Inside The Bombay Municipal Corporation Building
The BMC building in the south of the Mumbai city is mostly unnoticed. Explore this building from the inside
The city of Mumbai never sleeps. Trains leave the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Train Terminus each and everyday. People pour out of this building in floods, so very busy in their work.
This CST station building is undoubtedly a UNESCO World Heritage site. Fredrick William Stevens designed this incredible structure. Yet did you know, the Victoria Terminus, as it was called, wasn’t supposed to be the jewel. Fredrick William Stevens had built another building, he wanted to put emphasis on this building. This was Steven’s crowning glory.
The building that stands just opposite the CST station is famously known to be the Mumbai Municipal Corporation building. In our negligent knowledge of Mumbai’s rich heritage, we have looked past this building. It’s just another old building in the south of Bombay, or is it?
Last August, the BMC or MCGM headquarters were thrown open for the public to see. This happens very rarely if at all in India. So you have to grab the opportunity at once.
On an unbearably sunny Saturday, with no rainy clouds in view, I made my way to the MCGM heritage building, through the subway from CST station. I was excited to say the least. How would this heritage building be from the inside?
After waiting for permission to be let in, we went in. Oh god, oh god, isn’t that building a treasure!
Much like other neglected heritage buildings, the MCGM had been in a similar shape. They decided to restore the structure in 2008.
The story of this building starts in 1889. The construction contract was given to Vyankoo Balooji Kalewar. He took it upon himself to efficiently build this masterpiece of a building. He set his men to work and in approximately five years completed the entire construction work. In 1893, the BMC headquarters was open to the officials.
Furthermore, it is believed that the overall budget to build this building was estimated to be Rs. 11,88,082. The contractor Vyankoo Balooji Kalewar managed to finish the construction in Rs. 11,19,969. Saving Rs.68,000 might not mean a lot in today’s terms but it held huge value back then.
124 years ago, the BMC headquarters would have been an imposing structure. When travelling along the Hornby Road (DN Road) you would have to glance at it.
The plot that covers the building is a tricky one. It is triangular in shape and although it looks small, the campus is pretty wide.
Architect Fredrick William Stevens came up with a brilliant area plan. He decided to create a huge structure which would stare any passerby down. It would stand 20ft above its sister building, the Victoria Terminus station.
There was a slight problem which he faced. How to made the outer shell look huge but keep the interior human size?
Stevens chose the then in vogue, Neo-Gothic Victorian style architecture. The result was a nice blend between Indian architecture and Victorian Architecture. You can see the gargoyles and a huge dome standing evidence to the respective architectural styles.
Inside the Building
The outer shape of the stature is huge, what about the inside?
Surprisingly, everything scales down to be human sized once inside.
When our little party of three stepped inside, we were greeted by two mighty lions, not real ones of course! The lions stood one on each side of the flight of stairs. You have to hand it to the sculptor, the lions looked majestic in their stance.
The grand staircase lead us up. It broke into two and took us to the first floor. The main reason for this staircase is to admire the real gem of the entire structure: its dome.
Right above the huge fight of stairs is the beautifully decorated dome. The pink, green and gold shades give a feeling of grandeur. It is the single part of the building bursting with three vivid colours. The remaining interior is in beige.
A canvas photograph of Shivaji Maharaj greeted us next.
What struck me as a visitor was the enormity and height of the ceilings. This almost six storey building has only two floors!
Grand arches line the inside part of the building. The tiles used are called Milton, specially imported from England. Due to neglect, some of these tiles had gone bad. Fortunately, the restoration process has taken care of it.
During my visit, some parts of the building looked dull and abundant. The guide told us that they plan to complete restoring the entire building by next year. After all it will be 125 years since its inception, an apt time for rejuvenating the old structure.
One the first floor, there is a Corporation Hall. It being a Sunday, the hall was closed off. Yet we peaked in through the tainted glass windows. It look absolutely spectacular. A couple of golden chandeliers line the ceiling with more elaborate golden designs on upper parts of the wall. The tainted glass obstructed our view, so the photographs are equally bad.
Up, Up Into the Dome
After a good look on the first and second floor we began our ascend to the dome. And what a climb it was.
The set of stairs at the side took us up in a store room. This store room is unkept, due for renovation but the view it offers! I’ve never seen Mumbai like this before.
The yellow heads of taxis, black human heads and the Victoria Terminus, that’s Mumbai personified.
I certainly felt it couldn’t get any better. This was marvellous. Oh how wrong I was.
A flight of stairs up and we were in line with the mesmerising dome. The colours looked more vivid here. The golden flakes covering the dome made it look so majestic. And we weren’t even done with the tour yet!
A very narrow set of stairs took us further up. To make matters seem more historic, the staircase was a spiral one! I honestly felt like the prisoner in the tower making her escape in the dead of the night, exciting….
We emerged after what felt like an hour to be awestruck at the amazing view. Oh you could see Mumbai like no other. The port area and the docked ships on one side, the Churchgate area on the other, Azad Maidan on another…….oh my
The cars and people down below looked minuscule, like insects crawling about. Never again am I ever going to see this view of the city.
Descending down from our elevated state (pun intended) we emerged from the BMC headquarters with more understanding of the body that runs our city.
124 years ago, Bombay was the first city of the British Raj in India. They had to build an equally grand headquarters for the body that would look after it.
Did they succeed? Yes, most definitely.
Admiring the building from outside, I wondered, who was the statue that stood outside the building?
That is Pherozshah Mehta, the man who came up with the idea for a Municipal Corporation to look after the infrastructure in the city. Interesting, isn’t it?
Just like that, I had had another interesting day exploring the unexplored bits of Mumbai.
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Further Reading: Explore the Rajabai Tower
What else is Mumbai upto in the historical field? The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum formerly Prince of Wales Museum has step up a special India and the World exhibit. 230 objects from all over the country and the British Museum, London are on display. Explore them via our special Picture Gallery. Type in your email here and explore.