Sunday, 27 February 2011

Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

The Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is one of the best known heritage buildings in Mumbai. It is a world heritage site classified and recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Today, it is almost a cinematic cliche to represent Mumbai by using an image of Mumbai CST. It currently serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways.

If city historians are to be believed, the site at which the station stands today is associated with the very origin of Mumbai as a city. The city of Mumbai originally derives its name from the Goddess Mumbadevi or Maha Amba. The earliest temple dedicated to Goddess Mumbadevi is believed to have stood at the very place where the station now stands. It was demolished by the Persian invader Mubarak Shah and was reconstructed in 1317. It was again demolished by the Portuguese in 1760. To save the temple from further destruction, it was shifted to its present location in Kalbadevi.


The Victoria Terminus derives its name from Queen Victoria because the station was formally inaugurated in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The name of the station was changed to its present name in honour of the Maratha prince Chhatrapati Shivaji in 1996. Its abbreviations CST and VT are still popularly used by commuters and locals. It is the busiest station in India presently catering to a large number of commuters and as well as a terminal for long distance trains terminating in Mumbai. 

The Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in India, blended with themes deriving inspiration from Indian traditional architecture. It is designed by the famous British architect Fredrick William Stevens and the free Gothic feeling is remarkable for the excellence of the carvings with which it is covered. The work on the station began in May 1878 and was completed exactly ten years later in May 1888. The offices housed in CST alone cost Rs. 16,35, 562 and the station cost Rs. 10,40,248 excluding the railway tracks. The original plan for the Victoria Terminus was intended to accommodate just the offices and the main station. Since 1887, additional buildings at adjoining sites have also had to be erected. One of the buildings "Annexe" opposite the main line station was used as a hospital during the World War-I. It now houses the headquarters of the Central Railway. 

The new mainline station which caters to long distance mail and express trains was built with very simple decoration at a cost of Rs. 10 lakh which took nearly two-and-a-half years to complete. The additions were so designed as to harmonize with the architectural magnificence of the building constructed in 1887 and to create a composite budget. The architect of the new building was Percy Wilson, an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

As the then General Manager D.S. Burns quoted: "He (Percy) has designed a building which is pleasing and satisfying in its appearance, meets fully the modern requirements of a mainline station and which, while in style entirely different from the famous old Victoria Terminus building, yet in no way clashes with it." The Victoria Terminus has been consistently described in literature as the jewel of Mumbai in different contexts. As The Wonder Book of the Railways notes: "In India, some of the stations are almost like palaces, notably those of the East Indian Railway at Howrah in Calcutta and the Victoria Terminus of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway." Jan Morris in his travelogue "The Spectacle of Empire" wrote: "... And the imperial railways were most of all in India. The grandest of the Indian Railway stations, Victoria Terminus in Bombay, was thought to be by connoisseurs to be the grandest station anywhere."

The British writer Gillian Tindall in her book "The City of Gold: A Biography of Bombay" eloquently described VT as: "First came the venetian secretariat, then the Gothic university library and the French university hall, between the great clock tower--the white pinnacled law courts follow, then the post and telegraph offices in miscellaneous Gothic. But the jewel of Bombay is the Victoria station." 

The man driving a rattling taxi or the harried commuter probably has never wavered in his appreciation of these massive and iconic buildings in Bombay which are admired as if they were ancient Mughal palaces. Perhaps, to the man on the street, they are!  

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