The Hidden Paradise In the Heart of Lucknow

The architecture of Lucknow is so rich in its cultural and architectural heritage that it has become an inherent part in the hearts of the people and has won worldwide recognition and fame. The regal charm of Lucknow city is powered by the royal construction and architecture that gives city the title of city of Nawabs. The architectural heritage is the legacy that needs to be maintained in a way that it continues to stay a part of the city for the future generations to be understood, evaluate and appreciate. The responsibility lies with the authorities as well as the people to work to renovate the architectural relics of the city that are dying a slow and quiet death, continuing the neglect.

Kothi Gulistan-e-Iram (1870)

Qaiserbagh has many grand monuments situated in the heart of the city.The area includes many elegant monuments like Chattar Manzil, Kothi Jarnail, Lal Baradari, Kothi Darshan Vilas, Gulistan-e-Iram, Sher Darwaza, Sadar Darwaza, Maqbara Sadat Ali Khan, Maqbara Murshid Zadi, Bhatkhande, Marmari Pul, Kothi Roshan-ud Daulah, Amir-ud Daulah Library, Safed Baradari and the two gates on both sides of it. Among these buildings, Gulistan-e-Iram is the most prominent building. It was named as Gulistan-e-Iram because a beautiful garden was maintained in front of this building with a small fountain in the center. The English word ‘paradise’ is simply a translation of the Persian word Pairidaeza referring to an enclosed garden. The Gulistan or ‘paradise’ promised in the Holy Quran is a beautiful garden, with shade and water as its ideal elements and Iram as heaven or Jannat. The concept of this paradise garden was brought and developed extensively in India by the Mughal Emperor Babur.

Gulistan-e-Iram was built in early 19th century by King Nasir-ud-Din Haider the second king of Awadh. Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider ascended the throne at the age of 25 years after the death of his father Nawab Ghazi-ud-Din Haider Shah. He was quite fond of women and wine. He was a staunch believer in astrology and astronomy. He died on 7th July 1837 after he was poisoned by his family and a member of his court.

Gulistan-e-Iram was the personal library of Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider with thousands of books but after his death it became the farm house of British government. After the first war of independence in 1857, the British ordered the demolition of Qaiserbagh as it was the strong hold of Nawabs and it was under those orders that Gulistan-e-Iram was also demolished.

Kothi Guistan-e-Iram (2013)

No other building of Lucknow was as fine as this one in Qaiserbagh and no other historical monument were so brutally destroyed. The British, in the name of development, made a wide road passing through the main courtyard of the erstwhile Gulistan-e-Iram, which was stretched between the Gomti and Chhattar Manzil, which goes on to the Rumi gate. As it was located near the riverbank, the area always remained cool and that is the reason it came to be known as “Thandi Sadak”. In 1857 this road was the main connection from the Chattar Manzil to old city and was used extensively during the war of 1857 by freedom fighters.

Soon, after the independence it became a part of the Health Department (Swasth Bhawan) and the office of Director, Medical Health Services was shifted in this building. Even then the government did not pay any attention to this building leading to the worsening of the health of the erstwhile library.

Restoration work in progress (April 2016)

Keeping the historical value of the library and the surrounding area in mind, the famous historian of Awadh Mr. Roshan Taqui wrote many letters in 1998, 2003, and 2004 to the Health Department and the Director General, Health Services in which he detailed the history, importance and the worsening condition of the building which needed a serious effort by the government. He wrote that the condition was so bad that it could fall down any moment and if something like this happened, then the department would be responsible for that and legal actions will be taken against the department, following which the government decided to pay attention to the restoration of this monument and raised a fund of 1 crore rupees for the restoration of this building.

During the course of renovation of this building, the labourers found a basement, which was, in fact, a tunnel which connected to the buildings located in the proximity like Chattar Manzil, Lal Baradari, Kothi Darshan Vilas, Gulistan-e-Iram, Kothi Roshan-ud Daulah, Amir-ud Daulah Library and Kothi Farhat Baksh. The tunnel was probably used to move from one building to another so as to avoid the hot weather and also for moving of secret documents.

Restoration work in progress (April 2016)

The restoration of this building was started in 2013 and soon this erstwhile Nawab’s library will be turned into a literary centre and will be used for organizing literary events. The restoration of this building is currently running along with the Kothi Darshan Vilas located next to it. Mr. Roshan Taqui stated that both the monuments have their own importance, history and uniqueness. Infact, the entire Qaiserbagh area needs special care and attention and that it should be declared as a heritage zone because this area is full of architectural buildings that desperately needs restoration.

These buildings of historical importance and architecture must be conserved so that the future generations should also be able to experience the feel of the charm native to Lucknow, which has been an architectural marvel since centuries. The city has a great potential for tourism and is in the need to preserve and promote the monuments present in the city and to create infrastructure and other hospitality facilities for visitors to this glorious city.

Arpit Saxena

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 3 Issue 25, April 2016)

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