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France Heritage - Photography Exhibition


France Heritage - Photography Exhibition


Inauguration: 19 February 2013, 7:00 pm
Open for Public View: 20-25 February 2013, 11:00 am - 8:00 pm


A photographic voyage of French heritage in India
with Anay Mann, Gigi Scaria, Rishi Singhal, Serena Chopra, Isabel Saij along with Jean-Pierre Dubois

«Glimpses of France are still visible in the form of buildings along the Strand, city gates with inscriptions of ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’ as well as the rich merchant houses of the Bengali zamindars»

France Heritage is a photography project built around the labour of love of young Indian conservation architect, Ms. Aishwarya Tipnis, who has made a first attempt to map French inspiration in Indian architecture. Drawing from this research, photographers Anay Mann, Gigi Scaria, Serena Chopra, Rishi Singhal, Isabel Saij along with Jean-Pierre Dubois revisited French built and intangible heritage in India in 2012 and brought to life France in India in an exciting journey bringing back with them their own stories. Their work, under the curatorship of photographer Anay Mann, has taken shape of an exhibition around this incredible slice of Indo-French history. The idea is not only to showcase France’s connections with India and the legacy left behind but also to throw up questions related to conservation and artistic and social and other aspects.

Be these the French and Islamic architectural styles of the Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad, or the association between Le Corbusier and Shodhan House in Ahmedabad, or the rapidly changing built heritage landscape in Chandernagor, or again the Moorish Mosque in Kapurthala built by French architect M. Manteaux and the Jagatjit Singh Palace (now the Sainik School) with its architecture based on the Palace of Versailles and Fontainbleau, or down south from the forts of Gingee and Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu to Tipu’s Summer Palace in Bangalore, the challenges were many, but the photographers returned with their own understanding of this rather quaint and lesser known heritage of India.

The French East India Company (La Compagnie Française des Indes Orientales) maintained independent trading posts from the 17th to the 20th century in Pondicherry, Chandernagore, Mahe, Yanam and Karaikal. The French brought to India a new way of life, trade, governance, military warfare techniques, creating a cultural diversity which we now define as shared cultural heritage. The tangible built heritage varies from forts and military installations, public buildings, residential buildings, public squares, urban artifacts and even urban city planning. Intangible influences on culture include education systems, trade, art, design, interiors and culinary traditions.

French heritage in India is multifaceted and presents opportunities for both development of tourism and conservation and restoration.


The French Embassy / Institut Français en Inde and the photographers convey their warmest wishes and thanks to the following people and institutions without whose advice, support and help, the exhibition would not have been possible.

Ms. Aishwarya Tipnis, Mr. Rohit Bal, The owners and management of Chowmahalla Palace, The Archaeological Survey of India, The Sainik School Kapurthala, Mr. Dhritabrata Bhattachariya, Ms Neline Mondal, Ms. Basabi Pal, Dr. Bhaskar Das, Mr. Saibal Das, Ms. Pinaki De, Mr. Sapnendu Kar, Ms. Anuradha Narayan in Bangalore, Prof. Kulbhushan Jain, Prof. R.J. Vasavada, Mr. Chaitanya Dev Jhala, Mr. Abhinav Shukla, Mr. Nandkishore Shodhan, Mr. Anand Sarabhai, Ms. Manvita Baradi, Ms. Sara Keller, Ms. Suchitra Balasubramaniam, Mr. Malhar Dhruv, Mr. Jigar Purohit, Mr. Philippe Martin, Mr. Chintan Pandya

Isabel Saij and Jean-Pierre Dubois dedicate the project in the memory of Ambassador André Lewin, who was keenly interested in the France Heritage project, but who passed away in October 2012. André Lewin has been Ambassador to India from 1987 to 1991 and he remained an ardent EU-India diplomat besides a brilliant humanist and a seasoned diplomat with a genuine commitment for global peace and cooperation.


Gujarat / Rishi Singhal

French influence on built-form in Gujarat can be traced back to the 17th century, when France became the last of the then major maritime powers of Europe to enter India. A large contingent of warships and trading ships under the command of Francis Caron accompanied by Marcara, a native of Ispahan reached India in 1667 and set up the first French factory at Surat in 1668. The British and Dutch East India companies had already established their presence in India by then, and gave strong competition to the French. Due to this rivalry, and mismanagement within their system, the French started suffering serious setbacks and by first quarter of the 18th century, the factories at Surat were abandoned. A majority of these factories and other buildings were destroyed by the British as their stronghold on the region grew. Whatever was spared, could not withhold the onslaught of time, and fell apart over the years. However, since Surat over the years grew as an international port town, one can notice a very strong European influence in the house-form and motifs in facades, especially in old Surat and Rander.

The next wave of French influence in Gujarat swept through many parts of Saurashtra towards the late 19th century with a new trend in the princely class of innumerable kingdoms that dotted Saurashtra then. Often young princes were sent to Europe by their families to imbibe 'cultured' etiquette and enable them to move around with the ‘white’ class. London, and Paris were two of the most favoured destinations, and living in Paris particularly was considered more fashionable. Several of these princes, after spending many years living in Paris returned to the region and then attempted to give their states a ‘Parisian’ character.

Dhoraji stands out categorically in this respect. A small, sleepy town between Gondal and Porbandar, Dhoraji went through major transformation in early 20th century. Its then ruler H.H. Bhagwat Sinhji lived in France for many years, and was so enamoured by Paris that he re-planned Dhoraji based on town planning of Paris by Baron Haussmann in the previous century. There was hardly any vehicular traffic in Dhoraji in 1920's but he laid 72 feet wide roads, street squares, vistas, and majestic buildings emulating Paris; a fine example of urban planning even by today’s standards.

Rajmahal Palace in Wadhwan presents another case where the architecture of the palace borrows heavily from the French Baroque and Rococo styles. It was built by H.H. Bal Sinhji Jhala in 19th century after his return from France. He was so influenced by French design and workmanship that he invited 50 artisans from France to work on this palace. Unfortunately, a few of them contracted malaria and died, and the rest left in panic thinking it was some kind of plague. Some part of the darbarceiling still remains unfinished since then. The velvet used in tapestries was specially built on order in France, as were many other ornate articles in the palace.

Gujarat’s tryst with France continued well into the modern era, when in the early 1950’s the rich textile mill owners of Ahmedabad invited internationally acclaimed French architect Le Corbusier to design several buildings in Ahmedabad. Corbusier worked on plans of 5 buildings in the city, out of which 4 were eventually built, namely Ahmedabad Textile Mill Association, Sanskara Kendra, Shodhan Villa, and Sarabhai Villa. These starkly Modern buildings, built in exposed concrete stood out in the city’s landscape, and later spawned a multitude of structures in the city, influenced by their aesthetics, and perhaps function.

Pondichery / Isabel Saij

Approaching in slow motion , suddenly.
Floating or languorous. A restful, rectilinear, shaded sensation.
The feeling of being in suspension
Strangeness of a city protected from the city, as if disconnected, removed from agitation, effervescence, frenzy.
Or almost.
High walls, gates, and porches of opulent houses. Refuges.
Oasis of tranquillity, peace, freshness, yet ephemeral.
Hidden fragments of habitat, of places visible only through foliage,
which allow only a furtive glimpse of these luxurious retreats, just a hint of the interiors.
A tangle of terraces, balconies, pillars, columns, galleries, courtyards.
The footprints of time, too, of scratches, flaking paint, rust.
Dilapidated, crumbling walls, windows capitulating to the invasion of plants

Translating these perceptions, this diffused feeling, this near confusion on looking at embedded layers, the archaeology of passages and long-ago sojourns
Fleeting impressions. Dampness.
The feeling of being an intruder.
Time stopping, to the present moment, under the sting of the sun.

Hyderabad – Kapurthala - Lucknow / Anay Mann

Raymond’s tomb, Hyderabad / Hyderabad, after the Mughals, had been ruled by the Asif Shah dynasty, until its accession into the democratic India. During the rule of Nizam Ali Khan, in 1786 the French adventurer Monsieur Raymond was employed in the military as a soldier who soon rose to become a General and was responsible for starting the Gunfoundry. Upon his death, as a mark of respect, a conical structure known as Raymond’s tomb was built near his tomb at Moosarabagh. It has his initials JR engraved on a black granite tombstone.

Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad / The Asaf Jahi rulers were great patrons of literature, art, architecture, culture & jewelry collection. They were prolific builders and gave the state of Hyderabad various Architecture landmark buildings. One of these the Chowmahalla Palace, became the seat of power and the residence for the Nizam’s. The palace is unique for its style and elegance. Building of the palace began in the late 18th century and over the decades a synthesis of many architectural styles and influences emerged. This palace consists of two courtyards, southern courtyard and northern courtyard. They have elegant palaces, the grand Khilwat (the Durbar Hall), fountains and gardens. The older part of palace was built in Neo Classical style and consists of Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal and Aftab Mahal.

Jagatjit Palace, Kapurthala / Jagatjit Palace (now known as the Sainik School) in Kapurthala is a remarkable building commissioned by Maharaja Jagatjit Singh. French architect M. Marcel who was inspired by Chateau de Versaille and Fontainbleau, tried to model the palace in a similar manner. The palace was built in renaissance style with a sunken park in the front and a big white marble fountain in the center. Its plaster of Paris figurines and painted ceilings represent the finest features of French art and architecture. The interior decoration of the palace, which is unique of its kind in India was carried out by expert European and Indian workmen. The great Darbar Hall is one of the finest in India. Remains of imported artworks from France, Italy, Holland can still be seen.

Moorish mosque, Kapurthala / The Moorish Mosque in Kapurthala was built by the French architect, Monsieur M Manteaux. It was apparently build as a replica of the Grand Mosque of Marakesh, Morocco.

La Martiniere, Lucknow / Major-General Claude Martin, an officer in the French and later the British East India Company acquired his fortune while serving Asaf-ud-Daula, the nawab wazir of Awadh, and was reputedly the richest Frenchman in India. Constantia, the palatial building which now houses the Boys' College, was built in 1785 as Martin's country residence. Historians believe that the house takes its name from the school motto Labore et Constantia (Work and Constancy) which represents Martin's personal philosophy. There is a more romantic, though unproven, notion that the building was named after Constance, a young French girl who was supposedly Martin’s first love.

Constantia stands on a landscaped terrace overlooking what was once a lake, from the centre of which rises a solid fluted column with a Moorish cupola known as 'the Laat'. The monument is about 120 feet high, and is thought either to be a lighthouse or a marker for the grave of Claude Martin's horse. The building is constructed in an unusual mix of styles. The rooms are decorated in bas-reliefs, arabesques and other Italian styled ornamentation. The plaques which depict classical and mythological subjects are thought to be of local construction. The building has been described as, "part Enlightenment mansion, part Nawabi fantasy, and part Gothic colonial barracks. Its facade mixes Georgian colonnades with the loopholes and turrets of a medieval castle; above, Palladian arcades rise to Mughal copulas." The central tower has bridge links and the entire central range has a strange array of statues dominated by two huge lions whose eyes were supposedly lit by red lanterns." The founder, Claude Martin, is commemorated with a bust in the French-style Floral Garden.

Gigi Scaria / Postcards: greetings from history

Among the French architectural projects in India I was most fascinated by the fort structures, which they built in association with the local kings. Structures of defence have been an important gateway to the history itself. When we observe a fort structure, apart from the brilliance of technical details and the geographical positioning it brings to us a sense of ‘lost and found’ narratives from an era, which we have never witnessed. Therefore it opens up a range of possibilities to visual, oral and written histories to reconstruct the narratives in ‘defence ‘of the historical details it possesses. In the sense defending a territory meant metaphorically defending the possibilities of a narrative, which took place in a protected geographical territory. Invaders who barge in the territory by force or curiosity bring their own narratives to declare a war against the protected land. Through a series of photographs from three different locations in south India my attempt is to invade a territory with different time and space. Given the magnitude and the dynamism of history such attempts can become futile in its first place. But history has always been presented and preserved by the extended minds from distant times. So let me take this chance to present a set of postcards and send them to our beloved ones who live in the immediate future.

Chandernagor / Serena Chopra

The Grand Trunk Road stretched 37 kms from Kolkatta to Chandernagor . My Innova taxi entered this former French Colony through its back door of Mankundu near the railway station. Hutments and shacks lined the roads and it was a stretch of imagination to think that this had been a French settlement in the 18th century. Sign boards on shop exteriors and government buildings boasted of a variety of spellings for this erstwhile French trading post: Chandernagor/Chandernagore/Chandannagar/Chandernagar! Indo-French indeed.

My first stop was to be Neline and Ujjal Mondal's house, Mondal Bari (Bari means mansion or house in Bengali). She directed me to come to Gondalpara. We wound our way through alleyways that crisscrossed each other, with the 'ghats' on one side and houses on the other, that necklaced numerous gigantic ponds that dotted the Ville Noir section of Chandernagore.

Since the 18th century rich Bengali merchants had constructed town houses that were inspired by French architecture and I was excited to catch glimpses of such European architecture on the Chandernagore streetscape. I finally located the imposing and beautiful French mansion of Mondal Bari, which was constructed in 1752. An impressive and ornate facade led to a courtyard reminiscent of a French House. The east side of the courtyard was the 'thakurdalan' or the house of the deity, which was raised on a high plinth and decorated with intricately carved columns. A tour of their house highlighted an urgent need for repair and restoration. 'Missimah' (Neline's aunt in law) rewarded me with a bold look and smile as she posed between ornate columns in the courtyard. The European elements of deep verandahs with timber louvered screens on the first floor led to bedrooms with high ceilings, colored glass windows, aged European fans and light fittings. An 18th Century four poster bed was adorned with a mosquito net. In the next room a pair of tall 18th century golden framed mirrors guarded a carved wooden console stacked with bric-a-brac and cobwebs. The disarray could not mask the richness of the history of Mondal Bari.

After digging into a packed lunch I was escorted by Dr Bhaskar Das to the Strand that straddles the Hooghly River. I was instantly transported to 1673 when the French obtained permission from Ibrahim Khan, the Nawab of Bengal to establish a trading post on the right bank of the Hooghly River. Bengal was then a province of the Mughal Empire. In 1730 Joseph Francois Dupleix was appointed governor of the city in whose time a considerable maritime trade took place. Dr Das said that Chandernagor for a time was the key centre for European commerce in Bengal. Local lore has it that the name Chandannagore was possibly derived from the shape of the bank of the river Ganges which is bent like a half moon (in Bengali 'chand' means moon and nagar implies the city).

The 1 km long Strand was busy and abuzz with tourists, students and local people. This stretch is perfectly endowed with all the elements of the past. The pavement is lined with tall European street lights and lush trees and its broad 23 feet wide road hosts many buildings of historical importance.

We visited The Chandernagor Museum and Institute, Saint Josephs Convent, The Sacred Heart Church and Patal Bari at one end of the Strand with its lower floor protruding into the Ganges River.
All these are icons of French architecture.

We then discussed my forthcoming visit to Chandernagor and Dr Das informed me that Chandernagore proudly hosts a major socio cultural event, the Jagaddhatri Puja in the month of November. He described how the whole town comes alive with processions, lights and artistic images of the four-handed goddess who is carried by the lion everywhere while an elephant lies at the feet of a lion.

I hope to be back in this town to hold and to stamp in memory, the French heritage this little town of 19 sq kms is crowned with.

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