Bhubaneswar : The Killa Aul Palace dates back to 1590 C.E. and has been the residence of 19 generations of Rajas who are direct descendants of Gajapati Mukunda Deva, the last independent ruler of Kalinga in the 16th century. The Palace was established by Raja Ram Chandra Deb on the bank of river Kharasrota, a tributary of the Bramhani. The 432 years old Palace bears testimony of Odisha during the Afghan, Mughal, Maratha and British Rule.


Raja Ramchandra Deva had established Killa Aul after drawing up a treaty with the Mughals. It is certainly one of the oldest extant Palace of Odisha, which has retained many of its original architectural features. Built on the lines of a fortified river fort, the Palace is very different from the other surviving palaces of the State. The layout and architecture is a blend of old and new, with thick mud walls, low ceilinged rooms, iron studded wooden doors, courtyards, underground chambers etc. The tidal river encircles and touches the palace walls on the west and north, a moat ran on its western side. In earlier days, it had all the features of a River Fort, with a small dock, lighthouse, anchorage etc. Even today, it is often termed as the “Jal Mahal” of Odisha, as the water kisses the palace walls twice during the day during the flood tides. The ebb tides results in a pristine private beach.


The Killa Aul Palace Room has one of the most significant, captivating and impressive characteristics of the Mughal Art of Pietra Dura in Odisha. The only other place where this is seen is at the Kadam Rasool Mosque of Cuttack, which was done in a much later period. There is a strong possibility that this work was done by artists from North India, especially Rajasthan, during the period when Raja Mansingh had been appointed as the Subhadar, or Governor, of Bengal Bihar and Orissa in in 1594 CE by Emperor Akbar.


Pietra Dura was also well known as Parchin Kari in Mughal India. The Agra Fort and the Red Fort in Delhi too have a fair share of this art. The art form is a very tedious process that requires patience and persistence. Fragments of semiprecious stones are first cut and then shaped to give them the form desired. The inlay work is done with delicately cut, fitted and highly polished semiprecious stones like Lapis lazuli, Agate, Turquoise, and Jade. The stone wall is given a slight pigmentation and then chiselled for the stones to be fitted in order to give way to the desired scene. Egg shells, sea shells, traditional lime masonry etc. is all used.


The art work is found in the former royal durbar room overlooked the Rang Manch or the performing art centre which lay in the centre of the courtyard. Performances of Gotipua Dances, classical Odisha music etc. was a regular feature by the kings who patronised the arts. This decorated room was where the Raja and his entourage sat and watched the performances. This low height square room that has survived the ravages of time for nearly five centuries is now on the verge of absolute ruins.


The roof is on the verge to collapse. The roof beams, two of which have fallen down, are now termite ridded and hollow. The roof is caving in in the centre. Two large portions of the Pietra Dura have been damaged due to dampness and fungus. There are intricate floral designs with depiction of birds, especially four large peacocks in all the resplendent glory. The sheen and glaze of the art work is discernable even after centuries. While most of it is still in its original form, it is in an easily restorable and conservable state. The custom-made ceramic tiles, which form the part of the wall, have been designed in pattern with the Pietra Dura work. Some of the tiles are missing.


The INTACH team, comprising of Anil Dhir, Dr. Biswajit Mohanty and Conservation Architect Satyam Jyoti have conducted a detailed survey and made a status report of the room. The State Convener of INTACH, Shri A.B.Tripathy (IPS) Retd. will be soon sending the report to the concerned officials and INTACH shall constitute an expert team for the evaluation of the palace room. According to A.B.Tripathy, this unique and valuable piece of Odishan heritage should be preserved and conserved and INTACH shall render all necessary support.


According to Anil Dhir, this is the only perfect example of early period Pietra Dura art in the State in its original form. Dhir said that Lapis lazuli, which was only found only in the Badakshan region of Afghanistan was a semi-precious stone which was extensively used on Mughal architecture. He also said that the finesse and detailed artwork in the Aul Palace surpasses that of many that he has seen in other places. He said that if immediate steps are not undertaken, this valuable piece of heritage will be lost for over.


Dr. Biswajit Mohanty is of the opinion that the Killa Aul Palace is the only surviving example of a true River Fort built in the traditional style. The later day palaces were just copies of English Palaces, castles, country houses etc. The Auli Palace, with its low height roofs and walls, earthen fortifications, moats, cellars, wooden beams structures, laid out in a labyrinth of passages , is a classical example or early ear palaces. While the present Raja has restored most of it in its original style, much more needs to be done. Mohanty also said that the sheer number of artefacts that are lying in the palace cellars should be places in a proper site museum. The rich number of marine artifacts at the palace shed rich light on the maritime traditions and mercantile history of Odisha.


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