Exploring sites of 1857 through a walking tour in Kashmiri Gate, 19 May13

May 24, 2013 in 1857,Delhi Heritage Walks,DHW,Heritage Walks,Kashmiri Gate,Kashmiri Gate Heritage Walks | Comments (0)

The neighbourhood of Kashmiri Gate is one of the unusual trudges in Delhi. Located near the ISBT, Railway station, a bulk market for car parts, a University Campus, it is extremely busy through the day & the heritage walk is best done on a Sunday morning, when the usual activity has not yet picked up pace. Kashmiri Gate was the area where many Europeans settled in the first half of 19th century & later during the rebellion of 1857, many of its events were played out here. These sites have been converted into memorials by the British, who being the winning side got to choose how to ‘remember’ 1857. For the British it remains the ‘Mutiny’ although the greatest one faced by the Empire, on which it was proudly claimed that the sun never set! For the Indians, it has been the ‘Rebellion’, ‘Uprising’, & also the ‘First War of Independence’. We start our walking tour at Nicholson Cemetery, named after Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, a great hero of the British. Nicholson was instrument in breaching through the defenses of the rebels & was fatally shot during the onslaught at Lahori Gate. He died a few days later, but not before he had heard the news of recapture of Delhi by British forces. Walking around the cemetery one can see many graves of women & children, infants, who died of disease & Indian summer. An important Indian figure to be buried here is Yasudas Ramachandra. He was a teacher of mathematics at the Delhi College & had converted to Christianity in 1852. The Delhi College was destroyed in 1857 & Ramachandra fled the city fearing for his life. He later was the tutor to Maharaja of Patiala. The location of the Cemetery is roughly the area where the British & rebel Indian forces frequently clashed, till the British finally managed to break into the city of Shahjahanabad. The breach of Kashmiri Gate proved to be crucial in turning the tide in British favour. The gate still bears the damaged incurred during 1857, which today provide shady alcoves for pigeons. The ASI is again carrying out restoration work here, the last time it was undertaken just before Commonwealth Games. We explored the remains of the city walls around the Kashmiri Gate & then carried on towards the Bara Bazaar. This area has the Bengali Club, established when a number of Bengalis shifted to Delhi after the shift of capital from Calcutta. It was also a shopping arcade popular with the Europeans. One can see traces of colonial architecture behind the modern hoardings. Some of the shops still bear European names such as Carlton Motors. This area first had the estates of some of the important nobles in Shahjahan’s court like Dara Shukoh & Ali Mardan Khan & later in the first half of 19th century James Skinner built his house here, as did William Fraser & David Ochterlony, both Residents at Mughal court. Later it was purchased by Lala Sultan Singh, a wealthy trader. A small mosque called Farkh ul Masajid is one of the Mughal period buildings that survive here. The old campuses of St Stephens College & Hindu College, both established towards end of 19th century stand near each other. The rivalry still goes on & they are located opposite each other in the present campus of University of Delhi! The Hindu College building is gone & replaced by a modern Nigam Bhawan (office of the municipality) but the St. Stephens College still stands & now houses the office of Chief Election Commissioner. A few steps ahead is St James Church built by James Skinner of the Skinner’s Horse fame. Skinner never got a commission in the English army because of his Anglo-Indian parentage. He then set up his own army, Skinner’s Horse, also called the Yellow Boys, from the colour of their uniform. The churchyard also has the graves of William Fraser, Thomas Metcalfe & burial ground for Skinner family. The church was a target of the rebels during 1857. We move towards Lothian Road to cover the last few stops in the heritage walk. There are two important British memorials here: the Telegraph Memorial & remains of the British Magazine. The officers at the telegraph office stayed put & informed their counterparts in Punjab/North-West about the rebellion in Delhi. Heeding this warming, the native battalions were de-armed thus preventing the spread of rebellion in these areas. This itself was so important for the life of the Empire that Robert Montgomery, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab remarked ‘Electric Telegraph saved India’! While the telegraph office was attacked the rebels also surrounded the magazine. The officers defending it realized that they couldn’t hold out much longer & decided the blow up the magazine & die in the process rather than let the rebels get at the ammunition. Thus the importance of both memorials in British imagination of the ‘Mutiny’. The final stop was the library of Dara Shukoh, the eldest & favourite son of Shahjahan. The building standing on the site, however, is colonial in style. This is because later, David Ochterlony built his Residency on the site of the library. The Delhi Department of Archaeology has its offices here & a small museum where exhibits mostly gather dust.

(posted by Kanika Singh & Pushpa Mandal, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)

1857 Uprising: Kashmiri Gate Heritage Walk

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