Maharaja Sayajirao III’s

in Overview
Published on: 12 July 2018


The State of Baroda: A historical glimpse


The history of Baroda is almost two thousand years old. The region was divided into two small towns, namely Ankottaka (present-day Akota in Vadodara) and ‘Vadapadraka’ or ‘Vatpatrak’ (Leaf of Banyan Tree) on the banks of the rivers Mahi and Vishwamitri respectively. The ancient township, according to Mauryan sources, flourished due to its presence on the main trade route between Gujarat, Rajasthan and the Deccan regions. The region has seen the rule of several dynasties such as the Guptas, Maitrakas, Chalukyas, Delhi Sultanate, Gujarat Sultanate, Mughals and Marathas due to its geographical significance. The province was an equally popular location to its contemporary, Champaner-Pavagadh kingdom, which was ruled by the Kichi Chauhans and later became capital of the Gujarat Sultanate.


In the latter years of the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the Marathas had started to attack its territories in Gujarat. In 1721, Pilajirao Gaekwad, a Maratha chieftain who had established the fort of Songadh and Rajpipla, captured the city of Baroda from the Mughal Empire for the then Peshwa Bajirao I. Pilajirao sought the help of local Adivasi communities, Bhils and Kolis from local areas like Padra, Bhayli and Chhani, in this endeavour. The Peshwa, in recognition for his services to the Maratha empire handed the city of Baroda to Pilajirao as a jagir, which gradually was consolidated towards laying the foundation of the rule of Gaekwads in Baroda.


Prelude to the accession of Maharaja Sayajirao III


The sudden death of Maharaja Khanderao before the birth of his child gave rise to controversial accession issues. The matters of succession were postponed until Maharani Jamnabai, the wife of late Maharaja Khanderao gave birth to their child. Maharani Jamnabai gave birth to a daughter on July 5, 1871, which paved the way for Malharao, the brother of late Maharaja Khanderao, to put forth his claim to the throne of the Baroda state. The reign of Maharaja Malharrao was short-lived since he was deposed and then exiled to Madras. In the subsequent period, a decision was taken to select a king from outside the state of Baroda but from within the Gaekwad family. Towards this end, a regency committee was established which consisted of people like Maharani Jamnabai, Dewan of Baroda Raja Sir T. Madhavrao, Sir Richard Meade among others. The regency committee visited regions where morganatic Gaekwad families were residing. In Kavlane near Malegaon in Nasik resided Shrimant Kashirao and Umabai Gaekwad with their three sons Anandrao, Gopalrao and Sampatrao.


The brothers were presented before Maharani Jamnabai who questioned them to explain the reason for their presence before her. Gopalrao with utmost self-confidence replied, ‘I have come here to rule’. This and a few more traits led to Gopalrao solidifying his selection which was supported by both Maharani Jamnabai and Dewan Raja Sir T. Madhavrao. Maharani Jamnabai on May 27, 1875, adopted Gopalrao, and on June 16, 1875, he was crowned to ascend to the throne of Baroda State under a new name ‘Sayajirao III’. The British government appointed an I.C.S. officer named F.A.H. Elliot assigning him with the task of looking after the education and training of the young Maharaja, while Raja Sir T. Madhavrao mentored Maharaja Sayajirao III in the skills of administration. On December 28, 1881, Maharaja Sayajirao III officially took over the reins of the state of Baroda.

Maharaja Sayajirao III: A visionary reformer


The reign of the deposed Maharaja Malharrao had left the Baroda state in disarray but the Council of Regency which was active between 1875 to 1881 (the period when Maharaja Sayajirao III was still a minor) led by Dewan Raja Sir T. Madhavrao had strived hard to bring stability back to Baroda. After completing his six-year training program in 1881, Maharaja Sayajirao III took over the reign of governance of Baroda state and began travelling to the various regions of his kingdom in order to learn, assess and understand the state of his province and subjects. Maharaja Sayajirao III gradually began to introduce several radical undertakings to modernise Baroda.


The Maharaja began by restructuring his system of judiciary by forming a law committee which was tasked with the work of framing laws, drafting them and introducing them through legislative measures. The influence of the British system of judiciary were evident as many new judicial frameworks like the Civil Procedure Code, Penal Code, Criminal Procedure, Police codes were all drawn on the lines of British codes. In 1899, the law committee was replaced by the newly formed ‘Legal Remembrance Department’, which would look after the legislative matters of the state of Baroda. In 1904, the ‘Sthanik Panchayat Sambandhi Nibandh’ or the Local Self Government Act was introduced, showcasing the importance of the same in the view of the Maharaja. He also restructured the system of municipalities through the Sudharai Nibandh (Municipal Act) in 1905.


After the 1899 famine in India, special attention was given to the restructuring of the Department of Agriculture. Maharaja Sayajirao III sponsored the education of several students at the Royal College of Agriculture in England, and invited several experts from the various disciplines related to agriculture to seek their expertise. A state-maintained College of Agriculture was established  in 1886–87, where an experimental farm was maintained to ensure the students of the college became able agriculturists. He introduced the system of Livestock Census, established veterinary dispensaries, cattle breeding farms, developed the dairy industry and promoted the development of cottage industries in villages to complement and enhance agriculture.


Maharaja Sayajirao III prioritised development of projects for public works which included development and building of roads, ports, dams, reservoirs, irrigation facilities and a vast network of railways in Baroda. The Ajwa reservoir, also known as Sayaji Sarovar, was one such major endeavour initiated by the Maharaja to resolve the issue of fresh drinking water. The construction of the reservoir began on January 8, 1885, and was completed in 1890, providing water to about 3,00,000 people. Another such major initiative was the development of the railways in Baroda. Maharaja Khanderao had laid the foundation of the railways in Baroda state in 1908, which was further developed by Dewan Raja Sir T. Madhavrao. Initially, B.B. & C.I. Railway Company were tasked with constructing and managing railways in Baroda state. Maharaja Sayajirao III later expanded the railway network and developed a state Department of Railways under the name Gaekwad’s Baroda State Railways in 1921. Maharaja Sayajirao III also established a Railway Staff College along with a Railway Staff Colony near Pratapnagar in Baroda.


The development of industries and factories in Baroda were given equivalent thought by the Maharaja. Industrialisation in both state and private sectors were encouraged. The leading industrial segment was that of textile. The nature of state-owned industries ranged from cotton mills, sugar factories, brick factories, glass factories to chocolate factories, chrome leather tanning factories and furniture. The private industries ranged from chemical industries, iron works, salt industries, cement factories and match industries. Maharaja Sayajirao III also introduced several banking innovations to Baroda and laid the foundation of the Bank of Baroda in 1908.


The Maharaja gave special importance to education which according to him was the most important route towards his modernisation and progress. In 1890, Kala Bhavan was established which focused on imparting technical skills or vocational knowledge by teaching in local or vernacular languages. Kala Bhavan provided education in art, carpentry, mechanical technology, architecture, dyeing, calico printing among other courses. In 1893, Maharaja Sayajirao III introduced a state-aided system of education making the Baroda state the first of its kind in colonial India to introduce free and compulsory education. New schools were established which offered instruction in various mediums—ranging from vernacular, Anglo-vernacular to English. The Maharaja also ordered the establishment of a new school in every two villages where there were at least 16 children ready to attend, leading to the establishment of 632 new schools in the villages of the Baroda state. Fines were levied on parents of children who defaulted on sending their children to schools. Again, the Maharaja established the Central Education Board to undertake important educational reforms at the policy level. 


Maharaja Sayajirao III established the ‘Gayan Shala’ in 1886 under the principalship of Ustad Maula Baksh, making it India’s first music college. The institute was renamed as the Faculty of Performing Arts in 1984. Later, the Maharaja also introduced the system of libraries to Baroda and established the Central Library of Baroda near Mandvi in 1910–11. The number of libraries in Baroda state was 1,504 by 1939. In 1879, Maharaja Sayajirao III laid the foundation for Baroda College, which was affiliated with the Bombay University in 1881 and was opened to the students in 1882. The teaching began with the Faculty of Science in 1887, Faculty of Agriculture in 1890 and Law in 1891 along with the Comparative Studies in 1915. Hostels, libraries, seminars, scholarships were introduced to the infrastructure of the Baroda College. The Maharaja’s biggest wish was to integrate the Baroda College into an autonomous university, which was not possible due to his estranged relationship with the British during the 1920s and 1930s. However, this dream was fulfilled later by his successor Maharaja Pratapsinhrao in the year 1949 when the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda was established.


Maharaja Sayajirao III’s modernisation of Baroda was not only restricted to progress in education and economy, but also on moral and humanitarian grounds as well. He introduced revolutionary legislations which were far ahead of his years. The Maharaja abolished the practice of untouchability, child marriage, and passed the legislation which upheld the right to divorce. He gave immense importance to and promoted talent irrespective of class, caste, or religion. This is evident in his patronage extended towards important stalwarts such as Raja Ravi Verma, who combined Western techniques with Indian concepts and is referred to as Father of Modern Art in India; Dadabhai Naoroji, whom he employed as his Dewan and later funded his travels in Europe; he also brought Sir Aurobindo Ghose to Baroda after meeting him once in London; and is known to have sponsored the education of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar who later worked for the Baroda state, and drafted our Constitution. Augusto Felici, Phanindranath Bose, F. Derwett Wood, V.P. Karmarkar, G.K. Mhatre, Sass and Elizabeth Brunner, Samuel Fyzee Rahamin, Nandalal Bose were among the many important artists and scholars who received patronage from Maharaja Sayajirao III. 


Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery


Modernisation of the Baroda state, education and patronage towards the development of art and culture were the cornerstones of the reign of Maharaja Sayajirao III. From the very beginning of his tenure the Maharaja travelled to various parts of the world, almost once every year. He spent a lot of his time in Europe and was very impressed with the European lifestyle and their worldview. The Maharaja’s model of development for Baroda was founded on the experiences of his travels abroad. His intrigue towards the finer arts like painting, sculpture, music, dance, etc., had already seen fruition in the establishment of institutions catering to develop such skills indigenously along with extending his royal patronage to artists from all over the globe. The synthesis of all these ideas gave impetus to the establishment of the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery.


The foundation for the building of the Baroda Museum was laid by Maharaj Sayajirao III in 1887. The construction of the museum building began in 1890 and was completed in 1894 and in the very same year the museum was opened to the people of Baroda. The addition of the auxiliary building for the Picture Gallery was undertaken in 1908 and was completed in the year 1914. The extension work for the building of the Picture Gallery was undertaken with the aim to exhibit European artworks. The Picture Gallery was not opened to the public till 1921 on account of World War I. During this time, Maharaja Sayajirao III commissioned Marion H. Spielman, a Victorian art critic who he had met in London, with the task of acquiring European paintings representing the various schools of art for the Baroda Museum and the newly built Picture Gallery. Spielman travelled across Europe during the period of the World War I and over the next five years collected several works of art both originals and some first copies. The transport of the newly acquired paintings was postponed until the war in Europe was over due to security issues.


The Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery is situated in Sayaji Baug between the Vishwamitri River and the Maharaja Sayajirao University. The 113-acre park was built by Maharaja Sayajirao III in 1879 for the people of Baroda. Also known as Kamati Baug, the park houses other educational institutions and places of entertainment such as the Health Museum, Sayaji Baug Zoo, Sardar Patel Planetarium, an open-air amphitheatre among other attractions. The building was designed by Robert Fellowes Chishlom, the Baroda state architect, and Major R.N. Mant. Considered as one the pioneers of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, R.F. Chishlom is credited with having designed and constructed famous buildings of institutions such as The Presidency College, Madras, University of Madras, Napier Museum in Trivandrum, Lakshmi Vilas Palace, among many more.


The two-storeyed Baroda Museum structure is 150 feet long and 40 feet broad, has eight towers, and is one of the most prominent examples of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture in India. The Indo-Saracenic style of architecture is an amalgamation of the Indo-Islamic and Indian style of architecture with the Gothic and Neo-Classical architectural styles of Europe. Examples of such a conjunction are evident in the use of wooden frames with brick walls, a local Maratha influence, while the ground floor of the museum reflects the European influence. The main entrance (currently not in use), on the south side of the museum, with its vast rising steps resembles the Mughal style of architecture. The Picture Gallery building, also a two-storeyed structure, showcases elements of Indo-Saracenic architecture in its brick style, the use of sandstone arcades, representative of the European style of architecture, and the presence of Indian elements such as chhattris.


The administration of the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery was allocated to the Department of Education of the Gaekwad state by Maharaja Sayajirao III. M.F. Blake was appointed as the Director of the museum in 1895 to undertake the initial planning and structuring the management of the preliminary artefacts and objects acquired from the Gaekwad palaces on the bequest of the Maharaja. Amba Ram Harisankar was chosen as the assistant curator. In 1940, Maharaja Sayajirao III appointed Dr Hermann Goetz as the director of Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery. Dr Goetz, an eminent art historian, was one of the pioneers of the museum movement in India. He initiated the journal Bulletin of The Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery in the year 1942 and was the editor of the journal until 1953.


The International Council of Museums (ICOM) was established in the year 1946 as an international organisation catering to the museums and their studies. This trend had not eluded India or the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery. The museum movement in India was already undergoing rapid transformations with new museums being established across the country, and there was a growing concern among the museum professionals of the time regarding the lack of trained individuals who could take over the responsibility of the museums. In light of these events, Prof. V.L. Devkar, the then assistant curator at the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery, led the movement to set up a department within the museum infrastructure to offer training and education to individuals aspiring to work in museums. In 1950, the Department of Museum Studies was established making it India’s first ever such department. The initial instruction in this programme was oriented around practical aspects of Museum Studies, known as Museography. In 1953, the department was absorbed by the Maharaja Sayajirao University and was relocated to the Faculty of Fine Arts. The focus of education for the newly formed Department of Museology was shifted from Museography to a much more theoretical format of Museology. The department boasts of important stalwarts as its alumni, namely Prof. V.H. Bedekar, Prof. S.N. Nair, Dr L.P. Sihare, Padma Shri Dr S.V. Gorakshakar, Dr S. Mukherjee among many others.


The Collection


The collection of the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery aimed to provide a visual learning experience to the people of Baroda with regards to art, culture and heritage of the various regions both of the nation and civilisations abroad. The collection of the museum is exhibited in 28 galleries representing collections from Japan, China, Nepal, Europe, Tibet, Egypt, Greece, Rome among others. The museum houses a vast collection representing disciplines such as Archaeology, History, Fine Arts, Industrial Arts, Ethnology, Zoology, Botany, Anthropology, Geology, Geography, Palaeontology, Osteology, etc. Maharaja Sayajirao III had himself collected several artefacts prior to the establishment of the Baroda Museum, which he had later donated as part of the first collection based on which the museum was set up. The number of artefacts housed in the museum is approximately close to around 70,000, out of which around 11,000 are on display while rest is in the reserve collection.


The European Gallery exhibits artworks like paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings of artists from Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and British schools of art among others. The collection houses many original works and several authentic master copies. A master copy of a painting from the Italian section titled ‘The Death of St. Peter Martyr’ by Tiziano Vecellio (1480–1576; better known as Titian) is a much-coveted treasure given the original, which was displayed at the Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, was lost in a fire in 1874, making this copy at the Baroda Museum the only remaining master copy of the painting. Another similar case is that of a replica painting titled ‘Isabella de Valois’ by Spanish artist Alonso Sanchez Coello from 1560. The original painting was destroyed in a fire in 1604; and the painting was the only replica portrait of Isabella de Valois, the third queen of King Philip II of Spain, until a new painting was reconstructed based on this particular painting housed in the Baroda Museum and another painting by Spanish artist Sofonisba Anguissola for the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.


The Natural History Gallery exhibits a collection of specimens from sciences such as Zoology, Geology, Botany, Osteology and Palaeontology. The Zoology section exhibits specimens of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, etc. The attractive exhibits in this section are ‘The Sacred Birds of Gujarat’, dioramic portrayal of a ‘Duck Pond’, a habitat case of lions from Gir, a taxidermy tiger which was hunted by Maharaja Sayajirao III near Songadh in 1914, among others. The osteological specimens are housed in the basement of the Baroda Museum, which include the original skeleton of a blue whale, which in 1944 accidentally swam ashore in the River Mahi near Vadodara. The osteological section also displays specimens of Indian elephants, dolphin, giraffe, boa constrictor, a human skeleton, etc. The plant fossil collection exhibited in the Natural History gallery was donated by the famous Indian paleobotanist Prof. Birbal Sahni. A plaster cast of tusks of the Indian Shivalik elephant is also displayed in this section. The geological samples from in and around Baroda were collected by Bruce Foote, a prominent British geologist who studied and surveyed prehistoric locations in India for the Geological Survey of India during the colonial rule. The samples of minerals are displayed using the James D. Dana’s ‘System of Mineralogy’.


The Gallery of Indian Civilisation and Art exhibits a vast collection of both authentic originals and replicas—Indus Valley excavation specimens, such as ‘Priest King’ and ‘Dancing Girl’; plaster casts of the Lion Capital from Sarnath and Bharhut Stupa reliefs depicting the Jataka Tales; various replicas of artefacts relating to Krishna, Buddha and the Jain tradition. The section also exhibits a vast and impressive archaeological collection collected over the years from expeditions in and around Baroda. A part of the collection is obtained from the early excavations conducted by Dr H.D. Sankalia from the Deccan College near the Sabarmati, Mahi and Orsang Rivers. The collection of Jain bronzes excavated at Akota near Baroda in 1951 are a major attraction in this section. Popularly known as the Akota Bronzes, the collection is dated back to between 6th–11th centuries, and consists of bronze figurines of Tirthankaras, and goddess Ambika and Sarasvati, etc. The section also houses excavated artefacts from Rajpipla, Dabhoi and Champaner-Pavagadh. The collection of miniature paintings is extensive and represents the various Indian schools of art with the Hamza Nama (Single Folio) and Razm Nama (Persian translation of the Mahabharata) being the most interesting aspects of the collection. The Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery also houses a collection of artworks of modern artists like N.S. Bendre, Nandalal Bose, G.D. Deuskar, A.R. Chughtai, Samuel Fayzee Rahamin, S.H. Raza, Jamini Roy, F.N. Souza, K.G. Subramanyan, F.N. Bose among others.


There are also dedicated galleries exhibiting artefacts representative of the culture and art of Japan and China in mediums such as ivory, porcelain, lacquer, pearl, jade, textile, wood, stone, metals, etc., in the form of statues, figurines, decorative pieces, paintings, embroidery, etc. Another section is exclusively dedicated to the collection of artefacts from Tibet and Nepal, consisting of bronze figurines of various sizes relating to the Hindu, Buddhist and Lamaistic pantheon, Thangka paintings, manuscripts, mandalas among other artefacts. Another individual section is dedicated to the collection featuring artefacts of West Asian civilisations, of which the exhibit of the Egyptian mummy of a young woman bought by Maharaja Sayajirao III in 1895 is very popular. The mummy is a unique element of the collection since there are only a total of four such mummies in the museums of India. The Islamic Gallery displays artefacts of Islamic civilisations from countries such as Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Indo-Persian artefacts from India. The collection ranges from textiles, painted porcelain tiles, paintings, embroidery works, etc. The Islamic Gallery also exhibits a miniature version of the Quran, which can be observed through a magnifying glass.


The Graeco-Roman Gallery situated in the basement of the Picture Gallery houses a collection consisting mainly of replicas made from plaster of Paris, bronze, terracotta, and Galvano copies. The artefacts in this section include Wedgwood vases, statues, mosaics, etc., sourced from various museums across Europe like the Naples Museum, British Museum, etc., along with replicas of famous artefacts from cities such as Athens, Rome, Delphi, Berlin, etc. The plaster casts of Moses, Julius Caesar, Athena defeating a winged Titan, a model of the Hellenistic School under the Attalios, etc., are also important attractions. The gallery also displays sculptures by the Italian artist Augusto Felici, such as ‘Temptation of Eve’. A plaster cast of the frieze from Parthenon is mounted along the exterior of the museum building. The Ethnography and Ethnology Gallery exhibits a comprehensive collection representing tribes from India and countries abroad. The gallery boasts of a collection of agricultural implements like ploughs, sickles, etc.; household items like knives, scissors, brass utensils, decorative and ceremonial pots, ornaments, costumes; toys, religious idols, various masks, clay figurines, life-size dioramas like that of a Rabari couple and so on from India, Tibet, China, Japan, Africa, West Asia and South East Asia. The most notable section of this gallery is the collection of musical instruments such as the rudra veena, svara mandala, mridanga, naferi, phungi, etc.


The Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery also houses a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory which is known as the Central Conservation and Restoration Laboratory. The laboratory is headed currently by a chief conservator and is responsible for the conservation and restoration activities of all government museums of Gujarat. The museum also houses a research library with an extensive collection of over 23,000 books. According to Mr Patel (Curator), many of the books in the collection of the library can itself be considered as important and rare artefacts. In the premises of the Baroda Museum, an open-air Sculpture Park was inaugurated by former director of Baroda Museum, Dr R.D. Parmar. The park houses several stone artefacts collected through archaeological excavations carried out across various regions around Vadodara. However, the most impressive sculpture in the park is the carved ceiling from the 9th-century tomb of Sheikh Farid. The museum also runs a small merchandise shop which allows visitors to purchase the publications of the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery along with postcards, pictures and replica figurines of a few artefacts on display at the museum.


Concluding Thoughts


The contributions of Maharaja Sayajirao III to the State of Baroda are considered remarkable, especially since the scope, nature and foresight of his endeavours was immense. His initiatives were also undertaken during an era when colonial rule had its roots spread deep into the Indian society, and by extension impacted the functioning of the princely states. The Maharaja left no stone unturned in modernising his state with the tools of education and reform. Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery was one of his most significant contribution towards the dissemination of knowledge amongst his people. The uniqueness of the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery is often unheard, unseen and unread by most of its visitors. The exemplary vision behind the museum is such that it inspired the formation of Asia’s first Department of Museology (Museum Studies). Thus, the museum, simply put, is not just a repository of artefacts, but a unique institution for visual education.




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