Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Barrackpore House (West Bengal), habitual summer residence of Governor Generals - early colonial period

Restored Barrackpore House.telegraphindia.com
Summer House of Barrackpore, thefridaytimes.com
The Barrackpore House is a historical building in Barrackpore town (located 14 miles from Calcutta), West Bengal that had been  widely used  as a summer house after 1864  for a long time  by Viceroys and the Governors of Bengal; it was also a sort of   country house on the  week-ends for relaxation free from official commitments. During the heyday of the early colonial rule it was more or less a ''White'' town, more so than any other towns.  The town was characteristic of parallel  well-maintained roads with fine intersections, well-mowed lawns, rows of bungalows each built separately, and near-by Cantonment separated by water body branching off the river with a nice bridge over it, water front facing the river, park, etc.  Particularly, the beautiful  park was widely used for pleasure pursuits.
Summer House of Barrackpore 1807, puronokolkata.com
Mind you, these places were meant only for the white settlers and not for the natives.
Barrackpore House was occupied by as many as twenty-four Governors-General of India until it ceased to be the residence of the Viceroy in 1912. Till such a time the small town  with a placid river was believed to be an enchanting green gem in in the Raj.  After independence, the park and the colonial buildings, including the Government  House were in poor condition due to negligence and poor upkeep. It is a sad story, in countless places in India, the interesting facets of history get lost in the loss of heritage monuments or their disintegration.  Fortunately, in 2016, heritage lovers of Bengal approached the state government  about Barrackpore House and the park and, later with their cooperation and others like Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), the colonial building and the park along with the bridge, the lotus fountain and the marble sundial were  restored back to old glory, thus preserving  the  heritage value of this wonderful site; it was brought back  almost from  near oblivion.
The Southern Facade of Government House before restoration.thehindu.com
Above image: This summer residence of the Governor-General in Barrackpore, West bengal  was designed by Captain Thomas Anbury, in English Rennaissance style. The watercolor painting was made by Charles Ramus Forrest ....................................................

Fascinated by the quiet and serene ambiance,  Lord Wellesley took over the Commander-in-chief's residence and landscaped the garden with an aviary. He was the first  one to find Barrackpore  more desirable for the race-conscious British people to live a peaceful  life in style in the middle of greenery. The  vast green space reminded him of undulating meadows of the English countryside.  On his visit to the Barrackpore park in 1798, the cool  breeze from the Hoogley river brushed his face and impressed him. Now, he was keen to have a government house built in the middle of a large garden and  a government palace amidst an English park. 

On 31st December, 1800, Wellesley advised Sir Alured Clark, the Commander-in-Chief, that his official residence  was to be used by succeeding Governor Generals.  He acquired 900 bighas  to build a summer resort, much grandeur than the one in Calcutta (Kolkata) for the Governor general and Wellesley  moved into the house temporary built when the construction was on. The estimated cost was  whooping four lakhs of rupees.  While the construction was going on, Wellesley's relationship with the company's board members  was on the lowest ebb  and in July 1805, when its structure had come up to the plinth  level, Wellesley returned to England after  resigning his post. The board thought the outlay of the project being under way was very large and found  this project and others such as his  Mysore campaign, Ft. William college project, etc were  extravagant.  Though his tenure in India was a scandalous one, Wellesley remained upright and untouched. 

 As for the big summer resort project and its design and plan, no details are available  as time and vagaries of weather have taken away  and buried them. The credit goes to warren Hastings who took upon himself the task of completing the  small but simple  house, built by Wellesley with fine  relevant decorations  such as those in front of the South entrance - the impressive  lotus basin and the marble fountain specially from Agra. Besides, he converted the house into a cosy and  comfortable residence for the Governor, his family members and some guests as well. Knowing that additions would spoil the beauty of this building no  other major  structural changes had been made  except for  some minor modifications and additions of certain features.  Subsequent Governor Generals right from Hastings and others respected Wellesley's love for Barrackpore  and the park and made minor additions to enhance it  beauty and style. The balcony on the Western side; iron staircase on the South front, a wooden porch and electrification of the building were carried out  respectively by Lord Auckland (1835 – 1842), Lord Lytton (1876-1880),  Lord Ripon (1886-1884)  and  Lord Minto (1905-1910).

The central hall was once a venue for week-end balls and entertainments.. The main central drawing room served  for prayer and services  before Barrackpore Church was built in 1847. Here,  famous preacher Bishop Heber  (who unfortunately died in Tiruchirapalli town, TN while on a visit) preached in 1823. Famous evangelists  Carey, Marshman and Ward frequently visited Barrackpore House as guests of the Governor General.
So many historians are of the view  that  there was nothing remarkable about the Government House which is a plain one-story structure with  large  rooms and very ordinary furniture. Had Wellesley completed this building  long before his final departure for England, the Barrackpore House in the park would have been one of the finest and stylish  colonial buildings in  Bengal. An interesting fact is Lady Canning 's passion for the park was so overwhelming that she loved this place very much. She designed an informal sitting place under the Grand Banyan Tree, which is estimated to be 350 years old, older than the Indian Botanical Garden. Besides, She even designed a balustraded terrace in the Barrackpore Park around the Lotus Fountain called  the Lady Canning Terrace.  She, after her demise, was buried in a part of the park. There is a museum in the Govt. House and here on display are British era arms and ammunition, old paintings of Barraackpore house, etc.


Monday, 14 October 2019

The sensational Barrackpore Rebellion of 1824.

Barrackpore mutiny, West Bengal. dnaindia.com
In the annals of India's freedom struggle we are quite familiar with early revolts against the British East India company that began to hold its grip on the Indian subcontinent in the mid 18th century by grabbing the kingdoms one by one and exploiting the Indian natives and natural resources, thus causing resentment and hatred among the patriotic people. By 1824, they had already subdued the mighty Marathas and developed alliance with many rulers like the Nizam of Hyderabad, Mysore kingdom, etc.  On the eastern most front, the Burmese kingdom was a thorn to the EIC operations in Bengal and they made inroad into Manipur and Orissa. The massacre of a  small British garrison in Ramu Nagar, Chittagong by the Burmese forces angered the British  and the rumor that they would probably invade Calcutta made the foreign invaders  sit up and do something about it.Now, the British were at loggerheads with the Burmese kingdom  because their Bengal trading operations would be in serious trouble  if  they kept attacking them.
Barrackpore rebellion, West Bengal  timesofindia.indiatimes.com
Have you ever heard of the ''Barrackpore mutiny'' against the British Company in Barrackpore, now in West Bengal?  Yes, this Barrackpore Cantonment was the site of another bloody  rebellion by patriotic Indians who were with the EIC army   thirty-three years before the most  explosive incident (29 March 1857) involving  sepoy Mangal Pandey which finally led to 1857 major ''Indian Rebellion'' against British hegemony which first  began in Meerut Cantonment and had spread to other parts. Prior to thisone held another rebellion called ''Vellore Mutiny'' (July 1806), Vellore Fort, Tamil Nadu. It just lasted a day, but it had a lasting impact  on the English company. In the after math, the soldiers 
were humiliated, blown before the cannons and given harsh
Edward Paget 1775 -  1849 (aged 73), en.wikipedia.org
 The frustrated  native Indian sepoys  revolted against their British officers in Barrackpore in November 1824 for their ill-treatment and discriminatory attitude. The incident  took place when the  EIC waged the  First Anglo-Burmese War between 1824–26. The war war  waged under the then Gov. General of India  William Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst. Every rebellion has core reasons and obviously this revolt had its roots in native Indians' frustration and dejection with respect to lack of sensitivity towards Indian cultural sentiments,  neglect, poor treatment  and poor transportation of their personal items to the war front.  The sepoys of several regiments of the Bengal Native Infantry after a long march from Mathura to Barrackpore were quite upset over  utter lack  of transport for personal effects. Besides,  transportation by sea caused  additional apprehension  and disappointment among caste Hindus as it was against their cultural moorings.  The troops from the 47th Native Infantry refused to march towards Chittagong  (now in Bangladesh) on their way to Burma (Myanmar) as their grievances  and demands remained unfulfilled. 

Insensitive as they were, the English company paid least attention to their just demand. This led to  widespread  dissent among  a sections of other regiments such as  the 26th and 62nd Regiments. To rub salt on injuries, the Commander-in-Chief, India, General Sir Edward Paget,  categorically told them to lay down their arms before  considering their requests for redress.  Upon refusal  by the  sepoys,  the loyal soldiers from the 26th and 62nd Regiments and two British regiments   surrounded their camp.  The sepoys having refused to obey orders within the  specified  time, their camp was attacked with artillery and infantry and  in its wake 180 sepoys were killed including a number of civilian on-lookers. An unscrupulous act on the part of EIC army on its own soldiers whose demands were legitimate. 

Yet another horrible incident that followed it was a number of  protesting soldiers were hanged and others sentenced to long periods of penal servitude. Ultimately, the 47th Regiment was disbanded and its Indian officers  were dismissed, whereas the European officers were  shifted to other regiments. 

The media initially did not report the real story of the grievance of sepoys and their massacre by the English company. Because of suppression of news, only limited information  on the Barrackpore incident  being released to the public. The Parliament came down heavily  on the East India Company government for its irresponsible handling of  sepoys' grievances and the harsh treatment meted out to them.

The following are  the essential facts  of Barrackpore rebellion of November 1824:
01. To take part in  the First Anglo-Burmese War, in October 1824, the troops from 26th, 47th and 62nd Regiments of the Bengal Native Infantry were ordered to march 500 mi (800 km) from Barrackpore  cantonment in Bengal near Calcutta, to Chittagong in preparation for entering Burmese territory.   Already the soldiers had marched from Mathura to Barrackpore, a long distance. Imagine the hardship they went through. 

02. Soldiers refused to  take yet another long tedious journey from Chittagong into Burma.

03. This time they hesitated to fight against the Burmese, an unknown enemy that too their neighbors. Indians had nothing against them. 

03. The high caste Hindus in  the regiments had reservations about crossing the sea due to the 'kala pani'' taboo. Crossing the ocean was  a taboo, in particular, among Brahmins in the past. Such people would be excommunicated.

04. There was lack of transportation facilities for their personal belongings and this forced the soldiers to carry their personal items - cooking utensils, bedding, etc along with their 
knapsacks, muskets and ammunition. They were burdened by fatigue and frustration of carrying heavy stuff beyond their capacity.  

05. There were no bullock carts to transport their stuff.  Their requests to provide them with bullock carts fell on deaf ears. The EIC also refused to pay reasonable baggage allowance for the soldiers considering their long march with heavy additional stuff. 

06. The soldiers of the 47th Native Infantry appeared  for the 1st November parade without their knapsacks and refused to bring them even when ordered to do so. Their contention was no march unless the army provided them with bullock carts  or double baggage allowance, 
07. Commander-in-Chief, India, General Sir Edward Paget asked the soldiers to lay down their arms first then only he would consider their request. Their blunt refusal angered Paget, an old school martinet of Royal Service ; it was tantamount to an act of armed mutiny.  He quickly  summoned two regiments of European troops, the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot and the 1st (Royal) Regiment, as well as troops of the Governor General's bodyguard from Calcutta. 

08. On the morning of 2 November 1824, the reinforcements and the loyal members of the 26th and 62nd Regiments moved into position and  protesting soldiers were given 10 minute time to obey  orders.  The soldiers refused to budge and now  Gen. Paget ordered two cannons to fire on the rebels, followed by an attack from the rear by the secretly placed horse artillery. Stunned by this unexpected assault, the sepoys ran for safety while other British regiments  began attacking them  from all directions. Some of the sepoys  who jumped into the Hooghly River  died due to drowning; others, who took shelter in the near-by local households.  were chased and killed  with  bayonets including many bystanders - women and children.

09. Of about 1,400 mutineers, 180 were killed during the attack, although the death toll is a subject of discussion.

10. Besides, on 2nd November  eleven sepoys were tagged  as the ring leaders and received a quick  trial, whereby  they were sentenced to death by hanging.

 11. Around 52 sepoys received harsh punishment -  sentenced to fourteen years' hard labor on roads in chains; numerous others were sentenced with lesser terms.

 12. On 9 November, the leader of the soldiers Bindee was hung in chains on the next day. His body was left to rot for months in open public display in Calcutta.

13. In the British parliament, this atrocity by the ESI came up for discussion (22 March 1827) and Joseph Hume, an opposition MP, reported that the number of casualty was from 400–600  as per the "facts that had reached him from India". However ,Charles Williams-Wynn, a Tory MP,  responded  on behalf of the government, that the number was no more than 180. 

14. The Oriental Herald in London first published a story on the subject almost six months after the incident, calling it the "Barrackpore Massacre", based on a report by a British correspondent in Calcutta.  The Oriental Herald severely criticized British officers for the indiscriminate slaughter with out remorse.

15. As expected, no disciplinary measures were taken against Gen. Paget or any other officer of the army, contrary to expectations. M Massacre was committed under the direction of Gen. Paget. Gov. Gen.  Amherst came close to being recalled for mishandling the situation but ultimately retained his position. For further reading: 01. Barrackpore Massacre – Burmese War – Present State of the Native Army in Bengal, The Oriental Herald, Volume 5, 1825. 02.
Refer  to the work of  the 24th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, Major General V.K. Singh (2010–2012),  who wrote extensively about the 1824 Barrackpore mutiny,
 Vellore Mutiny (rebellion) 1806:
10 July 1806.Vellore Mutiny, Tamil Nadu thebetterindia.com
The ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ of 1857,  is considered as the first  war of independence as it shook the very basic foundation of the British Empire.  After it was subdued, the British Crown took  direct control of the the Indian administration - later called the British Raj. 

However, what many people do not know is that prior to the great revolt of 1857 and the Barrackpore revolt of 1824  the Vellore revolt of 1804 witnessed a violent a rebellion albeit a brief one against the British empire. It took place in Vellore town (in Tamil Nadu) on the midnight of 10 July 1806.  It  lasted just one day but the death toll of Indians was over 400 lives. The Indian killed 115 men from the British infantry who were sleeping in their barracks and the mutiny was subdued by cavalry and artillery from Arcot. After formal trial, six mutineers were blown away from guns, five shot by firing squad, eight hanged and five transported to serve imprisonment. The government was critical of John Craddock,
the Commander-in-Chief of Madras Army and refused to pay his passage back to England.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Last Mogul ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar and the discovery of his tomb in Yangon, Myanmar

Last Mogul ruler. Bhadur Shah Zafar  lighteddream.wordpress.com
Tomb of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, Ynkon, Myanmar  triphobo.com

In the last phases of the first war of independence (Many historians view that Sepoy mutiny is a wrong title) in 1857 by Indian soldiers and others  against the British  misrule rule,  their exploitation and racial discrimination it turned more violent and sensational. Dubbed as the  most important anti-colonial revolt against  a European empire in the 19th centuryit shook the basic foundation of the British rule in India. The last Mogul ruler Zafar  who was reduced to a powerless ruler with jurisdiction in and around Delhi with yearly dole from the English company publicly supported the rebellion though he was against violence and his entry angered the British. 

Against Zafar's  wish, Sepoys ­­– native soldiers both Hindus and Muslims, who were in the employ of  the East India Company, made him their commander-in-chief, because  as there was no charismatic leader worth his name  to lead them and further he was  was liked by both  Hindus and Muslims. In the midst of Delhi siege that followed mayhem, violent riots and killings, the Europeans were hiding in Zafar's  palace to escape from the fury of the hell-bent mob. Without Mogul ruler's  knowledge,  the  rebels inside the palace killed as many as of 52 Europeans hiding there.  Despite his non-involvement and just because he was the leader of the rebels, the British accused Zafar of having instigated the cold-blooded killing of the British in the palace.  

Fearing safety of his family members,  Bahadur Shah Zafar and his wife Zeenat Mahal had escaped to Humanyun’s tomb near Delhi.  The British had him and his wife captured under the command of  Hodson and his spy Maulvi Rajab Ali,  who negotiated with the emperor,  of safety to his life. The emperor and his wife Zeenat walked back to Delhi as British prisoners.  Following day,  Major Hodson went back to  Humanyun’s tomb  to capture the three princes, Mirza Mughal, Khizr Sultan, and Abu Baker, the heirs to the Mogul ruler on assurance they would be spared. They were on the way to Delhi in a bullock cart before a huge  mob.  They were at the Khuni Darwaza near the city walls of Delhi, Hodson’s next action was horrible, gory and in human. No sooner  had he ordered the princes to be  stripped  naked than  Hodson shot them dead in cold blood. No remorse, nothing of that sort and he did it with glee.  He then stripped the corpses of their rings and their bejeweled swords, and later he boasted that he  disposed off the principal members of the family of Timur, the Tartar. To cap it all Major William Hodson,  presented  ruler Zafar the decapitated heads of his three legal heirs.
1957,Delhi:dagger seized  seized Hodson  lighteddream.wordpress.com
 Above image: khanjar (Khanjar or dagger seized by Major William Hodson at Delhi, 1857 : Hodson probably took this beautiful dagger from one of the Mughal princes, whom he stripped and shot dead on 21 Sept 1857 after their surrender. Alternatively, he may have obtained it later on at the sale of treasures organized by Delhi prize agents. ©National Army Museum, London...................................

The British  implicated Zafar  in the massacre of Europeans and tried him for “treason” and “aiding rebels”. But, the Indian patriots looked upon him as a great hero and  a freedom fighter. The British who were after complete take over of Delhi  found  Zafar guilty and  exiled him to Rangoon, Burma. Thus the British  eliminated the last Mogul ruler and sent him out of Delhi to a far of place.  Soon after the rebellion was subdued by them, the administration came directly under the British Crown,  leading to the creation of the British Raj (1858-1947).

The Mogul ruled the Indian sub-continent for more than three centuries, between the mid 16th and early 18th centuries. Under it, the Indian economy remained prosperous. It had created a uniform currency and road system, unified the country and created great cities. After five years of a very sad  and painful exile in  captivity, deeply humiliated and mentally wounded ruler  Zafar became a wretched  soul  and died in Rangoon on November 7, 1862, at the age of 87.  Just before death he wrote, “Not to be heard, not a spirited song; I am the voice of anguish, a cry of colossal grief. […] Life comes to an end, dusk approaches; in peace I will sleep, sheltered by the grave.”

Zafar with twwo sons. lighteddream.wordpress.com
 In 1876, Britain’s Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India. In haste, the British buried Zafar according to Islamic rite in Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar).  Later, his wife and granddaughter, Raunaq Zamani were buried alongside him.

It took nearly  century to find Zafar's tomb as the British wanted his tomb to be lost for ever and not to be found again . However, local Muslims living in Yangon knew   for a long time that the Emperor had been  buried somewhere within a definite compound to the south of Shwedagon Pagoda. The spot was covered with over growth of grass and had  simple bamboo fence around it.

 (  Zafar’s grave, Yangon, Myanmar. lighteddream.wordpress.com
It was on February 16, 1991, the civil workers stumbled upon the brick-lined tomb while working. It contained an inscription, and the body’s identity was quickly confirmed.  The skeleton of the Emperor was found wrapped in a silk shroud covered by floral petals only about three-and-a-half feet (one meter) under the ground..
Tomb of Zafar, Myanmar lighteddream.wordpress.com
Above image: In 1862, Zafar  was  87 "weak and feeble"  and in late October his health condition was very poor. The British Commissioner, H.N. Davies, wrote , "very uncertain." He was "spoon-fed on broth,"  On November 6, Davies recorded that Zafar "is evidently sinking from pure desuetude and paralysis in the region of his throat."  Davies made preparations for  the emperor's burial.  Zafar  died on November 7, 1862 at 5 a.m. He was buried at 4 p.m. on the same day "at the rear of the Main Guard in a brick grave covered over with turf level with the ground," according to Davies. The ceremony was attended by his two children and their servant but not Zafar's wife, Zinat Mahal........................

A couple of years later  Bahadur Shah Zafar’s “Dargah” (Sufi shrine), was built at the site of the grave. The current hall, dedicated to the memory of Zafar, was inaugurated on December 15, 1994 by Myanmar’s minister for religious affairs, with the assistance of the Government of India and the presence of the Indian Ambassador. Myanmar’s Muslims, visit this durgah regularly and they honor  Zafar as an “emperor-saint”.  It is a  two-story mausoleum are covered with engraved marble plaques. Nine steps lead to a crypt,

It is a bit of irony, just like Zafar  Thibaw, the last King of Burma (1878-1885),  faced defeat and humiliation in the hands of the British  in the Third Anglo-Burmese War. He not only lost the throne and his crown   but also  spent his time in colonial captivity (exiled for twenty-seven years) in Ratnagiri, India where he died in 1916 unsung and unheard of.


Saturday, 12 October 2019

Colonial Chartered Bank building of Kolkata - first bankers in ''Opium trade with China''

-Standard Chartered Bank, Kolkata, India. dolphin.blogspot.com/
The Chartered Bank of India, Australia & China, founded by the granting of its Royal Charter  by Queen Victoria in 1853,  opened its first branch in Bombay and Calcutta in 1857.   The Chartered Bank's  founder was  one James Wilson and the  earliest branches were in Mumbai, Kolkata and Shanghai. Today’s Standard Chartered Bank was formed in 1969 when Standard Bank of British South Africa merged with The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China.  In the  early colonial period  under the English company (EIC),  Shanghai and Hong Kong cities saw the operations of this bank which played no less role  in both Indian and Chinese banking during the days of the British Empire,  particularly, when the opium trade was in full swing. The British got the Chinese hooked on to opium addiction and the  successful opium trade operations in China helped Britain improve  her Silver reserve in the treasury. Incidentally, Bihar, India was the main producer of opium, followed by Maharastra. In reality, opium was exported to China  from India illegally.
Standard Chartered Bank, Kolkata, India. lbb.in/kolkata
 Quite absorbing is the impressive  and imposing  bank building  in Calcutta and it bears testimony to the British  bank's status as one of the great British colonial bankers in Asia. Then its competitor was  the Hong kong & Shanghai Bank which  is  at a short distance  on the south side of Dalhousie Square. The historic structure  is across  Allahabad Bank’s headquarters in the heart of the city and became  home to the National Bank of India’s Kolkata branch in 1902.
Standard Chartered Bank, Kolkata, India. lbb.in/kolkata/
This big and beautiful  building was  built in  almost Byzantine-style using a theme of round arches crowned by octagonal corner towers. The striking feature are  110 ft tall  clock tower  on the China Bazar St side  and the 135 ft tall entrance tower on the Clive
Charted bank, Kolkata. double-dolphin.blogspot.com
Street (NS road) facade  above the main entrance to the banking hall. The architect was  Calcutta-based Edward Thornton who was known for his exotic colonial designs.  The look of this building is enhanced by the contrasting red brick bands  with the Porbunder stone specially brought from  Bombay. The plinth of the building is made of Chunar stone with Porbunder stone to face the ground floor exterior with Cornish granite for the columns guarding the main entrance. The other striking feature is the  wrought-iron  entrance gates imported from England. The building contractor was the famed Calcutta-based contractors Martin & Co., owned by  Sir Rajen Mookerjee. Built in 1908,  the cost of construction was INR 9,62,000.  The building was originally owned by the Maharaja of Burdwan, and was leased to the Chartered Bank. Additions were made  to its current form in 1914 to accommodate the bank’s growing business.

A whooping 80,000 sq ft space built in the 19th century, the bank had inherited the NS Road property from ANZ Grindlays  and London-based bank decided in Sept. 2015 to sell this iconic building in Kolkata to tide over certain financial impediments that strangled the company's future growth.  A StanChart India spokesperson said, "As part of our ongoing process to achieve better efficiency, we are divesting our branch office at 19 NS Road in Kolkata."The bank demanded Rs.100 crores for this colonial building. It is an irony the British bank is selling the property and others in Kolkata where it had begun its lucrative banking odyssey related to India-China opium trade. 

The oldest foreign bank in India (that has more than 110 years   history behind it) -  Standard Chartered Bank's decision to sell its earliest building was a sad story in its banking history.

Begum sambru's kothi (State bank of India building), Chandini Chowk, Delhi - a unique heritage site

SBI bldg. Chandini Chowk,Delhi. asianage.com
The majestic  simple looking but impressive four-story building in Chandini Chowk, New Delhi  has certain interesting episodes of Indian history frozen in it  such as the fall of Mogul rule, rise of imperial power and the 1857 war of independence and at last the freedom of India from the British yoke. In  this respect it is historically an important structure and ignoring its heritage value is a foolish thing. This 80-foot tall colonial building built in 1806 houses the oldest branch of the State Bank of India - SBI, one of the largest in the country even today. Also you will find here in the reception area is the mini-museum, highlighting unknown valuable information. Once it was part of Begum Samru's estate, often referred to as Samru's kothi.
State bank of India bldg. once begum Samru's kothi. Delhi asianage.com
State bank of India bldg. once begum Samru's kothi. Delhi.Flicker.com
Architecturally, one of the most valuable 19th century buildings in Chandni Chowk it was in 2002, it was declared as a heritage building and its past link with Indian history is a forgotten foot note.  What is special about this old structure? This imposing Palladian structure carries a typical European style  with  Corinthian columns, balustrade terrace, arched doorways, spiral iron staircase, old English lifts, and tinted glass windows  and   Corinthian columns.

The Bank of Delhi in 1847 bought the building in which tragedy struck the English manager during the 1857 Indian Rebellion.  The rampaging freedom fighters - mostly soldiers entered the building and killed  the  bank manager George Beresford, his wife, and five daughters  during the siege of Delhi. At this tumultuous point 
of time, the bank was owned by a Brit, Dyce Sombre, and other stakeholders including native businessmen.   According to historians, “Some of the Britons, found hiding in the city, were 
held captive within the palace and were killed on May 16, 1857................... On May 16, about noon, the then Bank of Delhi was attacked and plundered. All its chief servants, after resistance, were massacred. Mr Beresford, the manager of the Delhi Bank, took refuge with his wife and family on the roof of one of the outbuilding...................... But despite fierce resistance from Beresford and his wife, they were both killed along with five others. They are buried in the St James Church and a plaque has been put up in their memory.
SBI bldg. Chandini Chowk,Delhi.thecitizen.in
 The Imperial Bank of India, the predecessor of SBI, later bought this imposing building and later the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) operated from here too. During the Delhi siege, the soiled and mutilated notes  were burned in the incinerator  and one can see the marks visible in the courtyard.

After the bank was declared a heritage building in 2002 soon  in order to preserve the legacy and heritage value of this oldest structure in Delhi, restoration work had begun in earnest - sandstone steps were replaced with cement; the original iron railings with new ones.  To preserve the classical elements in this structure, finally lime plaster was done on the wall interior, in the facade and upper veranda. Wrought iron railings replaced the existing railings and wooden windows replaced the concrete screens. The banking hall was repaired and  restored without compromising on its  historical character. https://www.asianage.com/metros/delhi/100717/heritage-sbi-chandni-chowk-building-stands-tall-in-changing-times.html

Friday, 11 October 2019

Irresistible Begum Sambru of Sardhana, India - wife of military commander Walter Reinhardt Sombre

Begum Samru of Sardhana.eventshigh.com
Once in  a while we have heard about rags-to-riches stories  of  men   who succeed  in their lives from hard- boiled days to those  of comfortable ones through sheer hard work, perseverance, guts  and ability to absorb failures in the early stages besides having a bit of luck.  Such people always stand apart  in our society and get recognition for their hard-earned wealth. Have you ever heard of a nautch girl (dancing girl) with a bleak future who  had  become not only rich but also an effective ruler of a small land in north India in the 1700s?   Born Zebunnissa (also Farzana)  in a Muslim community,  she began her  career  as a dancing girl and earned title of a queen, known  for her charity and efficient rule. She was one of the colorful characters in Indian history that saw the chaotic Mogul period and their gradual collapse and the imminent growth of the British empire on the horizon. 

Walter Reinhardt Sombre, a native of Luxembourg (his nativity is uncertain and is controversial)  worked as a military commander for many rulers in the 18th century  - the French Army and later  for the Nawab of Bengal  Mir Qasim and others. While in the Nawab's service, he was blamed for a gruesome massacre of  more than 30 English captives of the English company and others in Patna. Later on, Walter Reinhardt was on his own  maintaining  his own mercenary army, in which Jats also served. 

 In 1765, 45 year old Walter  went into Khanum Jan’s kotha in Delhi’s Chawri Bazaar for an evening of  fun and entertainment, and ran into  a charming and good looking  Kashmiri dancer, Zebunnissa and developed intimacy with her. The girl soon moved into his zenana and in those days many Europeans maintained large harems, and  Walter Reinhardt already had children from a previous concubine, Barri Bibi. He soon  married  Zebunnissa and  the girl  came to be  known as Begum Samru. The couple moved from Lucknow  and finally to Agra.  In May 1781 Zebunnissa was baptized and became a Catholic and her name got   changed to  Christian  name -''Joanna''.  Begum Joanna Nobilis “Samru” is an unlikely feminist icon from the 18th century.
The quick-witted and smart woman became Walter's  companion, confidante and advisor in  his services to various nobles. Sombre soon started working for the Jat rulers of Deeg, who were then occupying Agra. In 1773, the Mogul ruler  Najaf Khan expelled the Jats from Agra and invited   Sombre’s troops to join his army. Walter and his wife lived in Delhi for three long years and during that period had developed contacts at higher level with help from Begum Samru who was a woman of affable nature. With a royal ''sanad'' from ruler  Shah Alam, Walter  received the rich jagir of Sardhana, yielding Rs 6 lakh yearly (more than  Rs 30 crore in today's value). The penniless couple became wealthy overnight and Begam  Samru  became civil and military governor of Agra. Their association  with ruler Shah Alam was a turning point in  their lives not only in terms of power but also in terms of monetary benefits. It tuned Walter into a  mini ruler of the area with  his own paraphernalia, army and other trappings associated with it with royal patronage.
Samru's Palace, Chandni Chowk, Delhi,1857, after Indian Rebellion of 185wikipedia

Above image: Ruined Bhagirath Palace, Delhi. Begum Samru's palace in Chandni Chowk  was built in a garden gifted by ruler Akbar Shah of Mogul dynasty to the Begum when he ascended the throne after the death of Shah Alam .............................................

Catholic church in Sardana, UP.en.wikipedia.org
 Above image: Inscription on the Statue of Begum Samru at the Basilica of Our Lady Of Graces in Sardhana, near Meerut city.

Begam Sambru estate, Delhi - occupied by a bank (SBI) tripadvisor.com
After Sombre's death, his Begum  became the legal heir to the small kingdom. Having been associated with her husband for a long time, she had some exposure to administration and command of her husband's army.  She had  80-plus European officers and 4,000-odd soldiers to defend her small kingdom. Apart from being a benevolent ruler, she was a capable leader on the battlefield and was familiar with nuances of military strategies.  She was humane and considerate to her subjects and the people held her in great esteem.  Obviously,  she wielded significant political and social influence in the late 18th and early 19th centuries during  last phases of Mogul rule in India. Being a Christian convert,  she was a true devotee of Virgin Mary and  had a church built in Sardhana, near Meerut, UP. The church is known for its impressive Greek colonnaded veranda and an elevated altar with a stained glass dome  The shrine, the Basilica of our Lady of Graces built in 1822, is one of the oldest Catholic churches in north India and the only one mini Basilica in north India.
  Begum Samru had a flair for nice  buildings and had built many, but many of them  have disappeared and gone for ever because of neglect and  poor maintenance. If you walk through  Sardhana, once her fiefdom, the Begum's skill and aura can be felt in almost  all the buildings that were built strong and sturdy by her. Many of her remaining buildings need repair and restoration as  no due attention has not been  paid to them.  Begum's house in Chandni Chowk, Delhi is occupied by a bank and in the its adjoining area  there is the electrical goods market, Bhagirath Palace, her palace in Gurgaon, built in Islamic style could not survive after 2008. because of unauthorized encroachments by the greedy private business people.

Tomb of Begum Samru, Church of Sardhana, near Meerut. ww.youtube.com
Begum Samru died on 27 January 1836 at the age of 90 and was buried under the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces which she had built. Walter Sombre died in Agra on 4 May 1778. He was buried in the Agra churchyard. Regarded as the only Roman Catholic ruler in Indian history, it is a sad story, Begum Samru is almost forgotten in Delhi where she had political and social influence  during the last phases  of Mogul rule in India.  Incidentally,  her adopted son  was David Dyce Sombre and her Diwan, Rae Singh who was the great-grandfather of Motilal Nehru.   http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/a-queens-magnificent-church/996392

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Historical Church Basilica of our Lady of Graces, Sardhana, India

Church Basilica of our lady of Graces, Sardhana, India Main Altar en.wikipedia.org
Church Basilica of our lady of Graces, Sardhana, Indiakiwicolors.wordpress.com/
Our lady of Gracess, Sardhana. India sardhanachurch.org
The historical dusty town of Sardhana,  just 22 km away from the city of Meerut, has nothing of special interest to the tourists except one  place. It is that of a fine  catholic church built by a benevolent  Muslim Queen by the name of Zebunnissa. Perhaps. you may be haunted by a couple of questions : What made a Muslim woman build a church here? Did she not face protests from her conservative Muslim community? The historical fact is this young girl's intense romance with  a European military man changed her perception in her faith and later she became a Catholic in May 1781; her new Christian  name was Joanna. Being a young girl, she impressed on  Walter Reinhardt Sombre,  a mercenary, later married him despite a big age difference between them,  and  assumed the name of Begum Samru. Walter Reinhardt worked with the various Indian rulers including EIC and the French army;  his close association with Nawab Najab Khan of Bengal.was quite beneficial to him and from him  he received the jagir of  Saldhana.  He was almost like a mini ruler of the area with all luxuries associated with it with his own palace, troops, etc.
The church at Sardhana, India, Pinrest.

The church at Sardhana,, India  Statue of Sampru Begam tribuneindia.com
 After the death of her husband Reinhardt, Queen Sambru assumed the reign of Sardhana and proved her administrative and military skill.  She was kind and considerate to her subjects. Being a devotee of Mary, she had been planning to build a church for the divine lady. In 1822, she had a church built designed by an Italian architect Antonio  Reghelini. It was dedicated  to Virgin Mary and  the cost of  construction work was roughly rupees four lakh, a small amount for a prosperous woman  Now this basilica comes under the parish of the Catholic Diocese of Meerut. It is the only mini basilica in North India and there are  more than 20 mini basilicas across India. Including this church many of her buildings are well taken care of by the authorities.
Church Basilica of our lady of Graces, Sardhana, India.justdialcom
Sardhana, I have head people tell me that it is a very small, quiet town  and when you are at a distance in the town  you will never fail to notice  the  tall steeples,
the graceful  statue of Jesus Christ with  his arms stretched out symbolic of welcoming gesture and nice Gothic architecture.  The main alter is quite striking made  of high quality white marble  inlaid with a floral design.  In the  the altar surrounded by brightly-colored artificial flowers, you will see the icon of Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus, clad in red and blue clothes. On the other side of the main hall stands a  beautiful statue of Virgin Mary with her cherubic child. On second Sunday of November every year, this place is  crowded with roughly 100000 worshipers to offer their prayer to Mary. Tradition has been that wishes made here with trust in Mary's healing power  will never  go unfulfilled. The church is at the center of a fair during this particular time.

The tomb of Begum Samru with her life-size image on it is in the left wing of the church. The statue of the Begum, that was once kept out side the church, was moved into this place and set on the  raised three-tiered pedestal.  There are fine carved features in the marble. One shows the  Begum on an elephant, with her retinue  and in the other, the Begum is offering a chalice to the Pope. On the third side stands the tableau of the Begum receiving petitions from her courtiers. While she is surrounded by Indian soldiers in the first one, the second depiction has her surrounded by Europeans.  The statues of  her son, her Hindu vizier and pastor are set below her statue. As for her son's tomb and that of her husband, they  lie at the foot of the central tableau.

It was on December 13, 1961, Pope John XXIII decided to upgrade the Sardhana Church to the status of a Minor Basilica. This recognition is given only to historically important churches. The Golden Jubilee Commemoration took place in 2007 that was attended by a  delegation from the Vatican, including the Ambassador.