Note: Photos of Vijay Nagram Gate by Mr. Biplab Goswami
A long time ago, there used to be persons of vision, aesthetic judgement, means and will to make things beautiful. It was a long time ago, when palaces made used to be masterpieces to last and proclaim the glory of the master for centuries to come, and not just utilitarian buildings to live in. It was a long time ago, when there used to be kings and their kingdoms, with their exploitative sucking of the common man’s blood, thus, so much time, money and labour could be arranged for a thing to live in. Nowadays, time, money and labour are reserved for multistoried constructions whose owners live in villas with no character or flavour of their own. No, I’m not talking about the persons inside, it’s about the buildings which they inhabit; most of them. And yes, the “with their exploitative sucking of the common man’s blood”, part remains.
My friend Biplab, I can’t thank him enough, sent me another lot of common images from Kasi. Remember Devkinandan Haweli? The grand (and very surely going to be extinct in near future) gate of the Vijay Nagram, Palace was one of the three images in his latest lot. I took liberty of splicing the image he had sent into several parts in order to highlight, what I see as the unique beauty of only the gate. the Palace Compound is gone already: now grabbed by land sharks and converted into a large number of ugly structures. I begin with the actual opening of the entrance: with its arch.
Gates and arches have been touched in previous posts too, and this arch has features similar to the other arches on gates in Kasi, viz. the curves that separate the richly decorated part from the plainer one, the leaf and flower motif of the design and the thin and plain columns that meet the base of the arch on both the sides. The material used in the construction of the gate and the arch above is same in all the three cases. I have no specialist’s knowledge of the stone, but I think it must be Chunar stone, deducting logically from the tonnage needed to make such buildings and the closeness of Chunar to Kasi.
These arches, along with the balconies, chhatris, corbels and the design over them all, belong to the Indo Saracenic architectural tradition. The image at the extreme left is from Godowlia Kali Bari. The same kind of corbels, chhatri, canopy and balcony, in the same material. can be seen in the two images of Vijaynagram Gate to the left and the one to the extreme right. A question came to my mind: “Were the gate and ghat made by the same Prince?” I don’t know the answer, yet. There’s one more similarity, striking, I must say, between the images.
The beautiful, and once graceful side balconies are used for hanging billboards or hoardings. People around these buildings don’t care about them even one bit. I have heard and read that the people of other Western and Eastern countries respect, love and protect the buildings that are associated with their heritage (I have not brought the government agencies in yet). It is through the action of the people who know the right thing to do, that the history of the place is passed on to the coming generations. That spirit is missing in Kasi. Ghats are losing their splendid facade because of the splashing of garish Disney colours over the stone walls and steps. Buildings and palaces that are the distinctive features of Kasi are simply disappearing. Something must be done. And soon.
The topmost or central balcony, its corbels and chajja, and the parapets, are again found at so many places in Kasi. The first image below is from Godowlia Kali Bari and the second one is of Vijaynagram Gate. The last image is from Chet Singh Ghat. All the three images are of gates with matching architectural features. The three openings, the accompanying smaller chajjas to both the sides, the lattice work on the parapets and the wavy corbels: they are found in all the three with one exception.
Now, the final image: that of all the elements of Vijaynagram Gate combined. Looking into the opening and wondering what lied within was one of our favourite pastimes whenever we used to pass from there. I have never entered through it. Nor have I ever talked to those from the world within. The same is true of Devkinandan Khatri’s Mansion. When I used to live in Kasi, and I was there for a long time, these things had no importance for me. It never occurred to this self proclaimed chronicler of his times in Kasi that he must have something to chronicle.
Of late, a new fear has taken hold of my mind: will I have anything to chronicle on my return (if or when). There used to be a white, old and majestic(to my eyes) building a little to the left of the gali opposite Bhadaini Pumping Station. The last time I passed from there, only a section of its entrance stood there, that too in the process of demolition. There are many shops by the wall of the gate above. But that will not save it, as Kerala Cafe was physically moved several feet away to widen the street. There will be plans to widen the section of street facing this gate too, for sure.
My friend Biplab told me the other day that there used to be a gated compound in Nati Imli. He was sure that its huge gates were manufactured (retaining the manus part’s significance) to allow the entry of elephants possible. He had planned to take a snap of the gate and the walls for me, When he reached there a couple of days ago there was no sign of the door there and the compound was being converted into a muti-storey building. No, it’s not merely urballaghophobia. My fear has a concrete base.
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