Volume: 14, No: 02 ; February-2020
The essence of the bygone era can be seen in the architecture it leaves behind – which may wither with time but never fails to mesmerize the explorers with its old world charm. One such architectural and historical attraction of Lucknow is Charbagh – one of North India’s largest railway stations. Charbagh is not merely a railway station – it has its own significant share in the chronicles of the city of Nawabs.
Charbagh existed even prior to becoming a railway station. As the name suggests, ‘Char Bagh’ meaning ‘four gardens’, was built to be to be one of the most elegant and beautiful garden of the fourth Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-ud-Daula, just like the Aishbagh (meaning : pleasure garden). The architectural tradition of ‘charbagh’ is very old, belonging to the Mughal style of buildings, where four gardens are positioned at four corners of four quadrants.
‘Charbagh’ or ‘Chahar Bagh’ is actually a Persian term that means ‘four gardens’- an Islamic architecture where a garden is divided into four parts. This concept of quadrilateral garden layout is inspired by the holy Quran. According to the Quran, Heaven is an allegorical garden in which the deceased will dwell after death. In the Surah (verse) 55 of the Quran, it is mentioned that the Heaven consists of gardens with trees, springs, fruits, carpets to recline on and companions. And Charbagh is actually a ‘Garden of Paradise’. Under the Charbagh design of architecture, the quadrilateral garden is divided by walkways or flowing water into four smaller parts. One of the hallmarks of Charbagh garden is the four-part garden layout with axial paths that intersect at the garden’s centre where a tomb is built for the diseased; if at all the garden is laid around the tomb.
Charbaghs are found in countries throughout Western Asia and South Asia, including Iran and India. The oldest known garden of this type is at Pasargadae in Iran. The tradition of paradise garden was brought to India by the Mughals. And this tradition of Char Bagh gave birth to all the famous Mughal gardens in India. The design displayed its epitome in the Taj Mahal — built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, as a tomb for his favourite Indian wife Mumtaz Mahal, in Agra. The Humayun’s Tomb in Agra is another example of Charbagh. As per the Islamic beliefs, the underlying reason behind placing the tomb in the centre of the four gardens is that in this position the deceased would be placed in the lap of eternity as it symbolizes the heavenly garden. Therefore, the tomb gardens of the Mughals were conceptualized as earthly versions of the Gardens of Paradise.
The foundation of the Charbagh (four gardens) was laid to the north of the Munavvar Bagh (another Mughal garden of those times). However, with the decline of the Nawabs, the glory of these gardens also diminished and their purpose too.
British were now administratively quite focused after the rebellion of 1857-58. The focus had changed from military to administrative. This was the time when British engineering interventions came to India and great deal of public utility projects took shape, such as roads, bridges, railway stations, factories, post-offices, public-parks et al. It was then in Lucknow, when a plan was laid out for a large railway station here. The piece of land, situated between the Mohammed Bagh and the Aish Bagh was identified by the British administration for this purpose. In lieu of the land acquired for building a railway station, the residents and a few royal family members of Nawabs residing here were allotted lands and homes at the Purani Imli area of Maulviganj locality. The place was subsequently changed to railway station by the British, which it is now and still referred as Charbagh.
Before Charbagh Railway Station came into existence, it was the Aishbagh railway station which operated as the major rail-link to Lucknow.
Charbagh is considered as one of the most beautiful railway stations in India. In fact, Charbagh is more than a railway station. It is an institution capturing a history of a century and boasts off a spectacular architecture. It is the main railway station of the city of Nawabs whose structural designs charms anyone who ever visit the junction.
The foundation of Charbagh was laid on 21st March, 1914 by Bishop George Herbert and it was in 1923 when this railway station was re-constructed. This railway station was built at the cost of around 7 million rupee. On August 1 in the year 1925, C.L. Colvin, of The East Indian Railways built the turret inside the same building where one can find a casket containing a coin of those days and a newspaper of the same day as a memorabilia.
The building was designed by J.H. Horniman as a blend of Indo-British style of architecture. Painted in red and white, the structure exemplifies beauty of its own and looks like a grand palace from outside.
The aerial view of the railway station appears like a chess board with each of its turrets and domes that look like chess pieces on the board. One of the most striking features in the architecture of this railway station is the water reservoirs which are beautifully hidden inside the façade being covered by curves. Another fascinating fact about the architecture of this railway station is its acoustic marvel. This being one of the busiest railway stations with innumerable trains crossing and stopping by the station, the outside remains silent.
Charbagh is the place where Mahatma Gandhi for the very first time met Jawahar Lal Nehru and took part in the opening session of the Congress Legislature held at Charbagh itself from 26 December 1916 to 30 December 1916, and put forward his proposal to put an end to the sending of Indian labour abroad. On his second visit to Lucknow, during months of March – April in 1936, Mahatma Gandhi again visited the station to attend another session of Congress Legislature which took place here.
The famous Sufi shrine, Khamman Peer Baba Mazar is located here. It is a 950-year old shrine dedicated to Muslim Saint Shah Syed Qayamuddin. Architecture of the Mazar is spectacular and a mosque is also located within the campus. Colourful, golden edged Chadars (sheets) are sold outside the shrine, which devotees have been offering for centuries as a mark of respect and thanksgiving to the Peer Saheb. It’s a quiet place, except on Thursday, thousands of devotees, irrespective of religion throng the shrine to seek blessings of the ‘peer’ (saint).
An old railway engine also stands majestically parked near the exit gate of the station, reminding the visitors of the times when steam engines chugged through.
Lucknow is known for its Ganga–Jamuni Tehzeeb (this term denotes Composite & Secular culture), so how come Charbagh be left out on this aspect. Famous Hanuman Temple is also located here, just outside the main building of the station, which attracts devotees in large number every Tuesday and Saturday.
Although, the city has other railway stations too like Aishbagh, Alamnagar, Amausi, Badshah Nagar, City Station, but none as beautiful and historic as the Charbagh, the major and the heritage railway station of Lucknow.
Tornos conducts special interest tours of Charbagh Railway Station covering its architectural, administrative and historical aspects. Though Charbagh is not a part of general tour itineraries but on request may be included.
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