Western Designs in Lucknow- Constantinople of the East: Interiors- Exterior of Oriental Luxury Navina Jafa Follow: @navinajafa

Private tour Lo Martinere College Lucknow

Teaser: The exotic character or the heritage of Lucknow is not limited to the history of Nawabs, or the revolt of 1857. Lucknow’s historical frame incorporates a riveting account of the Western designs displayed in Architecture, garden landscapes, and interiors. The article critiques the evidence and the creation of the Luxury of Oriental-Western Lifestyle in Lucknow.

It is challenging to break stereotype tourism associated with Lucknow a city whose heritage presentation and tourism experience are framed within two dominating themes – the first comprises of the Exotica of the Persian Nawabs (Maharajas). It is a narrative on the opulent decadent lifestyles of Oriental rulers, their cuisine, mannerisms, language, poetry, and creative expressions. The second account relates to the preoccupation with the Revolt of 1857 (called by the British the Indian Mutiny). The article traces the manner a city defined by a regional power charted a fascinating specific identity that involved incorporating intriguing elements of Western designs and architectural features; cultural elements that are part of the inherent heritage identity of Lucknow city that has changed or is changing but continues to retain the thread of the Western Aesthetics lending to the multiple Cultural layers of Lucknow.

 Nawabs & Late Baroque Courts

The weakening of the Mughal Empire in the 18thc propelled regional powers like Awadh to assert themselves. The process of the crystallization of the regional power identity was manifested in architecture and lifestyles. The Nawabs (the title of the rulers of Lucknow), Persian in origins had inherited an imagination of the Mughal splendor displayed in their cities, buildings, and facets of cultural heritage. The city of the Nawabs comprised of a horizontal collection of palaces, residential buildings, interspersed with squares, gardens, markets mirroring an organizational cadence reminding one of the Late Baroque Courts of Western of 18thc. The European Baroque courts aspired to bring in exuberance and grandeur that defied the contrasting austerity of the Protestant movement in Europe. The influences of the Western aesthetics had emerged in Lucknow as early as 18thc. Apart from the Nawabi Buildings of Imambaras,(congregational building of Shia Muslims to mark mourning rituals during the month of Moharram)  gardens and ornamental gates in stucco ornamentation called gajkari, it was clear that European influences crept into the creation of the regional identity to affirm the transition of the Nawabs from being warriors to refined courtiers. In 1775, the 4th ruler Nawab Asafu-ud-Daula shifted his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow. Situated along River Gomti, a major tributary of the Ganga, the location on the river not only provided the Nawabs a hold over a large territory of alluvial land but also monopoly over the riverine trade. The wealth of the Nawabs attracted several Europeans. The Nawabi city became a mesh of designs and embodiment of architectural styles Late Baroque – Rococo evident in a number of buildings of Lucknow. The rococo design characterized by ornamentation and dramatic effects aspires to create surprise and movement by injecting sculpted moldings, curvaceous scrolls.


An example is an arresting similarity between the mid 19thc entry gate of the Chota Imambara in Lucknow and the 16thc first Baroque façade of the Church of Gezu (Italy).


On the Left is the Entry of the Chota Imambara, & Rt: Church of Gesu Italy, 1st Baroque façade

The Making of the Oriental-Western Exotic

The energy of 18thc Europe was defined by the creation of an identity that referred to the Classical Greek-Roman past and came to be known as Neo-Classicism. Roman- Greek Mythological references along with Oriental experiences adorned decorative art, furnishing, tableware, and buildings. Like in the Tulip Period, ownership of material world became the fashion, style of the upward mobility and class. The period in England known as late Victorian and Edwardian period generated variety in cultural forms that were both flexible and mobile.  An important feature was the growth in the consumption and material cultural habits of local rulers of colonies such as the Nawabs of Lucknow. Their demand dictated supply, and this was evident in the growth of for example of the company F&C Osier of Birmingham who produced glass objects as decorative and consumption ware. The designs of which were associated with the exotic Eastern otherness. For instance, in 1874, the Osiers created the famed glass fountain for the Maharaja of Patiala. The Nawabs of Lucknow used Osier glassware and mirrors from Belgium in religious and domestic spaces.

mirrors      osler



Among the various artistic expressions that emerged in the 18thc was the art of the English ceramic master Josiah Wedgwood. In his factory, he began to produce a variety of new ceramic-ware and introduced new shapes that were defined by a new almost cameo glass look where the pastel colors in the background gave way to uplifted moldings of figures from the Classical Greek-Roman Myths. Wedgwood cream-ware soon became the favorite of royalty and upper-classes in Europe and interestingly made its way in Lucknow.

Augmenting European Influence in Lucknow: Claude Martin

Claude Martin, an 18thc Frenchman who traversed the Indian soil working in a different capacity, organizations and places accumulated wealth, and power and was able to build a trusted alignment with the Nawabs of Lucknow where he lived and died. His history has been painstakingly penned down by Rossie Llewellyn-Jones. Martin not only built elaborate buildings, but he also funded the Nawabs, and in his personal capacity was quite a Renaissance man who indulged in Hot-Air Balloons, puppet theatre, art collections, and libraries among other things.


The building Constantia which became his mausoleum is now the La Martinere boy’s school. The building boasts of Baroque towers, Neo-Classical rhythms in facades of buildings, Greek-Roman statues of Muses, and of course elaborate Jasper and other variety of Wedgewood designs.


The Imprints of Freemasonry Architectural Features:


Recalling Renaissance in 19th c Lucknow

Claude Martin, it appears could be also influenced by the Architectural ideas of the Free Masons (17th-18thc). The Freemason movement emerged as a fraternal secret assembly which grew as a network that drew several intellectuals of the time. Organized in the system of administrative and cultural institutions called lodges even today continue to attract politicians, philosophers, professionals, and artists. Past members of the Free Mason community include Oscar Wilde, Henry Ford of Ford Motors, Winston Churchill, Mozart, and George Washington among others. Today there are over 5 million Freemasons who believe that God is the great Architect of the Universe, and for their rituals, they use architectural and geometrical symbolism such as square and the compass.


Architectural Metaphors of Free Masons in Lucknow

occuli-3  wedgwood

The architectural metaphors of the Freemasonry are about visual grandness and dramatic effect of perspectives and revelation. For example, the presence of oval openings called oculi (which reflects geometry at play) in the La Martinere School serve to create a theatrical effect of revealing beckoning worlds lying beyond. The repeated evidence of the oculi communicating a narrative of a visual spectacle and movement seem to link Claude Martin having a Free Mason thinking.


European design  such as Baroque architectural features, twisted columns and dramatic effects of space and light is evident in palace complexes like Farhat Bakh (of Martin’s time), and buildings like the Dilkusha Kothi  which was built under the rule of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan was intended to be a Hunting lodge but later used as a summer home. The building surrounded by forest today has an extended garden. It was in the grounds of the Baroque building of Dil Kusha that Claude Martin launched his hot balloon venture. In the narrative of Imperialism, Gardens became almost laboratories which were used to experiment with botanical resources for the benefit of the Empire.  This is the history of the Lal Bagh Garden in Bangalore and many others were linked to the Kew Gardens in London.  Nawab Saadat Ali Khan interestingly became the man who instituted the Royal Garden which came to be the National Botanic Institute.

 Post-1857: Making of Colonial Lucknow: After winning over the Indian in the revolt/war of 1857 the British were determined to make Lucknow and other cities – ‘safe, hygienic and clean’ writes Veena Talwar Oldenberg in her iconic research ‘The Making of Colonial Lucknow’. This, for example, led to the expansion of the Cantonments in Lucknow, Kanpur, and Meerut to name a few. The Cantonments which were initially meant for servicemen and troops now integrated several kinds of built structures to accommodate civilians which included a range of Bungalow architecture. The Bungalows served the purpose of a British suburban villa marked by classical lining, huge lawns, and stables, the pitched roofs and high ceilings. In Delhi, the features of the Bungalows included columns called the Tuscan orders representing the might of the British Empire. The Tuscan columns are defined by simplicity and by a stoic essence that communicated the idea of power. The columns have shafts, base (round or square) and capital that remained unadorned.


Lifestyles, Designs, and Architecture of the Neo Nawabs:  To keep the city safe a strategy to build allies was adopted by the British. A part of this was cultivating loyal landed elites most who were not seen to be aligned with the family of the erstwhile Persian Nawabs.  These new power elites called the Neo-Nawabs acquired homes around Kaiser Bagh the former, elaborate palatial complex laid out by Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Lucknow.

Kaiser Bagh


Several families of the Neo Nawabs acquired family crests, many came to be called Raja (irrespective of being a Muslim or a Hindu). A number of them were invited to be part of the Princes’ Chamber held in Delhi, and still, others received honors, titles medals, and other decorations. Like the previous Nawabs, the Neo Nawabs too acquired a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. Their lifestyle combined oriental lavishness of the former Nawabs and acquiring of Western tastes. Their lifestyle was defined by a fondness for entertainment, acquired etiquette, mannerisms along with Western Cultural nuances that included furniture, interiors, and landscaping gardens.


The 1920s & Beyond:  The first half of 20thc several city elites and other middle-class sections in cities like Lucknow, Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, which included a significant population of Anglo Indians participated in a wide range of Western Leisure activities. These included Clubs, coffee houses, introduction to Western ballroom and dance music via gramophones disks and radio broadcasts.

The Cantonment in Lucknow was expanded yet just prior to the 2nd World War, “It (Lucknow) was considered a strategic military defense location because of the fear of bombing campaigns in Calcutta by the Japanese military. A large portion of the Allied Easter Command was moved inland and established in Lucknow to counter this threat. The size of the Cantonment grew” (Shope, Bradley: Anglo-Indian Identity, Knowledge and Power: Western Ballroom Music in Lucknow: Published in The Drama Review, Winter 2004) The growth of Western sensibilities, and presence of a greater foreign population in the city led to the fashionable marketplace- Hazrat Ganj one which provided of European goods and service.

Hazrat Ganj


Australia-American Connection: The Walter Burley Griffin Factor:

The presences of the American husband-wife Architect team of Walter Burley and Marion Mahon Griffin in Lucknow provides yet another narrative on Western sensibilities in the city. Walter Griffin was the designer of the Australian city of Canberra. In 1935, the couple arrived in Lucknow where Griffin spent his last 15 months and Lucknow became the place of his final resting. Griffin’s enchantment with orient along with his training of the progressive architectural school led him to create a vocabulary of confluence. Griffin designed the Tagore Library at the Lucknow University, the Zenana quarters in the palace of Raja Jehangirabad. His close bond with the House of Mahmudabad led him to design for the Raja a library and several other projects including ones in Ahmedabad.


Case Study of The Jehangirabad House:

The present Nawab Mohammad Jamal Rasul today struggles to fight for the Heritage Status for his Home was designed by Griffin. The present Nawab is attempting its sustainability by converting the property into a hotel. The Jehangirabad House building in Hazarat Ganj stands as a majestic reminder of the Nawabi British days. It showcases photographs that speak of the family connection with the Mughal Royals and high society lifestyle which enabled them to host the likes of Jackie Kennedy.

A small note by the family describes: “The exterior of the palace is symmetrical”.  The Jehangirabad House in Lucknow reflects strains of the Majestic Mughal Architecture combining the Awadh identity, with domes and ornate floral motifs.


The Interiors: The interior plan of the Jehangirabad House building is along the ‘Fibonacci principle’. The Fibonacci is a mathematical concept of introducing an arrangement of the sequence where the sum of two numbers precedes the next for example – 0, I become 2, then 1, 2 become 3, and 2, 3 becomes five. This sequential pattern is evident in the interior planning of the Jehangirabad House where one experiences opening of spaces and fascinating perspectives of a journey within a home.

This planning is complemented by a mesh of oriental, European interiors. An elaborate tile flooring from Sindh that gives a look of a carpeted floor along with Edwardian furniture and Osier lampshades of Ships among other things conveys a stately character.


The General Electric Fans: Additionally, the interiors of the Jehangirabad House house three fans standing independently on a pole. Produced by the American General Electric Company the fans have three inverted blades and a system of direct current. Such fans are also to be found in the Indian Parliament House in Delhi.


As one moves further into the house, the interior drawing room has charming patio spaces, and walls are adorned with original miniature paintings alongside with having had personal links. Presence of which communicates the high flying lifestyle of the landed Oriental flashy aristocrats of Lucknow.

Conservation – Heritage Presentation: The Western thread represented in the Anglo Indian lifestyle in Lucknow lives on in the environment of the estate of the La Martinere School, the Ram Advani Bookshop to name a few. But new globalized shops have emerged in the elite Hazrat Ganj Market and tucked in one corner are new spaces the Cafes like Cherry Tree Café in the famed Habibullah Estate. Yes, tourism narrative of the city has the potential of expansion such that it incorporates the multilayers like the story of Western designs and lifestyles. However, what remains important is the manner in which tourism strategies allow tradition bearers such as the Nawab of Jehangirabad. Mahmoodabad to conserve their heritage to sustain and retain echoes of the character of the city famously called the Constantinople of the East which is certainly not monochrome but is rich and a delight for an explorer who sets out to relish their senses.








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