Karauli Rajasthan Real Marigold Hotel

Jan Leeming

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Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

KARAULI - RAJASTHAN - Real Marigold Hotel

Date: 5th April 2017

The Real Marigold Hotel - Series 1 was filmed in 2015.  As with most filming, the crew always have to cover themselves and very often shoot far far too much.  This happened when we were in India and one of the most interesting visits, for me, was our trip to Karauli where we stayed in the New Palace (built in 1938) and celebrated the Maharajah's birthday.  We did 9 hours of travelling and shot for a whole day.  The family could not have been more welcoming and helpful and I was very upset that all the Karauli film was dropped from the final edit.  However I have kept in touch with the younger elements of the family and was delighted to be able to host them to lunch recently at the RAF Club.

The family live in and welcome visitors to their 'New Palace' which is interesting in itself but what really captivated me was the old palace, parts of which date from the 13th Century.  The family are working to make the old palace a place which can be visited by tourists - a mammoth task but a very worthwhile one.

I asked the Maharajah's son and daughter in law for some history with regard to the Royal family of Karauli and here it is.   We had no time to explore the surrounding countryside but were told that there are beautiful waterfalls etc.  So if you are holidaying in India and are anywhere near Karauli, do either book in for a night or enquire as to whether you could visit the old Palace.  I cannot describe how lovely it is and was knocked out by the wonderful fresco work undertaken by Italian painters in the 16th Century and still as vibrant today, 400 years later.



Any study of Indian historic tradition, from religious mythos to recorded history is incomplete without Karauli- both the area and the family who’s military, spiritual and artistic contributions are woven into the fabric of the country’s cultural ethos.
While the foundation of the current city of Karauli was laid in 1348 AD Raja Arjun Pal, the city is only the last of the several capitals founded by the family in an impressive martial and administrative history over thousands of years. The relics of this are still present in the many forts and citadels scattered across the Braj area from the Bayana fort in present day Uttar Pradesh, to Timangarh, Devgir, Utgir, the magnificent Karauli City Palace, and the Art Deco Bhanwar Vilas Palace, the present home of the Karauli family.

The Karauli royal family are the head of the Yaduvanshi Jadauns (literally-the descendants of the Yadus) and the historic rulers of Brajbhoomi, the land sanctified by Lord Krishna. They trace their lineage to Lord Krishna, from his descendant Vajra Nabh who was said to be the sole survivor of the massacre of the Yaduvanshis. This indeed, makes them among the oldest consistently ruling families in the world.
Raja Bijai Pal, the founder of the Bayana fort, and a great conqueror was said to be 88th in the line from Lord Krishna.

The Yaduvanshis, who have nearly always remained around the area of Braj near Mathura, at one time held a formidable territory encompassing Alwar,Bharatpur, Karauli and Dholpur upto Gurgaon and Mathura, the greater part of Agra west of the Yamuna,and portions of Gwalior lying along the Chambal.
The great ruler, Tahan Pal ji built the magnificent historical fort of Timangarh about 1058, which, with its stone carved bazaar was considered to be a veritable paradise. It was also a strategically significant fort that fell to Babur as one of the biggest of his Indian victories before being regained by the Karauli family later.
In the time of Kunwar Pal, Muhammad Ghori captured much of the Yaduvanshi territory However, one of Kunwar Pal's courageous descendants, Arjun Pal, was determined to recover the territory of his ancestors and embarked on a successful campaign to accomplish this. In 1348 he founded the present capital Karauli. Raja Arjun Pal also built the original fortress ramparts of the Karauli City Palace.

Gopal Das ji, among the most famous of the chiefs of Karauli is known to have laid the foundations of the Agra Fort at Akbar's request. Legend goes that the foundation stone of the fort was repeatedly washed away by the Yamuna till Akbar was advised that the river would only permit a direct descendant of Lord Krishna to lay the stone.
He is also revered for bringing the likeness of Gopal ji to the Madan Mohanji temple, having been miraculously guided to it hidden in the pillar of a fort at Daulatabad, while on his Deccan campaign.

Maharaja Ganesh Pal Ji, the ruler at the time of Independence was among the most forward thinking rulers in the country. His expansion of infrastructural facilities in the state including bridges, roads, city circles and sports clubs combined advanced engineering with a contemporary decorative aesthetic. He was also a keen sportsman, who instituted tennis, volleyball and cricket in the state armed forces and built several sports clubs and courts. He also built the uniquely Modern Bhanwar Vilas Palace in 1938, which has been converted by a heritage hotel by the present family.

Maharaja Krishna Chandra Pal of Karauli, the current head of the dynasty, the 181st of an illustrious line remains as invested in the local culture and philanthropic works as his ancestors. At present he is heading two religious temple trusts where he has employed five hundred people, through which he is running mobile hospitals, the MadanMohanji, and Kailadevi schools, a hundred bed hospital and also hosts medical and surgical camps. He also runs the Maharaja Ganesh Pal Ji Charitable Trust, named after his grandfather, which is working towards water conservation projects with the help of a Dutch foundation called Stichting Karauli. The Maharaja is a former member of the State Wildlife Advisory Board and the Game warden of the Kaila Devi sanctuary. He has been particularly active in tiger conversation in the Kaila Devi Wildlife Sanctuary as well as a dedicated campaigner for the independent development of the Sanctuary.
Maharani Rohini Kumari of Karauli is the first lady in the family to determinedly enter the public sphere as a politician. Having successful contested the 2008 elections, she represented Karauli in the state legislature till 2013. She has also been at the forefront of the historical conservation movement in Karauli having discovered and restored several forgotten monuments in Karauli and having single-handedly undertaken the mammoth task of restoring the magnificent Karauli City Palace. She also undertook the conversion of Bhanwar Vilas into a heritage hotel, restoring and decorating its period interiors in a completely authentic manner while modernising its luxuries.
Maharajkumar Vivasvat Pal is the son of Maharaja Krishna Chandra Pal and Maharani Rohini Kumari.
He is very passionate about both his very disparate occupations-art and hospitality. As the scion of a family that has long patronised one of the foremost schools of miniature painting in India, the Karauli school of art, he has inherited its influential cultural tradition as well. Having studied at the Heatherly School of Art in London and exhibited his portraits at the Schallaburg Castle in Austria, he continues towork on his own paintings and sculptures, while training the hereditary palace artists of Karauli to restore the intricate 14th century murals at the City Palace. He is also a practitioner of restoration techniques in paintings, sculpture and porcelain. He is also active in local youth organisation his father in the management of the family’s social and philanthropic concerns.
His wife, Anshika is from the ancient taluqdari of Ramnagar-Dhamedi in Uttar Pradesh and is the grand-daughter of Digvijaya Singh of Raghogarh.
She brings with her the literary traditions of Awadh, and having graduated in English Honours from the Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi is a great believer in the significance of critical academic thought in simultaneously constructing and sustaining historic traditions. She also loves vintage children’s literature and is working with several publishing houses as a writer and editor.
Since their wedding in 2014, he and his wife have been managing Bhanwar Vilas Palace, completely hands-on, handling everything from cuisine and decor to interacting with guests.
With their combined artistic and literary aesthetic the couple is uniquely fitted to breathe new vigour into ancient cultural concepts and to present the heritage they have been blessed with, in a rejuvenated form for the future.

Bhanwar Vilas was built by Maharaja Ganesh Pal, in 1938 and its unique architecture and interiors that veer from Bauhaus to Colonial completely fit the avant-garde aesthetic that the family subscribes to. Stylistically, it rather resembles an English country house in its eclectic yet harmonious melding of Oriental and Art Deco forms. My parents converted it into a hotel in 1992, making it one of the oldest heritage hotels in the country. Bhanwar Vilas is very unique in that none of the rooms are newly constructed, they are all part of the original edifice and with antique furniture in each room to present an authentic, and not merely simulated, heritage experience
The City Palace, approached through the twelve entry gates of the ancient citadel, with temples on each side, looms up over the winding lanes, an edifice of immense proportions. As you pass the massive cages that once held tame tigers, you are struck by the foot-tall adjacent dwars, one covered inintricate stone carvings, and the other in fine Radha-Krishna paintings, outlined in crushed blue lapiz.
Recovering from this first glimpse of structural magnificence you are lead through an enchanting series of vast courtyards surrounding by trompe l’oeil windows on the surrounding wall, the durbar hall completely covered in miniatures and gold mirrors, the zenana balconies with painted floors, and terraces of stone carvings and magnificent views of the city. At the back are the the red stone medieval towers-part of the palace, and the huge zenana area with a bewildering array of rooms and carved and latticed jharokhas. The palace akhada, with friezes dedicated to Lord Hanuman and the underground sauna and bathing area are also remarkably unique examples of palace architecture.
The palace compound is also blessed by the famed Madan Mohanji temple whose vaulted, frescoed walls house the Gopal ji statue, and the powerful statue of Madan Mohan ji and Radha- Rani. The statue of Madan Mohan ji was removed from Vrindavan for safety during the Mughal conquests, and taken to Jaipur. In 1737 AD Maharaja GopalSingh ji regained the deity and established him in the Karauli City Palace. While both the City Palace and Bhanwar Vilas are living museums in themselves, vibrantly showcasing the best of medieval Indian architecture and colonial style respectively, the City Palace also holds a museum with a curated selection of medieval weaponry, 8-9th century statuary, and a unique collection of palanquins and howdahs.
The Kailadevi temple, revered across North India, is a family temple, 21 km from Bhanwar Vilas worshipped by millions of pilgrims every year. The goddess Kaila Devi is considered to be a form of the Mahamaya who had taken birth as the child of Nanda-Yashoda, and with whom Lord Krishna was replaced as per the ordinance of Lord Vishnu. When Kansa tried to kill the girl child, she transformed into her Devi Roop and informed him that the one he attempted to kill was already safe and sound. She is now worshipped as Kaila Devi, and as Vindhyavasini and Hinglaj Mata at other places.

The arrival of the goddess's likeness to this destination is a fascinating story. The statue was being carried on a bullock cart by a Yogi to protect itfrom the siege of Nagarkot. The bullock stopped in the central part of the hill amid the dense forest and refused to budge. By divine ordinance the statue was established at that very place.

With the blessings of Kaila Devi, the rulers of Karauli have always maintained a deep connection with the temple.
Maharaja Gopal Singh Ji laid the foundation of the temple in 1723. He also established the statue of Chamunda Ji, bringing it from the fort of Gagraun where it had been placed by the Khinchi ruler Mukund Das Ji (the ancestor of Digvijaya Singh of Raghogarh). Since then each successive ruler of Karauli, has served the goddess, expanding and improving the facilities from Maharaja Bhanwar Pal ji who had the temple reconstructed with more modern architecture to the present Maharaja Krishna Chandra Pal whose tireless work has seen several radical modern facilities added to the temple, as well as the establishment of the 1000 strong Kailadevi Senior Secondary School and hostel, where quality education is provided at nominal fee. The school is remarkable for the number and achievements of its girl students.
The family’s ingrained social conscience and their sustained efforts in developing and maintaining the monuments and infrastructure of the area have established Karauli as a prime historic, artistic and spiritual destination.
As the historic heads of the whole of the ancient area of Brajbhoomi, a visit with the family offers not simply a slice of history but a composite understanding of the entire history of this area. 


One photo cannot possibly do justice to the wonderful old palace of Karauli

KARAULI - RAJASTHAN    - Real Marigold Hotel

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