Amir Mahal – A palace amidst a metropolitan city!

Palace Arch - Mittai Stories

One sunday, Appa was taking an unusual route to get our Sunday lunch. While we were chatting all the way, he suddenly took a turn from the busy main road and entered a narrow lane. He then slowed the car to show us something I never thought I would see in the streets of Chennai. A palace. A freakin palace! “This is Amir Mahal”, he said, pointing to a huge red entrance and a long driveway with dreamy lanterns. 

Now that’s how I ‘discovered’ Amir Mahal! Amir Mahal is a heritage palace complex that is modestly nestled in the buzzing locality of Royapettah, Chennai, India. This red and white toned architecture stands in reminiscence of the old Madras stories and the British Indian era.

Now a residential complex of the titular Nawab of Arcot, this Palace is quite strikingly in contrast to the world outside its walls. One can easily miss this palace while taking a stroll through the Royapettah  streets, but I am sure its mysterious appeal would lure you in!

Entrance to the Royapettah palace - Mittai Stories
Amir Mahal, Royapettah

Let’s take a quick dive into the interesting tale of this city palace. Shall we?

Story of the ‘Palace fit for a Prince!’ – Amir Mahal

Back in 1798, it was the time when the British East India company was establishing a strong foothold in the Indian subcontinent. Whilst it was busy building and estabilishing its dominion in the Madras Rajdhani, it did build a number of historic buildings in and around the city. One such building was Amir Mahal. Or the Royapettah palace.

Amir Mahal Chennai - Mittai Stories
Royapettah Palace

Building Amir Mahal

Designed in the Indo-saracenic style, the primary reason behind the construction of Amir Mahal was for it to act as administrative office of the British East India Company. It functioned as the English’s official complex for a considerable amount of time. Then began the time of many significant historical changes. 

With the birth of the 1800’s the East India Company was now almost a full-fledged functioning government. It passed out the Doctrine of Lapse, by which the english colony government had the right to abolish and takeover kingdoms of any king who was  “manifestly incompetent or died without a male heir”. 

Archot Nawabs journey toward a new home

By this, the English government had their hold on the Chepauk palace. This palace till then was the official residence of the Nawabs of Arcot. When the British auctioned off the palace, the Nawabs moved into a smaller palace called the Shadi Mahal in Triplicane high road.

Chennai in 1800 - Mittai Stories
Chennai (Madras) in the 1800’s

Office to home – How Chennai’s Amir complex became the permanent residence of Arcot Nawabs

Amidst the British government passing resentable laws, the Nawabs were still housed in the Shadi Mahal. Reportedly, the British felt that the British felt that the Shadi Mahal was “not a place fit for the residence of the Prince of Arcot”. With this in mind, the British tasked a remarkable English architect with a curious plan. Robert Fellowes Chisholm. The man who was known for his impeccable style of blending indigenous architectural styles with classical english bases. 

Architect of Amir Mahal - Mittai Stories
Robert Chirshlom – Amir Mahal Designer

Robert Chrishlom and his team were tasked with converting the official building Amir Mahal into a residential complex. A palace for the Nawab! A man who was behind many iconic British era buildings in the modern day city of Madras chiseled Amir Mahal into what it is today.

Amir Mahal inside - Mittai Stories
Amir Mahal darbar

It was then granted to the Arcot Nawab and his family. In 1876, the Nawabs moved into Amir Mahal where they are housed till date. The Mahal ever since remained under the maintenance and care of the family.

Amir Mahal today

Today, Amir Mahal has hidden itself inside the city’s chaos and rushed daily life. Rarely known to the city folk themselves, this place continues to function as a residential complex. While visitors are rarely allowed inside, one can easily catch a glimpse of it on a morning walk down the streets of Royapettah.

Amir Mahal front view - Mittai Stories
Inside Amir Mahal

This Palace which is not accessible to common folk has till entertained several political leaders and celebrities including the Oscar awardee AR Rahaman.

In my commentary, I would dare say that Amir mahal is a rare incident of an unlikely friendship between the British and the then Indian Royals. But hey, that might have been a classic example of Stockholm syndrome. I guess we’ll never know! While I still wonder how the Indian government hasn’t taken over this heritage building, I think it would go down as a forgotten part of history. While I am glad for the royals and their abode, I am resisted by the thought of how history still withholds itself from the reach of common folk!

That brings us to the end of this blog. Might I suggest you try checking out the Thiruvananthapuram palace which has a story of its own? Yes, Amaze! No? Chill. I can live with that I guess. Have a good day mate!

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  1. […] India decided to build an administrative complex for the office of Madras municipality. Much like Amir Mahal that we saw in the previous […]

  2. Hello there, I discovered your blog via Google at the same time as looking for a similar topic, your site got here up, it seems good. I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

  3. Interesting. Good research. Maybe you could write about more places aswell. Toda la mejor!

  4. Came across this post while researching about places to visit in India. Good quality writing and a fun read, so I guess I will add you to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend 🙂

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