Lord Curzon's India: Lamp, Lattice, Lions
Viceroy Lord Curzon
"The central dome of the Taj is rising like some vast exhalation in the air....
"If I had never done anything else in India, I have written my name here and the letters are a living joy...".
This is Viceroy Lord Curzon speaking from the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
The occasion was the formal inauguration of the brass lamp that Curzon had got installed in the famous mausoleum over the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. (picture below)
If Curzon's words smack of pride, the pride was well-deserved for what he had done for the most famous landmark of India.
Restoring The Glory
When Curzon came to India, the Taj wore a dismal look.
Years of neglect and pillage had taken its toll on the Taj.
Parts of the buildings had fallen badly into disrepair. Its once thriving gardens with blooming flower beds, scintillating fountains and manicured lanes were overtaken by wild growth and decay. Once a pleasure to behold, the mounument was fast turning into wilderness.
Devastated by this scene of desolation, Lord Curzon started restoration work of the Taj Mahal.
The work that Curzon initiated was to bring the Taj Mahal back to its former glory and charm that had always characterized it since the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan first built it in 1653 in memory of his favorite queen Mumtaz Mahal.
The Curzon Lamp
Though the restoration work that Curzon had started was not fully done by the time he left India in 1905, the Taj had almost regained its past glory by then.
But before he went, Curzon wanted to leave a touch of himself on the monument he had redeemed. For this, Curzon hired skilled
craftsmen to create a replica of an intricate brass lamp he had seen in a
Cairo mosque. This lamp has over the time come to be
known as the Curzon lamp and is one of the major points of attraction of the Taj.
Curzon's actions were in stark contrast with Lord William Bentinck,
Governor-General of India (1827-1835). Bentinck's reputation for
ruthless financial efficiency and disregard for
Indian culture has led to the much-repeated story that he had once planned
to demolish the Taj Mahal and sell off the marble. Had this alleged plan succeeded, it would have gone down in history as the most horrendous crime against art and world heritage
Exploration of India
Lord Curzon's interest in the Taj Mahal is an example of his affinity with the culture and history of India which he came to govern as the Briish Crown's Viceroy in 1898.
During his time in India (1898-1905) he visited a number of cities and towns where he made it a special point of visiting places of architectural, historical and cultural interest.
Intricate Latticework - Sidi Saiyyed Jali
Sidi Saiyyed Mosque
During his official visit to Ahmedabad in 1902, Lord Curzon asked his aides to make arrangements for seeing the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque, built in 1573, as he had heard about its exquisitely-carved stone Jalis (latticework windows).
Citing security reasons, the officials tried to dissuade the
Viceroy from going to the mosque but Curzon was adamant. So his people had to take him there.
When he saw the mosque he was thrilled by its fine architecture, specially the latticework windows.
But at the same time he was appalled by the neglect and misuse of this historic monument.
Not only was the mosque uncared for but a government office was operating on its premises.This was perhaps the reason that the officils did not want Curzon to go to the place.
A furious Curzon ordered the office to be removed within twenty-four hours.
He also made arrangements for the proper upkeep and preservation of the mosque and its latticework, called Sidi Saiyad Jali that has become a symbol of the present day Ahmedabad, the principal city of Gujarat,India.
Another spot in Ahmedabad that captivated Curzon was the Jhulta Minar or Shaking Minarets of the Sidi Bashir Mosque.
This 15th century mosque has two minarets which are three stories tall with carved balconies. When you shake any one minaret, the other minaret starts vibrating a few seconds later though there is no vibrations or shaking in the connecting passage. Why and how this happens is still unexplained.
In an attempt to unravel the mystery, a British officer is believed to have dismantled one such minaret of another mosque without success. Not only he couldn't find out why this phenomenon occurred but the minaret could not be put together back again.
Saving the Gir Lions
When Curzon went to Junagadh, naturally he wanted to see the Asiatic lions found only in this region of India.
But the local Nawab said that it may not be possible to coax out a lion at a short notice as the number of lions in the Gir forest had dwindled. The reason was the indiscriminate shikar (hunting) by the British officers visiting the place over the years
It is not known if Curzon was able to see a lion or not but he did order the Nawab not to allow any more hunting thus saving this rare animal from extinction.
With the passage of time, Lord Curzon has passed into history but not out of memory.
The lamp that Curzon lit in the Taj has been shining for more than a century.
The spots that he tried to preserve are attracting hordes of sight-seers everyday.
And the now-protected Gir lions are very much roaring.
India's first prime minister Nehru was very much right when he said:
"After every other Viceroy has been forgotten, Curzon will be remembered because he restored all that was beautiful in India."
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