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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Embodying the city’s history, a library and a church pulled out of ruins

Restoration Work On, INTACH Short On Finances To Fully Rebuild Monuments

Written by Somya Lakhani | New Delhi | Published: May 12, 2017 5:09:09 am
Dara Shikoh library, library renovation, Church restoration, St. James Church, Dara Shikoh library restoration, delhi news, india news, indian express news The Dara Shikoh library at Kashmere Gate. (Source: Amit Mehra)

IN THE midst of a vibrant university in the heart of Delhi exists a time warp. A forgotten building, the corridors of the Dara Shikoh library — part of the Ambedkar University (AUD) campus in Kashmere Gate — house two architectural influences, as the arches from the Mughal era confront the pillars that define the colonial period. The crumbling structure with plaster peeling off the walls and an injured roof, is now undergoing some cosmetic changes.

“The plan is to re-plaster the walls with lime after removing the modern paint, and fix the terrace. It will be made waterproof,” said Ajay Kumar, Director Proj-ects, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

Although work has already begun, and is expected to be over in a few months, officials at INTACH aren’t entirely pleased.

“We had earlier proposed a museum at the library to the state archeology department, but nothing came of it. I still hope it will take shape as that would make most use of this historic building,” said Dr Swapna Liddle, convener, INTACH.

The library was built in 1637 for, and named after, the eldest son of emperor Shahjahan — Dara Shikoh. It, however, stopped serving that purpose in the 19th century, when the first “western style Delhi college was housed here in 1844,” informed Liddle. A hub of modern science and mathematics, it was destroyed during the revolt of 1857. “It was seen as a symbol of British rule, and that’s why it was destroyed, and never recovered,” said Kumar.

For years now, it has been the office of the state archeology department, and also a museum of sorts. “Most of the artifacts confiscated by the Customs Depart-ment are kept here. They belong to different eras, and have nothing to do with Dara Shikoh or Delhi,” said an official overlooking civic work at the library.

There is ambiguity on whether AUD’s Neighbourhood Museum Project, run by the Centre for Community Knowledge (CCK), will find itself in the library or not, once conservation work is over.

“For the last few years, we’ve been collecting stories, memories and history of Delhi — from Mehruali and Aya Nagar to Nizamuddin and rural Delhi. I can’t comment on whether it will be on display at the Dara Shikoh library or not,” said Surajit Sarkar, associate professor and coordinator, CCK, AUD.

Outside the gates of AUD stands Delhi’s oldest church, St James, and this too is undergoing restoration work. Built in 1836, the church is listed as Grade-I under the North Delhi Municipal Corporation. “In the late ‘90s-early 2000s, there was some work done here — the dome had a bad leak. Now, the foundation is damaged and needs to be repaired,” said Liddle.

INTACH feels there is more work that needs to be done at the church — from restoration of precious art work to the Mughal-style brick masonry. This means a higher budget. The second phase of work involves the rest, and that maybe done with the help of crowdfunding.

Inside the church, a stack of brochures on the conservation project asks people to come forward with donations. It reads, “We appeal to individuals…NGOs…to contribute generously towards this project and help us save this historical monument of Delhi.”

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