Rashtrapati Bhavan, home to the President of the world’s largest democracy, epitomizes India’s strength, its democratic traditions and secular character.
Rashtrapati Bhavan was the creation of architects of exceptional imagination and masterfulness, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker. It was Sir Lutyens who conceptualized the H shaped building, covering an area of 5 acres on a 330 acre estate. This mansion has a total of 340 rooms spread over four floors, 2.5 kilometres of corridors and 190 acres of garden area.
Painstaking efforts of thousands of labourers including masons, carpenters, artists, carvers, and cutters saw the completion of this masterwork in the year 1929. Originally built as the residence for the Viceroy of India, Viceroy's House as it was then called, has metamorphosed into today’s Rashtrapati Bhavan. From being a symbol of imperial domination and power, it is today emblematic of Indian democracy and its secular, plural and inclusive traditions. Former President of India, Shri R. Venkataraman has rightly said, “Nature and man, rock and architecture, have rarely collaborated to so fine a purpose as in the fashioning of the magnificent Rashtrapati Bhavan.”
When constructed, it was called the Viceroy’s House. The name changed to Government House on August 15, 1947 when India became independent. Finally, its name was changed to Rashtrapati Bhavan during the term of President Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
The Rashtrapati Bhavan has served as a home to Viceroy Lord Irwin and subsequently to other Viceroys of India till Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy and the first Governor-General of independent India in 1947. Lord Mountbatten administered the oath of Prime Minister to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru under the Central Dome of Rashtrapati Bhavan in 1947. C. Rajagopalachari, the first Indian Governor-General also took oath under the Central Dome on June 21, 1948 and became the first Indian to reside at the Government House, as it was then called.
The grandeur of this majestic presidential palace, however, was humbled by the very modest gestures of Rajagopalachari. Finding the Viceroy’s room too royal to stay, he shifted to smaller rooms (now called the Family Wing of the Rashtrapati Bhavan) for his personal use. This has been followed by all subsequent residents of the Bhavan. The erstwhile Viceroy’s Rooms have been converted into the Guest Wing for stay of Heads of State and Government and their delegations. As the first president of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad took Rashtrapati Bhavan as his abode in the year 1950 after assuming office.
Little known is the fact that Mahatma Gandhi, much before the political heads of independent India, was an early visitor to the newly constructed Viceroy’s House. The Viceroy had invited him for a meeting which was met with dissent by Winston Churchill. Nevertheless, Mahatma Gandhi carried with him salt to add to his tea as a mark of protest against the British Salt tax. The series of meetings between Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Irwin finally culminated in the famous Gandhi Irwin pact that was signed on March 5, 1931.
Rashtrapati Bhavan has since independence hosted defence investiture ceremonies, swearing in of its leaders, honoured its bravehearts and achievers, has heard the speeches of world leaders, signed pacts and treaties with various countries, celebrated India’s Independence and Republic Day functions along with other festivals.
The gates of Lutyens’ masterpiece Delhi which he described as “one complete organism, perfect and inseparable” have now been opened for the public on the initiative of President Pranab Mukherjee since August, 2012.
The journey through this work of art is divided into three circuits. Circuit 1 covers the Main Building and Central Lawn of Rashtrapati Bhavan including its premier rooms like the Ashok Hall, Durbar Hall, Banquet Hall, its Drawing Rooms and many more. Circuit 2 consists of the tour of the Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum Complex, while Circuit 3 promises the tour of Rashtrapati Bhavan’s famous gardens- The Mughal Gardens, Herbal Garden, Musical Garden and Spiritual Garden.
Whilst the Main Building and Gardens of Rashtrapati Bhavan are open for visits thrice a week, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum Complex is open on all days except Monday. The Mughal and other Gardens of the Bhavan shall remain open from August to March on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Timings are from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m.