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Painting the past

Azmathulla Shariff describes the summer palace of Tipu Sultan and its unique architecture, which
stands testimony to the skills of craftsmen of the time, even today

It was a palace in the past. Its an archaeological museum at present. And yet, it continues to remain testimony to the rule of Tippu Sultan and also to the legendary work of his master craftsmen who used their artistic talent to beautify the Darya Doulat Palace which continues to impress visitors even today.

The Darya Daulat, commonly referred to as the Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan, is situated amidst scenic surroundings on an island formed by two branches of the River Cauvery at Srirangapattana.

The beauty of this palace lies in its magnificent architectural combination of Indo - Islamic architecture. The outer ceiling of the palace is supported by gigantic wooden pillars, with its supporting arches carved in Islamic architecture. The adjacent four walls of the palace located at a little distance from the huge wooden pillars have beautiful murals.

These murals portray processions, cavalry units, army contingents headed by Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali on the war front, Darbar scenes and royal dignitaries, war scenes and the marching of uniformed men, elephants with the traditional howda mounted on it, people carrying palanquins, men carrying flags with sun as its emblem seated on an elephant back and E-Khudadad and much, much more.

The beauty and grandeur of this palace is the extensive use of (eco-friendly) vegetable-dye paintings. Innate artistic work on the canvas embedded on the wooden ceilings present intricate patterns with the multiple and diverse use of natural colours that speak of artistic precision. The magnificent balcony projections, ceilings and inner walls indicate the delicate workmanship that has enhanced its importance as a monument to reckon with.

The balcony projection and the inner floor of the palace present intricate artistic work that provide persuasive evidence of Indo-Islamic architecture. Theres aslo a mystifying effect because of the use of natural colour that has been used to decorate the interior walls and ceilings with certain portions having impressive floral patterns. Amidst these surroundings, sketches, aquatints and paintings are housed. A good number of charcoal/pencil sketches by famous British artist Thomas Hickey, paintings by Robert Home, John Zoffany, G F Cherry and great historical paintings by Sir Robert Kerporter on the Storming of Seringapatam. The picture gallery houses some of the most intricate aquatints with exquisitely detailed depiction in them by the colonial officers of the East India Company. Some of these aquatints illustrate landscapes with long fort walls resting on mountain tops, surrounded by boulders, rocks, weeds, greenery and shaded gradations. One can almost feel the landscape, with its shadowy details and spontaneous depiction. However, poor visibility and a lack of adequate lighting mar the beauty. Carefully installed focused lighting on these master pieces would generate a keen interest. Fumigation at regular intervals is needed to increase the longevity of these aquatints and pencil sketches. These vegetable-dye paintings need strengthening to protect them from further exfoliation and a permanent barricade should be installed all around the paintings covering the walls in order to prevent visitors from defacing it any further. By regulating the flow of visitors, the rear work of art could be further protected from human vandalism. Doing this at least at the end of the Tipu bicentenary celebrations would be like paying tribute to the master craftsmen of Tipu's period and also a mark of recognition of the artistic talent that was prevalent in the East India Company. Their passion for sketching and painting the landscapes surrounding their encampments has preserved not just theese exclusive works of art, but has also helped us preserve rare moments from the past pictorially.

--- Deccan Herald, Sunday, September 3, 2000