What About Our Architectural Heritage (Architecture As Art) ?

Art works from the 1850s and around that time are highly sought after. Ravi Varma is of course a household name from that era.

What about our Architectural Art from that time ?

1800-1850’s (and thereabouts) was a period of Architectural renaissance in India. Fortunes / large sums were invested into building mansions / palaces / hotels / baugs etc. Should we not consider these buildings / palaces / mansions as works of Art that need to be maintained for the sake of  aesthetics , history, and economic value ? Are these not equally or possibly far more important than a Ravi Varma painting made in the same era  – that probably hung in these very buildings and now sells for crores?

Lets start with a historical/heritage building in London.

18-19 Kensington Palace Gardens

The current address of the billionaire Laxmi Mittal apparently bought for 85 million British Pounds. Built reportedly around 1840s.


Of course we admire Laxmi MIttal for this purchase. In its 150+ years of existence – it must have been bought/sold over twenty times. Each time a sale would have happened registration taxes, capital gains would have been paid. The government/city of London has probably made more on this building through time than the amount paid by Laxmi MIttal to ultimately buy it – a big boon for the very people who live in the city. Each new owner would have probably further spent on preserving the building and its upkeep. The city’s aesthetics improves with these heritage buildings and so does the neighborhood these homes reside in.

In another twenty years this will probably sell for 100 million GBP plus – more money to the city and to its people and to the preservation of its architectural heritage.

What about similar heritage buildings in India ?

Tagore Castle – Built 1850s(?)

Looks far more important, whether architectural , design,  or the effort in building this marvel than the home that Laxmi MIttal currently lives in. This was the home of one of the Pathuriaghata Tagore’s – a historically important family of Calcutta. They were also cousins to the Dwarkanath Tagore family of Jorasankho. The Tagore family saw the beginnings of modern art in India in the form of Abanindranath Tagore and of course the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the pioneering woman painter Sunayani Devi (Chatterjee) – The list goes on.

Current Price of Tagore Castle – 150 Million British Pounds ??  

Take a look at some current images and decide:

dwarkanath tagore castle current 1

dwarkanath tagore current 2

12/2/2006--Kolkata (Calcutta), India The influence of European style architecture can be seen in the house of Jatindra Mohan Tagore. Called "Tagore Castle", this house (built between 1800 and 1850) looks like a castle, complete with turrets right in the heart of the city. The building has been heavily modified to become an almost 'Frankenstein' building and only bare traces of its past now remain and is occupied by dozens of different tenants. This is a view of the back The Tagore's were major patrons of European art and this palatial home, the Tagore Castle, had a major collection of European paintings. The Tagore family, with over three hundred years of history, has been one of the leading families of Kolkata, and is regarded as a key influence during the Bengal Renaissance. Photograph By Stuart Isett All photographs ©2007 Stuart Isett All rights reserved. Photograph ©2007 Stuart Isett All rights reserved

Maybe  heritage buildings in Mumbai have fared better ?


Created around 1867 (much earlier than the Taj Gateway hotel) – called the Watson Hotel after its first owner. The oldest cast iron building in India that clealry pre-dates (from the photo) both the Jehangir Art Gallery and the Prince of Wales Museum

Currently :


Its hard to miss this building at Kala Ghoda. I was going to call this building an eye-sore but realized that its not the building – its the upkeep etc that is the problem.


The Majestic hotel currently houses low-end staff quarter for railway employees ? or some hostel that says Amdar hotel. And a Sahkari Bhandar on the ground floor along with a bunch of ‘bakras’ ( small dirty stores of little economic value ).

Is this the best use of a heritage building ? Does this benefit the city ? Are we trying to progress / improve our cities or instead become a village ?

Anyways , what is the point that I am trying to make.

How about “Preserve India” along with “Make In India”

Point being that Archaeological Survey of India is not quite equipped or passionate enough or for that matter – I don’t think they have the time to focus on heritage buildings. It has to come from private hands – there are many rich industrial houses and individuals who I am sure would be hoping to leave a legacy like a museum or a library for the next generations of Indians – these homes are ideal for that.

Laws need to be passed such that these architecturally important heritage building whose ownership is not clear are taken over by the government and auctioned off to  a single private owner for public usage (like a museum or a library). Let the previous owners then fight over the the proceeds from the auction based on their proportional claims. Or something to this effect. We need to rejuvenate these buildings – these are part of our heritage. These buildings are as much “Art” and a lot more than any Ravi Varma canvas.

The goal of this post was not necessarily to propose a new law but to highlight an art form , a part of our heritage that is being totally neglected and whose upkeep would only help the country both culturally and monetarily.

Indrajit Chatterjee

p.s. There are probably thousands of such buildings , I have only highlighted two !

There were many other (oil on canvas) portrait painters in Calcutta in the 1800s (why is partly why Ravi Varma did not make much headway with patrons in Calcutta) – and while they have not reached the prominence of Ravi Varma (he was able to spread both his art and his eminence thanks to his printing press.), research into these other artists  and price discovery continues to happen.

Speaking of Jorasanko – some unimportant trivia about my own maternal great-great-great grandfather Dwarkanath Gooptu

Image Source : 1 2

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