Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Indo Saracenic Architectural Structures in Madras during British India

Indo Saracenic architecture or Indo Saracenic Revival architecture (also known as Indo-Gothic, Hindu-Gothic, Mughal-Gothic, Neo-Mughal architecture) denotes the fusion of  Indo-Islamic and Indian architecture. Indo Saracenic is an abosrption of exotic elements from native Indo-Islamic and Indian architecture, and fusing it with the  Gothic revival and Neo-Classical styles favored in Victorian Britain. Indo Saracenic architecture is the brilliant architectural engineering movement by the British architects in the late 19th century in British India.

Terminolgy of Saracen: "Saracen" is an adaptation of a Greek word, sarakenoi, meaning "people who live in tents";  that is, Arabs. The word Saracen was employed by  Greek and Latin to refer people who lived in desert areas in and near the Roman province of Arabia, and who were specifically distinguished from Arabs. During medieval era Europeans denoted Muslims as Saracens. Over a period of time  "Saracen" had become synonymous with "Muslim."

History: Before 1857 the British rulers in India applied Gothic Revival architecture incorporating Greek and Roman features such as columns, triangular pediments for the public building in India. The main reason for the adoption of this classical style for the British rulers was to retain the image as the holder of power and status and to distance themselves from the native Indians. The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of sepoys of the East India Company's army on 10 May 1857 and this 'Revolt of 1857' compelled the Britishers to legitimize their rule and to establish confidence from the natives  of the colonized land. The rulers also began to understand that India had an architectural history that was as deep as it was complicated. James Ferguson, an historian of Indian architecture, categorized and evaluated Indian architecture and buildings based on their characteristics and proposed his conclusion stating that Indian architecture sporadically went into diminution and therefore need to be revived by British. The British government in India also  encouraged a new generation of British architects to experiment with the style known as Indo Saracenic. 

The architectural deigns of British buildings, monuments, forts etc. in the post-Renaissance period formed the inspiration for the British architects. They built the public buildings in India as per advanced British structural engineering standards of the 1800's and used iron, steel and poured concrete. Table 1. details the Chief proponents (British architects) of this style of architecture , their practice and career in British India (appointments) and the noteworthy Indo Saracenic monuments designed by them in Madras (Chennai) as well as outside Madras (Chennai).

Table 1. British Architects Designed Key Indo-Saracenic Monuments in Chennai

S.No Architect Appointments Buildings Image
1. Paul Benfield
Architect Chepauk Palace Chepauk Palace.jpg
2. Robert Fellowes Chisholm
(1840 - 1915)
Consulting Architect to the Government of Madras Revenue board building in the Chepauk Palace complex (1871); Presidency College, Madras (1867–70); the Senate buildings of the University of Madras (1874–79); P. Orr & Sons; Post and Telegraph Office G.P.O (1875–84); pavilion at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium. Out of Chennai: Lawrence Asylum buildings (1865); Napier Museum Trivandrum; .

3. J.W. Brassington Consulting Architect to the Government of Madras Madras High Court, Chennai (1892) .
4. Henry Irwin Public Works Department (PWD), Madras Within Chennai: Government Museum, Chennai; National Art Gallery (the Victoria Technical Institute's Memorial Hall) (1906); Law College Buildings, Chennai (1894); Headquarters of the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway (now Southern Railway), Chennai; Madras High Court, Chennai (1892); Headquarters of the State Bank of Madras (now State Bank of India), Chennai (1896); The Hindu Higher Secondary School, Chennai; the Egmore Railway Station for the South Indian Railway (1902), Outside Chennai: Amba Vilas, the Maharaja's palace in Mysore; Chennai Central Railway Terminus, Chennai; Viceregal Lodge, Shimla (present: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla); The American College, Madurai; Gaiety Theatre, Shimla .

5. Sir (Col.) Samuel Swinton Jacob Indian Army officer; Bombay Staff Corps (PWD); Chief engineer, Jaipur state (Rajasthan) Bank of Madras (SBI HQ), Chennai; Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur (1880 - 1887 ); Jaipur Gate, 1886 ; Jubilee Buildings, Jodhpur, 1887–96; Bikaner House, Mount Abu. (1893); Laxmi Niwas Palace and Lalgarh Palace,Bikaner (1896-1902 & 1902 - 1926); Umed Bhawan Palace, Kota. (1904); King George Medical College (University), Lucknow (1905); Rambagh Palace, (1905 - 1916); Daly College, Indore (1912)

Gothic architecture is a style of architecture that flourished during the high and late medieval period. Table 2 details the Gothic Byzantine architectural features absorbed into Indo Saracenic Architectural form.

Table 2: Gothic & Byzantine Architectural Features included in Indo Saracenic Architectural Form
Sl.No. Gothic and Byzantine Architectural Features Description Image
1 Gothic Dome Bulbous, onion like roofs with a pointed projection;
Madras High Court
2 Byzantine Dome; Byzantine or Later Roman architecture  increased in geometric complexity with complex domes

Byzantine Dome. Seanate House, Univ. of Madras, Chepauk, Chennai
3 Stained Glass Window; stained glass refers to coloured glass as a material or to works created from it. Design of window may be abstract or figurative or thematic; may incorporate narratives or themes drawn from the Bible, history, literature, arts and sciences; flora, fauna, or landscape

Stained Glass Window. Connemera Public Library, Chennai.
4 Cusped Arch Cusped arch: In Gothic architecture Cusoed Arch is an arch incorporating the shape or outline of a trefoil — three or quatrefoil or four overlapping rings.

Cupsed Arches
4 Spire In Gothic architecture a spire is the tall pointed roof of a tower or the tall pointed structure on top of a steeple.  The simple, pointed four-sided pyramidal roof or roof- like construction upon a tower. Spires may be octagonal or square and may include broaches, gabled dormers (spire faces), steep pinnacles (corners).
Spire. Central Railway Station

6 Minarets; In Gothic architecture minaret is generally a tall spire with an onion-shaped or conical crown, usually either free standing or taller than associated support structure. The basic form of a minaret includes a base, shaft, and gallery. Styles vary regionally and by period.


Table 3: Native Architectural Features in Indo Saracenic Architectural Form
Sl.No. Native Indian Architectural Features Description Image
1 Onion (bulbous) domes Bulbous, onion like roofs with a pointed projection;
Madras High Court
2 Vaulted roofs;
Vaulted Roof: Dome with intersecting arches from the inside @  Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur, Karnataka, India.
3 Pointed arches or scalloped arches;
Pointed arches or scalloped arches:  Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal Palace, Madurai, India.
4 Open pavilions;
Bhadon Pavilion, Red Fort, Delhi
5 Pavilion with Bangla roofs;

6 Pierced open arcading and harem windows;
South Park Street Cemetery - Calcutta
7 Doomed kiosks  Indigeniously called chhattris; supported by four columns; largely used to lend visual symmetry;
Chhatris mounted atop each corner of the Diwan-i-Khas in the Fatehpur Sikri
8 Towers/Minarets  Tall spires with a conical crown; provide a visual focal point. Also functional in air conditioning mechanism;

9 Overhanging Eaves Protruding edge of roofs providing protection against bad weather;
Tomb of Salim  Chisti Sikri Fatehpur
10 Pinnacles Ornamental capping of towers and buttresses.

Table 4. Indo Saracenic Monuments in Madras with Year of completion and Name of the Architect

S.No Building Year of
Architect Image
1. Chepauk Palace, Chepauk Around 1764 Paul Benfield Chepauk Palace.jpg
2. Amir Mahal, Royapattah 1798 . .
3. Government College of Fine Arts and Crafts, Egmore 1850 Robert Fellowes Chisholm .
4. Preidency College, Chepauk 1850 Robert Fellowes Chisholm Chennai Central side.jpg
5. Revenue board building - Chepauk Palace, Chepauk 1850 Robert Fellowes Chisholm .
6. Government Museum Building, Egmore 1851-62 . Madras museum theatre in October 2007.jpg
7. College Engineering, Guindy 1858 - 61 Robert Fellowes Chisholm .
8. Board of Revenue Building & PWD Buildings, Chepauk 1871 Robert Fellowes Chisholm .
9. Chennai Central Railway Station, Park Town 1873 George Harding Chennai Central side.jpg
10. Senate House (Univ. of Madras), Chepauk 1879  Robert Fellowes Chisholm Senate House (University of Madras).jpg
11. Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (Govt. Hospital for Women and Children),Egmore 1882 Robert Fellowes Chisholm .
12. General Post Office Building, George Town 1884 Robert Fellowes Chisholm The General Post Office, Chennai.jpeg
13. Government Printing Press, Mint street,George Town 1888 . .
14. Victoria Public Hall, Chepauk 1888 - 1890 Robert Fellowes Chisholm Victoria Public Hall, Chennai.JPG
15.  Madras High Court, Esplanade 1892 J.W. Brassington, Henry Irwin Chennai High Court.jpg
16. Connemara Public Library, Egmore 1896 Col. Samuel Jacob .
17. Bank of Madras (State Bank of INDIA), George Town 1897 Col. Samuel Jacob The Bank of Madras.jpeg
18. Bharat Insurance Building, (Kardyl Building), Anna Salai  1897
19. Hindu High School, Triplicane 1897 Henry Irwin .
20. King Institute of Preventive Medicine and Research, Guindy  1899
21. Law College, Esplanade 1899 J.W. Brassington, Henry Irwin .
22. Victoria Hostel, Chepauk 1900 T.Namperumal Chetty (Contractor) .
23. Dobbin Hall - Veterinary College, Vepery 1904 - 1905
24. Higginbothams Pvt. Ltd, Anna Salai 1904 - 1905
25.. Egmore Railway Station, Egmore  1908 Henry Irwin .
26. Lady Lawley Ward at Government Ophthalmic Hospital, Egmore  1909 . .
27. Ripon Building, Park Town  1913 T.Namperumal Chetty (Contractor) Ripon Building Chennai.JPG
28. YMCA, Esplanade 1920
29. Southern Railway headquarters, Park Town  1921 N. Grayson Southern Railway HQ.jpg
30 Madras University (library), Chepauk  1938 . .
31. Oriental Research Institute, Chepauk 1938 . .
32. Agurchand Mansion (Khaleel Mansion), Anna Salai . .Haji Mohamed Khaleel Shirazi .
33. Medical Medical College. Anatomy Block, Park Town . . .
34. State Archives Building, Egmore (Record Office) . G.S.T Harris .
35. Metropolitan Mag. Court, George Town .
36. Boat Club – Old Mowbrays Club, Adyar  .
37. Poomphukar Showroom, Anna Salai  .

Chepauk Palace - is considered as the very first buildings to be constructed in the Indo Saracenic style of architecture in the sub-continent. The huge Palace, known for its lime mortar, red brick walls, wide arches and intricate carvings, spreads over 117 acres. It was built for the then Nawab of Arcot by Paul Benfield,  an East India Company engineer turned contractor and was completed in 1768. The palace has two structures: Humayun Mahal (facing Wallajah road)and Khalsa Mahal (facing Marina). It was Paul Benfield who made the first example of the Indo-saracenic style of architecture.

Robert Fellowes Chisholm (1838-1915), the first Consulting Architect to the Government of Madras, established the architectural style in its complete form through his finest works still standing as witness in two Indian cities i.e, Madras (Chennai) and Baroda (Vadodara).

Robert Chisholm experimented his several architectural designs: 1. PWD building, Chepauk - Scottish-baronial style; 2. Madras Club buildings and Buckingham and Carnatic Mills - classical style; 3.  Presidency College (1870) -  pure Italian style derived from Renaissance Classicism; 4. Senate House (1864) - beautiful amalgam of various styles like Byzantine and became a new genre by itself – the Indo Saracenic; 5. Post and Telegraph office (G.P.O) (1884) - Saracenic style with projecting eaves in stone as in Bijapur. Arches and columns as in Gujarat: 6. Victoria Public Hall / Town Hall (1887) -Romanesque style; 7. Amir Mahal - Italian villa copying the design of Queen Victoria’s Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The buildings in the city that bear his stamp are: the Senate buildings of the University of Madras (1874–79) and Lakshmi Vilas Palace in Baroda (Vadodara) (1890).

Henry Irwin experimented his several architectural designs: 1. High Court (1892) Design prepared by J.W.Brassington and Irwin did the finishing work in  Indo Saracenic style; 2. Bank of Madras (1896) - Irwin adopted styles from Col.Samuel Jacob and the structure resemble with  Mughal structures of Fatehpur Sikri; 3. Egmore Railway Station (1908) incorporated more Dravidian elements; 4. National Art Gallery ( 1909) Irwin's master design combining  Mughal, Hindi and classical elements. The facade reflects Buland Darwaza in Fatehpur Sikri.

Col. Swinton Jacobs (1841 – 1917), an army officer and colonial engineer, architect and writer is known for designing many famous buildings of India. He was an engineer in the Public Works Department of British India and practiced in Jaipur, Rajasthan, for more than forty years (1867 - 1912). He encouraged and trained Indian draftsmen to adopt details from examples of Indian architectural history and made them to appreciate the intrinsic quality of Indian architecture. His contribution was substantial to architectural activities of the time and his designs incorporated  Indian-Islamic architectural characteristics with European Neo Classical and Gothic Revival styles. Jacob’s other prominent buildings include Albert Hall, Jaipur, Rambagh Palace in Jaipur and King George Medical College in Lucknow.

The Indo Saracenic building might have been deigned by colonial architects, yet carrying into action was rested with the Indian contractors. Thaticonda Namberumal Chetty (1856 – 1925) was an Indian contractor, engineer, builder and businessman who constructed a number of public buildings in the city of Madras in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The other contractors include Nemali Pattabhirama Rao, P Loganatha Mudaliar, Samynatha Pillai, Somasudaram and few others.

  1. Heritage Structures in Chennai. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritage_structures_in_Chennai
  2. Robert Chisholm – the Indo Saracenic Man http://sriramv.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/robert-chisholm-the-indo-saracenic-man/
  3. Is pre-1947 architecture purely British? http://sriramv.wordpress.com/tag/indo-saracenic/

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...