Sunday, July 08, 2012

Flora Fountain, Mumbai

- By Deepa Krishnan

Sometimes you walk past something without realising just how beautiful it is. And then you pause. 

Here she is, the Goddess Flora, on the top of the fountain. Beautiful, no?

She's right in the middle of the busy financial district. Rather incongruous, really, when you think that Flora is the Roman goddess of spring, of flowers and fertility. What on earth is she doing so close to all these banks and the stock market? :) :) 
Actually, there's a very simple reason why this fountain has Flora as the theme - it's because the guys who built it were the Agri-Horticultural Society of Western India (AHSWI). But why would an obscure-sounding society like that build a fountain in a city? Where would they get the money in the first place? I did some digging around, and as it turns out, the Society was anything but obscure. 

Originally founded in 1820 in Calcutta by William Carey, the Agri-Horticultural Society of India was responsible for introducing a wide range of crops in India. From all over the world, they brought varieties of maize, cotton, sugarcane, potatoes, and ginger for cultivation and hybridization in India. They introduced cinchona (from which quinine is derived). They established beautiful gardens, they documented the flora of the country, published journals, and held competitions and shows. In effect, they were the Agriculture Ministry in India well until the 1900's. 
The photo above  is of their garden in Alipore, Calcutta. It is spread over 21 acres, and contains many rare plants. The British were a nation of garden lovers and their legacy lives on in the various regional versions of the Agri Horticultural Society of India.

Anything Calcutta did, Mumbai had to do better :) The Agri-Horticulture Society of Western India was founded in 1830. The first garden was set up in Sewri, and was soon appropriated as a cemetery for Europeans (see photo below from CNN-Go). 
In Mumbai, the Society had some interesting people as members - a mix of great intellect and great wealth. 

Among the intellectuals was Dr. George Birdwood (Anglo-Indian, born in Belgaum, educated in England), who was Principal of Grant Medical College Mumbai. He wrote several books, including a "Catalogue Of The Economic Products Of The Presidency Of Bombay",  "Practical Bazaar Medicines: With Over 200 Useful Prescriptions", and a treatise on incense. In short - a man who knew his plants. 

The other intellectual in the Society was Dr. Bhau Daji Laud (see photo alongside), who rose from humble beginnings in Mandrem (Goa) to twice become Sheriff of Mumbai. He shared Birdwood's interest in botany, studied the Sanskrit literature of medicine, and tested traditional drugs to which Hindu texts ascribed marvellous powers. These two then, were the brains of the Society. Among the wealthy notables in the AHSWI were ace businessman Jagannath Shankar SethDavid Sassoon (the Jewish merchant-prince) and Jamsetjee Jeejibhoy (1st Baronet).

It was David Sassoon who donated his land in Byculla to create the loveliest garden Mumbai had ever seen - the Victoria Gardens. Spread over 48 hectares, the garden was established under the direction of Dr. Birdwood and Dr. Laud. It had beautiful architecture, and was planted with rare trees and shrubs. It  continues to be a green solace to the people of Mumbai.
So as you can see, gardens and flowers and plants and crops were quite the fashionable thing in Mumbai in the mid 1800's. The idea of celebrating Goddess Flora was perhaps just a sign of the times. The money for Flora Fountain came from a Parsi gentleman: Mr Cursetjee Furdomjee Parekh. He was a partner at Jamsetjee Jeejibhoy's firm, owned many ships, and like many merchant-princes of the time, made a significant fortune in trade with China and Europe. 

The sculptor was James Forsyth, who had earlier worked on a beautiful Flora  Fountain in Witley Court, Worcestershire, England (that original fountain was damaged and is now being restored). 

The Flora Fountain in Mumbai was carved of Portland stone in 1864, and installed in the place where Church Gate stood. Here  are a couple of more photos; this is the base of the fountain, and you can see how these carvings represent the bounty of nature.
The anklets on her feet are interesting, she looks almost Indian, doesn't she? Is that a sheaf of wheat at her feet? I tried to look it up, but couldn't find more information about the design of the female figures. If you know where I can find information online, do let me know.  


Nithesh S said...

Very interesting. The way you have described the architecture is great. I looks like the British Version of the Indian Nari. You bring out the "rivalry" and "competition" between Kolkata and Mumbai Very well. It adds that extra dimension to the article.
Check out my writings at (Hehe :This is called Spamming in Disguise)

indian yarn said...

you should have imagined my plight when i took pround bengalis around bombay and they said ( calcutta had better :( verdict has still to be determined because i have not been to cal yet

realestate said...

it's truely interesting for people like us who love knowing more about various cities and culture.
thanks for sharing this wid us...