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Perhaps the least known aspect of the colonial legacy is the early British attitude towards India's historic monuments and the extend of vandalism that took place. Instead, there is this pervasive myth of the Britisher as an unbiased "protector of the nation's historic legacy".
R.Nath in his 'History of Decorative Art in Mughal Architecture' records that scores of gardens, tombs and palaces that once adorned the suburbs of Sikandra at Agra were sold out or auctioned. "Relics of the glorious age of the Mughals were either destroyed or converted beyond recognition..". "Out of 270 beautiful monuments which existed at Agra alone, before its capture by Lake in 1803, hardly 40 have survived".
In the same vein, David Carroll (in 'Taj Mahal') observes: " The forts in Agra and Delhi were commandeered at the beginning of the nineteenth century and turned into military garrisons. Marble reliefs were torn down, gardens were trampled, and lines of ugly barracks, still standing today, were installed in their stead. In the Delhi fort, the Hall of Public Audience was made into an arsenal and the arches of the outer colonnades were bricked over or replaced with rectangular wooden windows."
The Mughal fort at Allahabad (one of Akbar's favorite) experienced a fate far worse. Virtually nothing of architectural significance is to be seen in the barracks that now make up the fort. The Deccan fort at Ahmednagar was also converted into barracks. Now, only its outer walls can hint at its former magnificence.
Shockingly, even the Taj Mahal was not spared. David Carroll reports: "..By the nineteenth century, its grounds were a favorite trysting place for young Englishmen and their ladies. Open-air balls were held on the marble terrace in front of the main door, and there, beneath Shah Jahan"s lotus dome, brass bands um-pah-pahed and lords and ladies danced the quadrille. The minarets became a popular site for suicide leaps, and the mosques on either side of the Taj were rented out as bungalows to honeymooners. The gardens of the Taj were especially popular for open-air frolics....."
"At an earlier date, when picnic parties were held in the garden of the Taj, related Lord Curzon, a governor general in the early twentieth century, "it was not an uncommon thing for the revellers to arm themselves with hammer and chisel, with which they wiled away the afternoon by chipping out fragments of agate and carnelian from the cenotaphs of the Emperor and his lamented Queen." The Taj became a place where one could drink in private, and its parks were often strewn with the figures of inebriated British soldiers..."
Lord William Bentinck, (governor general of Bengal 1828-33, and later first governor general of all India), went so far as to announce plans to demolish the best Mogul monuments in Agra and Delhi and remove their marble facades. These were to be shipped to London, where they would be broken up and sold to members of the British aristocracy. Several of Shahjahan's pavilions in the Red Fort at Delhi were indeed stripped to the brick, and the marble was shipped off to England (part of this shipment included pieces for King George IV himself). Plans to dismantle the Taj Mahal were in place, and wrecking machinery was moved into the garden grounds. Just as the demolition work was to begin, news from London indicated that the first auction had not been a success, and that all further sales were cancelled -- it would not be worth the money to tear down the Taj Mahal.
Thus the Taj Mahal was spared, and so too, was the reputation of the British as "Protectors of India's Historic Legacy" ! That innumerable other monuments were destroyed, or left to rack and ruin is a story that has yet to get beyond the specialists in the field.
Just imagine: We would not be looking at this building if the sales had gone ahead:
[ Last edited by changabula at 2007-2-27 09:33 PM ]