What do we do this weekend? An often asked question which seldom has an unanimously accepted answer. But this time, we were all clear about one thing—it has to be different! So we set our course to the small elite intake for the prestigious stay, coupled with a rare opportunity of meeting the royal family and getting an insight into their life.
Only about 7 5 k m s from Bhubaneswar, the ‘Dhenkanal Palace’ is an easy and comfortable drive away. One just has to reach the quaint little town of Dhenkanal and seek directions from the locals, who are more than willing to help. A few minutes’ drive through the town takes you to a slightly winding up hill road that culminates at the palace.
What stood in front of us was the only fort cum palace amongst the erstwhile Garhjat states of Odisha. The palace is constructed on the Paniohla Hill, a natural boundary close to the earlier settlement of the royal family, Ragadi Nahar.
Built around the year 1860, it has an interesting story about its genesis. Legend has it that when Maharaja Bhagirath Mahindra Bahadur was hunting in the Paniohala forests, he chanced upon a duel between a sparrow hawk and its prey – a dove. Seeing the grit with which the dove stood its ground against the hawk, made the king believe that the place possessed some special powers and that’s when he decided to build the palace at that very spot.
We were welcomed by the current Prince Amarjyoti Singh Deo who seated us in a room which had this giant stuffed elephant head, the only remains of a rogue elephant that had been shot by his father’s uncle. Soon we had the opportunity to meet the current King Raja K. P. Singh Deo.
A six time elected member of the Lok Sabha and a recipient of the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal while serving in the Territorial Army, this 75 year old man exuded the aura befitting his rare pedigree.
At this point, my younger grandson aged a little under 5 years, could no more curb his curiosity. “Are you the King?”, he probed. “Yes”, I answered on his behalf. “But why aren’t you wearing your crown and robe and not even carrying a sword?”, my grandson enquired further, in disbelief, as we all burst into laughter.
What followed was a flurry of intrigue-driven questions from both my grandsons and I have to tell you about the exemplary patience with which the King answered all of them !
Queen Rani Savitri Devi, Princess Anasuya Devi and Yuvrani Meenal Kumari, all joined in the conversation. The warmth and affection with which the royal family welcomed us into their home (we call it a palace) is something that truly touched us and made the entire experience ever so memorable. It was also heartening to see that the royal family was equally interested to learn about us, our family history and roots. The interesting discussions also panned over the lavish meals served to us, where we had the honour of dining with the King. Raja K.P. Singh Deo’s successful political career speaks volumes about the reverence and love that the people of Dhenkanal have for their King and his family and it is also testimony to the work that he has done for the people of the town.
The royal family took us around the palace, every inch of which is replete with history, legacy, artefacts, used weapons, stories and pictures of hunting—the favourite game of the kings of the past. Raja K. P. Singh Deo’s cousin was an expert hunter who specialized in taking down man eaters and there is this incident of how he once shot a tiger that had claimed over 65 human lives. Each of the photographs adorning the walls of the palace had a fascinating story to tell.
The ‘Gadi Ghar’ or ‘Coronation Room’ was built as a permanent durbar hall which also doubled up as an auditorium for various cultural activities. Numerous renowned artists have performed on this stage and it has also hosted a lot of local dance forms and activities like Pala, Daskathia, Ravan Chhaya and even Bhagwat Kathas.
The guest rooms for the visitors are spacious, well ventilated and decorated with traditional fabric from Odisha handlooms. The rooms open out to beautiful long and wide verandahs where guests can sit and take in the scenic beauty over cups of tea, served by the staff which is very efficient and professional. The rooms have a running balcony that looks down into the inner courtyard and garden. Each queen in her time, had her own little private space for her leisure along with the ladies of the house. You could look down and see the ‘mandap’ which was built for the consecration rituals.
The family temple that houses the ‘Ishta Devi’ can be seen in the courtyard. There is a flank of rooms that has been renovated to house a modern kitchen and the dining room with a long table that is well laid for all the three meals.
The Dhenkanal State which started out in the year 1539 in an area of 7 Kosh (1 Kosh is approx 2 square miles) expanded to 1497 sq. miles by the time India got it’s independence, with the Dhenkanal Palace being the seat of administration. It’s not difficult to imagine the grandeur of the hey days of the kingdom.
In the absence of any revenue earning, post-independence, the manner in which the palace has been maintained is truly commendable. There are umpteen examples of royal families in Odisha that have not been able to retain their old heritage with the changing times where kings and commoners are deemed as equals.
We finally drove back to Bhubaneswar, after spending two very enjoyable days along with reminences of the good old days of the palace which was unfolded by the Raja himself and with one unanswered question of my younger grandson “Why was the king not wearing a crown?”
By Kripali Kotak