Standing tall, in the heart of City of Joy, is the monumental Grand Old Lady – the Victoria Memorial (befittingly dedicated to the memory of the Grand Old Lady Queen Victoria, erstwhile Empress of the British Empire and the head of the British Indian dominion).
Designed by the British architect William Emerson (who later went on to design other iconic buildings such as the Crawford Market in Mumbai) and completed in 1921, this building, a marvel of Indo-Saracenic architecture, defines a very distinctive period of British dominion, and is probably the most prominent landmark of Calcutta after the Howrah Bridge.
This beautiful monument has several facets to it:
- Popular outing spot for Calcuttans ( for ages)
- Venue for art exhibitions
- A very well-maintained museum of art
- Venue for literary fests
- Well-known hotspot for romance (the Calcutta tradition in the 1970s being that if you were in love, you had to visit Victoria at least once!)
Spread over 64 acres, the Victoria Memorial lawns, still very well-kept, are a testimony to the importance of this monument to the history and culture of this city.
This was a favourite place for outings with Dad and Mom in my childhood.I remember I used to bring the pebbles from the lawns back to my house in my pockets as exhibits. And the delicious fried rice in the lawn restaurant (Bijoligrill) was a treat to look out for!
The fairy on the top of the monument has a tortuous story. When built, it used to revolve with the wind (a kind of weathervane), and later, diuse atrophy meant that it stopped doing so. The fairy’s movement was revived in 1985, and we saw it rotating for a few days, till it stopped again! Since then, its movement has been arthritically on and off, and despite many attempts and controversies; the fairy tale has not been revived lastingly.
In a city that is seeing the exponential growth of malls and skyscrapers, the Grand Old Lady is admittedly losing a bit of its sheen as a hangout place, especially among the well-to-do, who seek airconditioned and sanitized environs. But nevertheless, as an important edifice of history and architecture, Victoria Memorial has a very important place in this city. Indeed, just as another “Victoria” building , the Victoria Terminus , now the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, defines Mumbai (nee Bombay), the Victoria Mmeorial is a symbol of Kolkata. For sure, the Old Lady has inspired a lot of buildings in this country!!
The Sound and Lightshow at the Victoria Memorial, held from 6.15 p.m. 8.00 p.m, daily except Sundays, gives an important outline of Calcutta’s history.
The Victoria Memorial is also the venue of the much-awaited Apeejay Litfest, held in January every year. These pictures were taken at the time of the Litfest in Jan 2015. Cool, indolent winter, slanting rays of the sun during the day and glimmering of lights at night. Milling crowds, intellectual fodder, a marble edifice, greenery all around,dazzling lights and a dash of history- magic is created! That is the beauty of the Victoria Memorial.
The Grand Old Lady of Calcutta will never lose her charm. It better not, for what good is Calcutta/Kolkata without her very own marble-clad beauty?
You can find out more about Victoria Memorial at: