Tenth in the series of the Palaces of Hyderabad is the glorious and one of the few wooden palaces in Hyderabad… The Malwala Palace!!

Malwala Palace is a palace built in 1845 located in Hyderabad, India. It is close to the historic Charminar. It was constructed in Mughal and Rajasthani style and in Hyderabadi courtyard style, is known for its richly carved wooden pavilion. Barring the grand gateway, the palace complex has been reduced to rubble.

The Malwala Palace is one of the few surviving wooden palaces of Hyderabad built in late Mughal and Rajasthani style. It was built by an ancestor of the Malwala family, Sagar Mall, who had accompanied the first Nizam to Hyderabad in 1724. Sagar Mall became custodian of the revenue (Mall) records of the state. This function was passed down to his descendants hereditarily. Thus the family acquired the name Malwala.

The Malwala Palace is located along the road leading  east from the Charminar. The complex has three components: the double storeyed large residential quarters arranged around several smaller inner courtyards; the road side block with a double height semicircular gateway flanked by a pedimented side wing with Corinthian columns in European style; and finally the grand inner court with a fountain in the center surrounded by wooden pavilions on two sides and overhanging wooden balconies with intricate on the other two sides.

Malwala Palace is unique in its extensive use of woodwork and as a specimen of a typical Hyderabad courtyard house. This is one of the important palaces belonging to Hyderabad’s erstwhile nobles

The palace belongs to a noble family, the Malwala or the custodians of the Revenue Records (Daftar -i- Mal) of the erstwhile Hyderabad State. Built in the early 18th century, this was one of the very few palaces of Hyderabad built in the Mughal and Rajasthani Styles of Architecture.

It was an exquisite Diwan Khana made of huge Arches in lacquered wood and beautifully painted with vegetable dyes and two galleries about 80 Mtrs in length flanking the Diwan Khana on each side. The galleries housed the most priceless collection of antique Indian art and artifacts. Another lesser known fact about the Palace was its legendary library, which boasted of a collection of rare books and manuscripts from the 10th century A.D.

Tragedy struck the Malwala Palace, a protected heritage building, having rare wooden pavilion considered the “bride” among the garland of palaces around Charminar when the major portion as important as the “heart” was reduced to rubble on a Monday in 2000.

For conservationists, the demolition, meticulously planned and executed clandestinely by real estate developers allegedly in connivance with a section of the owners of the palace and politicians, was “outrageous”. Just when they thought the heritage regulation would ensure protection deterring the owners and their heirs from pulling down the building, it proved otherwise.

The threat of demolition had been looming large over the palace for over a year now. Another section of heirs keen on protecting the palace had apprehended knocking down of the building by “vested interests” for its real estate value and rich Rangoon teak rafters. These fears had come true now. When this was highlighted in these columns at that time, the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA), the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad (MCH) and the police swung into action, kept a vigil and warded off the threat.

One of the owners interested in the building’s conservation and its re-use as a museum or a heritage hotel had later gone to the AP High Court. The court saved the magnificent palace, giving an interim direction in May 2000 to the civic authorities and other owners “not to alter the structure until further orders”. Three months later, the major portion of the building lies in a shambles.

Constructed around 1860, the palace had two wings — eastern part used for official business, celebrations and social functions and the western one for residential purpose. Most part of the western wing had been razed to the ground before the heritage regulation came into force. The eastern wing was notified and it had remained intact till as early as the first week of August when owners/developers seemed to have used rain as a cover to carry out the demolition. While the main attractive portion is gone, the right and left blocks still remain, for how long nobody knows.

This eastern part extends to 2460 square metres with a beautiful cistern still standing in the middle of the vast courtyard. It consisted of a series of galleries in two floors and a wooden pavilion, which like the Diwan-i-Khas of the Delhi Fort is “an oriental magnificence in wood.” Vegetable dyes were used for decorating the lacquered wood and the walls.

All the efforts made by the HUDA earlier to save the building had come to a nought. Apart from shooting off letters to the MCH Commissioner and the City Police Commissioner to keep a watch, it offered the owners the option of Transfer of Development Rights. In 1999, it had also requested the Tourism Department to take over the building in view of its importance. The then Secretary, Tourism, had recommended the same to the Government. Thanks to the Government’s intransigence, the grand portion of the palace is no more.

Ironically, the Tourism Department recently planned a “heritage walk” around Charminar, making the necessary arrangements, to enable tourists to take a stroll and get a glimpse of the richly- built heritage. Conservationists feel that if the protected heritage buildings are knocked down like this, nothing will be left for tourists to savour. They remind the Tourism department that it will have to go much beyond merely illuminating these buildings.

Conservationists also argue that though the regulation was good enough, no back-up machinery was created in the HUDA or the MCH for protection of heritage buildings. A Heritage Conservation Committee is there which clears applications for change in use or redevelopment of heritage building/ precincts. But what if a heritage building owner does not submit any application and demolishes the building straight away?

This is an area of concern and we all Hyderabadis should stand for the conservation of our culture, tradition, buildings and heritage structures.