June 1857 in the house of Hindu Rao

The Sirmoor Battalion stationed there was attacked by sepoys during the revolt

Written by Alokparna Das | New Delhi | Published: June 23, 2013 12:58:16 am

In the sweltering heat of June 1857,a month after the Revolt broke out in Meerut,North Delhi’s biggest hospital was where the sepoys assembled after coming out of the Walled City and launched attacks on the British Sirmoor Battalion stationed inside the Bara or house of Hindu Rao. Lieutenant Norman’s account in Delhi Mutiny Papers states that artillery fire by the sepoys was principally directed against this building. It turned into a military hospital after 1857,and then a 16-bed civilian infirmary in 1911.

Walking past the crowded and dimly-lit corridors of North Delhi’s biggest hospital,it is hard to imagine this place has been witness to some defining moments of history. But outside the Bara Hindu Rao Hospital,the view of a picturesque ridge with the Mutiny Memorial towering over it,Ashokan pillar across the road,and medieval hunting lodge some steps away makes it apparent that it was once a strategic location,a crucial gateway to the city.

Quoting letters written by British officer Keith Young to his wife in Shimla,historian and Delhi University professor Amar Farooqui says that the sepoys could never take over the ridge. On June 6,the British troops advanced from Karnal towards Delhi and by August 1,the British had completely taken over the ridge,with Bara Hindu Rao serving as an ideal building complex where the troops could be stationed and make-shift mess could be set up for the officers.

Interestingly,though it is named after Hindu Rao,the house is believed to have been built by Edward Colebrooke,the Resident of Delhi between 1827 and 1829,before he was sacked for being corrupt. William Fraser,another Resident and a connoisseur of Indian culture,bought it in 1831. According to Farooqui,the complex was mostly built by Fraser. Four years later,Fraser was murdered by the Nawab of Ferozepur and the house was bought by Hindu Rao,a Maratha nobleman and brother-in-law of Maharaja Daulat Rao Scindia of Gwalior. The British bought the house after Rao’s death in 1855,but it continued to be known as his house.

It is believed that the colonial building complex with its high ceilings and longish verandahs stands on the same ground where once Timur camped in 1398 when he looted Delhi. The Ashokan Pillar (a monolith dating back to the 3rd century BC) that faces the building was transported from Meerut by Feroz Shah Tughlaq in the later half of 14th century.

The history of the hospital doesn’t end here. Opposite the CCU and adjacent the doctors’ parking is a Tughlaq-era stepwell with double pillars and conical arches. The baoli finds mention in the 1916 Archaeological Survey of India report that says it opened to a tunnel with eight shafts,but seemed to be leading to nowhere. Locals,however,say that the tunnel once connected to Yamuna.

As it provides medical care to hundreds who walk in everyday,Bara Hindu Rao Hospital is also a custodian of the city’s past. However,as Medical Superintendent Dr R B Mittal puts it,the history of the place does not evoke much interest among the doctors and patients. “There are no tourists visiting the place. Our website mentions the historic significance of the hospital building and hence,we presume that at least some of the doctors and patients are aware of it,” he says,adding that the baoli being a protected monument is maintained by the ASI,which has also put up a board near the site.

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