Dhar Palace

Nothing had prepared me for the present state of Dhar’s former princely palace. In my tattered copy of Lonely Planet India I’d read a sentence about the Rajwada having been converted into a state-run girls’ school. That book was printed twenty years ago. In the meanwhile, education budgets have declined, with results that you can see in the featured photo.

The crowded little square fronting the former palace was not exactly the boundless and bare plain of level sand around the stump of Ozymandias. Perhaps that fantasy is a little overblown for the smaller Maratha house of the Pawars of Dhar, although they came from one of the most distinguished and early line of Maratha chiefs. The East India Gazetteer of 1828 (Volume 1, edited by Walter Hamilton) says briefly, “On account of their high birth, and being officers of the Satara Raja (not of the Peshwa) they always claimed precedence over Sindia and Holcar, which the latter were forward to acknowledge at the very moment that they were robbing the Dhar rajas of their territories. In 1817 when the British troops entered Malwa, Dhar was the only possession that remained to Ramchunder Puar (a boy twelve years of age)”, before going on to give an account of the meagre earnings of the remaining estates of Dhar.

Even locals do not always remember the palace correctly. Our driver brought us to the impressive gate which stands at one end of the Rajwada square and said “This is it.” From the inscription over the gate, it certainly wasn’t. But the confusion is understandable. After all, the local government still uses it as a records office, and even a government dispensary runs out of it. It is also more impressive, and being of the colonial style, it is easier to associate it with the seat of power. I looked around for the seat of the Pawars, and realized that the long building off to my left must be it.

By all accounts, Maratha pomp and ceremony did not extend to clearing the surroundings of their palaces and planting gardens. So the marketplace in the square is probably the only thing that the Dhar rajas of old would recognize, were they to pass through here again. The Family and I took a short circuit of the square, clicked a few photographs, and got back into the car to drive on to our next destination. It is barely two centuries since the end of the Maratha empire, an eyeblink in history, and their extensive remains are being lost daily.