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How Archaeological Survey of India is conserving Lucknow’s iconic Rumi Darwaza, inch by inch

By, Lucknow
Jan 30, 2024 07:54 AM IST

A dedicated team of archaeologists has given a fresh lease of life to the 18th-century structure of the Nawabi era in Lucknow’s Old City area

The pride of Lucknow and the gateway to its heritage, the iconic Rumi Darwaza in the Old City, is getting a fresh lease of life – inch by inch -- after having been in poor shape for decades.

Restoration work under way at the Rumi Darwaza in Lucknow. (HT Photo)

Once the work is completed, the about 80-foot-high structure, built in 1784 by Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula, will stand in a refurbished hue as a glowing testament to Avadh’s famed architecture.

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Restoration of the edifice, which is synonymous with the Nawabi era, was taken up by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) almost a year ago.

Relying almost exclusively on traditional methods and using basic home material like pulses, jaggery, and eggs, among others, to make lime mortar, experts have stuck to the task, which is set to be completed by June or July this year.

Already, work on the east facade of the gate facing Bada Imambara has been completed. Restoration of the west facade facing the clock tower is still on.

The gate’s poor condition compelled ASI to take up the work.

“The structure was in bad shape for five decades. There were scores of cracks. When we scratched them further, they were found to be even bigger,” said Aftab Hussain, superintending officer, ASI, Lucknow circle, as HT visited the site to understand the intricacies of the work being done.

“Lime mortar was made with multiple things such as ‘babool’ juice for adhesive, vigna mungo pulse, homemade jaggery, batasha (sugar sweet), eggs without the yolk, and fine jute,” Aftab Hussain said. Lime mortar was prepared in a soaking pit, he added.

The estimated cost of the restoration is around 45-50 lakh, he said.

As the Rumi Darwaza gets a fresh look, its new colour is not artificial, but the hue of ‘Surki’ mortar, which is finely powdered burnt clay. Free from any admixture, or impurities, it provides strength and is also cheaply available in the market.

THE PROCESS

Restoring the structure was not as easy as it sounds. The team had to do research and go through a lot of documentation. Initially, restoration was pending as permission to stop traffic was awaited.

“However, this time, the local administration, including the divisional commissioner and the district magistrate provided all the necessary help and coordination, diverting traffic from the Rumi Darwaza to enable ASI to start conservation work properly,” Hussain said.

“After we were granted permission, we first started documenting it (the structure), which involves photographing every part and also drawing the edifice,” the ASI superintending officer said.

These processes took a minimum of four-five months.

“It was followed by erecting iron scaffolding (with over 1000 pipes) and then preparing mortar in a pit,” he said.

“To maintain the restoration work without altering the old design, we took an impression of every motif of the Darwaza using butter paper,” Aftab Hussain added.

CHALLENGES

As the work began, the team found decades-old cracks when old plaster was removed. The cracks were found to be bigger than they appeared. “We first used stainless steel clamps for stitching those cracks followed by three-four layers of plasters after stucco work,” he said.

“The work is so fine that it is difficult to identify now if any cracks (still) exist,” he added.

EXHIBITION PLANNED

Aftab Hussain said an exhibition will be held in February to showcase the entire restoration work to highlight the effort made to save the structure. Apart from Rumi Gate, other heritage structures of 22 Uttar Pradesh districts that come under ASI or are undergoing restoration will be displayed.

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