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Saturday, 28 April 2012

Allahabad University: Original Vizianagram Hall tile to help in restoration work

\TNN | Apr 19, 2012, 10.10AM IST

ALLAHABAD: Even as the Allahabad University authorities have shown their commitment for the restoration of historical Vizianagram Hall of the Science faculty and its magnificent dome, the work has been hindered in the absence of any specimen of the original broken tiles that were removed to fix the present tiles on the dome. However, now a piece of the tile has been found that may help in restoring the glory of the building.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) in its Xth Five Year Plan sanctioned an amount of Rs 10 crore to AU and three other old universities of the country -- Bombay, Madras and Calcutta varsities -- for restoration of heritage buildings on their campuses. UGC had allocated an amount of Rs 3 crore in the Xth Plan for the purpose, rest was to be given once the amount was utilized.

Later, AU authorities asked the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to prepare a detailed report for restoring four heritage buildings at AU, including Vizianagram Hall, in 2008-09. But after submission of the report, varsity remaining silent and finally asked RITES to undertake the restoration work of Vizianagram Hall and the dome.

Later, a three-member committee of conservation experts was formed by the AU authorities. Its members included convenor of INTACH (Delhi Chapter) Prof A G K Menon, conservation architect Vikas Vedprakash Dilawari of Mumbai and director, Conservation and World Heritage, JanhwijSharma of ASI. It was to give its recommendation on the viability of such ambitious projects. This high-powered committee visited AU in the last week of March and gave its approval to AU V-C Prof Anil Kumar Singh for going ahead with the restoration work.

However, although RITES has been assigned the work for restoration of the dome and the hall, neither the AU authorities nor people from RITES were able to locate any of the broken or intact pieces of the original tile that was removed in 1985 when Prof R P Mishra was the AU V-C.

"Any specimen of the original tile would have been of immense help for the restoration work as we could have then done the chemical analysis of the tile and the material used to plaster the dome which held the tiles for many decades. But unfortunately, we do not have any specimen making our work so difficult," said one of the higher officials of RITES.

In this backdrop, a small piece of the original tile of turquoise blue shade has been found to be in possession of Prof Manas Mukul Das, a former faculty member of the Department of English. "When we witnessed the desecration of AU's heritage, i.e., the dome of the Vizianagram Hall, we collected some broken tiles from the debris and send those pieces to INTACH," said Prof Das. He even handed over one piece of the original tile to TOI.

He quoted a newspaper report dated December 9, 1873, that read: "The Muir College, the foundation stone of which is to be laid by the Viceroy this afternoon, will be, we are assured, when completed, the finest structure in the North-West Provinces, except only the Taj." The College took 12 years to complete. The Vizianagram tower, the hall and the library are built of stone throughout; the main walls of the lecture rooms, professors' rooms and offices are of brick faced with stone. The yellow stone came from Mirzapur and the white from Sheorajpur. The expenditure on the Central Block of the college was Rs 8,89,627, said Prof Das.

Quoting from records, Prof Das said: "After the formal opening of the building on April 8, 1886, Sir Alfred Lyall, the Governor of the Province, said in his speech -- 'Now that we have taken to erecting for our students a hall like this in which we are assembled, with cool colonnades, domes, and towers, spacious lecture rooms and libraries, we have set up an external visible sign of the spirit in which our generation regards education'."

Prof Das said the dome tiles of the Vizianagram Hall were glazed by craftsmen of Rajasthan guilds. In Islamic architecture, there is a centuries old history of the art of lustre painting on tiles and the craft of making ceramic bodies of quartz and other glossy material. The art was perhaps imported from Egypt, he added.

About the colour of the tiles, Prof Das said, "The colours mainly used on the tiles were turquoise, cobalt blue and white, and less frequently, green." When Sir W Emerson, who designed the Muir Central College in "a modified Saracenic style", thought of tiles to decorate the Vizianagram Dome, he naturally chose the glazed blue-and-white tiles. "Rai Bahadur Bipin Bihari Chakravarti, Government Executive Engineer, was in charge of the construction work. His papers, now in possession of Ajoy Chakravarti, his great grandson, show that 14 Rajasthani Guilds wore contacted, and some of them entrusted with the task of glazing the tiles brought from England," the professor added.

Contacted, Chakravarti recalled his great-grandfather telling that the theme used in the dome was 'Bringing Haven to Earth' and that is why blue turquoise was used. It took about a month and half for 85 craftsmen of Jaipur to polish the tiles which were processed four times -- glazed and put in fire with the process being repeated four times. About 30,000 eggs were used to polish the tiles.

The piece of the tile is six inches from one side and its thickness shows its antiquity. When TOI contacted Divay Gupta, the conservationist architecture whose help has been sought by RITES to restore the originality of the dome, he said: "We have been trying to locate the original specimen of the tile as it would be of immense help after chemical analysis. Once we know the exact component, we can replicate these tiles after which the grandeur of the dome can be restored."

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