The Farhat Baksh Kothi and Chhatar Manzil in Lucknow will be thrown open to the public post its acquisition by the State Archaeology Department
On a cloudy afternoon in Lucknow, the Deputy Director of Directorate of Archaeology (Uttar Pradesh), Prahlad Kumar Singh, was busy over phone calls and files at his sprawling office in Roshan-ud-Daula Kothi at Qaiser Bagh. Suddenly his eyes lit up with joy as he took out a file from a chest of drawers.
“After a long struggle, finally we have got possession of the Farhat Baksh Kothi and Chhatar Manzil from the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) and the takeover process has started already.”
Mr. Singh’s excitement with this new project might be comparable with Nawab Saadat Ali Khan’s, who had bought this grand piece of architecture 200 years ago for just Rs. 50,000 from a French army man and architect, Claude Martin. The nawab had thrown a lavish celebration on the occasion and rechristened the structure as Farhat Baksh Kothi.
Not meant for public eyes, Saadat Ali Khan commissioned the construction of an extension — Chhatar Manzil; from then, it became the principal residence of the Oudh sovereign.
After Mutiny in 1857, the British acquired the palace and turned it into the United Services Club — stripping much of its former grandeur. Post Independence, it was taken over by the government and on February 17, 1951, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) here to start the first drug research laboratory in the country.
Now that it has been handed over to the State archaeological department, the doors of Farhat Baksh Kothi and Chhatar Manzil will be opened to public for the first time in their history.
A specimen of outstanding engineering, Claude Martin had constructed the structure on the bank of river Gomti in 1784 as his own residence. A book Lucknow Omnibus, with a compilation of three writers’ account on the old city, highlights the building’s architectural genius. In one part of the book, British scholar Rosie Llewellyn- Jones describes it as the “first identifiable building erected by Martin in Lucknow” which had a drawbridge, moat and a sprawling zenana khana.
The halls and corridors were decorated with artworks, paintings, photographs and designer glasses. Sir John Shore, Governor General of East India Company, described the building: “It would require a week at least to examine the contents of his house.”
After Saadat Ali Khan extended the buildings, he named them Badi Chhatar Manzil and Chhoti Chhatar Manzil. In Images of Lucknow, author P.C. Mukherjee had explained the palace’s grandeur: “Badi Chhatar Manzil is a seven-storied building of which two-storied tykhanas are underground. The topmost floor is surmounted by a gilt umbrella-shaded dome — whence the name, Chhatar Manzil literally meaning Umbrella Palace.”
Leopold Von Orlich, a Prussian military officer and writer who worked with the military of the East India Company and had visited the city in 1843, wrote about the opulence of Chhatar Manzil: “Chhatar Manzil has six principal courts. A large portal with iron gates leads to the Fateh Mohullah, in which is the spacious hall, nowbutkhana, where a military band usually perform every morning and evening.”
Nawab Saadat Ali Khan died before the completion of the construction of Chhatar Manzil and it was completed by his successor Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haidar.
Later, the coming up of the even more opulent Qaiser Bagh Palace by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah overshadowed Chhatar Manzil’s grandeur. During the Mutiny, Indian soldiers used the palace as a shelter.
Today, only the skeletons of Farhat Baksh Kothi and Badi Chhatar Manzil are still standing. In November 2011, the frontal portico of Badi Chhatar Manzil had collapsed. Chhoti Chhatar Manzil exists only in the pages of history now.
Mr. Singh said that plans are afoot for a massive renovation; a city museum and a science museum have been proposed to be housed here. “We will try to reconstruct the ambience of the building with gardens, fountains and with other possible additions. I think a light and sound show recreating the rich history of Oudh will be a tourist attraction.”