Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Cultured City

Vadodara, Gujarat’s third largest city, impresses with its blend of tradition and modernity
Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 12:35:41 PM
A palace four times the size of Buckingham Palace, a temple made entirely of aluminium, India’s largest residential university, a 45-hectare lush green park bang in the middle of the city, a 20-metre-tall Shiva statue standing in the middle of a lake and 20,000 people dancing the garba in concentric circles --  Vadodara (anglicised as Baroda) does go grand in style! Known as Sanskari Nagari, Gujarat’s cultural capital is an interesting blend of history and industry.

The arched entrance gate to the camp of Baroda

Elephant Fight at Nazarbaug Palace courtesy Illustrated London News 1863
A Maharaja's legacy
While Vadodara had seen many rulers and nawabs in the past, the city remains the legacy of Maratha Gaekwad ruler, Maharaja Sayajirao III who ruled from 1875 to 1939, did much to modernise it. He established compulsory primary education for girls, a library system, the famed Baroda College (now known as the Maharaja Sayajirao University aka MSU), dams, reservoirs and model textile and tile factories, which helped make Vadodara a modern industrial hub. 
Laxmi Vilas Palace

Nyaymandir at night
A great patron of the arts, he brought to his court painters and musicians from different parts of the country. He invited the great Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma to his court to paint mythological figures and the royal family. While most of Varma's paintings are on display at the Maharaja Fatehsingh Museum near the palace, the king's collection of works by other artists can be seen at the palace and the Baroda Museum and Art Gallery at Sayajibaug. The king was also a patron of Indian classical music and patronised artistes such as Ustad Moula Bux who went on to found the Academy of Indian Music (now the Faculty of Performing Arts) at MSU, Ustad Hazrat Inayat Khan and Ustad Faiyyaz Khan.

Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III
Sayajirao also built the Laxmi Vilas Palace, the largest private dwelling built in the 19th century. Tourists flock to see the Indo-Saracenic piece of architecture that cost Rs 2 crore at that time and 12 years to build. While the palace is still the residence of the Baroda Royals, guides take you around to see the Belgian chandeliers, Italian marble staircases, Venetian mosaic floor of the Durbar Hall, bison and leopard mounts, the royal armoury and a 10-hole golf course.

Raopura, the congested old city area, has many buildings that date back to Sayajirao’s reign. It also has the Nyaymandir or courthouse, the old gates of the city fort and the Khanderao Market which houses the Vadodara Municipal Coporation.

Of roots, shoots and leaves

The name Vadodara is derived from Vadpatra (literally meaning banyan leaf), the ninth-century village that emerged on the banks of the Vishwamitri River. Legend has it that there was a banyan (vad) tree near the village whose overhanging roots spread so far and wide that it was later difficult to identify the mother tree. While the banyan trees that once lined nearly all the city's roads have now given way to malls, multiplexes and restaurants, there is a monument that pays tribute to the banyan tree.

Trendy yet traditional
While it may have been the seat of the modern art movement in India, art in Vadodara is more a tradition than a hobby. The city sees many fairs, festivals and events through the year that celebrate the performing and the fine arts. Festivals such as Diwali, Uttarayan (Makar Sankranti), Ganesh Chathurthi and Holi are celebrated in their purest forms. Navratri is the most spectacular celebration of the year. People fast through the day and stay awake till the wee hours of morning singing and dancing at garba events such as the ones organised by the NGO, United Way, and by the Faculty of Fine Arts at the MSU. Unlike Ahmedabad, Surat and Mumbai, Bollywood music is not played at any of the Navratri events and dancers are screened if they wear anything other than the traditional chaniya choli. 

Raopura clock tower
What's on the plate?
There are many vegetarian restaurants that provide Gujarati thalis, south Indian, Punjabi cuisine and Italian cuisines. Roadside vendors or ‘laris’ offer you papni-nu-loat, pav bhaji and sev puri. If you must try eggs, opt for Raju Omelette at Kareli Baug. For non-vegetarians, there plenty of chicken and fish options, especially at bigger hotels and restaurants. Pork is rare. Beef is banned in Gujarat. The local delicacies are bhakarvadi (distinctly different from the ones you get in Pune), patra, lilo chivdo and khandvi. Try the goli-soda at Marutinandan Soda Centre off Old Padra Road that offers kala khatta, white lemon, orange, raspberry flavours.

Travellers’ tips
•    Best time to visit is October to February. Summers are very, very hot
•    Gujarat is a dry state. You need a permit to buy and consume liquor
•    While the locals speak Gujarati, Hindi is widely spoken and understood
•    For traditional chaniya cholis and jewellery head to Navabazar and Mangal Bazar in Raopura

Getting there

By Rail: Vadodara is the busiest rail junction in Gujarat and is well-connected to most parts of India
By Road:
The NH 8, connecting Delhi and Gandhinagar with Ahmedabad to Mumbai, passes through the city. Vadodara is also connected with Ahmedabad through Indian National Expressway 1
By Air: Vadodara has air connectivity with Mumbai and Delhi


Ramesh Narendrarai Desai said...

'Baroda Green Marble'available on the city's outskirts (Chhuchhapura)is perhaps the only source of green colour marble.
MSU's Home Science faculty (since renamed) was at one time the only institution preparing girls to become holistic housewives. It attracted students from neighbouring countries even in the '50s.
Maharshi Aurobindo and Dr. B R Ambedkar spent considerable time in the service of the erstwhile Baroda state while staying in the city. Swami Vivekanand also stayed as a guest of the then Dewan (Prime Minster) of Baroda state. His bungalow is now converted to a Vivekanand memorial. Aurobindo's house is also converted to a memorial - cum - Ashram.
Baroda state had a legislative assembly from A D 1924 with 50% elected and 50% nominated members. 50% of Ministers known as Naib-Dewans were also chosen from among the elected MLAs, the other 50% being appointed by the king. At the time of integration of the state into India in 1947, one of the ministers was a Dalit.
A cannon was fired everyday at 9 p.m., a signal for the people to close down and return home.

Alankar Mishra said...
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reshma M said...
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