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Architectural Adventurism in Nineteenth-Century Colonial India: Begum Samru and Her Sardhana Church

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This article explores the politically fluid and culturally hybrid environment of the Indian subcontinent during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Interaction between European mercenaries and their Indian patrons led to acculturation of both sides. This cultural affinity also extended into the realm of architecture and building patronage, resulting in a stylistic hybridity that drew upon both Indian and European traditions. This article examines the building projects of Begum Samru, bibi (consort) of a German mercenary and ruler of Sardhana near Delhi. The Begum, born a Muslim, converted to Christianity, but nonetheless still valued her roots, creating a syncretic identity that was reflected in her architectural patronage. The scope of her patronage went beyond domestic architecture to serve the cause of her adopted religion as well. While she donated generously to Catholic institutions, it was in the building of churches that the Begum resorted to what one may call architectural adventurism to mark her identity as a devout Catholic. Transcending the prevalent notions of space and aesthetics, the Begum's architectural trajectory was unconventional due to her gender, social status, faith, and patronage of churches. Commissioned in 1821, Sardhana's Catholic Church became a symbol of her architectural adventurism: it epitomized Begum Samru's feisty spirit and her quest to champion Catholicism in the subcontinent.
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Keywords: Begum Samru; Catholic Church; India; architectural patronage; bibi; colonialism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000417765923 Deenbandhu Chhotu Ram University of Science and Technology

Publication date: March 1, 2020

More about this publication?
  • The International Journal of Islamic Architecture (IJIA) is intended for those interested in urban design and planning, architecture, and landscape design in the historic Islamic world, encompassing the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, but also the more recent geographies of Islam in its global dimensions. The main emphasis is on detailed analysis of the practical, historical and theoretical aspects of architecture, with a focus on both design and its reception. The journal is also specifically interested in contemporary architecture and urban design in relation to social and cultural history, geography, politics, aesthetics, technology, and conservation. Spanning across cultures and disciplines, IJIA seeks to analyze and explain issues related to the built environment throughout the regions covered. The cross-cultural and interdisciplinary nature of this journal will significantly contribute to the knowledge in this field.

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