Qaiserbagh or Kaiserbagh

(Detailed Write-up)

Kaiserbagh Palace - Lucknow

Cloth Painting of Kaiserbagh, Lucknow. This painting is made when the this palace was at its bloom before being destroyed in 1857-1858.

Wajid Ali Shah, the last King of Oudh, who came to the throne in 1847, started to build the Qaiserbagh (also spelt as ‘Kaiserbagh’ or ‘Kaiser Bagh’ too) Palaces the year after his accession, intending to make them the eighth wonder of the world. The buildings were completed in 1850. Rumours had it that their cost exceeded eighty lakhs and that the area they covered was greater than that of the Tuileries and the Louvre put together. So eager was the King for quantity that, as with most of his inspirations, quality was forgotten. All that now remains of his enormous conception are buildings on three sides of a quadrangle.

Somewhere near the tennis courts of the Oudh Gymkhana Club stood the Jilan-khana, a gateway whence royal processions wound their way through dense crowds of applauding citizens. Another gateway led to the Chini Bagh ornamented with Chinese vases and decorations, the Lakhi Gate which as its name implies cost a lakh of rupees, the Kilo Khana, the Hazrat Bagh, the Chandiwali Baradari with its floor of polished silver, and many others now only names instead of grandiose buildings.

Wajid Ali Shah was fond of singing and dancing. He even dressed in female garments himself and danced before the ladies of the harem. Every year he acted in a play-always the same one.

One of his wives was chosen to represent Ghyzalah. and as she was beautiful, the honour of representing her was eagerly sought in the harem; others were dressed as fairies (referred as ‘Peris’) with silver wings. Another represented Raja Indra, the king of fairies of Hindu mythology. Others were dressed up as evil genii and their attendants with black ornaments, black wings and black faces. None wished to act these last parts, but at the expression of the King’s wishes none could refuse. The play was enacted in the silver baradari of the Kaiser Bagh palace in Lucknow, which was divided for the purpose into three compartments. One of these was fitted up as Raja Indra’s court, the pillars covered with silver and rich ornaments attached to the ceiling and walls. At night it was a blaze of light with chandeliers and mirrors. In the centre stood Indra’s throne, and there the lady representing him sat in state clothes in rich apparel and attended by crowds of ‘peris’.

Without, fountains of scented water played. The seats of the garden were gilded or silvered over to shine amid the flowers and fountains lit up during the day by the sun’s rays and at night by a myriad lamps. For ten days and nights this pageant continued. Another room was fitted up as a royal bedroom. A golden bedstead, a rich counterpane, a magnificent carpet, and golden furniture framed the beautiful Ghyzalah, her delicate limbs in gauze or muslin edged with golden tissue, her black hair shining with gems. On the tenth day, the King danced for the entertainment of the multitude and insisted upon the queen and Khas Mahal and other leading ladies of the court giving him presents of money.

The yellow buildings around the quadrangle are now the property of the Taluqdars of Oudh as town houses. Gateways on either side, bearing a resemblance to the crown surmounting La Martinière, are ornamented with the royal fish badge. Massive doors studded with curious iron plaques swing on rusted hinges. It is possible to walk for some distance along the flat roofs. The rooms within are long and not very lofty, with deep verandahs giving on the central court.

Many of the King’s most precious treasures (not to mention his harem numbering nearly four hundred, each of whom occupied a suite of rooms and had her own attendants) were housed in the Kaiser Bagh, and the mutineers made it one of their most formidable strongholds in 1857.

In the fighting at the Moti Mahal during the first relief the British troops were much harassed by fire from the Kaiser Bagh. The 78th Highlanders fought their way along the Hazratganj and suddenly found themselves on the flank of the enemy battery which was causing most of the trouble. The Highlanders made a rush to spike the guns before pressing on and joining the main column.

During the second relief musketry fire from the Kaiser Bagh again swept the ranks of the relieving troops. From November 20 to 22 the full force of British guns was turned on it. This was after the Residency had been evacuated by the women and children. By the 22nd three wide breaches had been made in the walls and the entire enemy resources were mustered at these points, for an assault was expected. Attention thus diverted from the Residency, shortly before mid-night the gallant little personnel of the Residency collected at the Bailey Guard gateway and silently filed out.

Early in March 1858 the enemy again fortified the Kaiserbagh with three lines of entrenchments including the canal. On March 13, the Sikhs attached to the British force penetrated into an outlying court of the Kaiserbagh. From the roofs of the houses they fired upon the men below, to drive them from the guns. This so weakened the defences that Napier and Franks held a rapid consultation and decided to concentrate their entire strength upon the Kaiser Bagh. During this attack Captain L. S. Da Costa, 56th Native Infantry, was killed. He lies buried near Major Hodson in La Martinière. Franks’ column attacked from the enclosure of Sa’adat Ali Khan’s tomb and joined the main body of soldiers, sailors, Gurkhas and Sikhs in the courts of the palace. The bulk of the attack was broken but armed men found refuge in the buildings, and every palace became a fortress. From the green Venetian blinds closing the apertures which pierce the walls in double rows, a stream of bullets poured into the square, so that the marble pavement was stained with the blood of Sikh and Briton.

“Building after building was taken and blood thirsty revenge and greed for gold glutted the avarice of the Sikh and the British soldier. Rough hands tore away the silk, velvet, brocade, laces and gems accumulated by the lights of the Harem; wrought silver plates were torn from the throne of some favourite mistress or queen; the monuments of western and eastern art were broken to pieces, and fragments of rare China and of crystal vessels strewed the floors. When night put an end to the pillage, the palace of the Kaiser had become a ruined charnel-house.”

Source : Historic Lucknow, Sidney Hay