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Restoration Royale?

The Raj Bhavan is the official residence of the Governor of (the eastern Indian province of) West Bengal, located in Kolkata. Built in 1803, the building was known as the Government House before the Independence of India. After the Transfer of Authority from the East India Company to the British Crown in 1858, it had become the official residence of the Viceroy of India (it may be noted that till 1911, Kolkata or then Calcutta was the capital of India). The building is not just a part of the Indian tradition, but also a pride, as each and every corner of this huge mansion has witnessed many political events, rises and falls… Many believe that the architecture of Raj Bhavan is highly influenced by the Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire that was built by Scottish neoclassical architect Robert Adam. Although the Government House is famous mainly for its large balconies and elegant interior decorations, it also has quite a collection of some important emblems.


Raj Bhavan, Kolkata, India

The Royal Coat of Arms is one such emblem that is used by the Queen in her official capacity as monarch of the UK. The British rulers had placed four of such Royal Coat of Arms at the four corners of the building, and the fifth one at the top of the main entrance. When Shri Chakravarti Rajagopalachari became the first Governor of West Bengal after India’s Independence on August 15, 1947, he replaced all the five Royal Coats of Arms with the Ashoka Chakra, the ‘National Emblem’ of the Republic of India.


Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire

The importance of this Royal Coat of Arms is immense in the history of England and British-India. The symbol of the British monarch is commonly used in legal papers and important official documents. The English churches also use Royal Coat of Arms to show loyalty to the monarchy. It is widely believed that the British rulers had installed those Royal Coats of Arms in different important government buildings in colonial India because of this (loyalty).


The Royal Coat of Arms

The Royal Coat of Arms looks like a shield that is quartered, depicting in the first and fourth quarters the three passant guardant lions of England; in the second, the rampant lion and double tressure flory-counterflory of Scotland; and in the third, a harp for Ireland. The crest is a statant guardant lion, wearing the St Edward’s Crown, he himself on another representation of that crown. The dexter supporter is a likewise crowned English lion; the sinister, a Scottish unicorn. According to legend, a free unicorn was considered a very dangerous beast! Therefore, the heraldic unicorn is chained, as were both supporting unicorns in the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland. The Garter circlet, which surrounds the shield, is inscribed with the Order’s motto – ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (in French) or ‘Shame on him who thinks evil’…


Gopalkrishna Gandhi

It is to be noted that the former Governor of West Bengal, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, planned to restore the Royal Coat of Arms in 2004-09. Once, he noticed some pieces of broken iron at the garden inside the Raj Bhavan campus. He also noticed the head of a lion, lying at the corner of the garden. The governor had immediately asked his officials to excavate the area and the officers found many pieces of mutilated iron (recovered after excavating the area). Gandhi decided to restore (or reconstruct or reassemble) those pieces, as he realised that those had historical values…
Gandhi’s successor Mayankote Kelath Narayanan had reportedly urged the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to reconstruct the broken pieces of Royal Coat of Arms. Senior INTACH officials came to know that the Royal Coat of Arms was built before 1803. However, they faced difficulties in reassembling the pieces weighing around 100 tonnes. Moreover, several parts of the structure were badly damaged and the Raj Bhavan officials failed to find many parts of the Royal Coat of Arms. As it became necessary to build the lost parts, the INTACH decided to contact Messrs Macfaclane, Glasgow – the Royal Coat of Arms-manufacturing company.


Broken pieces of Royal Coat of Arms lying at the garden of Raj Bhavan

Later, INTACH came to know that that the Glasgow-based iron company had been closed. Then, the non-profit charitable organisation of India requested the University of Glasgow to help them in reconstructing the Royal Coat of Arms. This University has not only kept portraits of all the symbols made by the Scottish company, but also has made it a point to store the ‘symbols’ made by Britain to give India an appropriate colonial look! The University authorities informed the INTACH that the British Heritage, a wing of Archaeological Survey of Britain, could do the job…
There were four Royal Coats of Arms in India before the transfer of power. While two of them belonged to the East India Company, the other two belonged to Queen Victoria herself! The British Queen had replaced the East India Company Coats with her own in 1857. Some historians are of the opinion that Lord Curzon, the then Governor General and Viceroy of British-India (from January 6, 1899 to November 18, 1905), had installed the fifth one on the tympanum of the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata.


Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

The Convenor of the West Bengal Chapter of INTACH, G M Kapur, said that it was a difficult task, indeed. “The Coats on the roof of the building are yet to be located but we have been able to put the pieces of puzzle back on the Coat that was on the tympanum of the building, though two crucial pieces on the lion and the unicorn – who hold the crest up – could not be found,” he stressed. According to Kapur, the job was completed without those two pieces and INTACH installed the Royal Coat of Arms in front of the building.


The Royal Coat of Arms, Victoria Memorial

Meanwhile, historian Ramkrishna Chatterjee said: “There is a Coat inside Victoria Memorial as well. However, that was not brought down because the building is a memorial to a Queen.
It is to be noted that the Victoria Memorial is a large marble building in Kolkata, which was built between 1906 and 1921. It is dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria and is now a museum and tourist destination, under the auspices of the Indian Ministry of Culture.

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