Thursday, August 15, 2013

Myths / Legends of Brij Raj Bhavan Palace

It is said that the Brij Raj Bhawan Palace has the ghost of Major Charles Burton which still resides in the palace, and is still active in the mansion. In 1857, the palace was a British Residency and residence of Major Charles Burton of the 40th Bengal Native Infantry. He lived in the palace with his family (a wife, four sons in their early adolescence, and a teenage daughter) for 13 years.

Brij Raj Bhawan Heritage Hotel

Brij Raj Bhawan Palace Lawn Garden
At the outbreak of the rebellion in May, 1857, Major Burton was summoned by the British General commanding the nearby Neemuch cantonment, with the Kota troops lent by the Maharaja of Kota. His family accompanied him to Neemuch. On the battlefield, the Neemuch garrison revolted and destroyed the cantonment before fleeing the station. The Burtons and other British families escaped to the small fortress of Jewud, where his eldest son was in charge. Burton, with his family lived there till October, 1857, when the Maharaja of Kota requested for his homecoming. Burton accepted the request, and returned, accompanied by his two younger sons, Arthur, 21, and Francis, 19, while his wife and other children stayed back.

Guests enjoying Royal food at Brij Raj Bhawan Dining Hall

On December 13, 1857, the Burtons arrived at Kota. They were treated kindly and all seemed peaceful. However, couple of days later, Major Burton saw a large party approaching the palace. In a moment, the soldiers who had mutinied, surrounded and entered the building.

Guest relaxing at Brij Raj Bhawan Palace Lawn

Except a camel-driver, all the servants abandoned. Major Burton and his two sons took refuge in an upper room below the terrace with the few weapons and waited for help to arrive from the Maharaja, while the house was looted below them. After five hours of firing, Major Burton wished to plead with the mutineers for the lives of his sons, offering himself as a hostage. But his sons would not agree. They then knelt down and said their prayers.

Sunset at Brij Raj Bhawan Palace

Their final plea to free the boat on the river to let them escape went unanswered. The mutineers ascended to the terrace and Major Burton and his two sons, who had retreated to the room below, were murdered. The Maharaja of Kota managed to recover the bodies and have them buried the same evening. But he himself was now a captive in his palace surrounded by his own disloyal troops. Kota was recaptured by the British in March, 1858. The bodies of the Burtons were excavated and buried in the Kota cemetery with full military honors.

Kota Cemetry

The plaque (now missing since 2002) on their grave reckoned the manner of their deaths and concluded chillingly: "This tablet is erected by a broken hearted wife and mother Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, I will repay". Two years later, Jai Dayal and Mehrab Khan, who led the attack on the Residency, were hanged within the grounds of the palace.

Major Charles Burton's Tomb at Kota Cemetry

According to the tale, an elderly man with a walking stick in his hand, the ghost of Major Burton does not harm anybody. But during his night patrol, if any of the guards are sleeping or dozing, Major Burton gives them a slap on the cheek.

Visitors at Major Charles Burton Tomb
Charles Burton’s ghost still haunts the old building and susceptible guests have complained of distinctly "discomforting and tyrannical feelings". In the 1930’s Iris Portal came to Kota with her father who had been loaned by the Government of India to the Maharaja of Kota to do a land settlement in the state. At the age of 17, she was spending the Christmas at the Old Palace, which had been turned into a state guest house. She was given her room in the first floor, which had one side with four isolated entrances, including one from an upstairs balcony and two leading from the roof where the Burtons had made a last desperate stand. That night was one of cold fear for Iris Portal, who had been too frightened to sleep. The next day, she requested her mother to remove her to another room.

It was not until she returned to Delhi that Iris Portal learnt the story of the Resident and his sons, who it seems in 1857, had descended from the roofs and were killed in the room she had stayed.

After Independence, the mansion became the private property of the Maharaja of Kota. Ask the staff and they will tell you that in the still of the night, an English voice has been often heard by the drowsy chowkidars (watchmen) to say, "Don’t sleep, no smoking" followed by a sharp slap. The ghost of Burton still patrols the mansion.

The fact that the ghost of Major Burton was active in the 1980’s — has also been stated by the then Yuvrani (Crown Princess) of Kota. As quoted by Ann Morrow in her book "The Maharajas of India", the Yuvrani stated "As far as we know, he (Major Burton) is an elderly man with white hair and a walking stick. I have seen him myself, because he was murdered in the first floor bedroom, which is now my study. The trouble with Major Burton is that he never goes off duty. He wanders around the palace and if he catches a servant asleep, gives him a quick slap on the cheek. He is the only restless soul around in summer, when it can be like furnace in Kota".

Members of the British Embroiders Guild reading the inscription on Major Burton’s grave

But today, as a heritage hotel, in order not to scare away ‘business’, the staff are reluctant to discuss Major Burton with guests, although under promise of anonymity, they agree that his ghost is very much "alive" in the mansion.

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