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Gothic revival at Faridkot.

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. 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, 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 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 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. 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 Faridkor. 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 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), a baradari (lit. twelve-doored, an open pavilion), a gurdwara, three small pavilions called doll houses, 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 treasure house 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 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. 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 and numerous fountains. In one of the fountains water emanates from lions' heads.

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, or deodhi, situated in the south wall. 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). 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 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.

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 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 of Whitchurch, Salop (Shropshire), United Kingdom, in 1929, (5) and supplied by the Anglo-Swiss 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 iwan-like 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 in the early 1970s (figure 12). 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 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.

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 14). 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 15). 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 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 intact.

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 16). 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 to be found 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 Sardar Gurdarshan Singh Sodhi, Surveyor, Languages Department, Punjab 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 Secretariat Building and Harindar Hospital.


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.


All photographs and plans by the writer.


(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.

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

(7) Ibid., p. 64.

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


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

(11) Ibid.

(12) Faridkot: Ik Sabhyacharak ate Sahitak Sarvekhan [Faridkot: A cultural and literary survey], 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. His book Ek Raja aur us ka Daura (A king and his tour) ran into two editions, and he also edited two other works - Maharaja Kapurthala da Safarnama (Travelogue of the Maharaja of Kapurthala) and Maharani Kapurthala di Diary (Diary of the Maharani of Kapurthala). However, none of these books is traceable today.
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Title Annotation:PERSPECTIVES
Author:Parihar, Subhash
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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