City Monument – Coronation Park, Bhai Parmanand Marg
The relics of the Raj.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
At the beginning of the second decade of the 20th century, the empire of Great Britain comprehended the most civilized portion of mankind. Delhi was its principal possession. The Coronation Park in north of the city is the remnant of that empire.
In 1877, Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India at this site. In 1903, the coronation of her son Edward VII was celebrated here. Both occasions called for the summoning of Delhi Durbar, a gold-and-silk extravaganza in which princes from Imperial India’s small and big principalities were obliged to greet the new masters. On December 11, 1911, the 57-acre venue witnessed the third and final Delhi Durbar. The sovereign himself attended. Sitting on a golden throne, under a golden umbrella, King George V declared the transfer of “the seat of the Government of India from Calcutta to the ancient capital of Delhi.”
A hundred years later, one freezing January afternoon, The Delhi Walla is at the same spot on which George V and his wife, Mary, sat. The view is spectacularly unspectacular: grey sky and muddy-brown ground. The Coronation Memorial is a sandstone obelisk built on a square plinth, which is reached from all four sides by a flight of stairs. It overlooks a marshy flatland; bushes here, puddles there. Boys from the neighbourhood play cricket, a game inherited from the British. The eyes follow a kachori vendor as he cycles from one makeshift cricket pitch to another, hawking his kachoris.
The chief attraction is in a side enclosure, west of the obelisk. The gate is usually locked but you can slip through the gap. Inside, it is like being transported into the pages of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The power is lost; the relics remain. White marble statues of the British nobility lie abandoned in a wilderness of green. The crescent-shaped garden, overgrown with trees and bushes, was a dump yard of colonial-era statues that India no longer needed after its independence in 1947.
There are 16 red stone plinths – eight on each side – but only five have statues. The centerpiece is the sixty feet tall figure of King George V, complete with crown, orb and scepter. Designed by Edwin Lutyens, the architect of New Delhi, it originally stood in front of New Delhi’s India Gate. Brought here in the sixties, the statue, with its sculptured robe, looks luxurious in this desolate durbar. A peepal tree grows from the king’s feet. Elsewhere, camel thorn shrubs have established their own barbaric empire. Plants grow on statue-less plinths. One unknown statue is defaced with a Hindi swearword. Another has a crow perched on its head. Come in the evening, when the sun is setting.
Where Bhai Parmanand Marg (more popular as Burari Road), near Kingsway Camp, north Delhi Nearest Metro Station Vishwavidyalaya (ask an autowalla at the metro stop to take you to ‘Laat Park’ on Burari Road; he should not charge more than Rs 50) Time Sunrise to Sunset
Delhi Durbar, 2011
Where’s the statue?
Spot the Memorial
Kachori for the king
George V’s ex-subjects
Imagining December 11, 1911
That’s George V
Making way for the peepal
“Bhen ke laure”, or “sister’s penis”
The sun always sets