As Rashtrapati Bhavan gets new president, Pranab Mukherjee leaves behind cultural legacy

New Delhi: President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday became the new occupant of the iconic Rashtrapati Bhavan, the nearly 90-year-old edifice whose architectural grandeur was magnified during the term of his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee through various restoration projects.

With the change of guard, Mukherjee, 81, hands over to Kovind, 71, a legacy of cultural and architectural preservation, which a heritage expert said was one of Mukherjee's abiding passions.

 As Rashtrapati Bhavan gets new president, Pranab Mukherjee leaves behind cultural legacy

Representational image. Reuters

The centrepiece of the Raisina Hill capital complex, designed by British architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens as the Viceroy's House, became the residence of the Head of State of the Republic of India in 1950.

Parts of the grand complex, endowed with 340 rooms, acres of gardens and crafted fountains, were given a makeover during Mukherjee's five-year tenure.

Old and decrepit stables were converted into a museum, colonial-era clock towers were refurbished and a building of the President's Bodyguard (PBG) was restored.

"His vision of heritage was very holistic and did not just relate to piecemeal projects. He was very interested in and enthusiastic about every restoration project that was taking place or being planned," architect and former convener of conservation body INTACH's Delhi Chapter, AGK Menon, said.

His vision "definitely enhanced" the architectural grandeur of Rashtrapati Bhavan, he said.

"He also made the country's first residence more accessible to the people, which is praiseworthy," Menon told PTI.

Delhi-based Indian National Trust for Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has collaborated with the President's Estate on many restoration projects, including a 1925-built clock tower that was inaugurated on 25 July, 2015, on the completion of Mukherjee's three years in office.

The clock tower, built by Lutyens, is now the house reception zone of the Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum Complex, a cafeteria and a souvenir shop.

Phase-II of the museum, spread over 10,000 sqm, is a hi-tech story-telling centre that recounts facts about the planning and construction of the building.

It tells the stories of the British viceroys who occupied the Bhavan till 1947, the transfer of power, the life and work of 13 Presidents of India since 1950, and life in Rashtrapati Bhavan, among other themes.

While opening a restored building of the PBG earlier this month, the 13th president had said he would demit office "satisfied" with the success of his five-year initiative to restore heritage buildings in the Bhavan.

An elite household cavalry regiment of the Indian Army, the PBG is the oldest and finest regiment of the British era, active since 1773.

After restoration, the 1920-era PBG building gleams in its all-white glory as the clock tower atop it chimes in time with perfection.

There is a lot to be done at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mukherjee had said in 2015 while ushering in his fourth year in office and dispelling notions that life in the President's Estate was in the "realm of boredom".

On Monday, in his last address to the nation as the president, he said, "We tried to build a humane and happy township", summing up his five years in the sprawling presidential residence.

Mukherjee, an avid reader, on Tuesday moved to 10, Rajaji Marg, a Raj-era bungalow in Lutyens's Delhi, after bidding farewell to the grand Rashtrapati Bhavan, where he had assumed office on this day in 2012.

Work on construction of the Bhavan, as the seat of British imperial power, began in 1912, a year after the capital of the Raj was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.

Lutyens, while designing the Viceroy's House, created a new order for the columns used in the building, the Delhi Order. The pillars were embellished on top with bells and motifs of elephants, a running theme across the architectural landscape, from the grand fence and wrought-iron gates in the front to the main building premises.

Sitting atop Raisina Hill and completed in 1929, it is one of the most visited and photographed buildings in Delhi. It encompasses 1 1/2 miles of corridors, 340 rooms of which 63 are living rooms, 227 columns and 37 fountains, including roof fountains.

The Viceroy's House, alongside the identical North Block and South Block buildings, was inaugurated as part of the new imperial capital of New Delhi in February 1931.

In the forecourt of the building is a monumental column: The Jaipur Column. It is made of sandstone and carries a five-tonne bronze lotus from which emerges a six-pointed 'Star of India', made of glass. The star was installed in 1930.

The Jaipur Column has carvings that face the north and south. On the eastern side is a map of Delhi, as envisioned then, and an inscription that runs through three sides of the column.

It reads, "In thought faith, In word wisdom; In deed courage; In life service; So may India be great."

After India became a Republic, the Viceroy's House was rechristened Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Updated Date: Jul 25, 2017 22:30:46 IST

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