Matriarch of the Darbhanga Raj, once the largest zamindari in India, now lives a life of neglect
When she is in Delhi, 78-year-old Maharani Kalyani Singh, stays in the servant's quarters of Darbhanga House at 7, Mansingh Road. The palatial mansion was once owned by her family. A marble plaque outside the structure with the Maharani's name on it is a testimony to the fact.
Before and after: The NDMC board for the 'dhobighaat' at the Darbhanga
Palace in New Delhi where the queen puts up during her stays in the city
After the king of Darbhanga passed away in 1962, his palace and estates in Delhi were taken over by the Government of India. "Maharani visits Delhi only for medical purposes once in every two or three months and then she resides in the servant quarters. The Darbhanga Palace and house have been declared as heritage buildings and government offices are run from here," said Uday Nath Jha, son of the Maharani's elder sister. He also looks after the affairs of the Maharani.
Jha said the Maharani stays away from public attention. "She has never done any interviews. She prefers to follow the old traditions and stays away from the media and public events," he added.
Section of the Darbhanga House in the Capital that has had little or no
maintenance over the years
A family aide confided that a few years ago the Maharani declined to get her voter ID-card made, as there was no photograph of her. "She believes in the purda system and that's why she never agreed for any kind of photographs or portraits," he said.
After independence, the government had issued a resolution to take over all the palaces in the Capital and use them for government offices. "But Maharaja Kameshwar Singh's palace was left untouched," said Jha. However, a close family friend said on condition of anonymity that King Kameshwar Singh was always close to the government at the centre, be it the British or the post-independence Congress government, and the palace got a new lease of life on the insistence of the then President, Dr Rajendra Prasad.
But soon after, Maharaja Kameshwar Singh passed away. And things took an ugly turn for all the inhabitants of the palace. "All the goods from the palace were taken to Darbhanga in a special aircraft and the government paid the royal family a compensation of Rs 19, 30,500," an insider said.
The palace was then rented to the American Embassy for three years after which the Intelligence Bureau (IB)
took it over. "But the condition of the building has only worsened after that. There are sections in the palace which have become unsafe for human habitation because of the crumbling walls," he added.
|ONCE UPON A TIME|
The rule of Darbhanga state extended from 16th century till the time royalties were dissolved in the country by the government. The earliest kings were known to be close to Mughal empire which in fact had awarded them the royalty. The British government had refused to accept them as a princely state but allowed them to retain the title of Maharaja.
The princely state of Darbhanga is also known for owning palaces and properties in several big cities of the country. But most of the palace and forts had similar fate and were either acquired by the government or slipped into a state of complete neglect. In Darbhanga, King Kameshwar Singh has five palaces but today they have been converted into universities and post offices.
Besides boasting of palaces and houses across north India, Darbhanga Maharaj also maintained two airstrips at Darbhanga and Madhubani which have been taken over by the Indian Air Force.
The rooms in which the Maharani resides though are nothing less than a small bungalow. But the crumbling remains remind of its ill fate. "There is no one to take care of it. You can see the heavy wooden doors are damp and the walls need whitewashing. An old caretaker lives here with some really distant family members," said one of the residents.
Two locked rooms are used by the Maharani whenever she visits Delhi. "We keep the rooms closed and no one is allowed to go inside," the caretaker said.
The Darbhanga Palace along with the ADC House (also known as Darbhanga House) were built in the year 1928. "The palace was constructed along with the palaces of other princely states to create a rich neighbourhood in the surroundings of the then Viceroy's House (now the Rashtrapati Bhavan)," informed Jha. The land was allotted at a rate of Rs four per yard.