Monday, 30th October 2017

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Lifting the veil: The Raj Bhavans of Bengal

The magnificent buildings have retained a sense of majesty and mystery

  • Published 30.08.19, 1:49 PM
  • Updated 30.08.19, 1:49 PM
  • a min read
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Aerial view of the Raj Bhavan in Calcutta and its gardens. [Reproduced with kind permission of ABP Ltd.]

An aura of secrecy pervaded Bengal’s Raj Bhavans. During the raj, people could only gape at the lofty edifices from outside the ornate wrought iron gates. Even though citizens are now allowed inside on occasion, these magnificent buildings have retained a sense of majesty and mystery. Those Noble Edifices: The Raj Bhavans of Bengal (Victoria Memorial Hall) by Jayanta Sengupta seeks to lift the veil, as it were, by reimagining these sites as the homes of exalted citizens.

Ornate coat of arms on the gate at the entrance to the Raj Bhavan gardens in Barrackpore
Ornate coat of arms on the gate at the entrance to the Raj Bhavan gardens in Barrackpore [Sanjeet Chowdhury]
The Governor, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, with Raj Bhavan staff and important functionaries of the West Bengal Government in front of the Northern Staircase of the Raj Bhavan in Bengal
The Governor, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, with Raj Bhavan staff and important functionaries of the West Bengal Government in front of the Northern Staircase of the Raj Bhavan in Bengal [Raj Bhavan Archives]
Ceiling of the Raj Bhavan dome in Darjeeling, shown in an 'ant's eye view' from the foyer
Ceiling of the Raj Bhavan dome in Darjeeling, shown in an 'ant's eye view' from the foyer [Sanjeet Chowdhury]

The volume dips into the archives of the VMH and the Raj Bhavans, among other resources, to trace the architectural arc of these symbols of imperial authority in Calcutta, Barrackpore and Darjeeling. The text accompanying the images — some of these are rare — and the art work is made lively by anecdotes on governor-generals and their wives. These buildings, Sengupta hints, bear the imprints of their quirky inhabitants: Lord Wellesley had thought nothing of building a menagerie around the seat of power in Barrackpore.

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