Rashtrapathi Bhavan (Viceroy's House), New Delhi - a colonial master piece designed by architect Edwin Lutyens

facade of Rastrapathi Bhavan (Viceroy's House),Delhi

Full view. Viceroy's House (Rastrapathi Bhavan), Delhi en.wikipedia.org

The famous Indian writer Khushwant Singh described the land as “a wilderness of cactus, acacia and camelthorn.”  and it  was on this land at the edge of Old Delhi a transformation had taken place in the early part of the 20th century when Delhi became the capital of the British Raj.  In the early part of the 17th century, it was a land of scrubs, bushes  and wild plants where the Mogul dynasty founded the capital  Shahjahanabad. Toward the end of the 19th century, the political scenario changed and  with the British taking control over  the subcontinent, after the fall of many kingdoms across the land,  this part close to old Delhi  was resurrected  and given a new lease of life. The credit goes to British architect Edwin Lutyens (1869–1944) and his associates  who created a new township and  a plethora of grand  official buildings worthy of the British Royalty  to rule over the subcontinent  from the newly built administrative township called Lutvens' Delhi. When the British  landed in India for the first time our GDP was around 23% whereas theirs was just 3%. But when they left India in August 1947  more than a couple of centuries later, our GDP plummeted to just 3%. Thanks to colonial exploitation of our land, resources and people. Now, we have become one of the leading economies in the world. However, the colonial impact on India in many walks of life was so strong, the British legacy is deep rooted and  we can not  set it aside  and forget about it. 

Interior, Rastrapathi Bhavan, Delhi. pinrest.com

Pillared Veranda, Rastrapathi Bhavan.credit:  Derry Moore.pinterest.com

 Formerly called  Viceroys' House, now renamed  the Rashtrapati Bhavan, this huge colonial structure is the official residence of the Indian President and  is  at the western end of Rajpath in New Delhi. A building of mammoth size, there are  340-room in  the  main building  including President's quarters, reception halls, guest rooms and offices, also called the mansion. It is on a land comprising  130-hectare (320-acre).  The presidential gardens (Mughal Gardens), large open spaces, residences of bodyguards and staff, stables, other offices and utilities within its perimeter walls come under the Presidential estate. Though debatable, it is said to be  the largest residence of any head of state in the world.

(Rastrapathi Bhavan), Delhi. en.wikipedia.org

The view of Rashtrapathi Bhavan obscured by the sloping oad. mythicalindia.com

Above images: The sloping approach from the east to the Victoria House which hides the lower part of the building, as Lutyens feared.. Sir Edwin Lutyens had a row with his peer Sir Herbert Baker over the steep gradient and positioning of the secretariat buildings next  to Rashtrapati Bhawan and outlined by the latter. The majestic view of the complex was obscured  from the distance due to  a bit  higher road elevation near these buildings. The then Viceroy did not go along with Lutyens  concern over the sloping  approach to the Viceroy's House...........................................

Earlier Calcutta was the capital of the British Raj till 1911. Lord Wellesley who happened to be one of the earliest founders of the British Empire after Robert Cline once said, ‘India should be governed from a palace, not from a country house’. He stuck to his word and had a grand building  constructed  between 1799 and 1803 and in 1854, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal took up residence there. Now, it is converted into Raj Bhavan where the Governor of West Bengal Bengal resides.  Prior to that, the  Governor-General of Fort William resided in the  Belvedere House, Calcutta, first ever residence of the highest British official during the reign of the East India company.

After the British crown took over the administration of he Indian subcontinent from the oppressive and corrupt East India Company after 1858 -59, with the addition of more Indian kingdoms and vast revenue at its disposal, a decision had been made to shift the capital to Delhi that was strategically located in the center of Northern states. In the follow through the British India administration orderered the construction of the Viceroy's house. It  was during the greatest show on the earth  the Delhi Durbar in December 1911 that the capital of India was  relocated from Calcutta to Delhi and the Darbar was well executed by the able and charismatic  British top official Lord Curzon. 

Soon after the Delhi Durbar extravaganza   as part of developing a new township in Delhi adjacent to the end of old Delhi  to house government offices and staff quarters, residences, etc., due importance was given for the construction of the Viceroy of India.  To accomplish the big task began the land acquisition,  relocating Raisina and Malcha villages that existed there and their 300 families under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Roughly the acquisition included  4,000 acres of land  to begin the construction of Viceroy's House, as it was originally called, and near-by  Secretariat Building between 1911 and 1916.

The British architect Edwin  Lutyens, an active  member of the city-planning committee, was entrusted with  the  primary architectural design  and  he worked  with  architect Baker who had joined him in June 1912 from Shimla. Both Lutyens and Baker had similar approach to  architectural designs that showed certain  flexibility, incorporating local architectural elements along with European styles. Including the structures in Delhi, one can see the influence of Indo-Saracenic designs on many colonial buildings.. Baker  was  to work on the two secretariat buildings which were in front of Viceroy's House. Why was  the original plan of building the Viceroy's House on the top of Raisina Hill, with the secretariats lower down changed?  No clear answer was available.  One contention was Lutyens  preferred the location of the Viceroy's House  at a higher level, but was  was forced to move it back from the intended position against the wish of   Baker.  Lutyens  was of the view that  the front of the building was obscured by the high angle of the road.

Durbar hall below central dome, Rashtrapathi bhavan. Delhi.mythicalindia.com

After several deliberations and argument over the steeper gradient  between the Viceroy's House and the front buildings, in 1916 the Imperial Delhi committee dismissed Lutyens's proposal to alter the gradient. Lutyens  was not happy about the new proposal.. When the construction  work was on Lutyens used to visit England every year to work on other projects there. With respect to built-up area, he  reduced the building from 13,000,000 cubic feet (370,000 m3) to 8,500,000 cubic feet (240,000 m3).  It became a necessity  to limit the built-up area on account of  budget restrictions proposed by  Lord Hardinge. Though he was concerned about financial strains, Hardinge  wanted the architects  to retain a certain amount of ceremonial grandeur and majesty  worthy of the British Royalty.

 chhatri pavilions on the roof , Rashtrapathi Bhavan, Delhi, wikipwedia. 

Elephant statues on the outer wall, Rashtrapahi Bhavan, Delhi, wikipedia

The Viceroy's House  a four-floored structure has a total  floor area of 200,000 square feet (19,000 m2); one  billion bricks and 3,000,000 cu ft (85,000 m3) of stone with little steel went into the construction work. . Various Indian elements included are several circular stone basins on top of the building, as water features, an important part of Indian architecture,  traditional Indian chujja or chhajja (over hanging projections, to protect rain and sun shine)  several chuttris (dome-shaped pavilion) atop the roof, elephant statues on the outer wall, the Jaipur Column (in front of the building) including statues of elephants and fountain sculptures of cobras, etc. The other Indian architectural elements are stone  screens  (Jalis) in red sandstone, quite well-known in Rajasthan,   Ashokan details  and Mayuran  art designs, the bells  as one will find in the  Hindu and Buddhist temples of India. Lutyens used red sandstones and cream-colored stones from  Dholpur and Agra. This combination accentuated the grandeur of the  Rashtrapati Bhawan.  

Main gate, Rashtrapahi Bhavan, Delhi en.wikipedia.org

cannon at the entrance. Rashtrapahi Bhavan, Delhi.en.wikipedia.org

The tall copper-faced  dome, in the middle of the building  stands apart and combines both Indian and European elements, Set right  in the middle of the diagonals between the four corners of the building. the dome is more than twice the height of the building itself.  The height of the dome was increased in 1913 as wished by  Lord Hardinge. About this huge dome, classical in style,  Edwin Lutyens  derived inspiration from that of the Pantheon in Rome.

 Central dome, Rashtrapathi Bhavanen.Delhi. wikipedia.org

The building  was designed to have water features in many places. especially close to  the Viceroy's stairs. There are  eight marble lion statues spilling water into six basins. These lions, it is said, were symbolic of the heraldry of Great Britain. The open area in one room to the sky, is meant to let  in much of the natural light. The Ashoka hall,  a beautiful  rectangular room of 32×20 meters  with wooden flooring used to be a ball room.   

Rashtrapathi Bhavan, Delhi interior. pinrest com.

Rashtrapahi Bhavan, Delhi,interior. Palladian style. kamit.jp

Durbar Hall in the main hall  directly under the double-dome  was known earlier as  the "Throne Room" before independence.  There were two thrones - one for the Viceroy and Vicereine. A striking feature in this hall is a massive   a 2-ton chandelier hanging from a height of 33 m by a 23 m long rope.  There are impressive  Greek-styled columns  made from yellow Jaisalmer marble,  The flooring of the hall is made of chocolate-colored Italian marble stones.   It was in the Durbar Hall late  Jawahar Lal Nehru took the oath of office of Prime Minister of India in August 1947. This hall, steeped in history can accommodate 500 people.


King George V and Queen. Delhi Durbar 1911. en.wikipedia.org

Delhi Durbar  meaning the'' Court of Delhi" was a grand  Indian imperial-style mass assembly organized by the British administration in India at Coronation Park, Delhi, India,. It was held to mark the succession of an Emperor or Empress of India. Also called the Imperial Durbar, it was held in Delhi in December 1911; earlier it was held in  in 1877 and 1903.  The Delhi Durbar, historically speaking, was the only royal event  that a sovereign head, George V attended. It was dubbed as the greatest show on earth at that point of time with lots of pomp and pageantry.

It was on  22 March 1911, a royal proclamation  was made officially announcing  that the Durbar would be held in December to commemorate the coronation in Britain a few months earlier of George V and Mary of Teck and allow their proclamation as Emperor and Empress of India. In India, the official ceremonies lasted from 7 to 16 December,  and  the Durbar itself  took place  on Tuesday, 12 December. The royal couple arrived at Coronation Park in their Coronation robes and they received homage from  various Indian royalties