Monday, 14 March 2016

Victoria Memorial, Lucknow

It is not only Calcutta (Kolkata) that has a Victoria Memorial, but also Lucknow! I was completely unaware of this monument until I visited Lucknow in the winter of 2014. Although Lucknow’s Victoria Memorial is nowhere near as grand as Calcutta’s, it is a beautiful monument and sadly, not many outside of Lucknow seem to know about it.

 

MANY SMALL MEMORIALS

Queen Victoria died on the 22nd of January, 1901, at the age of 81. The British Government’s initial plan was to have one small monument in each of the state capitals of India commemorating her life and reign. But Curzon was having none of it. A SMALL monument to the bloody Queen in bloody Calcutta? Out of the bloody question! Curzon wanted “a building, stately, spacious, monumental and grand, to which every newcomer in Calcutta will turn”, and it is thus that Calcutta got its most celebrated landmark at the expense of other cities. However, I am aware of two other memorials; the one in Lucknow, and the one in Allahabad, both of which take the form of canopies within which were placed statues of the Queen.

 
LUCKNOW’S VICTORIA MEMORIAL

In Oudh (aka Awadh or Avadh, the erstwhile Kingdom that falls within the present day state of Uttar Pradesh), Deputy Commissioners of all the districts were asked to form local committees and collect subscriptions for a memorial to Queen Victoria. A sum of Rs. 2,66, 647 was collected out of which 26,500 was sent to Calcutta for the Imperial Memorial Fund set up by Curzon. The remainder was retained for two memorials in Oudh. In Lucknow, the monument was to be built inside what was then called the Victoria Park. Construction on Lucknow’s Victoria Memorial began in September 1904 and it was inaugurated on the 2nd of April, 1905 at 5pm. The cost of the monument was approximately Rs. 1,50,000. The statue of Queen Victoria within the canopy was the work of Mr. Hamo Thornycroft (1850-1925). The monument itself was designed by Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob (1841-1917), and executed by Messrs. Adam & Co. of Agra, under the supervision of engineers of the Public Works Department or P.W.D.

Sir Samuel was a British Army officer and colonial engineer who designed many public buildings across India and was known for his love of the Indo-Saracenic style of Architecture which blended Indo-Islamic and Gothic Revival and Neo-classical styles of architecture. Among his best known works are the Albert Hall Museum of Jaipur, Umed Bhawan Palace in Kota, Rajasthan and The Delhi State Election Commission's Office on Lothian Road near Kashmiri Gate, which was originally the St. Stephen’s College. For Lucknow’s Victoria Memorial the architectural style is unquestionably Indian, but somewhat more eclectic. The arches on all four sides seem to be inspired by the Alai Darwaza of the Qutb Complex in Delhi. The “chhajjas” or overhanging eaves with their ornamental brackets, a feature typical to buildings in Rajasthan and Gujarat, as well as the flower motif seen at the base of the central dome, seem to be echoes of Nadan Mahal, Lucknow’s oldest monument. The whole structure is placed on a raised plinth and on the four corners of that plinth are four “chhatris”. Four more chhatris are arranged on top of the monument, around the dome, somewhat like a mosque’s minarets. The dome itself is purely Islamic, topped by an inverted lotus bud finial.

 
A CHANGING MONUMENT

In 1947 came independence, and with it, almost overnight, colonial statuary around India fell out of favour. The government decided that people did not need public reminders of 190 years of humiliating servitude. In Calcutta, elegant statues of colonial figures were packed up by the dozen and sent to the “Laat Bagan” in Barrackpore. In Lucknow, the statue of Queen Victoria was removed from inside the memorial and placed in the store of the Lucknow State Museum, never to be seen by the public again. In 1957, on the occasion of the centenary of the sepoy mutiny, the government renamed Victoria Park to Begum Hazrat Mahal Park, to commemorate the role of the wife of the deposed Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, in the first uprising against colonial rule. It was at this time that a pillar with plaques mentioning Begum Hazrat Mahal was placed inside the canopy.


DIRECTIONS AND PRESENT CONDITION

Located near the K. D. Singh Babu Stadium, (formerly known as Central Sports Stadium), here’s what Lucknow’s Victoria Memorial looks like in Google Maps. Entrance to the park is ticketed although the price is modest. The monument itself is not in the best shape. Bereft of any context, it has been vandalized by locals, who have carved things like “Sanjay loves Sonika” on the marble. The monument is lit up at night, however, the plaques mentioning Begum Hazrat Mahal have either been stolen, or been removed. When I walked in, I found a man kneeling inside the monument as if in prayer. “That would make a great photograph”, I thought, and pressed the shutter button. It is only when I got quite a bit closer that I realized that the man wasn’t praying; he was rolling a joint!

 
For those going to photograph the monument, do bear in mind that sex starved Indians, with next to no privacy at home, can get very…umm…frisky in public parks, and it is quite a challenge to get shots of the monument without some couple sucking on each other’s faces, getting into the frame.


- by Deepanjan Ghosh

(A Bengali translation of this story appeared in "Ei Shomoy", the Bengali newspaper of the Times of India Group, on the 13th of March, 2016).

MORE ON LUCKNOW



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • I am grateful to my friend, Devankan Chakraborty for being my guide around Lucknow, to Kalpajeet Bhattacharya for his hospitality, and to my family for accompanying me, and providing valuable inputs while shooting the monuments. Check out my father’s flickr page here.
  • Thanks to author Brian Paul Bach for providing valuable information about the monument as well as sharing his insights on architecture. Check out Brian’s goodreads page here.
  • Thanks also to Mr. Ravi Bhatt, an extremely well-informed Lucknow resident who shared with me his insights on the changing monument.


SOURCES

Hilton, Edward Henry - Hilton’s Guide to Lucknow and the Residency
Llewellyn-Jones, Rosie - Lucknow Then and Now
Town and Country Planning Organisation, Government of India
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