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When pride hung by the chandelier

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R.V. SMITH treads back to the times when chandeliers were the epitome of home decor

The craze for chandeliers — which had staged a comeback in Delhi at one time – is almost dead. In the 1960s particularly, the Chandlier House of Afzal Peshawari in Machliwalan was one of the best joints, where Joyce Afzal got chandeliers assembled and sold, mostly to the members of the foreign embassies. That people no longer feel enthusiastic about them is no reflection on the intrinsic worth of this object d’art. In home décor the chandelier once occupied a very high place, for it not only emanated light but also beauty, says Fayiaz Mian, a hotelier of the Walled City.

Chandelier, the very name, breathes romance and conjures up past splendour — of Persia’s glittering mosques and Italy’s graceful churches, of heady carnivals and staid, old English castles and nearer home of the court of Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh. Once, a chandlier came crashing down in the nawab’s mahal. He liked the sound so much that several chandeliers were dislodged by his men and made to fall just to tickle the nawab’s ears by their tingling, jingling sound. They were all replaced of course but Wajid Ali Shah’s idiosyncrasies did not please the British Resident at his court, whose report on the incident became one of the reasons for taking over the nawabi on grounds of mismanagement, corruption, immorality, childishness and gross waste of state resources.

In the 20th Century, electricity sounded the death knell of the chandelier or jharfanoosh. Today, there are bulbs and globes and tube lights that can very well rival it. For some time electrically operated chandeliers with small bulbs fitted in them were supposed to be the in-thing in home décor. Many makeshift shops selling them came up on Delhi’s Link Road and Shankar Road run by the gypsies. But these have all but disappeared. Still, a chandelier is a chandelier, and some people, especially in old Delhi, are still fond of them. As a matter of fact, some of the medieval specimens can still be found in the old havelis, like those of Hakim Ahsanullah Khan in Lal Kuan.

The pillars

With chandeliers go pillars from which they were often suspended, instead of the room ceiling. The pillars of the ruins of Persepolis are famous and an example of the glories of Iran during the reign of the Darius emperors, so are the pillars of ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome and Byzantium empire but the pillars of the Egyptian temples are much older. The Saracenic architecture that influenced the Moghuls and made them blend it with Indian art (which included the pillars of the mandirs that later inspired Lutyens and Baker to set up pillars in New Delhi built on Raisina Hill). One of these pillars collapsed recently. Instead of chandeliers, Lutyens built sandstone lamp stands for them to impart the oriental look to the new Capital.

The pillars of Quwwatul Islam mosque near the Qutub, though erected from the ruins of ancient Hindu temples, are a splendid sight. Whether chandeliers were suspended from the ceiling of this masjid during the time of the Slave kings is a moot point. But it is highly probable that in later times the hall of prayer was lit up by chandeliers — just like the Jama Masjid dalan or verandah in Delhi and the one of the older Jama Masjids in Agra, built not by Shah Jahan but by his daughter, Jahanara Begum. The pillars of the Red fort’s Diwan-e-Aam are another fine example but the fabled 1000-pillared hall of Alauddin Khilji exists no longer in Siri. Referring to the lamp-lit pillars of Lutyens, a British writer of the 1930s observed that they presented a sight that was most pleasing to the eyes, especially of western visitors as they reminded them of the lamps of Buckingham Palace.

The difference was that these sandstone pillars, copied from the ones in the palaces of Jaipur, presented different images on winter and summer evenings. In winter, they were reminiscent of old England and in summer, they breathed of the charm of the lands east of the Suez. Well, all this holds true to a considerable extent even now and one can only hope that the surviving pillars of Raisina get the much needed attention they deserve for their preservation so that we could still link them to chandeliered halls and the ambience of a bygone age.

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