The domed building on a hill in New Delhi that we call Rashtrapati Bhavan is the office and home of the President of the largest democracy in the world – the Republic of India. It was once the symbol of British rule in India. If the walls of Rashtrapati Bhavan could speak, they would have told us a fascinating story about the people and events woven into our history.
So let us walk into this amazing building, visit its halls and rooms and wander around its wide marble corridors...
The story of Rashtrapati Bhavan begins at a large durbar held to welcome British King George V and Queen Mary to India. They came to India on a royal visit in December 1911 and at the Durbar in Delhi, the King announced that the capital of British India was to be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. The British Government decided to build a whole new city in Delhi. The last king to have built a capital here was the Mughal Emperor, Shahjahan.
FUN FACTS: The Durbar of 1911 was held in a tented city. It had its own telephone service, paved roads, water supply, electricity and a railway station with ten platforms.
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Three durbars were held in Delhi. Lord Lytton declared Queen Victoria as the Empress of India in 1877 in the first Durbar. Lord Curzon celebrated the accession of Edward VII to the British throne in 1903 in the second Durbar. The British tried to rival the Mughals in pomp and pageantry in the 1911 Durbar. King George V and Queen Mary clad in white and purple satin sat on solid silver thrones wearing shiny new crowns under a crimson and gold canopy. (These silver thrones can be now seen in the Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum.) There were gun salutes, marching soldiers, roll of drums, blowing of trumpets and a parade of Indian nawabs and rajas.
FUN FACTS: The Imperial crowns were set with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. They were the heaviest crowns ever made. After the Durbar, they were taken back to Britain and are displayed in the Tower of London.
ACTIVITY: Google ‘Durbar 1911’ and discover photographs of the occasion. Using the photos as your inspiration, describe the Durbar.
The British architect, Edwin Landseer Lutyens was chosen as the Chief Architect and he brought in his old friend, Herbert Baker. Lutyens built the Viceroy House which was renamed Rashtrapati Bhavan after assumption of office by the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad on January 26, 1950.
Baker designed the two secretariat buildings known as North and South Block that also stand on the hill. Thousands of Indian stone carvers and labourers worked for seventeen years to build it. The building’s first occupant in 1931 was Viceroy Lord Irwin. Sixteen years later, India became independent. Lord Mountbatten continued as the first Governor-General of India and C. Rajagopalachari became Governor -General and the first Indian occupant of the building on 21st June, 1948. India became a republic on 26th January,1950 with the adoption of our Constitution.
FUN FACTS: The floor area of Rashtrapati Bhavan covers 200,000 square feet(roughly 18,580 square metres). Some 700 million bricks and three million cubic feet of stone have gone into the structure.
ACTIVITY: :Want to know what the first Republic Day in 1950 was like? Go to YouTube and key in ‘Republic Day 1950’ and watch a black and white film of President Rajendra Prasad going down Rajpath in the presidential buggy. Also click http://presidentofindia.nic.in/rashtrapati-bhavan-library.htm to see archival videos of past Presidents and eminent leaders.
Building the Viceroy House was quite a challenge. Lutyens was building a symbol of the mighty British Raj, so Viceroy House had to be very impressive. There were the personal quarters of the Viceroy and his family. Inside there were state assembly halls, dining rooms, sitting rooms, a ball room and extensive gardens. Also there were kitchens, store rooms, a private press, tailor’s room and workshops, Tennis courts, a golf course and in the Estate were the living quarters of people working in the building.
FUN FACTS: Lutyens used many features of Indian architecture like the Chhajja, which are stone slabs that jut out below the roof and protect the building from sun and rain, the Chhatri, which are small domed pavilions and Jaalis or stone carved perforated screens. The dome of Rashtrapati Bhavan was inspired by the Ashokan stupa at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh.
ACTIVITY: : (Visual: A selection of photos of fountain designs to be downloaded – , , )
Become a designer like Edwin Lutyens! Download these designs of fountains. Use them as an inspiration to design your own fountains.
When the Viceroy House opened in 1931there were many gorgeous ceremonies - parades and balls. Meanwhile, the freedom struggle was being waged in full strength outside. Two days after the inauguration, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi visited Government House at the invitation of Lord Irwin. He came as a representative of the people of India who were fighting for freedom. Bapu came to this grand mansion straight from his cell at the Yerwada Jail where he had been imprisoned after leading the Salt Satyagraha and the Dandi March. He was a man clad in the dhoti and chadar of an Indian peasant and walked calmly through the grand entrance of the palace.
Gandhiji’s visit was a heralded of the events of the future. The freedom movement steadily grow in strength and India become free by 1947.
FUN FACTS: During the Dandi March, 79 marchers walked from 12th March to 5th April 1930. They covered 400 kilometres. Bapu was the oldest marcher and also among the fastest. He was arrested after he picked up a handful of salt at the beach in Dandi.
ACTIVITY:: Check out the website:www.mkgandhi.org/articles/salt_satya.htm It is full of fascinating facts about the Salt Satyagraha.
What was happening in India and the world between the Delhi Durbar of 1911 and 1950, when India became a Republic?
1911 – Coronation Durbar in Delhi
1913 – Mahatma Gandhi starts Satyagraha in South Africa
1914 – First World War begins
1915 – Mahatma Gandhi arrives in India
1915 – Annie Besant forms the Home Rule League
1917 – Champaran Satyagraha
1919 – First World War ends
1919 – Massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar
1928 – Simon Commission arrives
1930 – Civil Disobedience & Dandi March
1931 – Gandhi-Irwin talks in the Viceroy House
1939 – Second World War begins (Sep 1); Great Britain declares war on Germany on 3rd
September; the Viceroy declares that India too is at war.
1940 - Congress launches individual Satyagraha movement
1942 - Quit India movement begins
1946 – Cabinet Mission arrives
1946 –Wavell invites Nehru to form an interim government
1946 – First session of the Constituent Assembly of India starts
1947 – Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy and First Governor General of India, sworn in
1947 – India became an independent country
1948 – Second Governor-General and first Indian to hold the office, C Rajagopalachari assumes office
1950 – The Constitution of India came into force