The Story of Mumbai’s Rajabai Tower
South Mumbai’s Fort area hasn’t lost its British aura yet. The buildings, wide roads, the Flora Fountain and the Asiatic Library surely aren’t boasting an Indian look.
Sir Bartle Frere came to Bombay as the Governor of the Bombay Presidency. When he landed here in 1864, he knew that the Bombay skyline was an empty canvas to paint on. The chief wealthy businessmen at the time like Sir Jamshedjee Jeejebhoy, Jagannath Sunkersett, David Sasson and Sir Premchand Roychund had made a lot of money in the metropolis owing to the heavy trade between India and Britain which was conducted chiefly in Bombay. They readily joined in to Sir Frere’s idea to craft Bombay into mini London.
Of course Bombay was less crowded and much quieter back then. It had less cars and a lot of tree over and no skyscrapers. If you look at the old photos of this town, I’m sure your eyes will pop out! You’ll keep guessing what happened to Marine Drive since it is missing from this picture!
So what did these wealthy gentlemen and the Governor do? They built the entire South Bombay Fort Area as we see it today. The Governor knew that the British were home sick and craving a bit of the Britishness. What better way to start than to build a mini London in the tiny port city of Bombay?
The Rajabai tower that was once the tallest building in the country (85m) became a part of the city’s early skyline because of this project. The Rajabai Tower is a clock tower much like the Elizabeth Tower with the Big Ben inside in London. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the same man who had built renowned buildings in the UK like the Renaissance hotel outside the King’s Cross Station.
What most people miss is the beauty of this piece of architecture we know as Rajabai Tower.
Back then, the proverb ‘Time Is Money’ was just picking up in Bombay. Most people had to get to work on time but couldn’t afford watches. Hence, clock tower’s were built. They would herald people about the time.
In 1878, the tower was designed to play about 16 tunes including the British Anthem called God Save the Queen. Today this clock strikes a single tune every quarter of an hour. Till May 2015, the tower was under restoration.
Apparently, the east side of the tower has stained glass windows. These windows are best of their kind in Mumbai. The bricks used to build the university’s clock tower are called Kurla, these are found locally.
Have you ever wondered why this tower is called ‘Rajabai?’
Well, the man who minted money in the Bombay Stock Exchange, Premchand Roychund had of course a lot of money. Building the tower cost Rupees 2 lakhs, a very heavy sum back then. Adjusting inflation, 2 lakh rupees would amount to Rupees 16.5 crores as of 2016 in value. Roychund donated the money in exchange of naming the tower after him. He asked for the tower to bear his mother’s name- Rajabai. Roychund’s mother was blind and a Jain by religion. As the Jains have a tradition to eat before sundown, the chiming of the bell estimated the dinnertime to her without anyone’s aid.
This tower that still very much has a part in the city’s olden architectural wonders is closed for the public. The suicides are to blame. Although the tower is an architectural wonder hardly few Mumbaikars know much about it or have seen it from the inside. Although when next time in the area, spare a good glance at this tower:)
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Picture Curtesy- Google Images