In the first edition of this series on Indian monuments by Sahapedia, we look at the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, which was built in 1888 to symbolise the majesty of the British Empire, its vast trade networks and its technological triumph – the railways. Did you know that the CSMT was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 7, 2004?
(Photos courtesy Malavika Mandalappa/Sahapedia)
Among the top 10 railway stations in the world, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) has stood tall for 130 years and has become the symbol of Mumbai. Unless a major natural calamity strikes, it could stand for another 500 or 1,000 years. Whatever its stature on the world stage, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus is, for most Mumbaikars, essentially a transit point; people get on or off the suburban or long-distance trains and make their way towards their destinations.
The Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation estimates that the terminus is used by approx. 6.4 lakh people on any given day. They might stop and glance at CST momentarily, click a selfie with it perhaps, but their engagement with it mostly ends there.
What they don’t realise is CSMT’s importance in Indian, or even Asian, history. On April 16, 1853, the first train in Asia was flagged off from a rather modest version of the station (then known as the Bori Bunder) to Tannah (now Thane). Architect, urbanist and educator Rahul Mehrotra calls it “the true gateway to India” since most visitors to the country in the 19th century had to go through the station. The iconic terminus building, as we now see it, was built over 10 years (1878-1888) and named after Queen Victoria to mark the golden jubilee of her reign. It was built as the headquarters and the rail terminus of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR).
As you enter the heritage building’s main gate, you see the British lion and the Indian tiger perched on it. In an interview to Sahapedia, architectural historian Christopher W. London said, “[The British] were very aware of what was happening with the Roman empire and what was happening in Rome through archaeological excavations. And they must have seen themselves as a republic, doing the same sorts of things within the British empire.” Here, London refers to the act of building architectural landmarks that function as visual emblems of an empire, even after its demise. In the Fort area of south Mumbai, one sees such buildings, which remind us of British rule in India, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus is one of them.
The station’s name was changed from Victoria Terminus to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in 1996, after the Maratha warrior king Shivaji (1627/30-1680). This happened only weeks after Bombay was renamed Mumbai by the Shiv Sena-Bhartiya Janata Party-led state government in Maharashtra. In 2017, it was rechristened Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, however in local parlance, many still refer to it as VT.
We look at some interesting and lesser-known aspects of the CST for you to bookmark, to make your next visit there more fascinating.
Architect Vikas Dilawari says that this Gothic Revival building is important because it was the first of its kind in Mumbai (then Bombay) to have a dome. Yes, the gorgeous dome atop the CSMT was the first on a Gothic Revival building in the city! What is also interesting is the statue of the Lady of Progress, holding a flaming torch in her raised hand and a wheel at her side. London says that “(it) is incredibly appropriate in that the railways represented an intellectual, engineering and social progress in the 19th century that would be akin to the social progress and inter-connectedness that you would get from the Internet today.”
Progress is surrounded by other statues of Agriculture (on the south facade), Commerce (on the south-west corner), Engineering (on the northwest corner), Science (above the northwest porte cochère) and Trade (above the southwest porte cochère), all integral elements of the idea of progress.
Designed by architect Frederick William Stevens, Victoria Terminus represented the modernity of the British Empire and the railways’ engineering prowess. However, it was the result of a decade of work by the British and by Indians. In his Sahapedia interview, Mehrotra says that except for VT’s chief architect, Stevens, “everyone from the ‘mistry’ to ‘mukaddam’ to the chief craftsman was Indian”. Stevens designed the building and supervised the project but the groundwork was done by PWD’s assistant engineer Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and PWD supervisor Mahderao Janardhan.
They also incorporated Indian motifs such as monkeys and peacocks into the facade. In fact, author and journalist Rajendra B Aklekar says that the roundels on the building represent “the 16 main communities of Bombay”.
Those interested in literature might be intrigued to know that the building even has a Kipling connection. Stevens collaborated with the Sir JJ School of Art to design models for the building’s embellishments, which include gargoyles, fantastical creatures and local flora and fauna. At the time, John Lockwood Kipling, father of author Rudyard Kipling, was a teacher there, and many of the students worked under his supervision.
The station stretches across 1,200 ft, while the main structure rises to a height of 330 ft. CSMT was the second UNESCO World Heritage Site to be nominated in Mumbai; the first was the Elephanta Caves and the third, the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco buildings in the Fort precinct and on Marine Drive. It is also one of the very few UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are ‘living’; it is used by approx. 6.4 lakh people every day and 5,000-odd people work there. Nearly 1,500 suburban trains and 50 long-distance trains start from here daily. The station has a total of 18 platforms—seven for suburban trains and 11 for long-distance trains.
A fascinating element of the building is the massive mechanical clock on the western façade. For those interested, the clock’s diameter is 9 ft, the length of the hour hand is 4 ft and that of the minute hand, 4.5 ft. The massive pendulum that ensures the clock keeps ticking weighs a whopping 25 kg.
STEP BACK IN TIME
Another interesting aspect of the CSMT is the excellent Heritage Gallery, which gives visitors an opportunity to explore the history of the railways and the making of the building. One can also look at displays of antiques from the time of GIPR, such as crockery, telephones, brass bells and a model of a 19th century train engine. So you see, there is so much more to this building that is symbolic of Mumbai/Bombay; it’s been seen in scores of Hindi films and businesses have boomed because of their proximity to the station. With so many stories wrapped around it, the CSMT deserves a lot more than just a passing glance.
DID YOU KNOW
– According to architect Vikas Dilawari, CSMT is the only 19th century building, other than the Houses of Parliament in London, to be individually listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
– Dilawari also says that this building introduced the dome for the first time on Mumbai’s Gothic Revival buildings. “Not many domes are seen on Gothic Revival buildings, so this is a unique example of its kind.”
– According to a 2011-12 survey by the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation, the terminus is used by approx. 6.4 lakh people daily, making it one of the rare UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are ‘living’.
– The chief architect, Frederick William Stevens, designed the building in such a way that it had natural air-conditioning – he put in arcaded corridors that kept out the sun out of the offices and ventilation panels as well.
– The GIPR treasury was housed in the basement and cash from various railway offices was collected and counted here. At one time, there was reportedly Rs 32 crore of cash in small denominations in the treasury. It was in use till the 1970s.
– Sculptures of birds, animals and some fantasy creatures have been incorporated into the building’s embellishments. They include gargoyles, monkeys, peacocks, snakes, lions and foxes. An interesting exercise would be to see how many of these can you spot.
(This article is based on the module on Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus by Mumbai-based researcher Subuhi Jiwani on www.sahapedia.org, an open online resource on the arts, cultures and heritage of India. Sahapedia offers encyclopedic content on India’s vast and diverse heritage in multimedia format, authored by scholars and curated by experts to creatively engage with culture and history to reveal connections for a wide public using digital media.)