“This is the Victoria Memorial of Lucknow,” said the guide turning towards me with a smile, watching me for some reaction as he pointed at the small monument tucked in a corner of Begum Hazrat Mahal Park in Lucknow. As a Calcuttan, I was proud of the memorial that basked at one end of the Maidan in Kolkata, not because of any colonial hangover but for its magnificent architecture. Others in our organised Kaiserbagh hailed from different cities in India and digested the bit of news without much ado. But I was suitably curious and went forward to take a closer look at the Lucknow namesake. Unfortunately, the gate was closed.
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Following the death of Britain’s Queen Victoria in 1901, the British government in India decided to build a monument in her memory. Of course, Calcutta (the old name for Kolkata) had the grandest edifice, but places like Lucknow and Allahabad too were chosen for the purpose. Apparently, a portion of the funds collected in Lucknow was shared with Calcutta. Construction of the Victoria Memorial of Lucknow started in September 1904 and was completed in April 1905. The foundation stone of the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata was laid by King George V – the then Prince of Wales – in January 1906 and opened to the public in 1921.
According to records, Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob designed the monument in Lucknow. Jacobs is also credited with the designing of several important buildings in India, especially in Rajasthan and is known for his book ‘Jeypore Portolio of Architectural Details’. He was a proponent of the Indo-Saracenic style.
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It is built over a red sandstone platform, and the rest of the monument is in white marble. The ‘chhatri’ in the centre was topped by a dome with a finial and surrounded by four smaller pavilions. The dome perched on a roof supported by brackets and this entire construction was supported by columns and decorated arches. Lotus bud designs could be seen at the corners of the arches. A parapet ran around the dome. There were four octagonal platforms surrounding the ‘chhatri’.
The entire construction reflected Mughal and Rajasthani architecture. However, the central pavilion is bereft of the seated statue of the Queen designed by Sir W. Hamo Thornycroft. A pioneer of the ‘New Sculpture’, Thornycroft is credited as the sculptor of some of the best statues in London. The statues of King George V and Lord Curzon that graced Calcutta were also his creations.
Unfortunately, the statue of Queen Victoria in Lucknow had to succumb to an increasing sense of patriotism sweeping across the country after Independence. In 1957, the centenary year of the 1857 uprising, the statue was removed to the Lucknow Museum. The park, which was named after Queen Victoria, was renamed as Begum Hazrat Mahal Park. Although we could not approach the monument because it was closed, the guide said that in place of the statue, plaques have been installed which talk about Begum Hazrat Mahal, wife of the deposed Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. She played a significant role in the 1857 rebellion in Lucknow.
Although associated with famous architects and sculptors, the memorial does not feature among the leading monuments of Lucknow and ‘walk’ organisers just make a passing mention. The few people I saw visiting the garden around the memorial were couples in search of some privacy. It is a ticketed monument and usually remains open between 6am and 5pm. It is lit up at night, but safety may be an issue at that hour for individual travellers, especially women.