Reconstructing the history of an antiquarian structure of some grandeur becomes a fascinating experience when neither an inscription nor official records can be traced in situ. Khunga Kothi –a century old feudal retreat, was built sometime in early 1900s by Raja Ranbir Singh, successor and grandson of Raja Raghubir Singh of Jind Riyasat, then in Punjab but now in Haryana, on the picturesque left bank of Chautang or Chetang canal of the modern Western Jamuna Canal System.
The role of the Khunga Kothi remains confined in mystery except that it was used as a private retreat by Raja Ranbir Singh as and when he desired peace and solitude. Raja Ranbir Singh was the longest serving Maharaja of the princely state of Jind which was formed after the Anglo-Maratha War and was a British protectorate; a vassal of the British to put it simply. After the death of Raja Ranbir Singh, which was soon after the signing of the instrument of accession into Indian Union, the Kothi fell into disuse and remained neglected. It was reoccupied in 1986 by Navodaya Vidyalaya Sangathan for establishing a school.
This grand mansion is situated about 15 kilometers from Jind and for getting there one has to take the road to Safidon and also cautiously locate a rickety sign board bearing in faded letters the name of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Khunga Kothi, Jind. The Raja had set the Kothi amidst agricultural fields touching the left bank of the Chautang near the Bailey bridge, a little away from Khunga (after whom the Kothi is named) –a village settled sometime in the early eighteenth century by Redhu Jats, who came from Kandela, their head village. In spite of the Kothi’s obscure location, its dignity in colonial architectural magnificence of the British Raj period remains unblemished.
Several entertaining snippets of Raja Ranbir Singh’s life exist which later made their way into Diwan Jarmani Dass’s ‘Maharaja’. As per the Diwan, Raja Ranbir Singh was stone deaf but carried on the administration of the state in his own peculiar style, which only a few close officials such as Sir Behari Lall Dhingra, the Prime Minister and Pundit Ram Rattan, a close associate, could understand. Sometimes he would get annoyed and frustrate his officials or even the British guests and at other times he would like to spend days in seclusion. Diwan Jarmani Dass noted: ‘This program was observed both in summer and the winter. In summer he used to go to Khunga where he had a bungalow at the canal bank and it was surrounded by several tanks where he used to fish and cook a meal himself. The whole day was spent in cooking, fishing and he had ordered that during summer months as in winter months, no official should talk to him about State affairs.’ Strange for a man who rose to the high rank of a colonel in the British Army and was decorated with the highest orders of the British Empire !
Despite being surrounded by residential quarters of the staff of Navodaya Vidyalaya, Khunga Kothi, bears a desolate look. There must have been a time when it glowed under the feeble illumination of petromax lanterns, decorated with period paintings, furniture with leather upholstery, chandeliers that contained wax candles, horse carts and colonial paraphernalia.
Khunga Kothi, built in late colonial architectural style, is structurally robust and still in good physical state. It could have been designed by either a British engineer architect or a native experienced mason. It is built on a square plinth with a spacious porch facing the northeast and inset verandahs with arched colonnades. From the porch, designed to accommodate horse driven carts as well as motor cars, one could straightaway step in to the huge reception or drawing room with two large ante rooms for the guests, if there were any. After crossing the drawing room, one can feel fresh breeze entering from a well-ventilated low roofed corridor that leads to the three interior rooms in the rear, the purpose of which could have been to accommodate ladies from the royal household and afford privacy to them if ever a couple of them paid a visit.
The masonry staircase located inside the western fringe was to lead visitors to the terrace. However another wrought-iron spiral staircase was put in place near the western wall providing access to the servants. Between the rear rooms and the ante-rooms there is a covered gallery from which fresh air and sun light entered from a cupola fitted with slits and glass panes. The roof of the cupola looks almost like a British country cottage. Strangely, no ornate fittings in washrooms or lavatories were found in the Kothi but a huge barrack-type building was constructed in the rear that was most likely used as a kitchen and a store room for essential commodities, appliances and firewood.
On a recent visit, we noticed that the weeds, debris and dirt was cleaned. Minor repair work was in progress. The Alumni of the Navodaya Vidyalaya raised about 3 lakhs of rupees for carrying out the job. Unfortunately the cleaning and minor repair work has not been carried out according to the standard recommendations and practices in conservation of heritage structures.
Khunga Kothi is an excellent example of utilization of space and exposed-brick masonry work with attractively shaped cornices created by the method of chiseling. The floor is entirely made of tiled bricks. There is little breakage though cracks could be occasionally noticed in the edifice. The Kothi requires careful and extensive cleaning in addition to re-laying of the garden.
Obviously, the beautiful Khunga Kothi qualifies for a heritage tag and awaits attention and restoration.
Author – Ranbir Singh Phaugat
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
All the pictures used in this post have been clicked by Sunil Phaugat