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Friday, 16 March 2012

Raj Bhavan resurrects Empire's lost insignia

by Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey|

Mar 10, 2012, 03.28AM IST

KOLKATA: A stroll on the rolling greens of Raj Bhavan one evening had brought former Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi to a curious mound from which protruded a lion's head. After reading up records dating back to 1803, Gandhi was almost sure of the treasure that lay buried.

He ordered an excavation and his hunch proved right. Pieces of a puzzle were dug up, which if put together, would bring back the British Royal Coat of Arms that adorned the four corners of the Raj Bhavan rooftop. The royal insignias had been pulled down after Independence because Raj Bhavan was being readied to receive Bengal's first Indian Governor General, C Rajagopalachari.

No one knew what happened to the cast-iron Coat of Arms. Perhaps the only place in the city where the royal insignia can still be found is the Victoria Memorial, where it was not pulled down because it was a memorial built to a queen and is not a state building.

However, before Gandhi could see the insignia restored, his term ended. The pieces were left stacked in a corner of the south garden of Raj Bhavan. It wasn't long before Governor M K Narayanan noticed them and made inquiries. He soon decided that the Coats should be restored. The project was handed to the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) that had handled the restoration of Raj-era bronze statues that were originally on the Maidan.

"There were rows of ornamental iron pieces that had remained underground for a long time. The Governor wants us to restore all the four Coats of Arms as part of the Raj Bhavan's heritage. It will be quite some work. First, we will have to match all the parts so that the Coat can be put together and then we will have to manufacture the missing parts to complete the design," said GM Kapur, state convenor of Intach.

Though an idea of what the Coat of Arms looked like can be had from the insignia preserved inside the Victoria Memorial, the ones at Raj Bhavan were slightly different, given the fact that it housed the viceroys and then the Governor Generals of the British Empire.

"We have found that they were manufactured by Messrs Macfarlane of Glasgow. The company no longer exists so it was difficult for us to procure the original design. We contacted Glasgow University, which maintains archives of all Scottish engineering companies that had once been constructing for British colonies, especially India," said Kapur.

Intach is in touch with English Heritage, the counterpart of the Archaeological Survey of India in Britain, to get the authentic design of the Raj Bhavan Coats.

" Philip Davies, the monuments director of English Heritage, has filled in many blanks for us. He has said that the Coats existed at Raj Bhavan even before 1810, as recorded in Mrs Graham's journal. The record is considered one of the most trustworthy accounts. Initially, of the four Coats of Arms, two belonged to the East India Company and two to the Empire. However, in 1858, the Empire took over and replaced the East India Coats with its own," Kapur explained.

It was Lord Curzon who got the four Coats rebuilt all over and added a fifth one on the tympanum of the building. The five Coats together weigh 100 tonnes.

These had been removed and dumped by the United Front government at the Flagstaff House in Barrackpore, which is the second city residence of the Governor.

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