Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai, awes the onlooker with its stunning scale, architecture, and ornamental and symbolic details
A sense of expectancy sets in as the long distance train rushes past suburban stations heading towards its final stop at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai. The crowds, density, pace and energy of Mumbai — the city that never sleeps — are palpable even whilst seated in an air-conditioned compartment with sealed windows! Captivated by the scenes outside the window, a traveller to the city can hardly wait to disembark at the terminus.
Yet, it would be prudent to tarry awhile for one has reached a terminus like no other in India! For a few steps from the platform leads one to the interiors of the heritage structure graced with elegant arches and columns, decorative details, tessellated floor tiles and high vaulted ceilings. And stepping out the building, its grandeur from its impressive scale to the elegance of its arches at each level, rose windows, pointed turrets, graceful corner domes and imposing central dome, and the wealth of decorative details from gargoyles to friezes on the facade, takes the breath away of travellers who have arrived at the city of dreams!
The UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site as it exhibits an important interchange of influences from Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival architecture and traditional Indian architecture.
TRANSFORMATION OF A SITE
If the building stuns 21st century onlookers, one can only imagine its impression on those who witnessed its emergence back in 1888 for the area bore a very different atmosphere then. “The site where Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus stands today was just outside the fort walls. The Mumbadevi temple, after which the city is named, originally stood here. It was shifted to Pydhonie in the mid-18th century where it stands today”, says Rajan Jayakar, Mumbai-based solicitor, a passionate collector of memorabilia related to old Bombay. Jayakar explains that in the 19th century, the site was called Bori Bunder as there was actually a bunder or a port where boris or sacks of goods were unloaded.
The most momentous occasion at the site occurred on April 16, 1853 when India’s first passenger train of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (incorporated in 1849, the predecessor of Central Railway) set off from Bori Bunder and traversed a distance of 21 miles (34 kms) till Thane. At that time a small shed marked the terminus! In a fitting commemoration of the pioneering train—of 14 carriages drawn by three steam locomotives—there was a 21-gun salute, the Governor’s band played God Save The King, and some members of the crowd broke coconuts and offered flowers in front of the train! And the train with 400 guests set off and chugged its way into history books!
The commencement of railway services in Bombay brought in people and goods, and also ferried people who travelled by ship to India to explore the country by train. These developments ushered a revolution in transport and communications, and it was decided to build a station that would accommodate the volume of passengers and goods, and make a statement of British presence and authority. And in this way a majestic station was built. On the Golden Jubilee year 1887 – that marked fifty years of Queen Victoria’s reign – it was named Victoria Terminus in her honour.
AN IMPRESSIVE STRUCTURE
Federick William Stevens (1848-1900), from the Public Works Department who had worked on projects in Mumbai, was selected by the GIP Directors to design a new terminus and offices for the GIP Railway; he also designed the impressive Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) headquarters, across the road. After receiving the assignment, he embarked on a ten-month study tour to Europe to study stations and public buildings.
Stevens designed an impressive structure with a frontage (including train shed and platform bays) stretching 1500 ft along the main road, with well-planned offices within. The work commenced in 1878 and was completed a decade later; Stevens was assisted by SK Vaidya, Assistant Engineer and MM Janardhan, Supervisor. The students of JJ School of Art were involved in working on the models of the embellishments under the guidance of their professors and principal.
Thus emerged the impressive terminus and office in just ten years (1878-88)! The main office block is U-shaped with two wings that stand at right angles to it at either end of the domed central block surmounted by the statue of Progress. The block is fronted by a garden and within has a grand staircase, breezy corridors and a wealth of details. The three prominent gables bear sculptures representing Engineering, Commerce and Agriculture. And flanking the gate to the office block are a seated lion and tiger, the former represents Britain and the latter India.
WITNESS TO HISTORY
Apart from being witness to the ebb and flow of passengers, CST has been witness to additions and events of history. A new station was added in 1929 to take care of long distance trains, with the original structure handling suburban trains.
Into the 21st century, CST continues to witness the arrival and departure of lakhs of passengers every day. Standing here and observing the beauty of the structure and the purposeful movement of passengers, and specially Mumbai’s famed dabbawallas around noon, offers an insight into the psyche of the metropolis.
Text: Brinda Gill