''Sathya Vijaya Nagaram Palace,'' Arani, TN - 19th century Maratha structure will disappear if restoration is done soon!!

 During the colonial rule both under the English company and under the crown administration headed by the British ruler, the Zamindars or big landlords had a hey day. Recognized as the owner of the lands. Zamindars, owners of the lands,  wielded enormous power vested on them by the colonial power, had the  rights to collect the rent from the peasant who were the actual farmers or tillers of the lands. Despite poor yield or failure of monsoon, the tenants were forced to cough up the tax that would fill up the British coffers.   

Arani palace built by Maratha Zamindar in ruins

.Colonial rule in India. geeksforgeeks.org

Introduced by wily Cornwallis in 1793 through Permanent Settlement Act in many provinces of Bengal, Bihar, etc.,  Zamindars, being intermediaries between the administration and tenants acted as revenue collectors. So the onus of paying the British authorities a fixed amount of revenue fell on them. 

Such Zamindari system did exist in the then Madras Presidency and among the rich landowners close to the historic town of Arani (now in  Vellore District) Sathya Vijaya nagaram (S.V. Nagaram) , now a part of the town, had a famous zamindar headed by Vedaji Bhasker Pant, a Maharashtra Brahmin. In 1640 his father accompanied Shahji, brother of Chatrapati Sivaji Maharaj on his expedition to south India. His final destination was  Tanjore where the later Maratha rulers successfully ruled the most fertile district of Tanjore (now Thanjavur).  

The Maratha rulers  encouraged the growth of Tamil, Marathi, Telegu  and Sanskrit and made the place an important cultural center. Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam got a filip during their period. The rulers  took care of the big temple built by the Chola ruler Rajaraja and established Punnainallur Sri Mariamman temple and also Sri Ramar temple nearby. Only temple in India in which all the Moola vigraha are made of Saligrama stone gifted by the Nepal king to the Maratha ruler of Tanjore. The famous Saraswati Mahal Library in the Palace Complex is a good example and a famous one. 

Back to Vedaji Pant, the Maratha head Shahji was pleased with his services and help and in 1640 CE gifted the jagir of Arani.  Until independence the zamindars ruled the roost and, armed with political powers, they were a force to reckon with.  So rich in the late colonial period they had spent part of their money on horse races held at Madras, Bangalore and Ooty. To match their opulence, they owned a fleet of expensive imported cars almost on par with rich Maharajahs The palatial garage included   all brands of cars starting  with  A to Z. They had 182 cars at one particular time  and  8 to 10 cars might have parked at  the same time in the palace. 

In this transient world in which permanency has no meaning, with the change of political scenario, the  power and influence of Zamindars were on the decline, slowly  going down hill. 

sathya-vijaya-nagaram-aranmanai, Arani veludharan.blogspot.com

Above image: Arani Palace or  Aranmanai, Tamil Nadu:  It is said to have been built in  1825 CE (correct date is a subject of debate) on a vast expanse of land - about 300 acres.  expansion took place in 1976  ( vide a stone tablet near the  entrance wall ). The ground and the overlying two upper floors are slowly withering due to lack of upkeep. The style of construction  design is called  “Stuart Architecture”.........................

Example of Stewarts architecture. in.pinterest.com

Arani  - Maratha structure. palace veludharan.blogspot.com
Above image: Arani palace in ruins, Tamil Nadu. Madras ceiling with long corridor and cornatheon tall fluted pillars and arched windows.......

Damaged  Arani palace, TN ajitmani.wordpress.com

Sri Satya Vijaya Theertharu was an influential  pontiff of the Uttarthi mutt (following Madhwa Sampradaya) and his disciple was  the descendant of Pant Sri Venkattanatha Rao Sahib, the Jagirdar of Aranai. (he was a vassal of the Nawab of Arcot).  Very much devoted to the holy seer, the charitable jagirdar had a mutt built  and established a Brindavan there. He renamed the village after the holy saint.

The Arani palace. fluted pillar with decoration at top

The Arani palace, TN veludharan.blogspot.com

The local chief in search of peace and tranquility shifted his base in Arani and moved over to the village and built a palace close to the Mutt to lead a quiet life . In the later years taken over by the government, as expected, once a beautiful palace had begun to fall apart and some parts became so dilapidated, redemption of them is a tough undertaking. Reason: As we have seen across India, with some exceptions, the government officials known for their lethargic attitude and dereliction of duty never paid any attention to such heritage structures that link us with  our past history. Across  India, with respect to historical or listed heritage structures official apathy is the primary reason for their desolation and damages. 

 In the old palace at Aranai, that was constructed in the early part of the 19th century CE, the adjoining portions that have far less damages are being used by the state government to run the veterinary  hospitals and some govt. offices. 

Arani Palace pillars with circular bricks and circular granite stones

Notwithstanding the damages, the decorative features over the windows, entrances, art stucco work, etc.,  appear to be fairly preserved, particularly in the queen's block one can see the Jagir's emblem and latin words - ‘PER DEUM-ET FERRUM OBTINUI” (meaning  ''We got all these through GOD and our sword”. well etched and are visible. One can also notice the three storey facade with decorated pediments, Corinthian columns and Acanthus leaves and other details. It is the responsibility of he state government to save the remaining  structures and decorative art works because there are no artisans or masons or experienced carpenters  who could copy such attractive decorative works that bring out their skill and workmanship. I Wish the INTACH could chip in and impress on the government to reuse the old palace  after major repairs and conservation. Photo credit: veludharan.blogspot.com