The year 1857 is of great significance to the city of Delhi. It changed the life of the city and its people like perhaps, never before. The Mughals were gone, the city was witness and victim to tremendous violence and it was shorn of its status as a capital. The neighbourhood of Kashmiri Gate still carries the traces of the rebellion of 1857. This is where the most bitter battles were fought between the rebels and British armies. The British who emerged victors, marked these sites with memorials to their heroes. Our heritage walk this Sunday looks at some of these. It is remarkable that the city was the central to the events of 1857 and also in our imagination today, does not have a memorial which might try to represent the point of view of the rebels. Interestingly, the memorials of the British have either been renamed or provided with an additional inscription which tell the other side of the story. Besides the landmarks of 1857, this area also has many traces of colonial presence in Delhi in first half of the 19th century.
Our heritage trail starts at Nicholson’s Cemetery, named after Brigadier General John Nicholson who is buried here. He was fatally injured at the battle at Lahori Gate. He died of his injuries a few days later, but not before he had seen the British win. Another important personality of Delhi is buried here: Master Ramachandra. A professor of mathematics at the Delhi College, he was a very disappointed man during 1857. Being a convert to Christianity, he was seen as a traitor by the rebels. Later after the rebellion had been crushed and British regained power, he was treated by contempt by the new masters, as he was a ‘native’. Walking around the remains of the walls of the city of Shahjahanabad, we reach Kashmiri Gate. Now, one of the few surviving gates of the walled city. It still bears the damaged done to it when it was pounded by canon balls by British army which has come down from the Ridge and was trying to enter the walls of the capital city. Nearby is the market built by Lala Sultan Singh, with the Bengali Club still housed here. Tucked away on a terrace is the Lal Masjid, also known as Fakhrul Masajid or the pride of mosques. The old Hindu college campus (now completely overtaken by a modern building) and old St Stephens College (now election commission offices) stand next to each other, maintaining their legendary rivalry. Across the road is the oldest church in Delhi, St James Church. Built by James Skinner, whose cavalry regiment ‘Skinner’s Horse’ still forms part of the Indian Army today. The churchyard has a few interesting people buried. There is Skinner family burial ground and also the grave of William Fraser, British resident and a friend of Skinner. Right behind the church is the Fraser’s house, the one with basement rooms (tehkhana) and now an office of the Indian Railways. Next, we walk through the campus of Ambedkar University to see the British Residency and Dara Shukoh’s Library. The Residency was where David Ochterloony lived and is built on the remains of what is believed to be the remains of the library of Mughal prince, Dara Shukoh. A few steps away, on an island in the middle of Lothian Road stand two memorials: the British magazine and the Telegraph memorial.
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)