TWO years ago, when Maan Singh, from Chittor in Rajasthan, visited Mumbai for a masonry job, little did he know that he would eventually be rebuilding ancient gargoyles and carvings on the UNESCO-recognised World Heritage Site of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT). Along with nine colleagues, Singh has restored carvings on the southern facade of the building and is slowly working to finish restoration of the remaining sculptures.
In an effort to restore the heritage look of the building, the Central Railway brought in special masonry artists from Rajasthan who are skilled in stone carving work. The artists are tasked with replicating carvings or balusters that have cracked or have turned pale over the years. The railways is spending close to Rs 40 crore only on this heritage restoration of CSMT.
“In 2016, I had come to CSMT to meet a friend who was going to offer me work. At CSMT, I was fascinated to see the ancient carvings and the Gothic artwork. Being a stone sculptor, I sought a meeting with the railway engineer to ask if the building required any work. The engineer noted down my details and called me back in a couple of months,” Singh said.
While the Central Railway had conducted repairs and restoration work of the building before, they had received flak for failing to match the standards of the original carvings and stone sculptures. There were also errors in the sizes of the grotesques that had been replaced. After heritage consultant Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) suggested ways to rehabilitate the original heritage features of the building, the railways emphasised on using original material.
“We are using the original stone — carbon stone from Porbander — and replicating the work in the exact way it was originally built. As per the instructions given by railway engineers about the measurements and details, we are carving the replicas,” Maan Singh said.
The artists have rebuilt some of the damaged balusters on platform number one of the station. They are in the process of rebuilding a damaged foliage that has an owl carving. “We are not at all rushing with the work. As it has to be neatly done, we are taking our own time,” Bahadur Singh said. While the team has rebuilt most part of the baluster pillar, they are yet to start on the owl. “Remaking the owl will be very challenging. There are so many layers to the animal in the original structure that we will require days to complete it,” Maan Singh said. The work is expected to be complete only around December.
The same team has earlier participated in the stone work at five-star hotels including one in Agra. In Chittor, Maan Singh works with 15 mason artists who have all had over a decade’s experience. Unlike before, where they would work in their workshop in Rajasthan and bring the repaired structures to the location of installation, they now prefer to work in Mumbai.
“We prefer working close to CSMT building as it is easier to get a reference of the things we are rebuilding. While I have seen most of Mumbai, my boys are yet to explore. They have only been to the Gateway of India,” Maan Singh said.
The team is in awe of the heritage building of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Fort and are hopeful to get a chance to work on its restoration some day. “The English were farsighted and gave us some of these amazing buildings. It is difficult to match up to their creativity,” another mason, Amar Singh, said