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Insider’s guide to... Sophia College

The all-girls college in Breach Candy used to be a royal residential mansion. It even housed the third president of the Indian National Congress in the pre-Independence era

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Apr 21, 2016 18:36 IST
As told to Oindrilla Gupta
Sophia College for Women used be a residence for royals
Sophia College for Women used be a residence for royals(Photo: Aalok Soni/HT)

The all-girls college in Breach Candy used to be a royal residential mansion. It even housed the third president of the Indian National Congress in the pre-Independence era.

What stands today as Sophia College in the bylanes of Breach Candy, was not built to be an educational institute. The structure was home to the Maharaja of Bhavnagar till 1937. He used it as his summer home to escape the heat of Saurashtra, Gujarat. Now, the mansion-turned-college lends itself to cinematic use, courtesy its neo-Classical architecture, characterised by the use of geometric design, an abundance of columns and blank walls. Ahead of the college’s platinum jubilee celebrations in June later this year, the former principal Dr (Sister) Anila Verghese takes us around the structure.

The spiral staircase takes one to the principal’s office on the first floor and to the main building. The staircase is made of marble. The banisters are authentic Burma teak, which is as old as the college (Photo: Aalok Soni/HT)

Did you know?

>> The plot of land on which the college stands today was gifted to a Parsi family — the Ashburners — by the East India Company in the early 19th century. They built an enormous mansion on this land and called it the Somerset House after Sir Henry Somerset, a commander-in-chief in the Bombay Presidency. The property was then acquired by Badruddin Tyabji, the third President of the Indian National Congress, in 1882.

Also read: Insider’s guide: The secret passages of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai

>> Eventually, the Maharaja of Indore bought the mansion from Tyabji and resided in it till 1937. He was the last royal to actually use the structure as a residence. The mansion was then sold to the Maharaja of Bhavnagar in the same year, who used it as a holiday home.

The multipurpose hall was once called the shed and was built in 1941. It was an open area with a single tree in the middle. Today, it houses a large mural, made by the students in collaboration with a New York-based artist Joel Bergner and local artist Krishna Sharma (Photo: Aalok Soni/HT)

>> The residential structure was first used for educational purposes when the Society of the Sacred Heart bought the property from the Maharaja of Bhavnagar in 1940. Mother Catherine Andersson and served as its first principal.

>> Ever since its establishment, the college has seen a lot of structural additions. For instance, the science building was constructed when the college turned 50 in 1967. Then, in 1969, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi laid the foundation stone of the polytechnic building.

Also read: Insider’s guide to… Kalbadevi

>> The Burkha Stand has existed since the early ’70s for Muslim girls to come and hang their burkhas before going for lectures.

>> The central lawn had a balustrade — a railing put around the lawn, which was surmounted by four Greek statues — ancient Greek sculptures that represent the battles, mythology and seasons of the Greek civilisation. The statues were eventually sold off because of a high cost of maintenance.

The Chapel and the parlour, situated on the first floor of the college, have seating arrangements for visitors and retain antique furniture such as vintage sofas and centre-tables, also made from Burma teak (Photo: Aalok Soni/HT)

>> Next to the Chapel is a bell placed on an antique table, which is still rung by the residing Sisters as an indication that mass is about to begin.

>> Now used by students for planning college festivals, the den was once a staff dining room. The corridor leading towards the central lawn used to be lined with candle-lit chandeliers during Badruddin Tyabji’s stay, giving it a royal feel.

>> The library houses a rugged-looking, fat dictionary called the Random House Dictionary which has been there since 1967. The library also has a collection of archival maps of Mumbai which were used as teaching material till approximately the late ’70s.

Fact file

Where: Sophia College For Women, near Raymond’s showroom, Bhulabhai Desai Road

Call: 2351 2642