the famous Bhonsle clan rooting out of the Mang Sawant ancestry.
Old photographs, paintings, traditional furniture, and the Ganjifa art displayed at the museum helped me picture the bygone world of Sawant-Bhonsle family I also learned that the existing King His Highness Shrimant Khem Sawant VI and his family reside in the palace itself.
Just when I was about to see the other areas of the palace, a family friend, Joy Dantas, who lives in Sawantwadi, called with a pleasant surprise—that he had arranged a meeting for me with the Sawantwadi King’s family. I could not believe my ears!
Joy and the crowned Prince His Highness Yuvraj Lakham Khem Sawant Bhonsle are friends, so Joy insisted I meet the royal family and get to know them first hand while visiting the palace.
I first met the prince consort Yuvrani Her Highness Shraddha Lakham Sawant Bhonsle, who was in the museum, supervising the staff and arranging the sculptures. She was generous enough to tour me around, showing me the main ‘durbar hall’ (where the King’s throne is placed) and also the boutique hotel, which was then being created.
Both the Yuvraj and Yuvrani (Prince & Prince consort) have earned management degrees in culinary science and art and want to put their hospitality management experience to good use by blending their royal inheritance and their acquired skills in the form of running the Sawantwadi Boutique Hotel.
Whatever brief interaction I had with the prince and his consort; I could sense the royal grace and intelligence in their aura. As I concluded my palace exploration, I reflected on the royal inhabitants who are indeed icons of deep-rooted tradition, cultural values, artistic pursuits and driven by progressive thoughts.
Such visits to palaces certainly enrich and teach more than what the history books can cover. They are also a chance to discover a lifestyle punctuated with affluence, luxury and generosity.
BeSeeingYou In: Sawantwadi
Good to know: From Mumbai, Sawantwadi can be reached by plane in 1 and half hours, or by train in 8.5 hours. You can also go by car, which will take about 10 hours.
WOW! Factor: The Ganjifa art form had almost disappeared by the early 20th century, but was saved from extinction.
Tip: There are plenty of hotels in the city of Sawantwadi, but a stay at the palace’s Boutique Hotel is worth it for the rooms decorated with Ganjifa Art and Woodworks of the royal family.
Author bio: Shraddha C. Sankulkar