The old SBI building of Chandini Chowk, Delhi -a heritage site steeped in history

Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk is a cultural cauldron of old and new and where the  traders are busy with their business activities in the midst of urban din.  In this busy  place stands an elegant 80 foot tall 4- story heritage building that houses SBI's branch. It is  said to be the oldest branch of SBI in Delhi, and one of the largest in the country till date.  Within its stretch of  less than two miles  there are  five heritage, besides some significant places.

SBI building, Chandini Chowk, Delhi.

The 19th century building is so architecturally rich and tempting any passerby on the street will never fail to take a second look at the structure that stands apart in this area that thrives on modernity. 

Old SBI building, Chandini Chowk, Delhi

Above image: Old SBI building, Chandini Chowk, Delhi: The attractive architectural elements are its imposing Palladian style of  structure with  Corinthian columns, balustrade terrace, arched doorways, spiral iron staircase, old English lifts, tinted glass windows. Built in 1806 the building witnessed both joyous as well as painful and poignant events in the history of India's freedom struggle..................

Old SBI building, Chandini Chowk, Delhi

Above image: Historical features of the building having been  almost lost,  the walls,  windows, tiles, none of them were worthy of retention any more. As part of conservation work , special care was taken to chose construction materials matching those used in the 1800s.  Engineers  used lime plaster on the wall interior, in the fa├žade and upper veranda, wrought iron railings in the place of  existing railings and wooden windows replacing the concrete screens. Most importantly special care was taken to repair the main  banking hall. It  was restored without compromising on its  historical character. Also referred to  Bhagirath Palace, it was built in a garden gifted by  Mogul ruler Akbar Shah to the Begum when he ascended the throne after the death of Shah Alam in 1806. 

Begam Sampu's palace (bank of Delhi) in 1857.

SBI and Chandini Chowk

Contracted in 1806 in typical British architecture during the reign of the East India company's rule, it was acquired by  the Bank of Delhi in 1847 and later by the Imperial Bank of India (predecessor of the present day SBI). Steeped in  political as well as  banking history of this place,  between  1935 and 1955, the Reserve Bank of India operated from here for twenty years. It is said the building's chimney  was carrying  the marks of burnt bills - currency notes for a long time after the exit of  RBI.  

When the first war of independence of 1857  broke out in Meerut cantonment and had begun to spread to other places like Lucknow, Kanpur and Delhi, During that tempestuous and turbulent  Delhi siege time  the SBI building site in Chandini Chowk  became a scene of savage killing and mayhem. On May 16, 1857 about noon  the  then General Manager, George Beresford and his family of six were caught in the middle of hell-bent mobs and killed on the roof of .the building. They were buried in the St James Church, Delhi  and a plaque had been put up in their memory.

Once the building  was part of   Begum Joanna Nobilis Samru’s estate, often referred to as Samru's kothi. She was the wife of   Austrian mercenary soldier Walter Reinhardt ‘Sombre’ who came to India to fight for Qadir Khan. He met his would be wife  at a kotha in Chawri Bazaar and  the young Kashmiri Dancer Farzana later married the Austrian and became  Begum Samru.  Being gregarious, she became a famous socialite in those days.

 It was in 2002 this historical building got the heritage tag as it was a silent witness to many important political events. because of the heritage tag no structural or constructional changes would be allowed in the building which might damage the heritage features. However, when minor changes were made in the past such  as repairs of the stained glass windows and replacement of the classic spiral iron staircase special care was taken by the renovation team to compromise on the quality of construction without disturbing the heritage values. However, a part of the building was demolished as it was unfit for renovation. 

Quite keen to retain the heritage aspect of this building INTACH - the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage in 2003  issued orders and asked the owners - SBI not to undertake any     unethical constructions or changes  in the building in the future without informing the authorities concerned.