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Architecture

The Gothic Palaces of Faridkot

by SUBHAS PARIHAR

 

 

 

CONTINUED FROM YESTERDAY'S ARTICLE: "THE SIKH KINGDOM OF FARIDKOT" ...

 

RAJ MAHAL

The royal family of Faridkot lived in the palaces of Faridkot Fort until Balbir Singh erected a new palace complex for himself outside the fort.

Called Raj Mahal, the complex comprises a group of buildings contained in a vast irregular walled enclosure. It consists of the main palace, another building called tasveer ghar (literally, picture house), a baradari (literally, twelve-doored, an open pavilion), a gurdwara, three small pavilions called doll houses, two swimming pools, some service quarters, a well, and a beautiful gateway.

The main palace building, its longer side being along the east-west axis, consists of two blocks joined by a porte-cochere. The eastern part of the building comprises a two-storeyed set of rooms arranged around a large hall. Originally this part was symmetrically arranged on the east-west axis. The Dance Hall on the south side was added much later, c. 1937-40. The western part of the palace has a smaller suite of rooms surrounding a hall with an open court on the west side. Under the open court are tehkhanas (basements).

The main entrance of the palace building was on the east side as is indicated by another beautiful porte-cochere buttressed at each front corner by a pinnacled octagonal turret so characteristic of the Gothic style. The top storey of each turret has openings formed by narrow pointed Gothic arches.

Around the first floor of the building is a projecting wooden balcony shaded by a deep sloping chhajja (projecting eaves), a purely indigenous element. Its wooden parapet lattices are a treasure house of geometrical designs. The top parapet of the east block is formed by an open arcade partially screened with lattices of a beautiful geometrical design. The description of the building by Philip Davies - "a jolly stucco colonial bungalow with cast-iron verandahs" - is not correct.

The palace building is richly adorned with two types of decoration. On the walls of both the porte-cocheres are meandering floral arabesques interspersed with parakeet figures, all executed in cut plaster and now painted in gaudy enamels. On the inner side of the main porte-cochere, the Faridkot state coat of arms is depicted in the same medium. The stucco work seen on the ceiling of the main hall is finer in quality. Here the motifs are purely European.

In front of the palace is a small marble baradari.

The double-storeyed building to the south of the main palace is called Tasveer Ghar. It is in the form of a small bungalow, a suite of rooms fronted by a verandah pierced with narrow pointed arches.

Nearby is the gurdwara which has a semi-octagonal front entrance. The building has no dome or any other distinguishing feature to mark it as a place of special sanctity.

In the open gardens of the palace are scattered three light pavilions called doll houses and numerous fountains. In one of the fountains water emanates from lions' heads.

Although at present the Raj Mahal complex is entered through two simple gates in its west wall, the original entrance was through a magnificent gateway, called deodhi, situated in the south wall. The ground floor of this triple-storeyed building comprises a central passage flanked by guard rooms, the whole fronted by an arcaded verandah.

The facade of the building is a graceful composition dominated by a two-storey sunken recess in the middle, flanked by double pilasters extending the whole height of the building. This recess is pierced by an elliptical entrance archway with two windows above. On either side of the entrance arch are three pointed archways supported by double pillars on each side on ground level, and an equal number of square-headed openings on the first storey.

As seen in the main palace, the upper storey openings of this gateway are also fronted with light wooden balconies. At the second storey level is just one room above the entrance archway, which has three lancet windows on the front side. It is topped by a cut-iron cresting and a hipped roof of corrugated iron. At each end of the gateway facade is an octagonal turret, accommodating a spiral staircase. The top storey of each turret forms an open-arched pavilion, topped by a spire. The angles of the third-storey room and tops of spires are all crowned with iron finials.

The spandrels of the round entrance arch of the deodhi are adorned with cut plaster arabesque designs. Each spandrel of the flanking ground storey arches has a decorative medallion. The gateway building thus harmonizes with the palace building in style and material used.

All the buildings are painted in Eton blue.

Philip Davies dates the palace in the 1880s, but the whole complex was actually built in stages. Even the main palace building was constructed in two stages under the patronage of Raja Balbir Singh.

The western part was built first, during the reign of his father Bikram Singh (1874-98), while the eastern part and the deodhi were added later, in 1899-1902, during his own reign "according to his desire and taste". The south hall of the main palace and small pavilions in the park were built circa 1937-40 by the last Raja Harindar Singh. About 1945-46, the deodhi was separated from the complex by a wall and converted into a hospital named after its builder - Balbir Hospital.

VICTORIA CLOCK TOWER

Situated to the north of Raj Mahal, the clock tower is still the tallest structure in Faridkot town and thus forms a major landmark. Thanks to the authorities responsible for its regular maintenance, even after more than a century it survives in good condition, and still serves its purpose. It is not known what the original colour of the monument was. Now it is painted in garish green and yellow ochre enamels.

Structurally, the clock tower is a free-standing tower built in the true Gothic style, with four easily seen clock-faces on the cardinal sides. Originally, the tower stood on a platform which has vanished due to the raising of the surrounding road level. The tower proper, measuring 6.6 m square outside, rises in four storeys, each marked by a cornice, the whole capped with a conical spire further surmounted by a high metallic finial. The first and second storeys form chamfered squares whereas the upper two storeys are octagonal in shape.

Each side of the first two storeys and the cardinal sides of the fourth storey are pierced by a narrow Gothic pointed arch. The arches of the uppermost storey are further subdivided into smaller arches. On the parapets of the first and second storeys are placed decorative towers and pinnacles.

The various facades of the tower are decorated with a variety of motifs. The spandrels of the archways of the first storey have arabesque designs in plaster relief. The remaining surfaces are adorned with panels textured by simple geometrical designs.

Most of the corners are softened with fluted rectangular pilasters decorated with petal designs at base and top.

Only the first storey of the tower, forming an octagon of 1.6 m. side within, has a ceiling, domical in shape. Upper storeys have no ceilings at all, and the walls are bound by iron girders on which are placed wooden planks, forming various landings. The southwest pier of the building accommodates a stairway giving access to the first storey from where a ladder is built in the southeast pier to reach the third storey where there is the machinery of the turret clock.

The present clock was manufactured by the company Joyce, Whitchurch, Salop (Shropshire), United Kingdom, in 1929, and supplied by the Anglo-Swiss Watch Co., Calcutta. Most probably this clock was installed during the period of the minority of Raja Harindar Singh (1918-34) at a cost of 5,000 rupees, as reported by a near contemporary writer Makhan Singh.

The clock machine, wound once a week, takes its driving power from falling weights. This power is controlled by an oscillating mechanism. The controlled release of power moves the arms of all the four faces. Each opal glass dial which displays the time is 111 cm in diameter and can be illuminated at night by fixing a source of light behind it.

The bell of the clock tower that rings every hour is on the fourth storey. It bears the name of Taylor Loughboro, which most probably refers to the company Messrs Taylors, Eayre, & Smith Ltd., Loughborough, United Kingdom, the leading bell foundry of the world, established in 1784 .

In its original form, the tower was not an isolated structure, but was accompanied by four ixan-like buildings crowned with conical spires of corrugated iron sheets, each placed at one corner of the chowk at the centre of which stands the tower. These structures, visible in an old photograph, I have seen for myself during early 1970s.

The whole ensemble must have presented a spectacular skyline in those days when there were no other tall buildings around. Makhan Singh attests that the clock tower "presents a nice scene along with its adjoining Barandari buildings and Ghantaghar Bazar."

The significance of a clock tower at the beginning of the 20th century cannot be exaggerated when hardly any individual could afford a watch. Moreover, it was a symbol of British technology, projecting a progressive image of the state.

On each side of the clock tower the year 1902 is inscribed as the date of its erection. These inscriptions are modern, of a few years ago, but the Aina-i Brar Bans confirms the erection of the clock tower by Raja Balbir Singh as a memorial to Her Majesty the British Queen Victoria who died on January 22, 1901.

As the book was published in December 1902, the inscribed date appears to be correct. It may be interesting to note that there is at Georgetown in Malaysia a clock tower, the Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, erected in commemoration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee by the rich Chinese Towkay (master), Cheah Chin Gok. It is 60 feet tall (about 20 metres), representing the number of years of the Queen's reign.

KOTHI DARBARGANJ

Now locally called Darbarganj Rest House, this Gothic Revival structure is situated in a large garden to the northwest of the clock tower. Makhan Singh records that the rest house was nominated for the residence of the rulers of neighbouring states and the [British] Agent of the Governor General [of India].

The building comprises 12 suites, each with an attached toilet and dressing room, and common kitchen, drawing room, and dining room. The rear suites are arranged around an open-to-sky courtyard, measuring 13.5 by 9.2 m and surrounded by square piers. The longest part of the building measures 58.9 m and the broadest is 43.6 m.

The east facade of the building is a very impressive composition. It has five round arches supported on double circular pillars, arranged in a semicircle and flanked by elliptical arched openings. The crowning of the building is in two levels. The lower-level parapet is marked with false battlements, with an open-topped pediment flanked by triangular members. The angles of the parapets are also planted with fluted pitcher-like elements.

On the upper parapet marking the level of the roof of the drawing and dining halls, is an arcade of Gothic pointed arches, flanked by octagonal spires. In the centre rises a domical shape and not an actual dome, its body marked with flutings. The arcade originally continued on all sides but its west side has crumbled. All the spires have metallic finials, most of which are still extant.

Some crowning members on the facade have arabesque designs worked in plaster relief. The ceiling and cornice of the drawing hall also bear medallions in stucco relief. The designs on the ceiling are symmetrical stylized floral motifs. The spandrels of the round arches on the facade also have flower medallions.

Makhan Singh writes that the rest house was equipped and befittingly decorated with modern furniture. An old chandelier and some pieces of furniture are still extant in the main halls of the building.

The whole structure stands on a 0.65-metre-high platform echoing the contours of the building, and approached by six sets of stairs. Parts of cast-iron railings are extant along the front of the platform. The railing has cast replicas of the state emblem.

The rear part of the building comprising six suites is entirely different in character from the front.

In an interview Raja Harindar Singh told Sardar Gurdarshan Singh Sodhi (Surveyor, Languages Department, Punjab), that he had made extensions to the Darbarganj Rest House. Colonel Balbir Singh, the Manager of the Maharawal Khewaji Trust which now looks after the property of Faridkot state told me that this part was added about 1945-46.

The Aina-i Brar Bans refers to the building as Paradewale Bagh ki Rafi-al Shan Kothi mosuma Darbarganj, i.e., the "High-ranking Mansion of the Parade Garden known as Darbarganj". Parade Garden was situated on the site now occupied by the Secretariat Building and Harindra Hospital.

CONCLUSION

On the basis of the stylistic similarity of the three monuments, it can be assumed that all these were designed by the same person who remains anonymous. The Maharaja of Baroda and Philip Davies give the credit for the Raj Mahal to a local master craftsman, Mistri Jagat Singh, but his title mistri indicates that he was the mason and not the designer.

Neither does the contemporary history Aina-i Brar Bans give his name; however, it records that Raja Balbir Singh himself designed his buildings. This brings to mind the Mughal emperor Shahjahan who, according to his court historian 'Abd al-Hamid Lahori, himself drew the plans for the majority of his buildings.

The Raja's most probable source could have been standard books on architectural design as was the case in the rest of British India. His interest in books is well known, and he himself was a writer.

He established the first printing press of the state named after himself - Balbir Press.

Also, he opened a public library which had a collection of some 2,000 books, including fiction, and works on subjects like law, history, science, and religion.

These three buildings were the last examples of the Gothic flowering in the state. The Gothic pointed arch did survive for some time in some other buildings too, but not the spired towers. And soon the introduction of new building materials and techniques freed later buildings entirely of the past.

Concluded.

 

Art historian, artist and photographer, the author has done pioneer work on the architecture of the Sikh States of the Punjab. He is author of, inter alia, Architectural Heritage of a Sikh State: Faridkot (Delhi, 2009).

[Courtesy: APNA. Edited for sikhchic.com]

February 12, 2012 

Conversation about this article

1: K S Giriraj Singh Chauhan (Vadodara, Gujarat, India), December 04, 2013, 6:55 AM.

Very happy to go through history of Faridkot: the kotthi, Darbarganj, Victoria Clock Tower, Rajmahal, etc. The past glory of these mini-kingdoms was so great that even today they dazzle us. Thanks for the information.

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