Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Bahawalpur Baroque - Sadiqgarh Palace, Dera Nawab Sahib

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When Nawab Bahawal Khan Abbasi IV died in 1866, his son Sadiq was a child of five. Yet even as this youngster grew up in a time of uncertainty with a dowager mother fending off the intrigues of courtiers and pretenders to the throne, he managed a reasonable degree of education. On his 18th birthday, Sadiq received the traditional dustaar or turban and with it authority to rule over the rich and independent State of Bahawalpur as Nawab Sadiq Mohammad Khan IV.

Nawab Sadiq Mohammad Khan was a man cultivated and possessed of fine taste. He was a great builder of palaces and as a connoisseur of Italian architectural practices left behind a number of extravagant buildings that flaunt his style and wealth.

Now, even as early as the late 18th century, the Bahawalpur nawabs presided over a state of considerable wealth and maintained three different capitals: Bahawalpur, Derawar and Ahmedpur. At this last place, the family made its home in a fort located at a short distance from the bustle of town. To this town did Nawab Sadiq Mohammad Khan bequeath one of his finest edifices, the Sadiqgarh Palace. Completed in 1895 after 13 years of work, fate decreed the nawab only four years to enjoy the palace as he died in 1899, aged just 38.

If the nawab thought he had created a masterful blend of vernacular and Italian architecture, he had his detractors. George Birdwood, an outspoken proponent of the indigenous building tradition over the European style, referred to the nawab’s endeavours as “the ghastliest piece of bare classicalism.” Whatever be Birdwood’s views, Sadiqgarh Palace remains an enduring example of a man’s predilection for Italian architecture and a fine piece for students of the craft.

The palace is a classic mixture of local and Italian building traditions as the nawab’s wealth permitted him to acquire the services of an Italian architect. While the Italian executed the Baroque, working in close coordination with him would have been a number of local craftsmen to see that the imported did not completely take over the local. And so we have an exuberance of bay windows, Mughal arches and domed minarets surmounted by a parapet with Italian ornamental details and domes.

After the abolition of the State of Bahawalpur and its absorption into Pakistan, the palace remained in the use of the family. But the death of the last ruler Nawab Sadiq Mohammad Abbasi V and the titular succession of his son Abbas in 1966 was the beginning of the end for Sadiqgarh. When Abbas passed away in 1988, family infighting led to the sealing of the palace. But that scarcely helped things.

Once the repository of the wealth of Bahawalpur’s ruling family, Sadiqgarh Palace was plundered by everyone who got the chance to get behind the high gateway that guards the entrance. The priceless crystal chandeliers, some reputed to have weighed several tons, are gone. All that remains are the steel pipes and chains that held them in place. The furniture, artwork, crockery and silver, even the fittings in the bathrooms and kitchen were pillaged.

Today, the once opulent palace stands bereft of all its trappings, a majestic empty shell recalling the wealth and refinement of a state that is no more.

Note: This story first appeared in Stones of Empire - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2013.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:25,


At 22 February 2013 at 13:26, Anonymous Sanjay Yadav said...

Hello Sir! Aap bahoot achha likhte hain. Aapne 'Shiva weeps no more' bahoot achha likha tha.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

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Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

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Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

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