India // Kolkata & West Bengal //

Victoria Memorial and the Calcutta Gallery


The dramatic white marble Victoria Memorial, at the southern end of the Maidan, with its formal gardens and water courses, continues to be Kolkata’s pride and joy. Other colonial monuments and statues throughout the city have been renamed or demolished, but the popularity of Queen Victoria seems to endure; attempts to change the name of the “VM” have come to nothing. This extraordinary hybrid building designed by Sir William Emerson, with Italianate statues over its entrances, Mughal domes in its corners, and elegant open colonnades along its sides, was conceived by Lord Curzon to commemorate the empire at its peak, though by the time it was completed in 1921, twenty years after Victoria’s death, the capital of the Raj had shifted to Delhi. A sombre statue of Queen Victoria, flanked by two ornamental tanks, gazes out towards the Maidan from a pedestal lined with bronze panels and friezes. Faced with Makrana marble from Rajasthan, the building itself is capped by a dome bearing a revolving five-metre-tall bronze figure of Victory.

The main entrance, at the Maidan end, leads into a tall chamber beneath the dome. The 25 galleries inside still contain mementoes of British imperialism – statues and busts of Queen Mary, King George V and Queen Victoria; a huge canvas of the future Edward VII entering Jaipur in 1876; French guns captured at the Battle of Plassey in 1758; and the black marble throne of a nawab defeated by Robert Clive. Well worth seeing, the Calcutta Gallery provides a fascinating insight into the history and life of the Indians of the city and the Independence struggle through paintings, documents and old photographs. The evening sound-and-light show held in the grounds, concentrates on the same theme. After the gardens close, the Maidan in front of the gates, adorned with musical fountains, is transformed by crowds of people who come to enjoy the evening breeze, roadside snacks and pony and ikka(open carriage) rides.

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