Acknowledged as one of the finest examples of Neo Gothic Architecture in the world, the Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Convocation Hall which stands tall on the eastern edge of the Oval Maidan, to the south of the Rajabhai Clock Tower and the Mumbai University library, is still the perfect postcard picture representative of Mumbai.
The building was constructed in 1874 by the famous British architect Sir Gilbert Scott, who interestingly never visited India. “Scott was given details of the climatic conditions and the direction of the wind by the then Registrar Sinclair. He submitted the drawings of the convocation hall from England in 1866 without even seeing the site,” said Prof Aravind Ganachari, who retired from the Department of History after serving the institution for more than 40 years.
The Convocation Hall stands 104 feet in length and 44 feet in breadth, with a height of 63 feet from the floor to the apex. The grand structure was built with locally available stones such the Malad and grey Kurla basalt and the ornamental details crafted in soft Porbunder limestones.
The Grade I heritage structure was restored in 2006.
With nearly two-and-a-half thousand square feet of beautifully crafted stained glass panels, the hall boasts of a fine collection of stained glass from London. What is perhaps the most fascinating about the structure is a circular window at the north end. The outer ring, which is 20 feet in diameter, has the twelve Zodiac signs in stained glass with the sun in the centre.
Another endearing feature of the interiors are the carved stone heads that support the decorative iron work brackets that in-turn support the mezzanine balcony above. These stone carvings were crafted by the then students of the Sir JJ School of Art and are of people who helped the British Government suppress the 1857 revolt, claims Ganachari.
The iron work brackets also includes gold leaf gilds that were restored by craftsmen from Rajasthan. “A group of 8 Rajasthani craftsmen worked on the project, applying layers of finely hand pressed pure 24 karat gold leaf. Along with the iron work bracelets, they did a similar job with friezes of curvilinear floral motifs on the walls,” said Vijay Khole, ex-vice chancellor of the Mumbai University.
The hall, along with the staircases and verandah are fitted with encaustic Victorian tiles, called Minton tiles and found in shades of ochre, terracota, blue, beige, brown, green and grey. There are also Victorian lamps seen in the upper balcony, which can seat around 400 people.
“After the restoration, we had particularly cleaned the balcony and the corridors leading up to it so that we could make seating arrangement for more students,” Khole added.