A couple of weeks back, I wrote a post on the repercussions, in Delhi, of the revolt of 1857—not just on the people of the city, but on the monuments. Especially the mosques of Delhi. A couple of readers made a rash comment: that they would like more. So—while I couldn’t think of any other mosques which bore the brunt of British ire in the wake of 1857—I thought it might be interesting to look at another way in which Delhi’s monuments were affected by the events of this turbulent year. Yes, not by what happened after 1857, but what happened during 1857.
First up, Baadli ki Sarai. As I’ve mentioned in some of the Muzaffar Jang books (plug alert!—notably The Eighth Guest & Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries, and Engraved in Stone, both of which contain a carefully-researched description of Mughal-era sarais), sarais or travellers’ inns used to often be situated just outside the city walls. Baadli ki Sarai, built by Shahjahan sometime in the 1650s, lay outside the walls surrounding the city of Shahjahanabad, near a village named Baadli.
In 1857, Baadli ki Sarai suddenly shot into prominence, because it became the site of a landmark battle: the Battle of Baadli ki Sarai, fought on June 8, 1857, between about 4,000 rebels (who had occupied the sarai and were defending it) and the besieging British forces. The British won, and Baadli ki Sarai became, over the following years, almost a sort of pilgrimage for Empire-loving British tourists who came here to gloat over the wonderful victory.
Today, Baadli ki Sarai (it’s very close to the Azadpur Sabzi Mandi, and is known as Sarai Pipalthala) is a quiet, rather secluded little monument, with a pretty garden and lawns. But quite a remarkable history.
Kashmiri Darwaaza. Like Ajmeri Darwaaza, Lahori Darwaaza, Dilli Darwaaza and Kabul Darwaaza, Kashmiri Darwaaza is one of the gates that pierced the city walls of Shahjahanabad, and was named for the direction it faced. At the peak of the freedom movement of 1857, the rebel forces, despite the Battle of Baadli ki Sarai, still held Delhi. The British, therefore, under the command of Brigadier Nicholson, scheduled a carefully-planned attack on one of the major gates of the city—Kashmiri Darwaaza. On September 14th, part of the gate was destroyed by exploding it with gunpowder charges—and the rest of the gate, whatever still remained standing, was subjected to cannon fire.
The British broke through, and won this battle too. Kashmiri Darwaaza (or Kashmiri Gate, as just about everybody knows it today) still remains pockmarked.
(Incidentally, among the British seriously injured in this storming of Kashmiri Darwaaza was Nicholson himself. He was buried at a cemetery near the gate—Nicholson Cemetery).
The Masjid at Qudsia Bagh. The Qudsia Bagh gardens, laid out in the mid-18th century under the aegis of Qudsia Begum (a once-dancing girl who rose to be consort to Mohammad Shah ‘Rangeela’), lie opposite Kashmiri Darwaaza. It was, therefore, ideal as a place for the British to set up a battery from which to target Kashmiri Darwaaza. The problem, of course, was that while the British blew holes in Kashmiri Darwaaza, the rebels holed up behind the city walls trained their cannons on Qudsis Bagh—and blew holes in one of the few buildings here, the masjid.
Like Kashmiri Darwaaza, the Qudsia Bagh mosque has been restored, but the damage caused by cannon fire has been left as is, a reminder of its history.
The Magazine on Lothian Road. Or, since I’m talking about what’s left, the gates of the magazine. Lothian Road is a long, curving road which leads away from Kashmiri Darwaaza—and was, in the mid-1800s, home to a major magazine. Ammunition was manufactured and stored here in bulk. In 1857, when the Rebel Army marched on Delhi and entered the city, they also reached the magazine and tried to scale its walls. The British officer in charge, preferring to destroy all the ammunition rather than have it fall into the hands of the rebels, ordered the magazine to be blown up.
The result shook up Delhi so jarringly that many thought an earthquake had struck the city. The magazine itself was blown to smithereens—but, surprisingly, its two gates remained intact. These still stand, a short distance separating them from each other, along the centre of Lothian Road.
Other than these, there were other buildings that suffered damage during 1857, but have since been repaired. Among them is the lovely old St James’s Church, near Kashmiri Gate. During the fury of the initial days of the rebellion, hundreds of British citizens (many of whom lived in the nearby area) took refuge in the church. However, it became a target for attacking crowds, who broke in, killed most of the British, and looted and plundered the church. (Many things, including pews, were carried off).
Another historic building that suffered at the hands of the rebels was one which, even today, is very familiar to a lot of Dilliwallahs (though they may not even be able to recognize the building if they saw it): Bhagirath Palace. Yes, it’s Bhagirath Palace, not Place, as some refer to it—the electrical and hardware market in Chandni Chowk.
Bhagirath Palace, once the Lloyd’s Bank building (and also, for a while, the Delhi Bank building), was originally a colonial-style palace built by the famous Begum Samru (a Kashmiri dancing girl who married a European mercenary named Walter Reinhardt; Reinhardt’s nickname—‘Le Sombre’—was distorted into ‘Samru’; Begum Samru went on to be a very wealthy woman with excellent connections). By 1857, Begum Samru’s palace had been converted into a bank; the bank manager and his family managed to escape when a crowd attacked.
The bank building was bought over by a Lala Bhagirath in 1922; later, it became home to a series of hardware shops, and the name ‘Bhagirath Palace’ came to be applied to not just the building, but even the area around. If you come here on a Sunday, when the market is closed, you can still see the building, though it’s in a shabby condition.