Patna, Jan 31: Built in honour of the viceroy who was instrumental in the creation of Bihar as a separate province, flowers are beginning to bloom again in the famed gardens of Hardinge Park -- which had hosted the Prince of Wales in 1921 before being exposed to decades of extreme neglect -- as it turns 100 today.
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 Patna 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.
In these 100 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.
90-year-old Lt Gen (retd) S K Sinha, a former Vice Chief of Army, gets nostalgic remembering the heydays of the park which he says was one of the "finest in the country".
"It was a horticultural delight, with chrysanthemums, roses, dahlias, marigolds, bougainvillea, hollyoaks and lush arbours and creepers and, of course, its famed dedicated rose garden and beautiful fountains with colourful fishes in it. The lawns were perfectly manicured," he said.
"The Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) during his Patna 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," Gen Sinha said.
Now, seeking to revive the old glory of this heritage landmark -- minus its original name (it has been rechristened the 'Shaheed Veer Kunwar Singh Azadi Park') and Hardinge's statue -- the Bihar government has begun work on redeveloping it as a "model park".
"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 told PTI.
The Commissioner, who inspected the park on January 28 to take stock of the redevelopment work, said, "Its gardens and flowers will beckon people again, as in the good old days."
"Some of the works which we have begun will be completed by June while a few other bits will be wrapped up by September. We have planned to include rock art, an eco- friendly cafeteria, water coolers from RO plants and green toilets at two places.
"We will place 50 benches and put up musical boxes which would play music for the visitors. As for the gardens and lawns, new flowers and plants have already been planted, some of which have already bloomed," he 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'.
"In the open area, the front portion would be the parking lot while the rest would be space for playing basketball, lawn tennis, volleyball," Kishor said.
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 the park.
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'."
While the news of the proposed redevelopment may have brought some cheer to city-dwellers looking for green spaces amid huge real estate expansion, some people rue that the park is "not being kept with its history intact".
"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 government and people both should have taken pride in it instead of renaming the historic place," said Ashish Jha, a Patna resident.
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 government and was dissolved thereafter. The park is now directly under the Bihar government and maintained by the Environment and Forest Department.