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GOTHIC REVIVAL AT FARIDKOT

SUBHASH PARIHAR

The architectural style that flourished in Western Europe from circa 1140 to around

the middle of the 16th century goes by the label “Gothic architecture”. This term was

not coined by the builders themselves but by the Italian artists of the Renaissance

period who used it in a disparaging sense. They identified the builders with the Goth

tribes, destroyers of the classical art of the Roman empire. In England, the word

“Gothik” as used by 17th- and 18th-century writers implies “tasteless” and “bizarre”.

The pointed arches and sharply tapering spires of the Gothic style evoked the

contempt of architects engaged in the revival of soothing classical styles.

Fashions, however, have their periods of development, decline, and revival.

What is considered tasteless and bizarre at a particular point of time may be found

attractive at another point. And so it happened with the Gothic style. Eighteenth-

century Western Europe witnessed the rise of a romantic interest in medievalism; as a

result the Gothic architectural style once again came into vogue. Historians termed

this resurgence the “Gothic Revival”.

Although the epicentre of the Gothic Revival was Western Europe, its

vibrations were felt in distant places such as the little-known town of Faridkot – the

capital of a small Sikh state of the same name that flourished to the south of the Satluj

river in northwestern India, from the mid-19th to mid-20th century. Colonial politics

was mainly responsible for the reach of the Gothic Revival in this remote place.

Eighteenth-century India saw the gradual erosion of the power of the Mughal

empire. Taking advantage of the political vacuum, the Sikhs rebelled in Panjab.
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During the latter half of the century, various bands of Sikhs succeeded in carving out

small principalities throughout the region. At the end of the century the chief of one of

these principalities, Ranjit Singh, conquered the territories to the north of the Satluj

and established his kingdom with its capital at Lahore. To the south of the river, in the

region called Malwa, there came into being the small principalities of Patiala,

Faridkot, Nabha, etc.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was an ambitious ruler, desirous of conquering the

neighbouring Malwa states too. In 1808, he actually annexed Faridkot, which raised

the concern of other Malwa chiefs.

If the Malwa chiefs were threatened by Ranjit Singh on the one hand, on the

other was the menace of the British East India Company. By this time the Company

had routed the Marathas and become virtual masters of the whole of India except

Panjab and Sindh, so their attention was soon focused on the Panjab states. The

Malwa chiefs, caught between the devil and the deep sea, decided to seek British

protection because they believed the British would take a longer time to overcome

them whereas Ranjit Singh would destroy them immediately.

In the meantime, with the rise of Napoleon in France, British affairs at home

became troubled. The Company had to temporarily halt expansion in India in view of

the rumours of a Franco-Russian attack on Indian territories via the land route through

Persia, Afghanistan, Sindh, and Panjab. But when in 1808 Napoleon attacked Spain,

and it seemed doubtful that he would think of India for some years to come, the

Company again became active in Panjab affairs. Taking the side of the Malwa chiefs,

it forced Ranjit Singh to sign a treaty under which he had to forego all his claims over

territories to the south of the river Satluj, including the state of Faridkot. On April 3,

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1809, Faridkot was returned to its chief Gulab Singh, and thus the state owed its very

survival to British intervention.

After this the British lost interest in the Faridkot region as it was not a very

good source of revenue. However, they secretly continued to nurture designs on

Panjab as a whole. When, after the death of Ranjit Singh in June 1839, his kingdom

became a battlefield among warring factions, the British took advantage of the

situation and joined battle with the Lahore army in December 1845 resulting in the

partial subjugation of the Lahore kingdom. It is not surprising that Pahar Singh, the

erstwhile chief of Faridkot state, sided with the British in their conquest of Lahore. In

lieu of the help rendered by him, the Company awarded him the title of Raja and

some territories. Raja Pahar Singh died in 1849, and was succeeded by his son Raja

Wazir Singh who continued the policy of supporting the British.

To the good luck of the surviving princely states of India, the British stopped

their expansionist policies after the Rebellion of 1857. Not only this, all the princes

were assured of their protection, of course under certain conditions. The native states

accepted these conditions and came under the indirect control of the British who

appointed a resident at each large court. Faridkot being a small state had no British

resident. It formed a part of the provincial circle under a British representative.

After the death of Raja Wazir Singh in 1874, the state was ruled successively

by Raja Bikram Singh (1874–98), Raja Balbir Singh (1898–1906), Raja Brij Indar

Singh (1906–18), and Raja Harindar Singh (1918–48). As the last two rajas were

minors at the time of their coronation, the state affairs were controlled by a Council of

Regency during 1906–16 and by a Council of Administration during 1918–34.

As already noted, the annual state income of Faridkot was meagre, the main

source being land revenue from agriculture which in this arid region was entirely

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dependent on the rains. When the British brought a branch of Sirhind Canal from the

river Satluj to Faridkot state in 1885, agriculture in the statein the region took a great

leap forward. The previous year the towns of Faridkot and Kot Kapura had been

connected with Lahore on one side and on the other with Delhi via Bathinda, Sirsa,

Hissar, and Rewari by a metre-gauge North-Western Railway line, giving a great

boost to trade. Both these factors multiplied the state’s income, which in turn gave a

fillip to architectural activity that continued well up to the merger of the state into the

Indian Union in 1948.

As is indicated by the inscriptions on the state’s monuments which record the

names of various British officers as their founders or inaugurators, the Faridkot rulers

tried their best to keep British representatives in good humour. This they did by

adopting European styles of living, administrating, and building.

It is interesting to note that in contrast, with the passage of time, the British in India

tried to incorporate indigenous architectural styles in their buildings. In 1903 when

Lord Curzon presided over the durbar held at Delhi to celebrate the coronation of

Edward VII, he saw to it that the great tented encampment was decorated entirely in

Indian styles and Indian materials.1

The styles followed in England reached India too, first in the British structures

and then in native buildings. When the British were developing the Presidency towns

of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras, neo-classicism was in vogue. [CHECK THOMAS

R. METCALF (The Aftermath of Revolt India, 1857–1870, Princeton University

Press, Princeton, 1964.) ARGUES THAT AFTER 1857, A STRICTER DIVISION

GREW BETWEEN NEO-CLASSICAL BUILDING FOR THE BRITISH AND

INDO-SARACENIC FOR NATIVE BUILDINGS, E.G. IN JAIPUR, MYSORE,

ETC.] [Now that I do not have Metcalf’s book at hand so I can not check the proper

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context of the statement] By the time the British had established themselves

throughout India, Gothic Revival was reigning supreme in Europe. And it was against

this background that the style appeared at Faridkot. However, it may be noted that the

British architectural styles did not reach here in an unmediated form but were slightly

metamorphosed en voyage, getting influenced by indigenous styles. The speed of

transmission too was slow. Although the first signs of Gothic Revival were seen in

Madras and Calcutta at the end of the 18th century, the style took a whole century to

cover a distance of some 1,800 kilometres, reaching Faridkot after the extension of

the railways torailways to the state in 1884. By this time the style was reduced to the

use of the Gothic pointed arch, and spired and pinnacled turrets. No intricate Gothic

ribbed vaults were used here and consequently there were no flying buttresses.

All the three buildings of the state built in the Gothic Revival style – the Raj

Mahal, Clock Tower, and Kothi Darbarganj – were erected during the reign of Raja

Balbir Singh who ascended the throne on December 16, 1898. All were completed

before the end of 1902, as they are mentioned in the court history of the state, Aina-i

Brar Bans, published in December 1902.2 Raja Balbir Singh appears to have had a

special fascination for things European; in one of his oil portraits he is depicted

dressed completely in European style (figure 1).

RAJ MAHAL

The royal family of Faridkot lived in the palaces of Faridkot Fort until Balbir Singh

erected a new palace complex for himself outside the fort. Called Raj Mahal, the

complex comprises a group of buildings contained in a vast irregular walled enclosure

(figure 2). It consists of the main palace, another building called tasveer ghar (lit.

picture house) [TASVEER GHAR DOES NOT APPEAR IN FIGURE 2 PLEASE

ADD THIS] corrected in the figure, a baradari (literally twelve-doored, an open

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pavilion), a gurdwara, three small pavilions called doll houses, [DOLL HOUSES,

GUEST HOUSE?], two swimming pools, some service quarters, a well, and a

beautiful gateway.

The main palace building, its longer side being along the east–west axis,

consists of two blocks joined by a porte-cochere (figure 3). The eastern part of the

building comprises a two-storeyed set of rooms arranged around a large hall.

Originally this part was symmetrically arranged on the east–west axis. The Dance

Hall on the south side was added much later, c. 1937–40. The western part of the

palace has a smaller suite of rooms surrounding a hall with an open court on the west

side. Under the open court are tehkhanas (basements).

The main entrance of the palace building was on the east side as is indicated

by another beautiful porte-cochere buttressed at each front corner by a pinnacled

octagonal turret so characteristic of the Gothic style (figure 4). The top storey of each

turret has openings formed by narrow pointed Gothic arches. Around the first floor of

the building is a projecting wooden balcony shaded by a deep sloping chhajja

(projecting eaves), a purely indigenous element. Its wooden parapet lattices are a

treasurehouse of geometrical designs (figure 5). The top parapet of the east block is

formed by an open arcade partially screened with lattices of a beautiful geometrical

design. The description of the building by Philip Davies – “a jolly stucco colonial

bungalow with cast-iron verandahs” – is not correct. 3

The palace building is richly adorned with two types of decoration. On the

walls of both the porte-cocheres are meandering floral arabesques interspersed with

parakeet figures, all executed in cut plaster and now painted in gaudy enamels (figures

6 and 7). On the inner side of the main porte-cochere the Faridkot state coat of arms is

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depicted in the same medium (figure 8). The stucco work seen on the ceiling of the

main hall is finer in quality. Here the motifs are purely European.

In front of the palace is a small marble baradari.

The double-storeyed building to the south of the main palace is called tasveer

ghar [SHOW THIS IN FIGURE 2] [shown]. It is in the form of a small bungalow, a

suite of rooms fronted by a verandah pierced with narrow pointed arches. Nearby is

the gurdwara which has a semi-octagonal front entrance. The building has no dome or

any other distinguishing feature to mark it as a place of special sanctity.

In the open gardens of the palace are scattered three light pavilions called doll

houses [DOLL HOUSE?] and numerous fountains. In one of the fountains water

emanates from lions’ heads. [NOT IN FIGURE 2] [now shown]

Although at present the Raj Mahal complex is entered through two simple

gates in its west wall, the original entrance was through a magnificent gateway, called

deodhi [SHOW IN FIG 2][figure corrected], situated in the south wall, in line with the

eastern porte-cochere of the main palace. The ground floor of this triple-storeyed

building comprises a central passage flanked by guard rooms, the whole fronted by an

arcaded verandah (figures 9 and 10) [SHOW GUARD ROOM IN FIG 10][shown].

The facade of the building is a graceful composition dominated by a two-storey

sunken recess in the middle, flanked by double pilasters extending the whole height of

the building. This recess is pierced by an elliptical entrance archway with two

windows above. On either side of the entrance arch are three pointed archways

supported by double pillars on each side on ground level, and an equal number of

square-headed openings on the first storey. As seen in the main palace, the upper

storey openings of this gateway are also fronted with light wooden balconies. At the

second storey level is just one room above the entrance archway, which has three

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lancet windows on the front side. It is topped by a cut-iron cresting and a hipped roof

of corrugated iron. At each end of the gateway facade is an octagonal turret,

accommodating a spiral staircase. The top storey of each turret forms an open-arched

pavilion, topped by a spire. The angles of the third-storey room and tops of spires are

all crowned with iron finials.

The spandrels of the round entrance arch of the deodhi are adorned with cut

plaster arabesque designs. Each spandrel of the flanking ground storey arches has a

decorative medallion. The gateway building thus harmonizes with the palace building

in style and material used. All the buildings are painted in Eton blue.

Philip Davies dates the palace in the 1880s, but the whole complex was

actually built in stages. Even the main palace building was constructed in two stages

under the patronage of Raja Balbir Singh. The western part was built first, during the

reign of his father Bikram Singh (1874–98), while the eastern part and the deodhi

were added later, in 1899–1902, during his own reign “according to his desire and

taste”.4 The south hall of the main palace and small pavilions in the park were built

circa 1937–40 by the last Raja Harindar Singh. About 1945–46, the deodhi was

separated from the complex by a wall and converted into a hospital named after its

builder – Balbir Hospital.

VICTORIA CLOCK TOWER

Situated to the north of Raj Mahal, the clock tower is still the tallest structure in

Faridkot town and thus forms a major landmark (figure 11). Thanks to the authorities

responsible for its regular maintenance, even after more than a century it survives in

good condition, and still serves its purpose. It is not known what the original colour of

the monument was. Now it is painted in garish green and yellow ochre enamels.

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Structurally, the clock tower is a free-standing tower built in the true Gothic

style, with four easily seen clock-faces on the cardinal sides. Originally, the tower

stood on a platform which has vanished due to the raising of the surrounding road

level. The tower proper, measuring 6.6 m square outside, rises in four storeys, each

marked by a cornice, the whole capped with a conical spire further surmounted by a

high metallic finial. The first and second storeys form chamfered squares whereas the

upper two storeys are octagonal in shape.

Each side of the first two storeys and the cardinal sides of the fourth storey are

pierced by a narrow Gothic pointed arch. The arches of the uppermost storey are

further subdivided into smaller arches. On the parapets of the first and second storeys

are placed decorative towers and pinnacles.

The various facades of the tower are decorated with a variety of motifs. The

spandrels of the archways of the first storey have arabesque designs in plaster relief.

The remaining surfaces are adorned with panels textured by simple geometrical

designs. Most of the corners are softened with fluted rectangular pilasters decorated

with petal designs at base and top.

Only the first storey of the tower, forming an octagon of 1.6 m. side within,

has a ceiling, domical in shape. Upper storeys have no ceilings at all, and the walls are

bound by iron girders on which are placed wooden planks, forming various landings.

The southwest pier of the building accommodates a stairway giving access to the first

storey [(figure 12) OR DROP FIGURE 12][You may drop it and then change figure

numbers accordingly] from where a ladder is built in the southeast pier to reach the

third storey where there is the machinery of the turret clock.

The present clock was manufactured by the company Joyce, Whitchurch,

Salop (Shropshire), United Kingdom, in 1929,5 and supplied by the Anglo-Swiss

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Watch Co., Calcutta. Most probably this clock was installed during the period of the

minority of Raja Harindar Singh (1918–34) at a cost of 5,000 rupees, as reported by a

near contemporary writer Makhan Singh.6 The clock machine, wound once a week,

takes its driving power from falling weights. This power is controlled by an

oscillating mechanism. The controlled release of power moves the arms of all the four

faces. Each opal glass dial which displays the time is 111 cm in diameter and can be

illuminated at night by fixing a source of light behind it.

The bell of the clock tower that rings every hour is on the fourth storey. It

bears the name of Taylor Loughboro, which most probably refers to the company

Messrs Taylors, Eayre, & Smith Ltd., Loughborough, United Kingdom, the leading

bell foundry of the world, established in 1784 (figure 13).

In its original form, the tower was not an isolated structure, but was

accompanied by four aivwan-like [IWAN??] buildings crowned with conical spires of

corrugated iron sheets, each placed at one corner of the chowk at the centre of which

stands the tower. These structures, visible in an old photograph, I have seen for

myself during early 1970s[STANDING FULL? WHEN? SEEN FOR YOURSELF [I

have seen for myself] OR IN PHOTOGRAPH?] (figure 14). The whole ensemble

must have presented a spectacular skyline in those days when there were no other tall

buildings around. Makhan Singh attests that the clock tower “presents a nice scene

along with its adjoining Barandari [BARADARI? As it is a quotation, I have used the

original spelling in the text] buildings and Ghantaghar Bazar.”7

The significance of a clock tower at the beginning of the 20th century cannot

be exaggerated when hardly any individual could afford a watch. Moreover, it was a

symbol of British technology, projecting a progressive image of the state.

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On each side of the clock tower the year 1902 is inscribed as the date of its

erection. These inscriptions are modern, of a few years ago, but the Aina-i Brar Bans

confirms the erection of the clock tower by Raja Balbir Singh as a memorial to Her

Majesty the British Queen Victoria who died on January 22, 1901.8 As the book was

published in December 1902, the inscribed date appears to be correct. It may be

interesting to note that there is at Georgetown in Malaysia a clock tower, the Victoria

Memorial Clock Tower, erected in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond

Jubilee by the rich Chinese Towkay (master), Cheah Chin Gok.9 It is 60 feet tall

(about 20 metres), representing the number of years of the Queen’s reign.

KOTHI DARBARGANJ

Now locally called Darbarganj Rest House, this Gothic Revival structure is situated in

a large garden to the northwest of the clock tower (figure 15). Makhan Singh

records that the rest house was nominated for the residence of the rulers of

neighbouring states and the [British] Agent of the Governor General [of India].10

The building comprises 12 suites, each with an attached toilet and dressing

room, and common kitchen, drawing room, and dining room (figure 16). The rear

suites are arranged around an open-to-sky courtyard, measuring 13.5 by 9.2 m and

surrounded by square piers. The longest part of the building measures 58.9 m and the

broadest is 43.6 m.

The east facade of the building is a very impressive composition. It has five

round arches supported on double circular pillars, arranged in a semicircle and

flanked by elliptical arched openings. The crowning of the building is in two levels.

The lower-level parapet is marked with false battlements, with an open-topped

pediment flanked by triangular members. The angles of the parapets are also planted

with fluted pitcher-like elements. On the upper parapet marking the level of the roof

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of the drawing and dining halls, is an arcade of Gothic pointed arches, flanked by

octagonal spires. In the centre rises a domical shape and not an actual dome, its body

marked with flutings. The arcade originally continued on all sides but its west side has

crumbled. All the spires have metallic finials, most of which are still extant.

Some crowning members on the facade have arabesque designs worked in

plaster relief. The ceiling and cornice of the drawing hall also bear medallions in

stucco relief (figure 17). The designs on the ceiling are symmetrical stylized floral

motifs. The spandrels of the round arches on the facade also have flower medallions.

Makhan Singh writes that the rest house was equipped and befittingly

decorated with modern furniture.11 An old chandelier and some pieces of furniture are

still extant in the main halls of the building.

The whole structure stands on a 0.65-metre-high platform echoing the

contours of the building, and approached by six sets of stairs. Parts of cast-iron

railings are extant along the front of the platform. The railing has cast replicas of the

state emblem.

The rear part of the building comprising six suites is entirely different in

character from the front. In an interview Raja Harindar Singh told [WHO?] Sardar

Gurdarshan Singh Sodhi (Surveyor, Languages Department, Punjab, 1975) that he

had made extensions to the Darbarganj Rest House.12 Colonel Balbir Singh, the

Manager of the Maharawal Khewaji Trust which now looks after the property of

Faridkot state told me that this part was added about 1945–46.13

The Aina-i Brar Bans refers to the building as Paradewale Bagh ki Rafi-al

Shan Kothi mosuma Darbarganj, i.e. the high-ranking mansion of the Parade Garden

known as Darbarganj.14 Parade Garden was situated on the site now occupied by the

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Secretariat Building and Harindra [CHECK SPELLING, this is the spellings in the

inscription on the hospital] Hospital.

CONCLUSION

On the basis of the stylistic similarity of the three monuments, it can be assumed that

all these were designed by the same person who remains anonymous. The Maharaja

of Baroda and Philip Davies give the credit for the Raj Mahal to a local master

craftsman Mistri Jagat Singh,15 but his title mistri indicates that he was the mason and

not the designer. Neither does the contemporary history Aina-i Brar Bans give his

name; however, it records that Raja Balbir Singh himself designed his buildings.16

This brings to mind the Mughal emperor Shahjahan who, according to his court

historian ‘Abd al-Hamid Lahori, himself drew the plans for the majority of his

buildings.17 The raja’s most probable source could have been standard books on

architectural design as was the case in the rest of British India. His interest in books is

well known, and he himself was a writer.18 He established the first printing press of

the state named after himself – Balbir Press. Also, he opened a public library which

had a collection of some 2,000 books, including fiction, and works on subjects like

law, history, science, and religion.

These three buildings were the last examples of the Gothic flowering in the

state. The Gothic pointed arch did survive for some time in some other buildings too,

but not the spired towers. And soon the introduction of new building materials and

techniques freed later buildings entirely of the past.

Figure Acknowledgements

All images courtesy the writer.

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Notes

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1

Jan Morris and Simon Winchester, Stones of Empire: The Buildings of the Raj, Oxford, 1983, p. 31.
2
Wali Allah Siddiqui, Aina-i Brar Bans (Urdu), Faridkot, 1902, III, pp. 711–12.
3
Philip Davies, The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India, Volume II, Islamic, Rajput, European,

New Delhi, 1989, p. 146. The description of the palace given by the Maharaja of Baroda, too, is much

off the mark; see The Maharaja of Baroda, The Palaces of India, London, 1980, pp. 200–01.
4
Wali Allah Siddiqui, op. cit., p. 712; Punjab State Gazetteers, XVI A, Faridkot State, 1915, Lahore,

1917, p. 19; Makhan Singh, Investiture Ceremony [A Souvenir], Lahore, c. 1934, p. 63.
5
The full name of the company was J.B. Joyce & Co. Established in 1690, this is the oldest clock-

making company in the world. Later, in 1965, it became a part of Smith of Derby Group.

www.smithofderby.com

6
Makhan Singh, op. cit., p. 52.

7
Ibid., p. 64.

8
Wali Allah Siddiqui, op. cit., p. 711.

9
http://www.orientalarchitecture.com/georgetown/clocktowerindex.htm.

10
Makhan Singh, op. cit., p. 64.

11
Ibid.

12
Faridkot: Ik Sabhyacharak ate Sahitak Sarvekhan [Faridkot: A Ccultural and Lliterary Ssurvey],

Faridkot, 1975, p. 73.


13
This information he got from his father who served the state during the reign of Raja Harindar Singh.

14
Wali Allah Siddiqui, op. cit., p. 712.

15
Maharaja of Baroda, op. cit., p. 200; Philip Davies, op. cit. (note 3), p. 146.

16
Wali Allah Siddiqui, op. cit., p. 711.
17
‘Abd al-Hamid Lahori, Padshah Nama (Persian text), Calcutta, 1867, I, p. 149. For an English

translation of the relevant part of the work, see W.E. Begley and Z.A. Desai, Taj Mahal: The Illumined

Tomb, Cambridge, 1989, p. 10.

18
Faridkot State Gazetteer, op. cit., p. 60. He was the only ruler of the state to evince an interest in

writing. According to the Gazetteer[CHECK], hHis book Ek Raja aur us ka Daura (A kKing and his

Ttour) ran into two editions, and he also edited two other works – Maharaja KKapurthala da

Safarnama (Travelogue of MMaharaja of Kapurthala) and Maharani Kapurthala di Diary (The dDiary

of Maharani Kapurthala). However, none of these books is traceable today.

Captions
1. An oil portrait of Raja Balbir Singh.
2. Plan of the Raj Mahal complex.
3. Plan of the Raj Mahal palace building.
4. View of the Raj Mahal palace building, from the eastern side. [?]
5. Balcony of the Raj Mahal palace building.
6. Painted plaster decoration on the porte-cochere of the Raj Mahal palace building.
7. Detail of arabesque with parakeets on the porte-cochere of the Raj Mahal palace building.
8. Coat of arms of Faridkot state on the porte-cochere of the Raj Mahal palace building.
9. The Raj Mahal deodhi.
10. Plan of the Raj Mahal deodhi.
11. Victoria Clock Tower.
12. Plan of the Victoria Clock Tower.
13. Victoria Clock Tower bell and its inscription.
14. Old picture of the Victoria Clock Tower (circa 1915)[DATED …..]. [AT RIGHT ARE …..] At
the right side are one of the buildings that surrounded the clock tower, and the towers of a
baradari.
15. Kothi Darbarganj.
16. Plan of Kothi Darbarganj.
17. Stucco decoration on the ceiling of the main hall of the Kothi Darbarganj.

Gw26.10.10 SC/AKB