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Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Mystery of the Missing Marble Canopy of Queen Victoria


The year was 1872 when the statue of Queen Victoria was revealed. As per a report that appeared in the Illustrated London News, 8 June, His Highness the Guicowar of Baroda (Maharaj Khanderao Gaikwad?) presented a statue of Queen Victoria to the Victoria Gardens and was unveiled by the Governor of Bombay (Philip Wodehouse). The Victoria and Albert Museum (Now Bhau Daji Lad Museum) was to be its intended home but later it was considered to be too exquisite to be kept indoors. It was later moved to the northern end of Esplanade Road (Mahatma Gandhi road now) and was site of reverence for the locals. 


However, in 1965 this statue along with statues of other foreign sovereigns and administrators were removed from public sites and kept indoors, mostly within government buildings. This statue however was moved back to the gardens of Bhau Daji Lad Museum, its initial home. 


In 1968, under the The Bombay Queen Victoria Statue Site (And Adjoining Land utilization for construction of Satellite Telecommunications, Exchanges of the Overseas Communications Service) Act, 1968 the land was transferred from the BMC to the State Government for the construction of the Overseas Communications building. This was to be known the VSNL building and now of course the Tata Communications building, that stands tall behind the gothic Central Telegraph Office. The adjoining chowk is named after the brave Chapekar Brothers of Pune, who assassinated the Plague commissioner of Pune and his military escort Lt. Ayerst in 1897.

Chapekhar Bothers
However, this post is not about the statue at all, in fact it is about the marble canopy under which the statue of Queen Victoria sat. 



On my last visit to the BDL, I was surprised to find her seated without the canopy and I wondered where it could’ve gone. Whether it was vandalised or just lost to the ravages of time (her majesty’s nose is missing). And then I forgot all about it, until I visited Juhu beach on Sunday. While running on the sand towards the Southern End, I saw something that made me stop in my track. 


A tall structure nearly 20 feet in height, made of white marble stood in the lawn of one of the bungalows facing the beach. It couldn’t be, I thought to myself as I slowed down and traced my steps to the boundary wall of that bungalow. The intricately carved marble canopy stood in front of me, I could make out engravings in Gujarati on the side panel but it was too far off to read clearly. 


A photo of that panel later, with the help of a friend we could decipher words such as Gaekwad, Baroda, 18something and I concluded that it was indeed the canopy made from Sicilian marble in 1872 by Matthew Noble, a famous sculptor from London.



I stood on my toes and peered in to find a lady taking a walk around of the lawn. I called out to her and asked her if it was indeed the canopy, she said ‘I think so, I could confirm and tell you, why don't you come tomorrow?’ On further enquiry it was revealed that the bungalow belonged to the Singhania family (Raymond group) and the canopy had travelled from their residences across Bombay, last being Breach Candy. An online source does mention that the canopy was indeed bought by an Indian industrialist and stands empty in his garden. When I combined Queen Victoria + Vijaypat Singhania on a google search, a small mention of the canopy being present at the Singhania bungalow at Breach Candy showed up on TripAdvisor! Although this needs to be updated it validated the latest info that I had gathered. 


I would urge anyone interested in colonial art and history to make a trip to the surprisingly clean Juhu beach to see this magnificent structure. Although it is a reminder of the relations between the rulers of the princely state and the British Empire, it is also symbolic of the wealth possessed by the king which enabled him to commission such a lavish work of art. Entry into the lawns would be ideal to appreciate the intricacies of the structure better( the news report mentions - The Royal arms are sculptured on the front of the pedestal, and the Star of India on the centre of the canopy. On the enriched part immediately above the statue are the rose of England and lotus of India, accompanied by the mottoes. "God and My Right" and "The Light of Heaven our Guide." Other accessories have been introduced into the design, such as the oak and ivy leaves, respectively the symbols of strength and friendship, adorning the plinths and capitals of the columns; with the oak, ivy, and lotus leaves enriching the mouldings that surround the whole. On the four panels at the sides and back of the canopy are inscriptions in four different languages - namely, in English and in three Indian languages) a look from the periphery is also satisfactory.

But, personally what is even more satisfying is this find. After having wondered about it, the mystery has been solved and I am glad to know that it stands under the shade of many trees, facing the Arabian Sea, in open view, for anyone who notices it. 


Photo credits: Biswajit Dey(@busydey) - Queen Victoria at BDL
Rest - Wikimedia commons and personal clicks 

9 comments:

Anuradha Shankar said...

thats an interesting find, Rushikesh!!!!

Karen C said...

LOVE the title.. loved it SO much that work-deadlines aside, it was worth the time taken to read the article!

Arvind Trivedi CFP said...

Thanks Rushi for this vital information. Keep follow the history and I believe you will deliver more.....

Rushikesh Kulkarni said...

Anuradha, thanks a lot! Do check it out sometime if you come to Prithvi or someplace closeby to it.

Karen, thanks! I am glad you liked it!

Arvind, I will try my best! Thanks for your encouragement!

annie said...

I am always so intrigued to read your articles.... Congratulations on your find.... Please do keep it up..

Pratibha said...

'I stood on my toes and peered in to find a lady taking a walk around of the lawn. I called out to her and asked her if it was indeed the canopy'

Loved this one. Thanks for revealing your find. Must look out for it if I am in Mumbai again.

Rushikesh Kulkarni said...

Annie, thanks for your comment! I am glad you like them!

Pratibha, oh yes, had no option! And yes, you must visit. Do let me know if you need help locating it.

Anonymous said...

Nice research on modern history !

What exactly was the reason that the canopy was moved but not the statue ?

Rushikesh Kulkarni said...

Hi Anon, thanks! And the reason is still not clear. Still trying to find out!