The restoration journey, initiated in the early 2000s aimed not only to revive the palace but also to rejuvenate the Mansagar Lake
By Dr. Vibhuti Sachdev
By 2004, the Mansagar Lake had become a dumping ground for city sewage, and the channels from the Nahargarh hills remained obstructed and neglected. Consequently, the lake, which was designed to replenish itself during monsoons, failed to sustain its natural cycle.
At the foot of Nahargarh hills, this "floating palace" of Jal Mahal proceeded to make a remarkable comeback, resurrected from pollution to reclaim its position within Jaipur's expanding heritage collection. The restoration journey, initiated in the early 2000s aimed not only to revive the palace but also to rejuvenate the Mansagar Lake — a once thriving haven for migratory birds and aquatic life.
In the realm of monument restoration, the responsibility typically falls upon governing State bodies, which determine the approach, funding, and timeline for the project. However, inviting non-government professionals from various fields to contribute their expertise in specific restoration needs is rare. Moreover, the significance of a monument may change with shifts in the political climate, leading to potential obstacles and setbacks for ongoing restoration efforts.
During the restoration process, careful consideration was given to maintaining the original design elements of Jal Mahal. Studying the original structure revealed a concept known as Char Bagh, featuring four walkways leading to a central platform. The restoration introduced a Chameli Bagh, which faithfully replicates this concept. Furthermore, the addition of 18th-century-inspired waterways and fountains, along with the restoration of Tibaris adorned with motifs reflecting the city palace and Badal Mahal, enhanced the grandeur of the palace.
The concept of maintaining historical buildings in a state of "arrested decay" can sometimes appease purists, but its implementation is often misguided and financially unsustainable. Certain decaying finishes and materials cannot be repaired by mere patchwork. For instance, a crumbling araish panel necessitates complete removal and resurfacing rather than simple adhesion. In cases where skilled craftsmen are readily available, there is a strong argument for replacing the old with the new, especially when it helps keep traditional skills alive and revitalizes the built fabric.
While international conservation principles generally discourage conjectural reconstruction, there are instances where reconstructing missing parts or introducing new spaces can breathe new life and meaning into historical structures. Rajasthan's rich heritage and the survival of traditional craftsmanship provide an opportunity to employ methods of conjectural reconstruction that align with sound conservation principles.
The Conservation Consultant to the project is Vibhuti Sachdev, Dean, GITAM School of Architecture, GITAM (Deemed to be University).