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Patna's historic Hardinge Park turns 101

Press Trust of India  |  Patna 

Hardinge Park, capital's famed garden built in honour of the viceroy who was instrumental in the creation of as a separate province and which had hosted the Prince of Wales in 1921, today completed 101 years of its eventful journey.

Coinciding with its centenary last year, had drawn up elaborate plans for its redevelopment as a "model park", after it had fallen into neglect for several decades.

And, flowers of all hues are blooming again in the garden, lawns have been manicured and broken fountains fixed up.

Old-timers still recall its glory days, when rich stocks of roses, chrysanthemums, bougainvillea, hollyoaks, and dahlias filled the park with fragrance while ornate fountains added to the horticultural delight.

"The park was and is still very much a landmark, but we have seen its heydays, not so much now. I hope the redevelopment project doesn't change the character of this historic place, connected to the creation of province in 1912," says Shanker Dutt, professor of English at the University.

Spread over 22 acres and endowed with rich flowers and ornamental fountains, the iconic park was thrown open to the public on January 31, 1916 by the then Lt Governor of Bihar and Orissa, Sir Edward Gait.

It enjoyed a period of considerable glory, becoming a veritable symbol of Patna, besides Golghar.

The then Lt Governor of the province had also unveiled a five-tonne life-size bronze statue of Lord Hardinge, in full Durbar regalia, created by renowned British sculptor Herbert Hampton in London.

But later years saw its glory fading like many colonial- era relics. After protests, the statue was uprooted from its pedestal in the park and unceremoniously dumped at the Museum in the late 60s. It was installed again in the 90s on a platform in a corner of the museum's lawns.

"Lord Hardinge of Penhurst... Founder of the province of Behar and Orissa April 1st 1912... Erected as a tribute of grateful affection by the people of the province," reads the main inscription of the statue, which was a central piece of the entire layout.

The repainted ornate pedestal in the park stands sans the statue that once adorned it. The garden was also rechristened to 'Shaheed Veer Kunwar Singh Azadi Park' post-Independence.

"The Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) during his visit in 1921 was given a garden party at the park and my father (M K Sinha, former IG of Bihar Police) attended it as a young boy along with my grandfather (A K Sinha, first Indian IG of police). Its history should have been preserved," Lt Gen (retd) S K Sinha had said on its centenary.

His brother Jyoti Kumar Sinha, in his 70s, says, "Patna was a city of gardens. I used to go there with my father. The flower shows were excellent. And, flowers from bests of the gardens, public and privately-owned competed.

In these 101 years, the park has faced the vicissitudes of

fortune -- from extreme glory to extreme neglect and witnessed as a silent sentinel the struggle for the country's freedom and post-colonial vandalism. One of the arms of the statue was damaged and to this day it stands with a broken arm.

"Hardinge Park is an important and historic site and we want to revive its glory and develop it as a model park with recreational facilities like toy train, musical fountains, small boating space and also sporting facilities in its adjoining open area," Commissioner, Patna Division, Anand Kishor had said.

Of its total area of over 22 acres, the garden occupies nearly 16 acres while the rest is an open space separated from the main park by an open drain, part of which has been covered to bridge the two sides. The site is still remembered by city- dwellers as the place which hosted popular amusement shows like 'Disneyland Circus'.

"The park was made to commemorate Viceroy Lord Hardinge's visit to Patna in 1913. He was sympathetic towards the demand for a separate state of Bihar, and it should have celebrated that history. The and people both should have taken pride in it instead of renaming the historic place," said Ashish Jha, a Patna resident, and an independent researcher.

Located midway between Patna railway station and the Bihar Secretariat, the place by late 80s to early 90s had faded, its flowers wilted, fountains dried up. It gained notoriety as a "den of anti-social activities" and people preferred to stay away from it.

Old-timers say that the plot of land opposite to it which was used to operate a bus terminal (from 1970s-2000s) made the situation worse with the filth and pollution it generated. Stray cattle roaming the park had become a common sight.

Noted scholar Arvind Das in his book, 'The State of Bihar: An economic history without footnotes', had lamented the heritage park's decay, saying, "The bus boom had many consequences. For starters, Patna's magnificent Hardinge Park, with its fountains full of shimmering goldfish and beds brimming with glorious roses, dahlias, and chrysanthemums, was turned into a stinking adjunct to the 'bus stand'."

Carving out of the province of 'Bihar & Orissa' from Bengal was announced by King George V during the Delhi Durbar in 1911 under the Viceroyalty of Lord Hardinge. The Viceroy and Governor-General of India visited Patna for the first time in 1913 to lay the foundation stone of the Patna High Court building.

The park was born out of and maintained by 'Hardinge Memorial Fund', which later became a trust. It fought an unsuccessful legal battle against the state and was dissolved thereafter. The park is now directly under the Bihar government and maintained by the Environment and Forest Department.

First Published: Tue, January 31 2017. 15:22 IST