Posted by: jahnavii0 | December 5, 2021

Victorian Architecture in Colonial India 

Bangalore, the city I grew up in, is an odd concoction: tucked away amidst its metropolitan sky-scraping apartments, trafficked streets, and metro lines is a quaint sanctuary of sprawling colonial-style bungalows. Tiled terracotta roofs, dome-arched doorways, decorative parapets, and stained glass windows set the houses apart as visually striking unique structures of a hybrid architecture. The buildings display styles of east and west coming together, blending the medieval Hindu and Islamic styles of India with Victorian England’s Neoclassical styles.

The bungalows in Bangalore are few amongst a vast set of structures across India that capture in their pillars and roofs the history of the nation and its trysts with colonialism. Amongst the family is a classic example of the hybrid architecture — the famed Chhatrapati Shivaji Train Station of Bombay, formerly known as The Victoria Terminus Station. Designed by the architectural engineer Frederick William Stevens in 1878, the sprawling station wears a contemporary Victorian Gothic style, closely resembling the London St Pancras Railway Station. The building fashions an iron framework, church-like countered arching roofs, multiple stories, and round turrets, all characteristic of a Victorian architectural style that was emerging at the second half of the nineteenth century. In addition, amongst other things, gargoyles, such as dogs, crocodiles, and lizards, distinctive Victorian Gothic ornaments, are used as drain spouts on the building. Amidst all this is a figure of Queen Victoria herself, after whom the building was initially named. However, Chhatrapati Shivaji station blends this Victorian Gothic architecture with a traditional Indian model. While the main structure of the building is modeled after Victorian architecture and built to suit the functions familiar more to the British (over Indians), aesthetics reach towards incorporating Indian styles as well. A stone dome and deep verandahs, for example, make the building look more like one of the Indian palaces or forts. This is supplemented with detailed engravings on the structure that closely resemble the stone sculpting done at traditional Indian temples.

St Pancras Station, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Chhatrapati Shivaji Station, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This structure reveals the historical and colonial relationship of the British with India: They successfully remodeled India to suit their own needs while retaining some aspects of the culture for aesthetic pleasure. This architectural blending dates back to the nineteenth century when Indian architecture was veered toward western styles by the British to civilize South Asia and bring a sense of law, order, and beauty to its construction. Stations, courtrooms, bungalows, churches, and forts were built in Victorian models, with architects and engineers coming in from England. Chhatrapati Shivaji is one such example. However, as with this station and other buildings, Indian styles remained for a degree of a new visual appeal. These Hindu and Islamic styles were adapted to suit the western building requirements and more as wall hangings and visual aesthetics pushed to the back as mere accents for the looming Victorian architecture. Bombay itself is one such locus of this architecture: the Rajabai Clock Tower, the BMC building, the Bombay High Court, along with Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal, fashion Victorian buildings with Indian accents.

These historic buildings are not alone. Bangalore bungalows are a clear example of the domestic being influenced by this design: the houses are Victorian in style with South Indian elements here and there. The large houses are marked by square architecture, detailed pillars, and high, sloping roofs adapted from Victorian architecture. Verandahs and Indian floorings accent these to adapt to the climate of India. These houses still prevail in the city and are a part f Bangalore’s identity. while apartments and modern houses slowly permeate their way into the city, these bungalows are reminiscent of a previous history and visual world of the city. Following are some images of both Indian and Victorian buildings that capture the visual similarity and differences between the structures.

Bangalore Palace, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Indian Bungalow in Allahabad, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Rajabai Clock Tower, Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay, image courtesy of Wkimedia Commons

Following are Victorian style building from England

St Mary’s Church, image courtesy of English Heritage
Big Ben Clock Tower, image courtesy of Flickr

Works Cited 

  1. A city icon – Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus – Google Arts & Culture. Google. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/a-city-icon-chhatrapati-shivaji-maharaj-terminus/yAICfPyC2jrBIQ?hl=en. 
  2. St. Pancras Station, London. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://victorianweb.org/art/architecture/pancras/1.html. 
  3. An illustrated guide to the victorian gothic architecture of Mumbai. https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/explore/story/70002/an-illustrated-guide-to-the-victorian-gothic-architecture-of-mumbai. 
  4. Imperial India. A Tradition Created: Indo-Saracenic Architecture under the Raj. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://www.britishempire.co.uk/maproom/india/indosaracenic.htm.
  5. Houses of history: Bangalore’s Art Deco and Colonial Heritage. RoofandFloor Blog. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://roofandfloor.thehindu.com/real-estate-blog/bangalore-art-deco-colonial-heritage/. 


Responses

  1. Hi Jahnavii! Thank you for sharing such an interesting blog post about Victorian architecture in colonial India. I appreciate how you provided a variety of images – they were helpful in visualizing what you explain in your post.


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