Saturday, 2 February 2013

A forgotten slice of Delhi's history

It was December 12, 1911 and an announcement on shifting the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi was about to be made. The king of England, George the fifth and his wife Queen Mary were in India specifically to preside over what later came to be known as the Delhi Durbar.
The Delhi Durbar had been organised by the British to showcase to the rest of the world the hold that Britain or England had over India.
All the Indian Kings and Queens with their most important officials had come to Delhi to attend the Durbar. The then Viceroy of  India, Lord Hardinge, had been authorised by  the British Government to organise the Imperial Durbar.
The reason was two-fold. The British wanted to show the Indians the coronation of George as the King of England. The second was of course to highlight the shifting of the capital.
The Viceroy took personal interest in organising the event and he sent an official communication to each and every Maharaja and Maharani asking them to attend the durbar.
Since George would be the first reigning monarch of the United Kingdom to attend such a Durbar, Lord Hardinge left no stone unturned to make it a grand success.
The durbar was held at what is today’s Coronation Park in Delhi. It was then called Kingsway Camp. Since 1970 it is officially known as Guru Teg Bahadur Nagar (GTB Nagar). The locality commences from GTB, passing through  Chauraha and includes  residential areas like Hudson Lines and Outram Lines. All these were then part of the bigger Kingsway Camp.
It was here and in this park that the George made several landmark proclaimations like the construction f New Delhi, laying the foundation for the Viceregal lodge which later would become Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
The Viceroy set aside 6 lakhs Pounds for the Durbar and an additional sum of 3 lakhs pounds were paid by the Indian Government (British India of course) for the services of  80,000 Army personnel to provide security for the Durbar.
Incidentally, this was the third such durbar held at the park. The first Delhi durbar was held in 1877 when Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India and in 1903 Lord Curzon organized an event to celebrate the accession of  King Edward the seventh.
The Coronation Memorial, built as an obelisk in the sprawling Coronation Park, is of sandstone. It is set on a square with steps on all sides. The memorial stands at exactly the same place where all the three British Durbars were held.
The inscription on the Memorial says,
“Here on the 12th Day of December 1911, His Imperial Majesty King George V, Emperor of India accompanied by the Queen Empress in solemn Durbar announced in person to the Governors, Princes and Peoples of India his Coronation celebrated in England on the 22nd day of June 1911 and received from them their dutiful homage and allegiance”.
When India attained Independence on August 15, 1947, the park turned into a resting place for several statues and they included Kings, Governors, Viceroys, Commanders and even some high ranking officials of British India.
These statues had been moved from various locations in and around Delhi. including Rajpath and Rashtrapathi Bhavan.The largest and tallest statue, a 15 m (49 ft) high marble statue designed by Lutyens, is opposite to the Obelisk. It is the statue of  King George V.
This statue had earlier stood atop a canopy in front of the India Gate, which is now vacant following the statue’s removal.
The Government constructed 19 pedestals to install the displaced statues but only five were fixed, while the remaining plinths are vacant. Some of the statues are believed to have been stolen or damaged.
King George here is surrounded in a semi-circle by other statues.
They are thought to be those of Sir Guy Fleetwood Wilson and Viceroys Willingdon, Irwin and Hardinge. Unfortunately, there are   no name plates.  
By the way, it was at this very place that the King George announced the shifting of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. The construction of the Viceregal Palace-now Rashtrapathi Bhavan-too was announced here.
Another little known fact is that just yards away from the park is the place where the British brutally put down the 1857 rebellion.
After partition, it became the venue of the largest refugee camp in Delhi, housing more than 3 lakhs refugees who migrated from Pakistan and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan).
When you visit Delhi, make sure you go to this park. It has been renovated during the Commonwealth Games. Check put a piece of history.

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