The magnificent edifice of Rashtrapati Bhavan - the official residence of the President of India - is one of the largest buildings of its kind in the world. This structure of red and cream sandstone which was designed to be the home of the Viceroys of India, took eight years - 1921-1929 - to build and cost about 14 million Rupees. Lord Irwin was the first Viceroy to move into the Viceroy's House, as it was then known, on December 23, 1929.
This building, which was designed by the British Architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, is a mixture of Indian and Western schools of architecture. The stately columns after the Roman and Greek Style, the Dome adopted from Buddhist stupas, the symmetry typical of Mughal architecture and the broad courts characteristic of English houses, have all been fused to create a new style of architecture, simple and yet imposing.
Rashtrapati Bhavan stands on a 330-acre estate and the building itself covers an area of five acres. The facade of Rashtrapati Bhavan with a massive colonnade at the top of a flight of long and broad alabaster stairs, overlooking the Forecourt, where parades are drawn up on important occasions, makes an impressive sight. The building contains 11/2 miles of corridors, 340 rooms of which 63 are living rooms, 227 columns, 35 loggias and 37 fountains including the roof fountains.
Fore court and Jaipur column
There are three main entrances to the Forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan which is flanked by the President's and Cabinet Secretariats. The third side opens into a huge square earlier called the Viceroy's court where the Jaipur Column stands.
On top of the thirty-one broad steps which lead to the Portico is a great piece of sculpture - the Bull Capital of an Ashoka Pillar. The bull has the pronounced zebu hump of the cattle in India but has no horns. The sculptor has carved the dewlap so lovingly that one feels that the stone would be velvet-soft to touch. The bones suggest firmness and ease of movement. The sharp ears, the quivering nostrils and the angle of the neck convey a sense of alertness. The entire posture is one of strength held in control. The animal stands on a decorated band resting on an inverted lotus and the entire capital has been carved out of the same rock as the rest of the pillar.
In the middle of the foreground, facing the Forecourt steps of Rashtrapati Bhavan, stands the Jaipur Column at a height of 146 feet. Placed on top of the Column is the Star of India. This column was presented by Major-General His Highness Sir Sewai Madho Singh Maharaj of Jaipur to commemorate the creation of the new Capital of Delhi.
The first stone of the Column was laid by King George V and his consort, Queen Mary on 15th December, 1911. Its East wall has a map of Delhi as then envisaged, carved into it.
The column bears the following inscription:
"In thought faith
In word wisdom
In deed courage
In life service
So may India be great."
The Visitors come through the Reception during their visit to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. They need to get themselves photographed and obtain entry passes. The Reception area has a curio shop and television monitor showing documentaries on the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The Marble Hall displays rare portraits of the Viceroys and British Royalty. It also showcases sculptures and artifacts of the British period, including life size marble statues of King George V and Queen Mary. Also on display are Coats of Arms of Governors-Generals and Viceroys.
The Collection on display guides viewers from the Viceregal kitchen to the Banquet table. There are fascinating implements like copper ladles, primitive slicers and utensils. Given pride of place under a tiered chandelier is the Star of India crockery, with crystal stemware and shining silver cutlery. The exhibits roughly cover the period from 1911, when King George V and Queen Mary announced at their Coronation Durbar that the capital would move from Calcutta to Delhi till India's independence.
This gallery is divided into two parts: one 'By the children' where the paintings and sketches presented to the Presidents are on display and the other 'For the Children- which feature a variety of items that would interest children such as musical instruments, optical illusion devices, planetary system, time zones, quotable quotes and a model newspaper for 2020 etc.
On display in this Hall is King George V's silver chair weighing 640 kg on which he sat at the Delhi Durbar 1911, an embroidered gold wire brocade, paintings by Thomas Daniell & Samuel Havett and a host of gifts received by different Presidents.
The Durbar Hall is designed on a large circular plan under the Dome. The height of the dome is 180 feet. At each of the four corners of the Hall are four large State Rooms. The columns around the Central Hall are made of yellow marble brought from Jaisalmer. The shining floor, except for a few portions, is made of Indian marble. Two large English-style staircases show the way to the Hall from the East Subway. A passage on the north side also connects the Durbar Hall to the Ashoka Hall.
The dome of the Durbar Hall has a double shell. The layer which is visible from inside the Hall and the other, the real dome, which is visible from outside and has a covering of copper sheets now tarnished black. A majestic chandelier suspended 33 meters from the top of the roof and another smaller chandelier are aesthetically pleasing.
At the back of Durbar Hall is a statue of Gautama Buddha, belonging to the golden age of India's history and art, the Gupta age (4th-5th century AD). An art historian says of this particular sculpture : "The expression suggests a combination of serenity and divine bliss, a stage after the extinction of all worldly wishes in the fire of penance and knowledge". The head of the Buddha is framed by a halo covered with a lotus and foliage characteristics of Gupta art. Unfortunately time has taken its toll and the right hand is missing and the feet are broken. The Buddha sculpture and the Ashokan Bull belonging to the Indian Museum, Calcutta, came to Rashtrapati Bhavan. A great exhibition of Indian art was held in London at Burlington House in 1947-48. It was decided that the people of India should also be enabled to see it and so the collection was displayed in the Durbar Hall, forming the nucleus of the National Museum. They stayed here until the Museum's own building on Janpath was ready in December 1960. The Buddha and the Bull were retained while the other exhibits went to their new home.
Leaders of India gathered at 8.30 am on 15 August, 1947 to witness in the Durbar Hall the swearing-in ceremony of the new government, headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, by the Governor-General of the newly declared Dominion of India, Lord Mountbatten.
In 1948, India's first governor-general, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari took his oath in Durbar Hall. In 1977, the body of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the second Indian President to pass away while in office, lay in state in the Durbar Hall for the public to pay respects.
The grandeur of the Durbar Hall is best appreciated when approaching it through either of the two staircases in ash-grey marble. Daylight enters the Hall from the great eye in the dome, from the staircase windows and also through the twelve jallis in the attic. The design of the floor with its astonishing bold scale gives an artistic touch to the whole interiors.
The Main Library Room of the Rashtrapati Bhavan has a collection of over 2000 rare books published from 1800 to 1947 stacked neatly by year of publication in the built-in shelves.
Described as the daughter of the Durbar Hall, the room located at the North-East corner of Rashtrapati Bhavan, has an imposing interior. The aisles above, also at right angles, are so well made in imitation marble that their trompe l'oeil effect integrates them into the marble comics. These are supported on eight slender pillars with bells of the Delhi Order. The circular plaster cornice is acknowledged in the floor pattern with a swastika surrounded by a geometry of petals in white marble, inlaid with golden-yellow Jaisalmer stone. Two fire places make the room cosy for winter reading.
Long drawing room and North drawing room
The Long Drawing Room is now used as a Conference Hall. Governors and Lieutenant-governors used to meet in the Cabinet Room initially. When their number increased, the venue moved here.
The North Drawing Room is where visiting heads of state are received by the President of India.
The Ashoka Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan, originally the Ball Room of the Viceroys, is now used for holding ceremonial functions like presentation of credentials by Heads of Missions of foreign countries, swearing-in of Ministers, etc. The room, 105 feet by 65 feet has a wooden dance floor with springs underneath. It has vaulted lobbies of greyish marble and a gallery on the East. The large panelled mirrors and the chandeliers in the room produce a glittering effect.
On the ceiling is a painting showing an equestrian portrait of Fateh Ali Shah, the second of the seven Qajar rulers of Persia, hunting with twenty-two of his sons. The Shah, gorgeous with jewels, is thrusting a spear into a tiger. Around him are the royal princes and courtiers. In the background is a landscape of mountains and lakes.
This monumental group composition (3.56 x 5.20 metres) was offered by Fateh Ali Shah of Persia (reigned 1797-1834) to George IV of England (reigned 1820-30). In 1929, during the Viceroyalty of Lord Irwin, the painting was transferred from the India Office Library (London) and installed in the ceiling of the then State Ballroom of the Vicereoy's House, which is now the Ashoka Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
An Italian painter, Colonnello, took inspiration from the central Persian painting and extended its forest theme with four more hunting scenes with inscriptions in Persian. The rest of the ceiling has animals among floral creepers. Twelve Indian painters worked under the directions of Colonnello using oil paint directly on the walls. The paintings on the walls represent a royal procession. Borders of delicate tracery, floral patterns and arabesques embellish the work, which was started in June 1932 and completed in October 1933.
Loggia and Banquet Hall
Loggia is the lobby that connects the Banquet Hall to the Ashoka Hall. Overlooking the Mughal Gardens, it is most often used as a space to serve tea after functions in the Ashoka Hall. It also displays some unique pieces of furniture designed by Lutyens.
Close to the Ashoka Hall, the Banquet Hall, 104 feet long, 34 feet wide and 35 feet high, is one of the most impressive rooms in Rashtrapati Bhavan. It is approximately a triple cube. The plastered teak covers only a portion of the wall as Lutyens wanted the uncovered portion to be painted in a decorative style. At the South end, an alcove is provided for pieces of decoration. Above it is the musicians' gallery which is hidden from view. The rich darkness in tone, which characterizes the Banquet Hall, is relieved by the grey and white star pattern of the marble floor. A single table in the centre can seat 104 persons.
The Mughal Gardens, contiguous to the main building of Rashtrapati Bhavan cover an area of 15 acres. They were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens inspired by the beautiful gardens of Jammu and Kashmir, the garden around the Taj Mahal and Persian and Indian miniature paintings. The Mughal Gardens comprise three parts: the first is the Rectangular Garden adjacent to the main Rashtrapati Bhavan building, which is divided into four quarters, each with terraced gardens on either side. The central lawn here is the venue of numerous receptions and 'At Homes' hosted by the President.
The Rectangular Garden has several winter seasonal bulbous and flowering beds, with a prominence of variety of Roses which are at full bloom are a centre of attraction. The rose varieties include Adora, Mrinalini, Taj Mahal, Modern Art, Oklahoma, John F. Kennedy, Virgo, Mr. Lincoln and Folklore. In addition, Dahlias, Tulips, Asiatic Lilies, Daffodils, Ranunculus, Hyacinth and other seasonal flowers suitably incorporated add beauty to Central Garden.
This central part is followed by the Long Garden, having some prominent and popular roses like Christian Dior, Queen Elizabeth, Iceberg, Pasadena, Montezuma, Summer Snow, First Prize, Century Two, Diri's Tysterman, etc.
The next part of the garden is the Circular ('Pearl' or Butter Fly' or 'Sunken') Garden at the Western edge. This is a huge terraced bowl lined with various fragrant and vibrant annuals. A bubble fountain in the middle of this bowl enhances the grandeur of the place. One can see Violas and Dahlias, Phlox, Poppy and Larkspur here.
The Garden derives its evergreen character from trees like Moulsri, Putranjiva, Saru, Juniper, China Orange, Roses, Tulips, Oriental and Asiatic Lilies and varieties of Climbers. Winter flowers like Calendula, Antirrhinum, Alyssum, Dimorphotheca, Larkspur, Gazania, Gerbera, Lineria, Mesembryanthemum, Brachycome, Metrucaria, Verbena, Viola, and Pansy grow well here.
The Long Garden or the 'Purdah' Garden, so called because of its shape enclosed by high walls, lies to the west of the main garden. It has 16 square attractive rose beds hemmed in low hedges. Along the walls are lined the resplendent China Orange whose ornamental fruits outnumber the leaves.