For 24 years, it was part of a legal dispute among the scions of the Gaekwads, the royal family of the princely state of Baroda. The Gaekwads were negotiating a deal over the inheritance of royal properties and other assets, worth Rs 20,000 crore in all. But the gem among those assets was the Lukshmi Villas Palace, spread over 700 acres, in Vadodara.
After the family amicably agreed over the division on October 24, Samarjitsinh Gaekwad, the current maharaja and the only son of the late Ranjitsinh, was given the entire Lukshmi Villas Palace. His uncle Sangramsinh, who lives in Mumbai, got 55 acres of it. Besides, nearly 66 acres were given away to the government in 2001 to build low-cost homes, and another 35 acres for road expansion.
Built 124 years ago by Samarjitsinh’s great-great-grandfather Maharaja Sayajirao III and named after Lukshmibai, his first wife, the palace is a blend of Mughal, Rajput, Gujarati and Jain architecture, along with styles borrowed from Gothic and Venetian schools. It is divided into three portions — the public area, which has ; the private ladies’ quarters, which have Gujarati and Jain-style canopies; and the centre, reserved for the maharaja, which has Venetian arches and a belfry. The premises also house the smaller Motibaug Palace, the Maharaja Fatehsinh Museum and an ancient stepwell.
Known as “Vadodara’s lungs”, the premises have several trees of bael, wood apple, mango and rare berries, attracting many bird species. William Goldring, the landscape architect who designed the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in London, did up Lukshmi Villas Palace’s gardens. The Scottish wrought iron lamp posts, Venetian sculptures and other artwork bear the famous architect’s stamp. The palace’s construction, though, was not without tragedy. The chief architect, Charles Mant of Britain, committed suicide when its central tower was at six feet, because he thought he had miscalculated the structure’s stability. The 300-foot tower was finally completed by Robert Chisholm.
Samarjitsinh says the palace is an “engineering wonder”, concealing a water tank in its central dome. “Its elevators, electric bells and internal telephone system all date back to 1890, when the palace was built at a cost of 1,80,000 pounds,” he says.
The “best” part of living in the palace, says Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad, is that her children “don’t watch TV”. “They have so many spaces to discover and run around,” she says.
Radhikaraje, a Rajput princess of Wankaner in Saurashtra, moved to the