Allahabad, Lucknow and Kanpur, 12-15 November
By Andrew Wilton
Allahabad is one of the holiest Hindu sites. At the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers (pictured, left), beneath an impressive fort begun by Mughal emperor Akbar in 1583, is where the Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years, and a number of other festivals at which Hindus bathe in the wide, shallow waters to purify themselves, take place: a ritual that is auspicious whenever performed. We performed it too but only to the extent of being taken out in an — unfortunately covered — boat; from under the awning we could glimpse pilgrims in the river and on the bank, mingling with tourists and souvenir-sellers. There were large flocks of tern on the shining water — apparently migrating birds from Siberia.
In the city, we visited the Khusro Bagh, a 40-acre walled garden around three stately Mughal tombs on stepped platforms, each distinctly different in character and detail but all complementing one another and forming a noble composition (pictured, left). Khusro (also spelt Khusrau) was the son of the Mughal emperor Jahangir and his wife Shah Begum. She committed suicide in 1604 and is commemorated in a tomb designed by Aqa Reza. The interior of the tomb of Khusro’s sister Nithar Begum is painted with exquisite geometric and botanical patterns and, being empty, can be entered and its beautiful decorations enjoyed by visitors (pictured, left). Unlike the other two tombs, it has a square chattri (canopy) rather than a dome. The third tomb is of Khusro himself, murdered in 1622 on the orders of his brother Prince Khurram, who later became the Emperor Shah Jahan. His horse is buried near him.
We also visited All Saints Cathedral, built between 1871 and 1887 to designs by William Emerson, who’d just designed Crawford Market in Bombay and would later design Muir College in Allahabad and the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata. GA Bremner, author of the 2013 book, Imperial Gothic: Religious Architecture and High Anglican Culture in the British Empire, 1840-1870, describes the cathedral as “the most thorough-going and consistent attempt at Tropical Pointed architecture in an Anglican church anywhere during the mid-19th century”.
Emerson was a pupil of architect William Burges, and his cathedral at Allahabad shows the strong influence of Burges’s Saint Finn Barre’s Cathedral at Cork. Built in cream-coloured stone with red sandstone dressings, All Saints Cathedral is at the same time highly inventive, large and spacious. Responding to its tropical setting are ingenious devices for ventilation and shade provided by deep arcades with flying buttresses all round the nave, choir and apse in front of the clerestory windows. This is, perhaps, the most impressive example of the speluncar or cave-like architecture that William Scott of the Ecclesiological Society advocated in 1851 for tropical climates. Although its style is essentially 13th-century Gothic, it incorporates decorative devices borrowed from a Mughal model, the city of Fatehpur Sikri. Emerson intended it to have towers and spires at the west end, but these were not built; instead there is a square tower over the crossing.
Two other idiosyncratic Victorian buildings here are the Mayo Memorial Hall and Muir Central College. The Mayo Hall commemorates Richard Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo, who was Viceroy from 1869 until 1872 when he was knifed to death by a Pathan convict. It was built in 1879 to designs by Richard Roskell Bayne and is now a sports complex. Its architecture is bizarre. Dominated by a 180ft-high tower, it incorporates a huge hall with a ribbed barrel roof, gables and pinnacles with elaborate wrought-iron ornament and a chunky, battered porte-cochère with a turret attached to odd buttresses in the form of squashed arches.
Also designed by Emerson, Muir Central College was founded in 1872 by the Scottish Orientalist Sir William Muir, author of The Life of Mahomet (1861), who became Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces of India in 1868. He was, notwithstanding, ideologically opposed to Islam, and memorably insisted, “The sword of Muhammed, and the Koran, are the most stubborn enemies of Civilisation, Liberty, and the Truth which the world has yet known”. The imposing college, a pioneering example of the innovative, Indo-Saracenic style, was built from 1874 to 1876. Like Mayo Hall, it is dominated by a high tower and boasts a large, decorative dome. We did not have an opportunity to explore the interior.
Our final visit in Allahabad was to the Anand Bhavan, home of the Nehru family, built by Motilal Nehru in 1930. It’s a handsome, not to say jolly, residence — certainly “no Modernist statement”, as Jon Lang, Madhavi Desai and Miki Desai assert in their book, Architecture and Independence: The Search for Identity — India 1880-1980 (1997) — with a small decorative dome and long verandas surrounding it on two floors. It contains a museum dedicated to the Nehru and Gandhi families — Indira Gandhi donated the house to the Indian government in 1970. The rooms are preserved as they were lived in and protected by plate glass. The house is set off by handsome gardens.
Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, is an important city that contains substantial monuments of several periods; it was a key location during the Indian Mutiny.
We first visited Constantia, the remarkable house that a freelance French soldier from Lyon, Major General Claude Martin (1735-1800), built for himself and in which he was buried (pictured). He made a fortune that he distributed in his will to many worthy causes, including the two schools, one for boys and one for girls, known as La Martinière, in Lucknow. There is also a La Martinière in
Kolkata and three in Lyon in France. (Some of us had attended evensong with the boys and girls of La Martinière, Kolkata at St Paul’s Cathedral there.) Martin designed the house in Lucknow as his country residence and it was much enlarged after his death. It’s a strange white and red building with tall cupolas surmounted by sculptured figures and topped not by a dome but by a very odd crownlike structure of open, crossed arches. Huge stone lions clamber up the turrets on the perimeter wall; these allude to the supporters of the arms of the East India Company. He was buried in the crypt, with sculptures of mourning sepoys in attendance. They and the rest of the tomb were demolished in the Mutiny but Martin’s bones were eventually restored to the crypt and a fine bust of him stands guard over it instead of the sepoys. Johan Zoffany included his portrait, along with that of his friend, the Nawab Wazir of Awadh, in his painting, Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match, on display at Tate Britain.
Kipling specified La Martinière as the school where Kim was educated, and the whole place is vividly evocative of the Raj. As we drove through its vast grounds, many of the 4,000-odd pupils could be seen on its playing fields, engaged in football, martial arts and gymnastics, often being bellowed at as if by a sergeant major, marching to drums, bugles and bagpipes. Horses were led past us, their stables bearing their names on boards: Grey Goose, Society Delight, Star Perfection, Sapphire… Inside, Anglican hymns and the carol O Christmas Tree were being sung in the stained glass-lit chapel.
Nearby in a garden on the banks of Gomti River stand the ruins of the palace of Dilkusha Kothi, built around 1800 by the British resident, Major Gore Ouseley, as a hunting lodge for his friend, the Nawab Saadat Ali Khan. It is now a ruin but still immensely grand: the architecture is based on Seaton Delaval Hall, Sir John Vanbrugh’s Northumbrian masterpiece. In the autumn of 1857, the house was taken by rebels but retaken by troops under Sir Colin Campbell. It must have been considerably damaged then, though contemporary photographs suggest it was not reduced to its present ruined state until later in the century. Major General Sir Henry Havelock, reliever of Cawnpore (now Kanpur), died here on 24 November, possibly of dysentery. (His statue by William Behnes is on the south-easterly plinth in Trafalgar Square.)
The most important ruin associated with the siege of Lucknow (from 30 May to 27 November 1857) is the former Residency, a beautiful 18th-century structure in a handsome park surrounded by other buildings dating from the late 18th century. The term “Residency” initially applied to the house of the British Resident; fine buildings nearby were inhabited by other officials. The siege reduced nearly all the buildings in this complex, now known collectively as the Residency, to ruin. Query: why didn’t the British rebuild them? And why, later, didn’t the Indians demolish them? It is now a well kept memorial to a terrible moment in India’s history.
The compound is entered by the Bailey Guard gate, overlooked by Dr Fayrer’s house (named after its early 19th-century resident surgeon and used as a defensive position and hospital during the Mutiny). His house is elegant even in its decay with its spacious facade of arched openings. Nearby are the remains of the two-storey Banqueting Hall, a school and post office. St Mary’s Church stands nearby in a graveyard that holds over 2,000 of those killed in the siege. In the Residency building — guarded by a large iron cannon, possibly the model for the one described by Kipling in the opening of Kim as standing in the fort at Lahore — is an exhibition recounting the siege and stories of some of those involved.
One of Lucknow’s most impressive sights is a complex that incorporates the 18th-century mosque Bara Imambara (pictured). With its mighty Mughal entrance gate, the Rumi Darwaza, and the mosque’s domes and minarets, it appeared when we passed it as a vast fantastical mauve silhouette in the afternoon haze with an orange sun hovering behind it. Our actual visit took place in brighter afternoon light. Bara Imambara was built in plastered brick by the Nawab of Awadh in 1784 as a Shia shrine, a colossal pillared hall, which, it is claimed, has the world’s largest unsupported roof. It is 50m long, 15m high, with arcaded floors above containing a famous labyrinth of small rooms full of what seemed to our Western eyes like ornate Victorian bric-a-brac. A long flight of steps descends to the vast courtyard where Muslims gather each year for Muharram, with the adjacent mosque with three domes and two handsome minarets at right-angles to the facade.
Not far off is Husainabad Clock Tower, built in 1881 to greet the new Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces and Chief Commissioner of Oudh, Sir George Couper. This eminently Victorian structure is sufficiently slender and tall, at 67m, to possess the elegance of a fine minaret although it is touted in the guidebooks as a replica of Big Ben, which it in no way resembles. It overlooks a lake and the arcaded facade of the Portrait Gallery, which displays portraits of an august assemblage of Indian dignitaries of the last 200 years.
In the bus, as we approached Kanpur, a local guide summarised the terrible events of the 1857 Siege of Cawnpore in a clear, admirably dispassionate way. We heard about the betrayal of the British by Nana Sahib who had given his word that he would give them a safe passage to Allahabad but instead had the men massacred as they were about to embark at the jetty, then had the women and children slaughtered, throwing their dismembered remains down a well. The Bibighar, the house where the women had been confined, no longer exists; a public park spreads out, green and pleasant, in its place. All Souls’ Memorial Church, built from 1862 to 1875 to designs by Walter Granville and now called Kanpur Memorial Church, has a campanile and, architecturally, is consistently Lombard Gothic in style (pictured, above left).
The church has an apse lined with stone panels listing all victims of the massacre. In the churchyard is a screen with names round a large statue by sculptor Carlo Marochetti of an angel bearing crossed palms (pictured, bottom right, page 12 ). (By coincidence Marochetti was a friend of Lutyens’s father.) A tablet in the church commemorating three casualties — Philip Hayes Jackson and his wife Amelia and her brother Ralph Blythe Cooke — has an inscription quoting: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord”. The British indeed took pretty unpleasant revenge.