Unique ‘Chattri’ in UK is site of homage to Indian WW1 soldiers


London, May 8: As Britain marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1, a unique memorial in Brighton will be the site of a service on June 10 to honour Indian soldiers who died in the Great War.
The Chattri,designed by Mumbai architect EC Henriques and built in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, is one of the most visible symbols of Indian participation in the war during 1914-18. Brighton, 85 km south of London, is where many of the injured Indians were brought for treatment at the Royal Pavilion, also built in the same style.
Many of them recovered, but some died. Twenty-one Muslim soldiers who passed away were taken to Shah Jahan mosque in Woking, Surrey, for burial, while the bodies of 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers were taken to the Downs in Brighton for cremation.
The Chattri was built at the site where the Hindu and Sikh soldiers were cremated. Designed by Henriques, who was then studying in England, its construction was overseen by Samuel Swinton Jacob, known for his various buildings in India, such as the Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur.
Over the years, members of Britain’s Indian community and the Royal British Legion have organised services at the memorial. The June 10 event will include an exhibition tracing the role of Indian soldiers on the western front in World War 1.
According to the Chattri Memorial Group, local Sikh teacher Davinder Dhillon has led a pilgrimage to the memorial in June every year since 2000.
The memorial’s dome and eight pillars are built from white Sicilian marble. Three large granite slabs lie over the original concrete crematory bases and the design symbolises the protection offered to the memory of the dead.
The memorial, unveiled by the Prince of Wales on February 21, 1921, fell into disrepair, particularly after World War 2. Its upkeep was later taken over by local authorities in coordination with the then India Office and the Imperial War Graves Commission, while the War Office paid for its restoration.
The Chattri bears the following inscription in Urdu, Hindi and English: “To the memory of all Indian soldiers who gave their lives for their King-Emperor in the Great War, this monument, erected on the site of the funeral pyre where the Hindus and Sikhs who died in hospital at Brighton passed through the fire, is in grateful admiration and brotherly affection dedicated.”
According to records, the idea of the memorial is attributed to Lieutenant Das Gupta of the Indian Medical Service, who approached the then mayor of Brighton, John Otter, in 1915 for permission to build it at the cremation sites. Otter welcomed it and became its driving force. (Courtesy: HT)