Nestled against the gradual slopes of the Eastern ghats, Dhenkanal Palace, is the only fort cum palace in Odisha. A heritage homestay of apartments, courts and gardens, the palace was built during the latter part of the 19th Century on the site of the fort that witnessed and withstood a long drawn siege and war by the Marathas. Dhenkanal Palace is the residence of the erstwhile Raja of Dhenkanal and his family. A pioneer heritage homestay in Odisha, Dhenkanal Palace stands as an amalgamation of Odisha’s rich cultural heritage, regal splendour and hospitality.
Named for the last tribal chieftain of the area, Dhenka Sabar, Dhenkanal was believed to be a place where true grit and determination could provide even the weakest strength to stand up for themselves and emerge victoriously. Legend has it that if the area bore the name of Dhenka and his memory was kept alive, the line of rulers that came after him would prosper for the generations to come. In line with the legend, the place believed to be the ‘gadi’ of Dhenka Sabar is worshipped by the family every day.
It was here that the fortifications of Dhenkanal withstood the Maratha siege and war. In the later part of the1700’s Raja Trilochan Mahindra Bahadur (1746-88) fell out with the Maratha rulers of Nagpur, who had been establishing their supremacy in Orissa, owing to a disagreement in the payment of pesh kush (tribute). A large army led by Chimnaji Bhonsle was sent to subdue the Raja of Dhenkanal. A closely fought battle ensued between 1779 and 1781 which stretched into a stalemate and the Maratha Army withdrew. For this act of valour the Gajapati Maharaj of Puri conferred on the Raja of Dhenkanal, the hereditary title of Mahindra Bahadur, reserving that of Rai Singh Bhramarbar Rai to be enjoyed by the heir-apparent, the Yuvaraj.
In 1860 while out on a hunt within his fortifications, Maharaja Bhagiratha Mahindra Bahadur, witnessed a sight that made him establish the Dhenkanal Palace where it stands today. While he was riding, he saw above the Paniohala Hill, a dove escape the clutches of a Sparrow Hawk. He believed that the place was one where the weak would receive shelter and strength. The state having withstood the Maratha Siege between 1779 and 1781, only reaffirmed his faith in the location. Having shifted their permanent residence to the newly constructed palace, the family continued to serve its citizens.
Following his example, those that came after him continued to develop Dhenkanal. The Dowager Rani Annapurna, the mother of Rajrshi Sura Pratap, dedicated herself to works of public good for the upliftment of her people. The temple at Kapilash as well as vast water reservoirs was constructed on her orders.
Rajarshi Sura Pratap after his installation as ruler introduced forest laws, improved the working of the same by appointing qualified officers, reclaimed jungle lands by leasing them out on easy terms, executed irrigation works on important streams and rivulets to facilitate agriculture, developed art and cottage industries such as weaving, carpentry, works in fine arts, filigree, horn and ivory. The construction of the stone temple, Kunjakantha, dedicated to Lord Sri Krishna was initiated by him. The English High School, as well as the Circuit house, were constructed by him.
Raja Shankar Pratap Mahindra Bahadur (1925-1965) strengthened the education system of Dhenkanal by opening schools, he augmented irrigation facilities, introduced electricity and facilitated the use of modern techniques in agriculture, medicine and animal husbandry. The seventeenth ruler since the foundation of the State, he was the first ruler in Orissa to merge with newly formed India in 1948. He passed away in August 1965 and the Government of India recognized his son Raja Kamakhya Prasad Singh Deo as the Raja of Dhenkanal.
Brig. Raja Kamakhya Prasad Singh Deo A.V.S.M. has been an active politician who has served as Union Minister under three Prime Ministers of India. He is the only Member of Parliament in the history of Independent India to have actively taken part in a war, the Liberation of Bangladesh. A keen sportsperson, He is the Founder Life President of the Asian Rowing Federation.
As custodians of rich heritage, Yuvaraj Amarjyoti Singhdeo and Yuvarani Meenal Kumari, developed Dhenkanal Palace into a heritage homestay in the late 1990s, opening their home to travellers from around the world. With a keen interest in the crafts and communities of Dhenkanal, the two present the rich cultural heritage of Odisha to be enjoyed through interactions and experiences at Dhenkanal Palace.