Tata Steel & Gwalior’s ‘Chambers of Secrets’

Tata Steel & Gwalior’s ‘Chambers of Secrets’

This could well have inspired an Indiana Jones sequel - with a twist. Connecting hidden and lost treasures buried deep underground, to a modern day conglomerate with factories across the world. As hard to imagine as it may be, the fact is that one of the largest private sector steel companies in India, Tata Steel has a close link to the treasures once hidden in the Gwalior Fort! The story goes back to the early 19th century.

Gwalior was part of the kingdom carved out by the Scindias under Mahadji Scindia, a General of Peshwa Bajirao 1, in the late 18th century. In 1810 CE, the Scindias moved their capital from Ujjain to Gwalior and the city’s fort built by the Tomars in the 8th century became their home.

By this time, successive military victories and the wealth that these brought, had made the Scindias fabulously wealthy. All of this was stored below the fort, in a complex of catacomb like vaults aptly referred to as ‘Gangajali’. It’s code or beejak and access, was a closely guarded secret that only the King knew and he in turn, only shared it with one person, his official heir.

Maharaja Jayajirao Scindia at Gwalior Fort
Maharaja Jayajirao Scindia at Gwalior Fort|Pinterest/Herman Baca

By 1843 CE, when  Maharaja Jayajirao Scindia became the Maharaja of Gwalior and so the custodian of the ‘Chambers of Secrets’, the wealth in the Gangajali had increased exponentially. Thankfully for the Scindias, during the Revolt of 1857, the secret hoard of wealth remained undiscovered, because of the complex networks of vaults that they were stored in and their inaccessibility. The British soldiers who took the Gwalior Fort after the Revolt of 1857 couldn’t find the legendary wealth that they knew they were standing on!

Much to his relief Jayajirao Scindia got back his untouched treasure and his fort in 1886 CE. But before he could pass on the beejak or code of these ‘chambers of secrets’ or vaults to his son Madho Rao (Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s grandfather), he died.

All of the Scindia’s wealth was stored below the fort in vaults whose access was a closely guarded secret that the King shared only with his heir

The royal court was now caught in a quandary. All the great wealth of the Scindias seemed lost without any trace and no one in court had a clue about what to do next. As a way out of this dilemma, Colonel Bannerman, the British Resident at Gwalior  offered help which the Scindia Court accepted or were forced to accept, reluctantly. Colonel Bannerman carried out extensive searches of the Gwalior Fort. Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia of Gwalior in her memoirs writes how the Colonel discovered several hidden chambers which had ‘some’ of the Scindia wealth. They contained Rs 6.2 crores in gold coins. In addition, there were silver coins by the millions, magnificent pearls, diamonds, rubies and other priceless  gems. Colonel Bannerman remarked that the whole treasure chamber resembled an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’.

Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia
Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia|Wikimedia Commons

But even this, was just one chamber of secrets of Gangajali. It was generally believed that there were several such chambers still undiscovered. But their discovery had to wait till Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia reached his majority. It is said that Madho Rao Scindia made many attempts to seek the treasure out. And after many unsuccessful attempts and help from astrologers and soothsayers, he finally found the treasure sometime in 1890s.

FE Dinshaw
FE Dinshaw|Live History India

Madho Rao Scindia made many attempts to seek the treasure out

It is said that the Maharaja was so frustrated by the entire experience that he decided that he would do away with the old practice of burying treasures! Instead, he decided to convert all of it to liquid cash and on the advice of his financial advisor, FE Dinshaw, invested it several companies including an upcoming company – TISCO (Tata Steel). Around 1924, Tata Steel was facing a financial crunch due to rapid expansion, and FE Dinshaw brought in Maharaja's money to bail it out. As a part of Scindia’s bail out deal for the company FE Dinshaw too got a stake in Tata & Sons. Till late 1960s, Scindias continued to be among the largest shareholders in Tata Steel.

In 1936, after FE Dinshaw’s death, his children, in turn sold their stake in Tata Steel to  Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry, founder of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group. The rest, they say, is history.

Did You Know

FE Dinshaw was the largest zamindar (landowner) in Mumbai owning 2400 acres of land in Malad. Even today, his estate continues to be the largest private estate in Mumbai and was recently subject of a bitter dispute between the Wadias and Rahejas.

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