Patna, January 31
Hardinge Park, Patna’s famed garden built in honour of the viceroy who was instrumental in the creation of Bihar and Orissa as a separate province and which hosted the Prince of Wales a century ago, on Sunday completed 105 years, albeit shorn of its heritage identity.
Named after Viceroy Lord Hardinge and built as Patna’s first public park, it was opened on January 31, 1916 by then Lt Governor of the province Sir Edward Gait, who had also unveiled a five-tonne life-size bronze statue of the viceroy, in full Durbar regalia.
However, on its 105th anniversary, barring the two old Ramgarh Raj Pavilions, symmetrically placed in the park, hardly any heritage element of the landmark has survived the ravages of time.
From extreme glory to extreme neglect, the park, spread over 22 acres, has witnessed as a silent sentinel the struggle for the country’s freedom and post-colonial vandalism. One of the arms of the statue was damaged and to this day it stands with a broken arm.
The viceroy’s statue was dumped at the Patna Museum in the late 1960s. It was installed again in the 1990s on a platform in a corner of the museum’s lawns.
Subsequent to the removal of the statue, the name of the park was rechristened to ‘Shaheed Veer Kunwar Singh Azadi Park’ but it is still referred to as ‘Hardinge Park’ by old-timers and local people.
Rare archival documents and old newspaper reports tell that besides the viceroy’s statue, a life-size statue of Lady Hardinge, known for her benevolent public work, was also to be erected in the garden that has witnessed vicissitudes of fortune in its journey of over 100 years. But, eventually only the statue of the viceroy was built.
However, a rare black and white photograph of the park, showing the statue, in its early years, and old news reports and archives clearly tell that a bronze medallion of the vicerine was later mounted in the front portion of the imposing pedestal of the statue.
Lady Winifred Hardinge, known for her contribution in starting the first medical college for women in Delhi, died in 1914 while it was being built and was later named in her honour.
Aditya Jalan, member of the legendary Quila House family of Patna City, said, her death mid-way may have caused a change in the original plan of the park.
“An endowment had been made for the maintenance of the park. As per archival documents in our collection, a significant portion of it was taken out and sent to Delhi for the establishment of the medical college,” he said.
In the monochrome photograph, a medallion of Lady Hardinge with an ornamental wreath around it, can be seen mounted on the front face of the pedestal, and an inscription below, which is not legible.
While it is not known in which year was the medallion installed, a 1921 edition of the ‘The Pioneer Mail’ reported that a meeting of the members of the Hardinge Memorial Executive Committee was held in April that year at the Patna Commissioner’s House, and the “question of meeting the cost of the new medallion of Lady Hardinge for the Hardinge Park was considered”.
“The medallion will cost 250 pounds plus Rs 450 import duty,” it said.
Lady Hardinge had endeared herself to the people of India through her public works, and the main inscription on the pedestal extolled her virtues too.
“Lord Hardinge of Penshurst. Viceroy of India November 23rd, 1910. Founder of the province of Behar and Orissa April 1st 1912. Friend and upholder of the Indian people at home and abroad. Also, Lady Hardinge, sharer in his work and suffering in his faith and love. Erected as a tribute of grateful affection by the people of the province,” reads the main inscription of the statue, which was the centerpiece of the entire layout.
A week after the opening of the Hardinge Park in Patna, the Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi was inaugurated on February 7, 1916 by Viceroy Lord Hardinge.
A magnificent statue of Lady Hardinge in a sitting posture underneath a canopy is located in the premises of the first medical college for women in Delhi.
According to Bihar District Gazetteers of Patna, published in 1970, a few years after the statue of the viceroy was moved to the Patna Museum, “The five-tonne bronze statue, 18 feet high including the pedestal, cost 4,000 pounds in 1915 and was installed in the park subsequently at a ceremony. The column had also a bust-size relief bronze figure of Lady Hardinge and two plates, one symbolising ‘Justice’ and the other ‘Human Sympathy’”.
In its centenary year, the park, located midway between Patna railway station and the Patna Secretariat, was redeveloped and its century-old fountains were dismantled to make way for new ones. And, in late 2017, one of the last remnants of the Raj-era landmark—the pedestal on which the Hardinge’s iconic statue once stood, was also demolished.
The pedestal until it stood forelorn in the park, had a circular indentation in the front face where the medallion was installed. The wreath around it, however, was there till the pedestal was dismantled, further “denuding” the place of its history, heritage lovers alleged.
In early 2018, a new fountain was built at the site of the pedestal, and the statue Veer Kunwar Singh was installed in the park.
Lying forelorn in a corner of the British-era museum, the Viceroy’s statue, made by noted British sculptor Herbert Hampton, has three of its original bronze plates intact.
However, it is not yet known as to whereabouts of the bronze medallion of Lady Hardinge, which earlier adorned the pedestal. — PTI