Making of Rashtrapati Bhavan
The Delhi Durbar of 1911, held on December 12, marked the coronation of King George V. The most important announcement made in the Durbar which was witnessed by around one lakh people, was shifting of British India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi. Whilst Calcutta was seen to be the centre of commerce, Delhi, on the other hand symbolized power and glory. Subsequent to the announcement, the search for an imperial residence became imperative. The Kingsway Camp, in northern side of the proposed town, was the initial choice. Sir Edwin Lutyens, a British architect, was selected to plan India’s new Capital and was part of the Delhi Town Planning Committee on which the decision for the site and layout rested. Sir Lutyens and his colleagues, who were experts in sanitation found the northern location to be highly vulnerable to floods, given its proximity to the Yamuna River. Thus, Raisina Hill, on the southern side, which provided spacious high ground and better drainage, seemed an appropriate option for the Viceroy’s House.
As Former President of India, R. Venkataraman has rightly remarked, “A palace on this hillock would crown the landscape. Visible across miles, the palace would levitate on the horizon as a monument that is a cut above the rest. It would be, among buildings, a Kanchenjungha which the dust haze of Delhi’s summers and the mist of her winters would obscure, unveil and obscure again. A tantalizing presence that would be close and far, within touching distance and yet elusive behind the undulation.”
The rocky hills of the chosen location were blasted and land leveled to accommodate the Viceroy’s residence as well as office buildings. The rock base of the site provided an additional advantage for firm foundations. A railway line was specially laid around the building for movement of construction materials. Since the city plan had been made away from the river, and no stream flowed in the south, subsoil water had to be pumped to the surface for all water requirements.
Much of the land of that region belonged to the then Maharaja of Jaipur. The 145 feet tall Jaipur Column which stands on the Rashtrapati Bhavan Forecourt was gifted by Maharaja of Jaipur, Siwai Madho Singh to commemorate the creation of Delhi as the new capital.
It took more than seventeen years to build the Presidential Palace. Lord Hardinge, the Governor-General and Viceroy in whose reign the construction was initiated, wanted the building to be completed within four years.However, even by early 1928, the finishing of the building looked scarcely possible. The main outer dome had not begun until then. This delay was primarily owing to the First World War.
The last stone was laid by Lord Irwin, Viceroy and Governor-General of India and the first occupant of the newly constructed Viceroy’s House on April 6, 1929. The main building was built by Haroun-al-Rashid, while the Forecourt was done by Sujan Singh and his son Sobha Singh. It is estimated that seven hundred million bricks and three million cubic feet of stone had gone into building this palatial structure with around twenty three thousand labourers working. The estimated cost of building the Viceroy’s House was Rs. 14 million.
Sir Edwin Lutyens’ vision was to create a structure that would stand for centuries to come. He believed, “Architecture, more than any other art, represents the intellectual progress of those that are in authority.” Lutyens was extremely particular about the architecture and design of his building and preferred European classical style. The H shaped building shows the elaborate geographical permutations in an elegant style.
Nevertheless, several essential features from the Indian architecture were incorporated into his architectural design. To name a few, the Dome was inspired by the Sanchi Stupa; elements like chhajjas, chhatris and jaalis, and motifs like elephants, cobra, temple bells etc. all have an Indian connect. His collaborator for the project was Herbert Baker, who constructed the North Block and the South Block. Together, Lutyens and Baker had sketched many designs for Delhi, many of which have been preserved and displayed in the Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum.