At restored ‘Sawantwadi Palace’- Retro Design and Ganjifa card game recreate laid back charm

The stunning royal ‘home’ stands in foothills of the Sindhudurg range overlooking the placid Moti Talav Lake was once built by Khem Sawant Bhonsle during 1755-1803, it is meticulously restored by architect Vijay Gajbar and Abhishek Bhatnagar into a lavish art and craft boutique hotel.  

Sawantwadi Palace Boutique Art Hotel – A splendid sanctuary where English arches meet red laterite stones, wooden corridors and vividly painted Ganjifa cards adorning the walls can be reached off the Konkan coast in the humble town of Sawantwadi, southern Maharashtra.

Spread over many acres, the estate has many buildings in red laterite stone contrasting against the green coconut, jamun and mango trees. The royal family continues to reside in one section. Shraddha and Lakham Sawant Bhonsle have taken the decision to readapt a part of the estate – Taisaheb Wada – into the Sawantwadi Palace Boutique Art Hotel, a museum showcases artefacts in the other, and artisan ateliers have been set up in yet another wing.

The duo, along with Lakham’s parents – and the current heads of the royal household – Khem Sawant VI and Shubhadadevi Bhonsle, worked closely with structural architect Vijay Gajbar and restoration architect Abhishek Bhatnagar to bring their vision to reality.

The al-fresco dining in a restored palace courtyard is greeted by the youngest generation   chefs of the former royal family.

The building is redesigned on the lines of vernacular architectural traditions of Maharashtra, the wada was built around a central courtyard with rooms and galleries looking into it. While subsequent royals converted the wada into a studio space and also into wood-working workshops, it was largely shut off for the past few decades.

When it came to the interiors, the family’s heritage and close association with ganjifa were the natural inspirations. Introduced to India by the Mughals, the miniature  art form thrived in Sawantwadi in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Characterised by vivid colours, floral motifs, and mythological scenes, the hand-painted ganjifa art was first used for making playing cards, with the dashavatar (ten incarnations) of Lord Vishnu being the most popular theme. The six suites at the hotel are named after the first six of these avatars, each identified by a large medallion depicting the avatar, hand-painted by the palace’s artisans in the ganjifa-style.

The six suites at the Sawantwadi Palace Boutique Art Hotel are themed after incarnations of Lord Vishnu – matsya (fish), kurma (turtle), varaha (boar), narasimha (half-man & half-lion; in the photo here), vamana (dwarf) and prashuram (sadhu-warrior).

The architects had to restructure many elements – the roof; the upper floor, initially made of packed mud, was re-laid in pastel-hued IPS; and protective steel casings were added to the original wooden columns embedded retrofitted with walls and drafty windows.

An in-house team of carpenters renovated Sawantwadi Woodworks, established by Lakham’s grandfather – repaired and reupholstered the pieces,and forged a new life. Small ganjifa-inspired touches on these furniture pieces – from a subtle border at the edge of a side table, to the painted floral detail on the frame of the bathroom mirror are aesthetically charming and go  with the theme of the suite.

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