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HERITAGE BUILDINGS OF COLONIAL CALCUTTA – Victoria Memorial Hall

Every important city has at least one iconic symbol of its own. Paris is identified with Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty stands for New York, and London is represented by the Tower Bridge and the Big Ben. Similarly, to thousands of people around the world, Agra means Tajmahal, while Qutb or Qutub Minar stands for Delhi. However, Calcutta has at least three famous landmarks of its own – Howrah Bridge, the Ochterlony Monument alias Shahid Minar and the Victoria Memorial Hall.

Queen Victoria

After the demise of Queen Victoria in January 1901, Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India, proposed to construct a ‘stately’ memorial for the departed Queen. Accordingly, a beautiful building was designed by William Emerson, the then President of the British Institute of Architects, and the foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Wales, later King George V, on the 4th day of January 1906. But before the completion of the building, the capital of India was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi in 1921. The Victoria Memorial Hall was formally opened to the public by the Duke of Windsor on 21st December, 1921. The fund required for the construction of the stately building, surrounded by lush green grounds sprawling over 64 acres, was contributed by the British Indian states, Indian princes, ordinary people of India, the British government in London and personally by Curzon himself.

Located at the southern end of the Maidan, the majestic Victoria Memorial Hall is flanked by Fort William, Calcutta Race Course, the Birla Planetarium, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Nestled amidst lush green gardens, the sparkling white Victoria Memorial offers a real visual treat. The Memorial blends the best of European and Mughal architecture. It is adorned with Italian style statues at the top of its entrances, Mughal domes in its centre and the corners and is also graced with tall, elegant open curved colonnades along its sides. Like the Great Tajmahal, it is also constructed of white Makana marble from Rajasthan. Actually, in many ways it resembles the Tajmahal and rightly nicknamed as Taj of Raj. The building is measured 338 by 228 feet and it rises to a height of 184 feet. It is surrounded by beautiful sprawling ground and carefully maintained gardens, adorned with ornamental palms, well maintained ponds and classical statues. A seated bronze statue of Queen Victoria dominates the approach to the memorial. The Italian statues over the entrance porches include Motherhood, Prudence and Learning. The central dome is also surrounded around with statues of Art, Architecture, Justice, and Charity, imported from Italy. On the top of the central dome stands a twenty feet tall and impressive bronzed figure of the Angel of Victory with wings, holding a trumpet. The fairy, made in Italy and weighing three tonnes, serves as the weather vane of the building.

In the main hall of the memorial, stands the statue of young Queen Victoria, holding an orb and a scepter. The statue was sculpted in marble by Thomas Brock in 1921. The Victoria Memorial is equipped with 25 specifically arranged galleries, which include among others, the royal gallery, the portrait gallery, the sculpture gallery, the Central Hall, the arms and armory gallery and the newly added, Calcutta gallery. The royal gallery has a very large collection of valuable paintings by the eminent European painters. There is a desk owned by Queen Victoria, embellished with paintings of Indian birds and the queen’s.

Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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