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Aaina Mahal or the “Mirror Palace” was built during the rule of Rao Lakhpatji with an Indo – European architecture by Ram Singh Malam. The palace is located in the north east of the Hamirsar Lake. Although it was damaged by the 2001 earthquake, butthe palace still boasts of a magical‘Hall of Mirrors’.Decorated with delightful chandeliers and mirror-work, glittered with golden ceilings and walls, The Aaina Mahal offers a visual delight.
The erstwhile ruler Rao Lakhpatji was not only a fierce warrior but was equally at ease with classical music and poetry. He belonged to the famous Jadeja Dynasty and undertook the construction of the Aina Mahal in the eighteenth century. Legend has it that the decorated architect Ram Singh Malam had devoted 17 years of his life in Europe and was still deprived of any recognition and appreciation. Disgraced and disgusted by the Europeans, Malam came to the royal court of Bhuj and made a humble appeal to the king for work. Lakhpatji approved of his ideas and ordered the construction of the grand Aina Mahal.
Ram Singh Malam being an expert crafts man possessed in depth knowledge of both Indian and European senses of architecture. As a result he designed the Aina Mahal in an Indo – European Style. Lakhpatji’s generosity poured over Ram Singh Malam as he commissioned a glass factory and manufacturing of China tiles. Moreover, he also approved of an iron foundry which could churn out canons for the palace. Malam exhibited his brilliant artistry and personally crafted the fountains, mirrors and glasswork. Amongst several of his wonders, Ram Singh also bestowed the Aina Mahal with a marvelous pendulum clock which works in sync with the Hindu calendar.
There were once a number of brilliant works or art stored in the Aina Mahal. Paintings like Hogarth’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’ and a portrait of ‘Catherine the Great cheek’ by Jowl shared spaces with several other worth wile pieces from Kutch that found the ruler’s patronage.
Malam’s year in Europe weren’t wasted as he learnt the nuances of the European sensibilities of art and architecture there. Once he was back, he found patronage from the king Lakhpatji, who along with Malam decorated the Aina Mahal with several Venetian style chandeliers. The Aina Mahal also boasts of glass paintings of Chinese inspiration. The Palace, not surprisingly, also has an array of mirrors everywhere. Ranging from full-length to tiny half-inch circles, the mirrors promise to draw awe from people as soon they put their eyes on them. The interiors of the palace exhibit the ceiling, doors and pillars which are glittered with work of mirrors and exquisite wood carvings. To add to the grandeur, there are beds with legs of gold surrounded by numerous mirrors in Baroque-style frames. The doors too were crafted from elephant tusk which boldly exclaim of the royalty of the king. The exteriors of the palace cum museum has carved doorways and extended window blocks.
The Aina Mahal was converted into Madanji Museum in 1997; but the conversion was done with the palace’s royalty and grandeur intact and preserved. The efforts were annulled by the disastrous earthquake that rattled Kutch in 2001.Apart from the humungous toll of death and destruction; the major extensions of the palaces too were heavily damaged and were turned into mere ruins by the natural catastrophe. The visitors of the mahal had sharply decreased post the earthquake and the palace has slowly moved back to its old royal state. With most of the restoration done, The Aina Mahal is now back as the jewel of Kutch.