KEMU Patiala Block: From Eagle to Peacock by Atia SadiqThe following is an article published in the daily The Nation. It has been published on KemUnited blog with permission from the writer.
Walking through the colourful bazaar of Anarkali, I was searching for Nelagumbad, which is surrounded by commercial streets. When I reached near the west gate of Patiala Block of King Edward Medical University (KEMU), I was grasped by its beauty; grace and grandeur. I was so pulled toward it that for some moments I forgot the original purpose of my visit. It was only after around five years that I got a chance to visit this fascinating building, examine it and write on it.
Patiala Block was constructed during the colonial era of British Raj and it was part of King Edward Medical College’s extension project of 1914. Architect W Purdon designed the building and Roy Bahadur Kanhaya Lal was the engineer. Patiala Block comprises administrative offices, a large library cum examination hall, four lecture theatres, a museum, a council room and common rooms for staff and students. This block is named after the Bhupinder Singh (October 1891-23 March 1938) of Patiala State of India who donated funds for it.
In the aerial mosaic, this building seems like a white eagle sitting with stretched wings in the crowded picture of the old city. Facade of Patiala Block has two balanced wings on its sides with a central dome and a pattern of three arches along with domed tower. This well designed symmetrical building is elegant not only in its structure but also in its function. White eagle is symbol of power, grandeur and strength. This building has been attributed as ALTA PETE (Aim High) for services in the field of health and care. This ambition is also inscribed on the logo of KEMU.
This charismatic building has different architectural features which are symbolic representation of various dynasties and religions. The entrance is through the portico, which has archway entrance from east to west. Inside the portico, dado work is used for decoration in the form of cartouche and crown with lotus flower, which represents Buddhism. The entrance corridor is ornamented with different types of architectural features; pilaster, inverted cone (latu), dental frieze, corbel and brackets.
Through portico we enter in a hall which has central wooden staircase. The quarter landing staircase with three types of newel posts has been used for central staircase. This wooden staircase is influenced by the Victorian (1870-1910) style. Then there are marble slabs – one of them carries names of the donors, another, of Principals of the collage. Square collar column are used in this block which are divided into three parts – capital, shaft and base – like human body. The columns have ionic type capitals which are decorated simply with a design of diamond. Before going to the main library hall there is a corridor which gives the look of arcade but actually is a placement of collar columns. The Main Library Hall has tapered roof and this significant and historical hall has also been used for shooting of many films.
The building has four domed towers in four corners along with a central dome which serves the functional as well as decorative purposes. The four towers on its corners contain chambers, used as offices now a days. These white painted domed towers are decorated with black band in simple and delicate style. These domes look like pearls in a crown. The Shamsa design, depicted around the fan windows of the domed tower, shows the influence of Hindu architecture. Eight pointed star is used in design of doors and windows which have pointed arch style. The windows are recessed throughout the building structure.
The right and left wings of facade are decorated with simple brackets and with the sign of Cross, that represents Christianity and the imperial power of that time. Patiala Block has two types of cupolas – lantern and solid. Cupola is also used as Chatri (umbrella). In Indian Mughal and Rajput architecture, Chatris are commonly used to depict the elements of pride and honour. The jali work has been done on the arches of the domed tower. This is a very passive form of cooling device that was used in ancient times. Cross design is also used extensively in the rail, upper part of cornice and on the balconies of the domed tower. Decorative elements are gracefully repeated in the exterior and interior of this block. On the eastern side, there is an additional small compound, which could be of later addition and it is under the use of administration staff.
The structure or design of Patiala Block is not only an imperial stamp of British Raj it also shows the cross-cultural connection of ingenious and foreign elements in architectural language. Recently, a new multi-storeyed building has been built near the Patiala Block which has changed its visual impact. This otherwise dull modern structure has been collaged with old style domes and cupolas, fusing the tradition and modernity. Now these two structures collectively give the look of a beautiful white peacock with its feathers held up. In Chinese philosophy peacock symbolises beauty and dignity as well as the desire for peace and prosperity. In collective world history, myth, legend and lore, peacock symbolism carries portents of nobility, holiness, guidance, protection and watchfulness.
The KemUnited team appreciates the author's research on the history and architecture of the building. But would like to highlight one factual inaccuracy. The plan of the building shown in the second photograph was changed. The new block being built is not going to follow this design. This photograph was actually a terribly photoshopped version of the previous plan proposed by Ex-VC Prof Mumtaz Hasan. The new plan is going to look somewhat like this.