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At 100, people recall Delhi’s old Edward Park & its famous ‘horse’

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New Delhi, Feb 15 (PTI) Exactly a century ago, an iconic equestrian statue as a grand memorial to King Edward VII was unveiled by then Prince of Wales in a beautifully laid-out garden in old Delhi, and though the heritage park’s name and fortune changed after Independence, its legend has survived.

The five-tonne bronze statue of the British monarch in full military regalia, riding his horse, Kildare and holding a plumed hat in his hand, was commissioned after his death in 1910, and was sculpted by famous artist Sir Thomas Brock and shipped to India from England.

On February 15, 1922, the grand statue mounted on a majestic pedestal, centrally placed in a lush garden, was unveiled as the All-India King Edward Memorial by the then Prince of Wales and his grandson Edward (later King Edward VIII) to the sound of a 101-gun salute from Fort Salimgargh nearby, according to archival records.

The inauguration of the memorial was done by the Prince of Wales during his royal tour of India.

The sprawling park, laid out over five acres, in the vicinity of Mughal-era Red Fort and 17th-century Jama Masjid, was endowed with rich stocks of different flowers, plants and shrubberies, but the centre of attraction for visitors was always the “ghoda and the raja (horse and the king)”, recall old-timers, who have seen the statue till it was removed in 1968, and eventually sent to Toronto in Canada.

Mohammad Yusuf, 66, an old Delhi resident and businessman, says, “As children, we used to visit the park, and there was such a fragrance of flowers and beautiful sights of nature in the park that we didn’t feel like leaving the garden. It also offered a great view of Jama Masjid from there”.

“We played around the pedestal of the statue too, it was huge and majestic. When unveiled, it was Delhi’s first equestrian statue. It should have been preserved, at least in a museum, as a work of great art,” he told PTI.

Another local resident, Mohammad Idris, 65, who runs an old ‘paan’ shop in front of Jama Masjid, said many people, especially the older population still remember it as “ghode wala bagh (garden of the horse)” as it was such a “unique, attractive statue”.

He lamented that the “old, ornate iron gate and railings from the time of unveiling of the memorial park were in decay, and need of maintenance. These used to shine, in our childhood days”. Also, its old gate on Daryaganj side has been shut for several years now and vegetation has overgrown near it in the park.

“They changed the identity of the heritage park, but at least civic authorities should have maintained the quality of the garden,” Idris said.

After Independence, in 1950s, demands were made from certain quarters to rename the park after freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose, and to replace Edward’s statue with that of Netaji’s, as the British Raj had ended in August 1947.

So, it was renamed after him and a heroic ensemble statue of Netaji and his INA compatriots mounted on a pedestal, was unveiled on January 23, 1975 by the then vice president B D Jatti in the park, giving the site a whole new post-Independence nationalist identity.

The ensemble statue was removed in storage for the period when tunneling and other civil work was being done for the Jama Masjid station of the Delhi Metro’s Violet Line, and the park was reconstructed and the statue reinstalled by early 2018.

The park is locally, also called ‘Edward Park’ or ‘Subhas Park’. An old, partially broken marble plaque installed after its renaming, by the civic authorities, just outside, one of the old gates, carries the name ‘Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Park’ in Hindi and Urdu.

Old-timers and many heritage lovers rue that the historic park has “lost its sheen” in the past few decades. Locals complained that many passers-by relieve themselves in the open next to the closed old gate, or on its boundary wall, leading to insanitary conditions.

The park comes under the jurisdiction of North Delhi Municipal Corporation, and a senior official said, “Subhas Park, Qudsiya Bagh and Roshanara Bagh are three major heritage parks under NDMC, and we try to maintain them all in the best possible way”.

Delhi-born heritage activist Sohail Hashmi, who conducts heritage walks in the city, recalled how people in old days would lounge about in the park in the afternoon, soaking the sun, while ‘kanmailiyas’ (ear cleaners) will be on their job.

The foundation stone of the memorial was laid by the Prince’s father King George V in December 1911 when he had come to Delhi to attend his grand Coronation Durbar.

The pedestal and platforms of the iconic statue were made of red Agra sandstone and had rich artwork on its sides. A giant tablet each were installed on the two sides of the pedestal, bearing inscription in English and Persian respectively.

According to the book ‘Thomas Brock: Forgotten Sculptor of the Victoria Memorial’ by Frederick Brock, the statue was moved to Toronto in 1969, where it was installed at Queen’s Park. The park itself was opened by Edward VII in 1860 when he was the Prince of Wales.

London-based art historian, Ursula Weekes, who chanced upon a rare book on India tour of Prince of Wales in 1921-22, when asked about renaming of historic sites, said: “History is never static and every generation has to consider its past to know its future. Does that mean historical landmarks or statues should be retained or removed? It depends, but we should always be wary of those who want to obliterate history, that is never a good thing”.

As India celebrates 75 years of Independence in 2022, the post-colonial identity of the park in Netaji’s name, will endure from here on, with perhaps a hint of nostalgia about its past among old-timers and heritage aficionados. PTI KND RCJ

This report is auto-generated from PTI news service. ThePrint holds no responsibility for its content.

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