Vadodara - the centre for art

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 08 Oct 2015 10:57:13

March 22 (By G Brindha)

Like other Gujarati cities, this cosmopolitan ‘hydrocarbon capital’ of India is more than a business center. Infact, as my host Manoj Sharma describes, Vadodara is more inclined to art and tradition than to business and trade. Unlike entrepreneurial Gujarat, Vadodara is more service oriented. From the moments we alighted from the train, the signs were clear. A board read ‘Welcome to the cultural capital of Gujarat’.


Tired of my long journey, I made way straight to the Royal Orchid Hotel, where my stay was arranged. The hotel wore an essential corporate look, very much going by the look of the city. ‘Vadodara is a laidback and people are content and that makes it special and worth exploration’ Manoj Sharma, GM of the hotel quipped. He was quick to comment on the timings of my trip. I had landed up during the Navratri celebrations in the most sought after location for the event. I stepped towards my room, a complete corporate pack with rich interiors and elegant looks. I was taken to the restaurant for breakfast, a sumptuous Gujarati meal (they come with a tag -‘gluttony is no more a sin’). After a rich and traditional gujarati breakfast, I started off for a detour of a city. The hotel has a fully equipped gym at the topmost floor which gives you an advantage of viewing the city while stretching your muscles.


The city as told to me, and very apparent after a short jaunt through the city, was laid by Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the visionary monarch who established a grand University, parks, hospitals, built roads and rail system and laid the foundation of the Bank of Baroda. The artistic and intellectual character of the city grew under his patronage with many musicians, thinkers and artists getting associated with the Baroda state.


The manifestation of his Sayajirao’s vision is evident in the Sayaji Baug, opened in 1879. Sprawling over 113-acre, the park has Elizabethan styled gardens, a small zoo, the botanical garden, the aquarium, the planetarium and the History of Health Museum along with the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery, which in themselves are considered great architectural marvels. The treasures include an Egyptian mummy, skeleton of a blue whale that stumbled up the Gulf of Kambhakht in 1944, coins, fossils and several paintings of Raja Ravi Verma, who was also the designer of the museum, the design being inspired from the London Museum.


I got to learn a lot about the city from my host Mr. Manoj Sharma, and the more I learnt, my appetite to know the city better grew more.


I was recommended to start my day with the Royal Palace Laxmi Niwas Palace, named after Sayajirao’s wife. In the afternoon, I did make it to the palace, a stately design capturing finer elements from all religions, standing tall as a symbol of unity in diversity. The fact that the building has elements from a temple, mosque, church and a gurudwara makes it different and truly hypnotic. The imposing architecture, spreading over 500 acres, is said to be four times bigger than the Buckingham Palace. It splendidly combines the Indo-western style of architecture. The beautifully landscaped grounds are replete with sculptures carrying a hint of roman mythology, and art. A guided audio tour takes you through the.


The huge Darbar Hall, seems a piece out of history books, a huge throne and just opposite to it the music darbar where legends like Ustad Faiyaz Khan performed, with life size portraits by Raja Ravi Verma hung on the walls appears a set prepared for a lavish historical movie. A left from the darbar is a courtyard where Indo-gothic style speaks, lavish sculptures around a water.


No doubt calling the royal palace just ‘beautiful’ is undermining art and grandeur. It took me more than two hours for a complete tour of the palace. Next to it is a royal museum, giving a glimpse of the life lived by the princes of Baroda.


I kept looking back to catch an eyeful of munificence of the palace and absorb more of this elitism of art. In the evening, I had planned to be a part of the greatest show of Vadodara, the garba nights. Navratri is said to be the time to be in Vadodara. Vadodara hosts some of the biggest pandals of Garba in Gujarat. I asked Manojji about the places to see Garba and he, in his typical smile replied ‘Every crossing’. And to my surprise he was right. There was a Garba fest right outside our hotel. After a healthy dinner, with some typical Gujarati snacks being served, I stepped out of the hotel.


I left for the nearest stall of Akota and then to the art campus of the University. Young girls dressed in bright hues of yellow, pink, red and purple and boys in brighter shades experimenting with multi-coloured bandhani turbans zipped past me in scootys’ and bikes. This fervour truly makes it the cultural capital of the state.


I was returning content only to find a garba, right outside on a crossing, next to the hotel.


The next day, I made my way towards the city area, to explore some more tastes of the city, halting in the middle to capture some architectural brilliance of the Maharaja Sayajirao University and the Municipal Corporation which was once a palace.


The Kirti Mandir, a large ‘E-shaped’ magnificent stone building built to honor the cremation of members of the Gaekwad family, rooms some rare statues, photographs and artifacts, never failed to charm me. The EME temple in the cantonment, with its contemporary design from aluminum sheets, is another must stop place. The SwamiNarayan Temple, shrouded by peace and serenity, and the Kashi Vishwanath temple, right outside the Royal Palace gates, with its eclectic design of Sombhu (replica of Somnath Temple) and being the only temple where both Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva are worshipped, take you on a spiritual spree with mythological stories to last journeys.


Vadodara for me exists in every drum beats, every painting that I see, every music that I listen to, and every architectural design I imagine. This corporate, modern city is also a must to be in your bucket list of cityscapes to cover.