I had been to Red Fort a number of times. However, I never knew of the most famous feature of Diwa’i am: the pietra dura panels that form the backdrop to the throne platform. I came to have the information from an article by Lahiri, a historian in Delhi University in Hindustan Times.
Italian panels of Red Fort: There are panels of birds and foliage and one representation of a Greek God. Orpheus, the greatest Greek musician of poetry and myth, is shown fiddling under a tree, surrounded by listening animals. These are Italian objects of art, and their presence in a sedate hall of public audience, where Emperor Shah Jahan attended state affairs, quirky. In the widespread loot that followed the reoccupation of Delhi by the British, the Italian panels were pilfered and carried away to England as trophy of conquest, by a captain John Jones. He sold them to the British Government for pound 500. The panels soon became part of the collection of Indian artifacts in what is now known as the Victoria and Albert museum. It was proactive Lord Curzon who could get the panels back for the Durbar to celebrate coronation of King Edward VII as the Emperor of India that was to be held in the Red Fort. Although the panels reached India before the Durbar, they could not be put in place in time for the investiture ceremony, but shortly afterwards they were restored.
Holy Shirt: The story of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s ‘Holy Shirt’ is also interesting. The shirt (presently in the fort’s museum) has verses of the Quran written on it and was apparently sent from Mecca. It was meant to provide immunity against trouble to the wearer. Not surprisingly, the king is said to have worn it continuously for the last few days, prior to his flight. However, for the reasons unknown, the king at the last moment left it behind. It was found by the French nurse of the children of a Colonel Tytler near the gate by which the royal party had fled. The shirt passed into possession of the Tytler family. The Tytlers kept the shirt in a bank vault but, until this became known, they were the victims of several robberies and more than one serious attempt on their lives. As the story goes, during the Coronation Durbar in 1903, Nizam of Hyderabad made an offer of Rs 10,000 for it. Soon after, the Imam of Jama Masjid wanted Mrs. Tytler to allow him to exhibit it in the ground in front of the mosque for some fee that was to be shared by the mosque and Tytler. The exhibition was on the verge of taking place but was vetoed by the Commissioner of Delhi at the last moment, as he ‘could not possibly run the risk of a riot.’ Eventually, the daughter of the late Tytlers sold it to the Archeological survey in 1909 for a sum of Rs 12,000.
And I also came to know of the significance of the names of many islands and landmarks in Andamans from an article in Times of India that appeared recently.
Islands of Andaman: And then it is interesting to note that the British government named or renamed some of the islands of Andaman after the soldiers who had crushed the mutineers of 1857. Hugh Rose was one who defeated Rani Luxmibai. Names such Outram, Havelock, Nicholson, Neill are also associated with the Andaman’s. That was the British wished to glorify the British generals. The recently-created Rani Jhansi Marine National Park now cradles the islands named after Outram, John Lawrence and Henry Lawrence. A tourists’ jewel Havelock, is the name of the general who retook Lucknow from Nana Sahib. Quite incongruously a Subhas Mela is held on Havelock every January.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose took symbolic control of Andamans and Nicobar for his Arzi Hukumat Azad Hind, renamed them Shaheed and Swaraj, flew the tricolour at Port Blair and appointed Colonel A D Loganathan of INA as governor of what was called a liberated part of India. However, the old names came back after World War II. The government in Delhi could take a decision to go back to the names given by Netaji.
Why can’t the names of the English generals associated with the islands in Andamans – Havelock, Henry Lawrence, John Lawrence, Neill, Outram, Inglis, Sir Hugh Rose, Paget be replaced by the heroes of the Great Uprising of 1857? Perhaps, that shows what we as a nation lack.
One man’s fight to save 1857 heroine’s memory