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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Hidden Mughal-era artwork to be latest Red Fort attraction

This Mughal-era artwork — geometric and floral motifs in an 80-metre-long vaulted arcade called Chhatta bazaar — was hidden under multiple coats of whitewashing applied casually over the years as part of Red Fort’s maintenance and structural conservation work.

delhi Updated: Sep 19, 2018 07:44 IST
Parvez Sultan
Parvez Sultan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A worker cleans the mural adorning the roof of Chhatta bazaar, situated inside the Red Fort, on Wednesday.
A worker cleans the mural adorning the roof of Chhatta bazaar, situated inside the Red Fort, on Wednesday. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)
         

New Delhi

An almost a year-long exercise by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to restore a mural serendipitously discovered while cleaning the ceiling of a historic marketplace in Delhi’s Red Fort is on the verge of being completed and will be ready for visitors to see from next month, according to three senior officials familiar with the restoration work.

This Mughal-era artwork — geometric and floral motifs in an 80-metre-long vaulted arcade called Chhatta bazaar — was hidden under multiple coats of whitewashing applied casually over the years as part of citadel’s maintenance and structural conservation work. The ASI had forgotten about the mural’s existence, and discovered it last October when it began restoring the corridor that is lined by souvenir shops on both sides.

In addition to the mural, visitors to the Red Fort will be also have access to buildings constructed by the British during its 90-year-long occupation of the monument between 1857 and 1947. Four British-built barracks, which were under the control of the Indian Army since Independence and were inaccessible to visitors,are being converted into themed museums, said one of the officials cited above.

“The conservation of the painting on the roof of Chhatta bazaar may take another month. People coming to the fort after that will see Mughal-era art that was lying concealed for decades,” said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media. “We will hand over all four barracks by end of this month,” he added.

The four museums proposed to be set up at the barracks will be dedicated to the first war of independence in 1857, the Indian National Army led by Subhas Chandra Bose, India’s soldiers who participated in World War I, and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.

NK Pathak, ASI’s superintending archaeologist, Delhi circle, said that nearly 70% of mural has been restored and the remaining work will be completed in a few weeks. “Lime coats are being manually scraped of with precision, which is a time-consuming process. This is to ensure that the original design is not damaged. Once entire artwork is exposed, we will take measures to protect it. Hopefully, by mid-October, we will be able to finish the work,” Pathak said.

A third official said that around 30-35 experts from ASI’s science branch have been working tirelessly to restore the designs. “Chhatta bazaar’s passageway has bitumen, which is being replaced with red stone. We are also asking shopkeepers to remove encroachment and metal shutters. The shops will now have sliding glass doors. We will not allow any extensions. All efforts are being made to restore the market’s original look,” said the ASI official on condition of anonymity.

There are 32-arched two-storeyed bays on either side of the arcade. The shops, dating back to when the Red Fort was completed by emperor Shah Jahan in 1648, were meant for common people coming to the Mughal Durbar and the setting is a replica of a bazaar in Peshawar, according to historian Swapna Liddle.

The author of Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi, Liddle said that the market once had shops selling clothers and jewellery. It still draws buyers visiting the fort, but the shops now sell handicraft items, wooden articles, and other souvenirs.