Creat. Sp.

Alternative Modernity of the Princely states- Evaluating the Architecture of Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda

Niyati Jigyasu

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Asian modernity, Modernist vision, Reforms, Architecture

PUBLISHED DATE January 01, 2018
PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2018. This article is published with open access at

The first half of the 20th century was a turning point in the history of India with provincial rulers making significant development that had positive contribution and lasting influence on India’s growth. They served as architects, influencing not only the socio-cultural and economic growth but also the development of urban built form. Sayajirao Gaekwad III was the Maharaja of Baroda State from 1875 to 1939, and is notably remembered for his reforms. His pursuit for education led to establishment of Maharaja Sayajirao University and the Central Library that are unique examples of Architecture and structural systems. He brought many known architects from around the world to Baroda including Major Charles Mant, Robert Chrisholm and Charles Frederick Stevens. The proposals of the urban planner Patrick Geddes led to vital changes in the urban form of the core city area. New materials and technology introduced by these architects such as use of Belgium glass in the flooring of the central library for introducing natural light were revolutionary for that period. Sayajirao’s vision for water works, legal systems, market enterprises have all been translated into unique architectural heritage of the 20th century which signifies innovations that had a lasting influence on the city’s social, economic, administrative structure as well as built form of the city and its architecture. This paper demonstrates how the reformist ideas and vision of an erstwhile provincial ruler lead to significant architecture at the turn of the century in Princely state of Vadodara. Keywords


Modernization is an attitude, based on the perception that the change away from the past is needed in order to make a better future. ‘Modernization’ as a technical term was introduced only in the 1950s, but the initiation of modernization process goes back to nineteenth century. Though its seeds were sown in Europe, and spread all over, the regional outcomes were diverse. The Indian subcontinent was largely under the influence of the British during this period and was experiencing significant political, social and cultural changes which lead to architectural innovations in many regions. Although these were influenced by the colonial rule, the colonial architecture did not simply replace the local architectural character of the region. Sir Christopher Wren rightly said, “Architecture has its political use, public buildings being the ornament of a country: it establishes a nation, draws people and commune and makes people love their native country...”. Rulers or leaders in any era are indeed the principal facilitator of changes and India was no exception. Although the British ruled most of India, there were a number of small states that were independent and were ruled by local princes. After the East India Company, the British created the provinces, and the princely states were kept separate with consideration only for the administrative convenience of the British and the political need of that period.

The map of India during the Colonial rule is distinguished by two colours representative of two India’s, known as the ‘British India’ and the ‘Indian’ India. The ‘Indian’ India include the princely states that consisted of two-fifths of the territory making onequarter of the population of the entire country outside the direct jurisdiction of the colonial state. Even with this, ethnocentrism with only consideration to the ideology of Orientalism, their contribution to the development was identified with ‘British India’ alone (Singh, H. 2007). As far as historians are concerned, the discussions of the princely states have been restricted to politics of the alliance system and indirect rule, military conquest, the hagiographies of princes, nationalist endeavours and accession issues during the 1940s. Not much has been talked about the idiosyncratic attempt to the development of their independent territories (Waltraud, E. & Biswamoy, P. 2007).

The Princes usually inherited the throne and the government from their fathers. Since they were natives, they followed local culture and value systems -- even though they had to depend on the British for their own security and well-being.   The princely States of India and their relations with the British Government has no parallel or analogy to any institution known to history. It was neither feudal nor federal, though in some aspects it showed similarities to both. Most of the states depending on their size had a British resident stationed in the state and he had an active role in the basic welfare of the state. Some of the princes, their ministers and at times the British residents were progressive in their approach and would encourage various developmental reforms in their territories. An ‘alternative’ modernity to the one that prevailed in British India was arising in the attempts by princes to live up to and at times, even surpass the modernizing expectations of British officials and of the increasingly Western-trained Indian elite, as well as the scholars’ hopeful attempts to reconstruct rulers’ internal policy measures as evidence of their enlightened governance (Waltraud, E. & Biswamoy, P. 2007). Furthermore, the rulers’ also were required to legitimize their position in front of their subjects and especially to the members of the indigenous elite. These were the people who became the agents of modernization and consequently determined the architecture of the period.

This paper examines the revolutionary ideology of one such ruler, “Sayajirao Gaekwad” of the erstwhile Princely State of Baroda and the result of his reformist agenda that led to some significant early ‘modern’ architectural works of this period

Page(s) 59-70
ISSN Print : 2321-3892, Online : 2321-7154

“The Triumph of machinery has been the triumph of our age: the victory of steam and electricity will always be memorable among the decisive battles of the world.” Sayajirao Gaekwad (1906, Address at Industrial Conference, Calcutta)

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century in India witnessed the architects pushing the envelope as well as keeping the traditions alive. Architecture as an emblem of power was for centuries endorsed through patronage. This was the time when British and the local rulers were most instrumental in determining the path that a city/state would take in terms of its architectural and urban form. This successful culmination can be seen in Baroda. Sayajirao III changed the expression of Baroda from a medieval city to a state capital through reforms that were aimed at bringing about socio-cultural change. Also, as mentioned before he had the ability to understand the need of experts to implement his vision. This can be attested by the various experts that contributed to Baroda like Robert Chisholm, Major Mant, William Goldring and Sir Patrick Geddes among many others. The central library showed his preference of architects who were qualified to design buildings according to specific functions. The disaster resistant structure of the central library is perhaps one of the earliest conscious design considerations in architectural project in India. At the same time, the town hall has an eclectic look and traditional features making it identifiable with the local people. The architectural concept of giving Baroda College prime significance in the city’s architecture and urban form attest the importance given to education, a very path breaking reform at the time.

In fact, the development of the Indo Saracenic style of architecture during this period demonstrates a very significant stage in architectural history of the region through amalgamation of British and Indian architecture style. Baroda is an important exhibit area for this style and various works of Robert Chisholm, a very prominent architect of the ‘modern’ heritage of this period. This architecture changed the urbanscape of many cities in India forever leaving a distinct mark on the tangible footprint. A lot more research needs to be undertaken to understand the evolution of this architectural idiom. Sayajirao’s contribution did not end at the monument level. Urban planning was also given due consideration resulting in invitation extended to Patrick Geddes and implementation of his report carried out during the next 20 years. Today, though various layers can be seen in Baroda, the buildings designed and constructed during the late 19th and early 20th century have retained their authenticity and integrity in the form of their function and architectural vocabulary. Though the architectural works mentioned need to be assessed and evaluated independently for their significance and condition, it will not be an understatement to say that the architectural works in Baroda undertaken during the transition period from late 19th to early 20th century played a very significant role in the history of architecture in South Asian region and needs to be given due recognition and appreciation for their reflection of the reformist, historical and geographical perspectives brought out by a visionary ruler, Sayajirao Gaekwad III.

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