MEHRU JAFFER | 6 JUNE, 2019
A Heritage Gem In Neglect: Lucknow’s Lal Baradari
Today, few citizens are aware of this beauteous building.
Lurking behind lofty domes washed in snow white paint and hidden by trees reaching up to the heavens is the ochre red debris of a royal rest house from the 19th century on the Lucknow University campus.
Today few citizens are aware of this beauteous building. Recently Dr PK Ghosh, former Head of Department of History led a walk around the ruins of the Lal Baradari. The walk held on a pleasant early morning attracted about 50 citizens including heritage lovers, students and scribes.
Built nearly three centuries ago in red lakhauri bricks, the Lal Baradari is in a precarious state due to neglect and a lack of funds to restore and to repair the building. The Professor made his points through a hand held public address system, pointing people to the only gate left from that glorious time. At another stop, he explained the importance of a canal on the premises to those ancient times. He took us around the steam bath that is reduced to a heap of waste today but once it was part of a high walled pleasure garden.
We stopped by at a grave crowned with a stone cross. The eldest son of Maharaj of Kapurthala who converted to Christianity and chose to lose his right to succeed his father to the throne. He is buried on the campus, making everyone wonder how charmingly complicated our collective history is.
The walk inspired heritage lovers to protect the Lal Baradari. Concerned citizens and the University authorities have already volunteered to do what they can to prevent the Lal Baradari from total collapse but those with means to help, where are they?
A University spokesperson said that heritage lovers will be helped in seeking funds from the corporate sector to save the Lal Baradari. Citizens have already contributed what they can to clean up the premises of growth with chemicals.
The group led by Dr. Ghosh had paused to appreciate the stucco work on majestic stone pillars still holding whatever is left of the baradari, traditionally a large hall with 12 arched entrances without a door. The debris of roofs strewn over the floor of some of the rooms, and dangerous cracks on walls still standing, but ever so precariously were there for everyone to see.
The Professor introduced the writings of Fanny Parkes which took the group back to times when the Badshah Bagh existed in all its glory.
In January 1831 Fanny Parkes, an English woman vagabonding in India must have walked the same path taken at the Badshah Bagh by the Professor. Parkes had arrived in Lucknow in 1931 and kept a diary. On invitation to the Badshah Bagh she described the place as a large garden with three palaces and a hammam, or steam bath.
Parkes lived in India between 1822 and 1845. Once back in London, she published Wanderings of a Pilgrim in search of the Picturesque, in 1850 which is a hefty two volume record of her life in India.
There is a hammam containing rooms heated to different temperatures, the heat of each increasing until you arrive at the steam bath itself. On the left of the garden is the third palace sacred to the ladies of the zenana. This house is built of marble and covered with flower work of pounded talc which has exactly the appearance of silver, giving an eastern style to the place. There are two handsome gateways, a steam engine to supply the fountains and a superb tiger in a cage.
According to Sidney Hay who published Historic Lucknow in 1939, there was an open hall supported by finely carved pillars in the centre, where festive gatherings were held. Between the pleasant walks, gaily-hued flowers had bordered shallow marble lakes filled with sweet scented rose water at the Badshah Bagh.
For personal reasons, the royalty of that time had lost interest in the 90 acre premises and Badshah Bagh had turned into wilderness.
After the colonisation of Lucknow and victory of the British in the 1857 war with local freedom fighters, the place was auctioned. The Maharaja of Kapurthala bought the sprawling garden for Rs 35,000 and later leased the land to build the Canning College in 1864 for an annual rent of Rs 3 annually.
After the Raja of Mahmudabad suggested that the college be elevated to a university, it was followed up by Sir Harcourt Butler, Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces and who loved Lucknow like no other city in the country.
Sir Swinton Jacob was chosen as architect of the university building raised in Indo-Saracenic style and the Tagore Library is designed by Sir Walter Burley Griffin, architect of Canberra, the Australian capital. Teaching began in July, 1921 at the university that is crowned with multiple domes and is home to achingly lovely arches.
After independence, the Lal Baradari was used as a club for the staff where teachers had relaxed over a game of badminton, cards and chess, or read the newspaper. There was a canteen and a bank outlet. But once the badly in want of repair building began to fall apart, the premises were not repaired but abandoned.
The group of heritage lovers led by Dr. Ghosh saw the growth of tall grass and thick tree trunks sprouting out of walls and floors that have further weakened the foundation of the building.
Unable to bear the unpleasant sight of weeping walls, vanished roof, contributions were collected for conservationists who used chemicals to uproot the tree trunks. Concerned citizens including Wajahat Habibullah, retired bureaucrat, film maker Iqbal Kidwai and artiste Adity Chakravarti immediately met SP Singh, vice chancellor of the University and presented a roadmap for restoration of the Lal Baradari. The university authorities are only too happy to coordinate with Citizens for Lucknow, an organisation put together to preserve heritage in Lucknow.
Today the Baradari is closed to the public due to a regular fall of debris. The search is on for a responsible donor and a corporate house with genuine interest in matters that will help to preserve the collective heritage of a city for future citizens.