Monthly Archives: March 2017

Heritage and Identity: Inversion in the Glamour of Exotic Lucknow Dr. Navina Jafa Follow—- @navinajafa; Subscribe –

Yes, the Elections have  happened in my amazing Uttar Pradesh. It is a state which has always thrown challenges and redefined political contours. It is a fascinating region which projects intriguing aspects of dynamic of  ‘Heritage & Identity’ Navina Jafa explores one such aspect which has become an inherent part of memory in public space.

navina La Martiniere Lucknow

Tourism in India was propelled forward by the campaign of Heritage is not merely about frozen landscapes; it is about ever-changing dynamics of cultural geographies representative of socio-economic and political change of, and in, a region. This article analyses the conspicuous urban spatial and visual insertions that have resulted in the creation of a new cultural heritage-scape in the city of Lucknow. This is in the form of plazas, memorial parks, streets, and statues to portray the identity of the Dalits, a term used for the lowest group in the Indian caste organization. The analysis specifically examines the socio-political implications of the Kanshi Ram Eco Garden in Lucknow.

The very mention of Lucknow evokes dreams of the heritage of refined etiquette, manifested in language, mannerisms, cuisine and  lifestyles of luxury-loving rulers,   of  the idea of sham-e-Awadh or  romantic evenings  when elegantly-attired nawabs with poetry on their lips  kept company with glamorous courtesans. Under Nawabs of Lucknow the city   was presented as the Constantinople of the East, an image  reinforced by the gateway in the city called the Rumi Darwaza.

rumi darwaza

In contemporary Lucknow, the cultural geography is infused with new features in the forms of public spaces and in other nuances of the tangible heritage. This challenges, or even mocks, the silent  architectural legacy of the  Nawabs, and visually there is a powerful statement of an inversion of the social structure in the city, where the Nawabs and their exotic culture are silent silhouettes of yesteryears. A new class has taken the center stage with the backing of a newly emerged political ideologue in power.  .

An entire canvas of the Dalit heritage was constructed with fervor under the political leadership of Mayawati, a four-term Chief Minister of the State of UttarPradesh. The heritage was created through constructing parks in different parts of the state, and by renaming towns with names associated with the Dalit  past. There was a feverish drive to claim an entire province and impose the collective identity of the marginalized communities whom Mayawati represented as a  leader.

With political power, she defiantly sought to break the shackles using public money to project their  social identity in open public spaces. Eyebrows were raised, and public criticism rose with equal hysteria. Yet, at the same time, the legacy of heritage of the Nawabs continued to be celebrated as the identity of the city; it continues to be sold as  its distinctive culture on the tourism map.  Both public memory and time are forgiving. After all the Nawabi heritage of Lucknow had also been constructed with public money with the intention to assert power by investing in tangible icons. Mayawati, and her mentor Kanshi Ram spearheaded the political movement through their Bahujan Samaj Party to represent the  Dalits – re-styled as Bahujan– to include all socially and educationally backward castes and communities. The fact that she is herself a Dalit and a woman  who  rose to be not once but several times  the head of the largest state of India, adds to the discourse on representation of the heritage of marginalized communities through democratic processes. The legacy –  her architecture, sculptures, renaming of  towns, and creation of humungous public spaces  is an important pitch in the discourse on Heritage and Identity.

pillar-2      mayawati

The Mayawati Parks are, at one glance, huge in scale, located on important roads and strategic urban sections of Lucknow and Noida in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Their planned visual space emulates the grandeur of Lutyens’ New Delhi, the capital of  British India from 1911 to 1947, intended to celebrate the ‘grand’ Empire juxtaposed against the grand city of Shahjahanabad . The pictures below illustrate the similarity of the Mayawati Parks with New Delhi. For example, the domed structure of  Rashtrapati Bhawan is reproduced in the Mayawati Parks. Similarly, there is the re-creation of the Great Place, renamed Vijay Chowk  with its distinctive fountains  in the design of the parks along with duplication  of rows of pillars with elephants on top, as they appear in the  Secretariat buildings flanking  the President’s House. The intended symbolism is clear: the replication is aimed at creating the architectural visual of the Empowerment of the Oppressed Classes. However, a distinct feature is the rows of elephants, the symbol of the Bahujan Party, which does not let the onlooker forget the political strategy behind the creation of this tangible heritage depicting the creation of a collective identity.



The next meaningful shared features in the Mayawati parks are the assemblage of symbols associated with Buddhism.  B.R.Ambedkar, the 20thcentury iconic Dalit leader who provided to the repressed castes a path for upward social mobility by himself converting to Buddhism, and then by inviting others of marginalized communities to follow the path of mass conversion through what is known as the Neo-Buddhist movement. Thus, the Mayawati parks abound with Buddhist architectural features, like the presence of the Harmika or the square railing in the parks that create an exclusive sacred space for the collective community. Movement to and in all the parks both inside and outside are controlled, which sends out the message that this sacred space is exclusive and demands respect. Then there are the domed buildings imitating those of the circular top of Buddhist stupas, pillars with the Ashoka Chakra(as testimony of imperial power) and again the presence of the elephants, a symbol associated with the birth of Buddha.

pillar -1


Lastly, the parks are punctuated with over-sized statues, many of them placed under Lutyen’s- styled canopies. The statues are of leaders and social reformers who worked for the betterment of the oppressed communities such as Jyotirao Govind Rao Phule, his wife Savitri Phule, his follower Sauji Maharaj, and  Periyar E.V. Ramasamy.  The statues also include those of Kanshiram and his protegee Mayawati, among others, who fought for the cause of the Dalits and are therefore  part of the constructed historical narrative.

Regarding the  statues, reference needs to be made to the traditional ethos of Indian sculptures where there is an entire aesthetics of creating the image of a great man, especially in the statue of the Buddha and related Buddhist and even Jain deities. These aesthetics incorporate 32 signs of a great man (MahapurushLakshnan). In the Mayawati parks, the idea of the Maha-purush (great man) is manifested in sheer size,  and in framing several statues in elaborate niches, canopies and stands, more in the line of the British statues in India. Quite frequently the statues are accompanied with brief narratives in a museum-like presentation. The functionality of these parks in creating the collective consciousness extends to their use  for public rallies, and community events and festivals associated with Dalit historical figures. For example, in the square called Parivartan Chowk, situated in the central part of the Nawab’s city, Kanshiram, together with Mayawati organized, in 1995, the PeriyarMela. Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, a political, social activist from the southern State of Tamil Nadu, is remembered fort having taken up the cause of social and gender discrimination through the Dravida movement challenging the exploitative Indo-Aryan social network.

periyar mela



The creation of such festivities continue to construct the idea of living intangible heritage and to the reasserting of the building the collective memory for marginalized communities. The parks are loaded with symbolism Maurice Halbwachs wrote about collective memories: “…when a group is situated in a certain space, it transforms it in its own image but also subjects and adjusts itself in a framework it has constructed in the image of itself that it forms the external environment and the fixed relations that the group sustains…the image permeates all layers of its consciousness decelerates and regulates its evolution…”[1]

It is interesting to examine the dynamics of design interpretation and symbolism in Manyawar Shri Kanshiram Ji Green (Eco) Garden named after the founder of the BahujanSamaj Party. Constructed on the major   VIP Road in Lucknow, on 112 acre of prized urban land, the park  was built with public money for  rupees 834 crore (almost 12, 00,000 US dollars),  and  designed by Jay Kaktikar of Design Associates.  The finest materials – sandstone, marble, and granite, bronze – have been used. There are solar panels that cater to the requirements of energy and light in the park.  Entry is controlled though tickets. There are two gates based on ‘Vaastu’, the canonical Hindu principles of architectural design. As one enters, there is a feeling of entering an alien world of wonder, a universe defined by colossal empty spaces. The use of granite and water channels creates a lighted illusion, while the mammoth structures are devised to generate a deliberate grandiose  architecture  in a framed time and space.

One can divide the organization of the park in three parts. First the built structures comprising pillars, statues, and domed buildings. They are placed with ample empty space around them and are interspersed with real shrubs which are presented as manicured shapes and not in their natural shape,thus adding to a surrealist environment.

Kansiram park - tree



The second part of the park has hothouses with designed rows of plants and stone paths of white round stones following the design of  a  Japanese garden. However, the pebbled path makes it quite difficult for the visitor to take a walk, and therefore restricts the movements of people inside the hothouses. Furthermore, the plants inside are largely hardy plants and of them the most evident are the blooms of Euphorbia Millii succulents.  Euphorbia Millii is supposed to be the plant used as the crown of thorns for Jesus symbolizing pain and suffering.  On the outside of the hothouse are creepers of sweet smelling jasmines. The creepers symbolize upward mobility and freedom, with added symbolism in the fragrance permeating the environment. Thus, while the visitor finds it difficult to walk inside the closed space of the hothouse, he is allowed to mingle in the directed and controlled space outside the house emphasizing through symbolism the present state of the communities.

Euphorbia Millii

garden hothouse



The third part of the garden is perhaps the most interesting. On a running elevated oval mound area, surrounded by water channels, are bronze statues of 25 kinds of animals. The amazing part of these metal sculptures is that even the trees around the animals are made of metal. The intriguing part of the metal zoo is the positioning of most animals: they mostly are set to look or face right to the large open central space. The animals are varied and yet what strikes the visitor is that while there are the more common animals (made of bronze) such as peacocks, bears, lions, hippos, there are the more exotic ones like giraffes and kangaroos and even dinosaurs.



The bizarre zoo compounds the almost hallucinatory quality of the park and takes the visitor by surprise.

zoo- 1 peacock



Kansiram park - animals- 1


It takes some time to be able to comprehend the detailed manner with which the socio-political symbolism translates itself in a public space using contemporary concern with ecology, and asserting a dreamlike reality of the heritage of a community identity, and creation of collective memory. Its location is a statement of resistance, and a continued reminder to mock the world that marginalized these classes, which have finally arrived in the center of socio-political theatre. This heritage space of the marginalized communities built with public money, and situated in the prized urban land, is a strong and defiant affirmation of a new reality.  And yet, everything in the park looks artificial, emphasizing the impossible situation that has become a reality – the reality of social inversion and an integral part of the exotic heritage of Lucknow, a statement of the pedagogy of the oppressed.

spaces in mayawati park

In conclusion, it can be said that the idea of heritage remains dynamic and is representative of ongoing social change in different contexts of time and space. It is not a frozen idea, and heritage interpretation and presentation presents a continuous challenge and commentary on societies.


[1] Halbwachs,Maurice, La mémoire collective, Paris 1950. English translation: The Collective Memory, New York, Harper & Row Colophon Books, 1980. Pg.132