The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, February 23, 2003
Lead Article

Quila Mubarak: Celebration of Patiala’s
cultural heritage
Gurmeet S. Rai

Caprisoned elephants get ready for taking part in a procession in front of Quila Mubarak
Caprisoned elephants get ready for taking part in a procession in front of Quila Mubarak 

PATIALA, a city of gardens and palaces, has a rich architectural and cultural heritage. The oldest part of Patiala is the walled city within which Quila Mubarak; the oldest fortified palace of the city, sits on a raised mound.

Quila Mubarak forms the core around which the walled city developed. It dates back to 1763 AD. Baba Ala Singh, who was the founder of the Patiala dynasty built a kachigarhi (mud fortress) and named it Quila Mubarak. Later, it was reconstructed in baked bricks. Maharaja Amar Singh (1765-1781 AD) completed the construction of the inner palace called the Quila Androon. Maharaja Sahib Singh (1781- 1813 AD), Maharaja Karam Singh (1813 AD - 1845 AD) Maharaja Narinder Singh (1845 AD to 1862) had also resided in this fort.

The Quila is spatially preceded by the Quila Chowk and encircled by three major commercial spines, the Gur Mandi, Bajaja Bazaar and Shah Nashin Bazaar. The Adalat Bazaar starts from the Quila and terminates at the Anardana Chowk.

The Quila Mubarak Complex comprises numerous buildings, namely the Quila Androon, Ran Basa, Darbar Hall, Jalau Khana, Sard Khana, Quila Mubarak Gateway and the boundary walls. The Quila Mubarak Gateway is the only entrance to the Quila Mubarak Complex, it leads into a large public space called the Quila Androon Chowk. It is from this space that the monumental scale of Quila Androon can be experienced. The Quila Mubarak Gate is rendered in red sandstone and carries the appearance of a rather permeable latticed structure due to its multiple arched openings. On the inner edge of the Quila Androon Chowk is the Androon Gateway leading into Quila Androon. This is a solid masonry gateway with stuccowork. A single arched opening leads into the building. It is interesting to note that there is a single arched opening in the upper portion of this gateway, which was presumably used by the king to preside over functions in the court below.


From the time it was built till about the first half of the 20th century, the Quila continued to be alive with meaning for people who were drawn to it for various activities. Today, due to the absence of a living relationship between the local people and the Quila, the complex seems to have lost it's meaning to the outsider. The cultural significance of Quila Mubarak still lies embedded in its form and the manner in which space has been partitioned within it, but it is no longer manifest.

As mentioned earlier, the Quila Androon can be entered through an imposing gateway, on its northern facade, and is located along the central axis. It is almost square in plan. The corners of the building as well as the centre are strengthened by monumental bastions. Although plain in its outer treatment, the gateway is elaborately decorated with stuccowork in plaster.

In terms of architecture, the Quila can be classified under the multiple courtyard type. Each courtyard is denoted as a palace. The courts are located along three axes, the central, the eastern and the western. The courts to the west of the central axis are private- residential in nature. The zone along the east axis is intended for more public use including performing arts, providing evidence that the royalty patronised art and music. A passage between the central (north-south) axis and the east axis leads to the bastion which houses the jyot—the sacred flame which Baba Ala Singh, the founder of Patiala, brought from Jwalamukhi and continues to be lit till date. The raised court, where the jyot is kept, houses a gurdwara as well as a temple.

The first court to be entered through the Androon Gateway is the Rang Mahal. A screen separates the Rang Mahal from the sacred axis and the more public courts, which are the Moti Mahal and the Char Bagh, indicating that the sacred axis and the courts mentioned above are for more public use than the central axis and the west axis. The design, spaces and details within the rooms and their scale reveal the purpose for which they were built. The Rang Mahal has an elaborately painted chamber with an alcove of a size indicating that it might have served for seating the king in a space meant for royal audience—Diwan-i-khas. It appears that the Quila Androon itself may have been the Diwan-i-am or the public court.

The Sheesh Mahal, the court following the Rang Mahal, served as the nucleus of the Quila wherein all the core activities, the sacred as well as the profane seem to merge. The spaces within it and the decorations suggest the 'mixed use' of this court. It’s principal features are the following: two elaborately painted rooms on the ground floor; two large rooms separated into two bays by a row of foliated arches on the ground floor; a symmetrical plan with a fountain in the central courtyard; and numerous rooms with elaborate windows on the first floor which open onto the Rang Mahal courtyard. On the second floor there is a painted chamber, which is connected to a residential court. An interesting feature of this court is the absence of a separate pavilion or raised platform to seat the royalty.

The themes of the paintings on the ground floor of the Sheesh Mahal are principally from the life of Krishna.

The remains of the surface material contain elements of a range of surface finishes. It is evident that the building used to be lavishly decorated. The chambers were elaborately painted, as is apparent in the remains of ochre base with fine paintings of flora and fauna, geometric patterns and figurative narratives. The symbolism communicated through the structure and the decorative work on the surfaces stands testimony to the cultural plurality of the region. The complex merits conservation and further interpretation to the visitor. It offers a complete experience of the secular traditions of the land. Further, it needs to be integrated into the development framework outlined for the city and its people.