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Rashtrapati Bhavan - The Story of the President's House

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Rashtrapati Bhavan - The Story of the President's House
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Item Code: NAU669
Author: H.Y. Sharada Prasad
Publisher: Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India
Language: English
Edition: 1992
ISBN: 812300009X
Pages: 101 (B/W and Colored Illustrations throughout)
Other Details: 10.50 X 8.00 inch
weight of the book: 0.63 kg
About the Book

Rashtrapati Bhavan is a house with 340 rooms. But size is not its only or even its chief claim to fame. It is a widely acclaimed masterpiece of architecture, the crowning achievement of a master-builder, Edwin Lutyens.

It was built to proclaim the might and permanence of the British empire in India. That empire vanished from the land within eighteen years of its construction. The book tells the story of this imperial edifice which has been adapted to the needs of Republican India.

**Contents and Sample Pages**


Sand takes time to turn into stone. And stone takes talent to be converted into an edifice. Nature and man, rock and architecture, have rarely collaborated to so fine a purpose as in the fashioning of the magnificent Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Indian stone, both supple and tough, smooth and heavy-grained, had earlier gone into the making of two other regal residences in Delhi, the Purana Qila and the Red Fort. Those gaunt monuments proclaimed India’s architectural excellence and more. They bespoke India’s artistic skills and symbolized its strength. When, in the early years of this century, the British moved the Raj’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi, the search for an imperial Residence became a desideratum. The Kingsway Camp was first chosen and even a foundation was laid there. But to the genius in architecture, Edwin Lutyens, the Raisina Hill appealed as an ideal site for the proposed building. 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.

Lutyens and his colleague in the enterprise, Baker, knew that the new building could not exist in a vacuum. The building, Lutyens and Baker realized, would therefore have to use not an unfamiliar architectural language but a higher vocabulary from within India’s own idiom of edifices. The Viceroy’s House, they saw, would need to stand out but not stand apart. Years of painstaking research and meticulous study went into the planning of the noble pile. The construction commenced and proceeded thereafter with the dignity — and slowness — of a pageant. Shape merged with tone, theme fused with rock, as hundreds of masons, carpenters, cutters, carvers and artists worked to give the building its finishing touches with the detailed care that engravers bestow on jewellery. When in 1929 after years of construction activity the monumental work was completed, there came to be added to the list of the world’s palaces a fresh, new name. But a name that had an old ring to it. The ‘wicker trellis’ of Sarnath hallowed by Gautama the Buddha and ancient Indian motifs like the Sun, the serpent and, of course, the elephant adorned its walls, lintels, cornices, plinths and courtyards.

The building which Lord Irwin stepped into in 1929 was.a metaphor for the Raj: strong, regal and majestic — like a caparisoned elephant. The building which, three Viceroys later, Lord Mountbatten stepped out of retained the same elephantine bearing, but there was a difference. The pachyderm now displayed a different aspect of its personality: wisdom and sagacity. Mahatma Gandhi had in the meantime visited the building for several rounds of parleys. The best minds of Indiaand Britain had interacted in it, often with heat but always with courtesy and decorum of which the Indian leaders were living examples.

A series of austere, scholarly and wise Indians such as C. Rajagopalachari, the first Indian Governor-General, Rajendra Prasad, the first President, and his successors like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Zakir Husain in the years since Independence, have brought to this building the texture of a renascent but self-restrained India. Exceptional Indians led by Jawaharlal Nehru, our first Prime Minister, Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Azad have been administered their oaths of office in its stately precincts. A succession of dignitaries from abroad have come and stayed in it as India’s honoured guests, a tradition that continues, to be cherished by host and guest alike.

A steady stream of sightseers comes to see Rashtrapati Bhavan's Durbar Hall where India's distinguished sons and daughters are honoured for their accomplishments and where India’s brave soldiers are decorated. Visitors also see the renowned Moghul Gardens and also the new Museum which I have had the pleasure of launching. Some priceless paintings, photographs, artefacts and objets d’art which have been received by the Presidents over the years are housed in this Museum and its adjoining Toshakhana.

The story of this building’s rise and transformation from an imperial palace to India’s First Residence needed to be told. As one who had received, during my visits to world capitals, beautifully produced books on State Residences, I keenly felt the absence of such a book on Rashtrapati Bhavan. There were of course some splendid volumes on Lutyens’s work but these were, essentially, meant for those interested in architecture. Likewise, history books per se could not be expected to do justice to the role of what, to a historian, is a mere venue.

But great buildings, like great human beings, need a biographer. They need someone who can write about its architecture as also its ‘within’, not in the sense of its interior but its spirit. It therefore gave me no little satisfaction when Shri H. Y. Sharada Prasad agreed to undertake the task. He is sensitive to aesthetics and to history and uses words, like Rashtrapati Bhavan’s stone-carvers used their instruments, with a gentle strength. He has brought the story of this edifice to life.

I commend the book to the widest possible readership. Lam sure that a diligent reader will discern not merely the massive structure but the solid foundation of our strong, sturdy and unassailable Constitution which the Rashtrapati Bhavan symbolizes.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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