Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Palace of the Nawab of Moorshedabad

This makes an interesting read and says a lot about the attitudes of the Colonialists and their motives in India. Written in 1858 it describes the Palace of the Nawab of Moorshedabad as the title suggests. Interesting points to note: didn't realise that having a dome on a building actually made it cooler; India was indebted to the Company somehow; Indians could not be brought to be civilised; they liked the architecture but not the people; their goodly deeds is not appreciated by the 'Hindoos' - in fact, I think this is a reference to the Mutiny of 1857-1858 which was more of an Indian affair and not restricted to the Hindoos as the writer puts it. I have copied the extract as it is in the journal with the original spelling. It's taken from The Illustrated London News - see what you make of it.

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Page 4.

Jan. 2, 1858. Page 3.

IN one particular Oriental architecture is greatly superior to European – that of having a picturesque sky lines. In fact, the most picturesque of all the public places of Europe, St. Mark’s of Venice, owes its distinction to the church having a roof on the Oriental principle. In the edifice presented on this occasion to our readers the charecteristice of this style of building are shown in a most agreeable manner, the outline being symmetrical without the smallest monotony; the whole forming a palace of which the most prominent part is the mosque. Nor are those domes merely for ornament: they are the best inventions for the exclusion of heat. Long experience has shown that when an edifice has its roof composed of an agglomeration of vaulted domes the radiation of heat is effectually broken. The coolest place in a Moslem town is invariably the mosque, and in India we find many of the places and pavilions on this principle. Nor can we omit drawing attention to the superb towers at the angles. Originally meant for defence, they show by the elegance of their architecture that they have been drawn in by the designer to contribute – all were for real use and resistance to climate or enemies before the luxuriant fancy of the artists appropriated them to the domain of the beautiful.

The juxtaposition of architectural splendour and the charms of external nature with the misery and meanness of popular life is quite characteristic of the East. With all this show of superb architecture we see the domes blistered or peeled off, and bungalows of the meanest construction thrust close to the very walls. But yet this shows us the every day life in an Indian market place. Under the shade of the lofty sycamore we find the female fruiterer chaffering with a purchaser, and the primitive buffalo-cart unloaded and its animals reposing. The water-carrier is seen swinging his load, like our milk-carriers, on the shoulder; and in the front centre we have the distended goatskin of refreshing liquor poured into the mouth the thirsty passenger. The hookah, or, as we call it, hubble-bubble, solaces the sedentary with fumes less exciting and more agreeable than those of tobacco; and the stipendiary trooper is seen strutting about with is antiquated defensive weapons, a soldier in appearance and name rather than in reality, but an appendage to those decayed Courts which pride still retains – thanks to the liberal pension fund of the Company.

The moral suggested by our Engraving is that the residence of the native Princes a decayed barbaric magnificence is accompanied by the primitive rudeness of the indigenous populations, with very little tincture of the civilisation of Europe. That a great change is approaching few can doubt. Henceforth the measures of the Government must be more trenchant. Without the commission of injustice, British supremacy must assert itself with decision; and, although we are not sanguine enough to say that India can be Christianised, it undoubtedly may and must be more Europeanised, and politically more centralised. Railways covering the great plains of Bengal and the Punjaub, and threading the ghauts of Southern India, will enable this large empire to be kept better “in hand;” and a large emigration to the healthy mountain districts is clearly practicable after what we know of Ceylon, and the large and prosperous British community in the upper country of this island, which is now one vast sanitarium. With the hill countries partially settled with British, our tenure of the low country would be all the more secure. Some populations never permanently tame down in submission; but we have seen that a misplaced philanthropy makes the Hindoo rise. We have had a great lesson, and, as the smoke of crashing empire dies away, foundations of solidity are still discernable. The result we look on as the beginning of the extinction of the more barbaric magnificence of Old India. Let the barbarism go, but let the picturesque architecture remain, nay, be extended and revived, by the future Pugins of the Eastern Hemisphere.

On the same page there's news of Austria, Earthquake in Naples, Switzerland, Russia, US, Persia, China, Australasia, Mexico and others.

The Persia section reads:

The following telegram has been received: "The Shah of Persia has invited the various Ambassadors to be present at the coronation of his son. The English Minister, it is said, has refused to attend, making a reservation in favour of the rights of another heir to the throne, now a refugee at Bagdad."

Not sure of the story behind this* but reading old stuff is quite fun and quite fascinating, no?

*[British Policy in Persia, 1858-1890, A. P. Thornton The English Historical Review, Vol. 70, No. 274 (Jan., 1955), pp. 55-71 - could be a clue?]

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