The heritage of British period statues

Statues of India-lovers should not be dumped here and there but preserved to commemorate a part of our history, which cannot be wished away. Delhi has shown the way with Coronation Park and other cities can follow suit

The heritage of British period statues

( SNS Photo)

Delhi had a number of statues of Queen Victoria, including the most famous one in front of the Town Hall. It was presented by James Skinner Jr on the occasion of Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and has now been replaced by a statue of Swami Sharadhanand, the freedom-fighter.

This statue is not as exquisitely made as the earlier one but attracts pigeons all the same, which makes the place look like St Mark’s Square in Venice.

There were smaller statues of the queen too, including the one at Victoria Zenana Hospital, at a time when Victoria Regina’s popularity was at its zenith, with schools, colleges, hospitals, museums and other public buildings being named after her.


The Chandni Chowk statue has been sent to the Delhi College of Art though its ideal place was Coronation Park, which has just a few statues to boast about and a whole lot of empty pedestals. Talking about Victoria’s popularity, would it surprise you to know that even lal masoor-ki-dal was named after her as Malika Masoor?

Vying with Delhi for Queen Victoria statues were Calcutta and Agra, and the latter had three magnificent ones, one of which occupied pride of place in MacDonald Park, opposite the Taj Mahal, now named after Shah Jahan. One remembers being present at the park when the statue was being taken down in 1957 as father’s Press photographer.

This statue and the other two were deposited in Police Lines, from where they were brought to the local Paliwal Park, the earlier Hewett Park.

While Hewett was a high-profile administrator, SKD Paliwal lived near the park after resigning as Food Minister in Govind Ballabh Pant’s Uttar Pradesh government following his second marriage to a Begum of a well-known Allahabad family. The resignation was compared to the abdication by Edward VIII after his marriage to the divorcee Mrs Simpson of the US. It was planned to set up the Victoria statues in a Paliwal Park museum of the Raj days but Bajrang Dal volunteers had other ideas. They dumped them behind the nearby John’s Public Library.

This library, as per the Dal’s demand, should be renamed after Dr Ram Vilas Sharma, a Hindi litterateur, who left Agra to lead a retired life in Delhi’s Vikaspuri until his death at a very old age. It is pertinent to point out that Dr Sharma, a Communist leader, was actually head of the department of English in BR College, Agra, and taught English romantic poetry with great relish despite his Leftist views. The library was built by the John family, which was actually of Greek origin, named Joanides.

Their ancestor, Antonious Joanides, took the simpler name of Anthony John, when he started life in the city of the Taj as a diamond merchant in 1801, and some of his descendents may be still there after 213 years of habitation. They were neither British nor colonialists but philanthropic mill-owners, who employed hundreds of people in Delhi, Agra and Lucknow and gifted the library to the Municipal Committee in 1925, soon after its construction.

How ignorance can jaundice views is unfortunate. It is worth noting that after Victoria was crowned empress of India in 1858 she, a romantic, felt that she had merely become ruler in succession to Bahadur Shah Zafar to continue the tradition of the Mughals. Though her desire to visit the country did not materialise, she had Munshi Abdul Karim appointed as her Urdu teacher so that she could understand her new subjects better.

The Munshi became a much loved member of her household. Not only that, a party of qawwals was also invited to entertain the Queen, who went into ecstasy on hearing the performance. Is it any surprise then that countless girls’ schools and hospitals in the country were named after Victoria? The Queen even met Wajid Ali Shah’s mother despite much opposition. Statues of such India-lovers should, therefore, not be dumped here and there but preserved to commemorate a part of our history, which cannot be wished away.

Delhi has shown the way with Coronation Park and other cities can follow suit. Kolkata is spending a great deal of money to renovate the Victoria Memorial, surely Agra can do the same, though Hewett Park can remain Paliwal Park as a reminder of Edward VIII’s Indian counterpart. Incidentally, the rationing system as we know it was first introduced by Krishan Dutt Paliwal and it continues to this day.

The statue of Memnon, the Ethiopian king who fought in the Trojan war, some 3,000 years ago, in ancient Thebes gave out a musical note at sunrise. He was believed to be the son of the goddess of dawn, hence the corelation with that early hour. There may be musical fountains in Delhi but not statues. The unmusical ones, however, are in any number, especially of statesmen, politicians and administrators.

Though Ghalib’s statue was installed at Jamia Millia Islamia, the one of Akbar could not be put up at Agra in 1956 (the 400th year of his coronation) because of religious sentiments. Among the missing statues in Delhi is the one of Brig-Gen John Nicholson (1821-1857), idolised as “Nikil Sen” by the Indian soldiers under his command, who could not pronounce his name. He was shot during the assault on the Lahori Gate in the Great Revolt and a plaque marking the spot where he fell can be found in a narrow lane in Khari Baoli.

According to author Christopher Hibbert, at Nicholson’s funeral (after whom the cemetery is named) the men of the Multani Horse threw themselves on the ground and wept, refusing to take part in any further action. R C Wilberforce, who gave this eye-witness account, went on to say that they plucked the grass around the grave and marched back to their frontier homes. Nicholson’s statue stood in front of the Kashmere gate till the 1950s, when it was sent on request to the general’s hometown Belfast, where it still stands.

The statue of Lord Reading (pronounced Redding) has disappeared and the road named after him is now known as Mandir Marg. He was Viceroy from 1921-26. Lord Willingdon’s statue was on the road leading to Willingdon Crescent, now Mother Teresa Crescent, where the Dandi March statue is situated. Lord Chelmsford statue is believed to have been erected somewhere else than on the road leading to New Delhi station. Some, however, think that it was at the spot where the statue of Dr Munjhe now stands.

The Montagu-Chelmsford reforms of 1919 and the Chelmsford Club are reminders of the viceroy. George V’s statue that stood at India Gate (where a statue of Gandhiji was proposed to be erected) is now at the Coronation Park in Kingsway Camp where the durbars of 1877, 1903 and 1911 (when Delhi became the Capital again) were held. Lord Hardinge’s statue is also there. He was Viceroy from 1910-16 and was associated with the building of New Delhi.

Besides the Coronation Pillar and an obelisk, Sir Guy Fleetwood Wilson’s statue survives but otherwise the park (lately renovated) has empty pedestals, on which crows, kites and smaller birds occupy the high perch, which they only vacate when the Nirankari Samagam is held nearabouts or urs pilgrims camp on their way to Ajmer.

The busts of Napoleon, which were a prized collection of Sir Thomas Metcalfe, are said to have been taken away to Dehra Dun, where the Indian Military Academy was situated, before being moved to Bangalore. Metcalfe was a great admirer of the “Little” French emperor, despite the fact that he was the British Resident at the Mughal court from 1835. However, there are no statues of Sir Thomas or his brother, Sir Charles in the Capital despite the fact that they left a big impact on Delhi and its history.