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India's Extravagant Lal Bagh Palace is Restored to its Former Glory

·2 min read

Time stands still at Lal Bagh Palace in the Indian city of Indore—once home to the Holkar family, among the most powerful Maratha rulers. Completed in 1926 by Tukojirao Holkar III, who lived there until his death in 1978, the Italian Renaissance Revival edifice was converted intoa museum before falling into disrepair, the top floor ravaged by fire. “It was like walking into Miss Havisham’s mansion,” says the Mumbai-based conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, whose firm recently restored the palace to its former glory. “There was a dignity in the interiors, felt in the frayed edges, the damage, and the decay. The impetus was to keep this dignity but also bring a little life.”

The approach was twofold: preserve the architecture, an effort guided by studio director Krishna Iyer, and revive the interiors, among the finest examples of European-inspired decoration of that period in India. (The Madhya Pradesh government, World Monuments Fund, and IndiGoReach all provided support.) Inside, Lambah’s team—steered by director Kruti Garg—worked on seven rooms with surgical precision.

“We had to do a very thorough endoscopic examination, almost like a diagnostic test for an aging human body,” she reflects of the boreholes drilled to assess structural integrity. Meanwhile, jacquard damask fabric swatches were scrutinized then re-created on looms, ceiling murals refreshed, and paint chips analyzed to match colors exactly. Material authenticity was sacrosanct. When Lambah’s team opened up a piece of furniture to find it was stuffed with coconut fiber and old springs, they retained the springs and added more natural filling to refurbish the piece.

Lambah is no stranger to such scrupulous research. Over her decades-long career, she has revived landmarks on the order of Mumbai’s iconic Royal Opera House and 138-year-old Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, even braving subzero temperatures to restore the Chamba Lakhang, a 15th-century Maitreya temple in Basgo, Ladakh. In the case of Lal Bagh, Lambah slowly pieced together a puzzle over two years based on oral histories and splices of visual records, among them yellowing family Holkar portraits that hinted at original furniture plans. Today, the palace halls ring with echoes of its past. – Ritupriya Basu 

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

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