The Rashtrapathi’s House

A visit to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan is not for the faint-hearted. First of all claiming a pass online is a daunting task in itself, the president of India website makes it a tad easy, but the number of questions they ask and the slots that show up make a visit to Vaisho Devi seem much less complicated! No phone, no computers, no beedis, no flowers, no selfie sticks (yes, thats appropriate), no chocolate (no really!), and with a long list of nos we are welcomed into what would be the largest, grandest, most gorgeous residence in India that is laced with history. Taking all the warnings seriously, the Husband and I left all our belongings, gifts and flowers (we wanted to bring for the President) and turned up at the Rajpath empty handed on a beautiful February morning. February is the second best month for visiting Delhi, October being the first, when the city lights up and bursts into a wondrous delight during Diwali! As we hiked up the Raisina Hill we could feel dozens of eyes watching our every move. May not apply to the rest of India, but the Raisina hill is really on guard!

Studying the making of the Hill, the North and South Blocks by Herbert Baker, the Rashtrapathi Bhavan, its Mughal Gardens and the precincts of Lutyens Delhi by Lutyens himself, in my 5 years of architecture school I began reciting all the facts I could muster to the husband (who kept a firm eye on the guards, saftety first!). If not for the intimidating nature of the armed personnel, the scale, proportion and light of the North and South Blocks, standing tall and strong is largely fanciful with all its glory in sandstone. The material, a favorite of the Mughals and largely available across North India is used very well all across the extents of Lutyens Delhi. It is combined with frail wrought-iron and manicured greenery. The Rashtrapathi Bhavan, originally designed as the Viceroy’s house by Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens is home to the President of India and his staff. It hosts various state dignitaries (of comparatively poorer nations, I am told, the richer nations make their own accommodations!) and boasts of the extremely well-curated, the Mughal Gardens.

Built in the Delhi Order, the architectural style is a mix of the classical order with elements from the architecture witnessed in the Indian sub-continent. The design envisaged in 1912, displays capitals with a band of vertical ridges, and has uniquely to its own, bells hanging at each corner replacing the original Greek or Roman volutes. The bells were in stone so they could never sound the fall of the British Empire! Lutyens Delhi and the Rashtrapathi Bhavan are definitely the architect’s masterpieces for the largely residential, villa-building architect from England. He worked on this project for 20 years. His only other claim to fame is his relation with the Viceroy. Lutyens father-in-law was Viceroy Lytton! However one drive around the central part of Delhi with its unique hexagonal road layout seals any strand of doubt. It is beautiful and very well-done. At the President’s house though Lutyens employs a grand sense of scale at every level. Thoughtfully laying out several entries into the building, wooden pavers for the arrival of horse-carriageways, allowing for guests to alight amidst the arrival courts, wooden pavers to muffle the sound of moving vehicles, the building is intelligent in not just scale and proportion, but also in it’s material application and thorough details.

What the building lacks in finery and riches of the traditional sense, it makes up in its structure and proportion. After walking through the Durbar Hall, whose flooring line divides Delhi into North and South, where official ceremonies are held, the Grand Ball room with its fine carpet and heavily worked on ceiling, the 1000 headed Buddha, all mostly gifts, the residence is also adorned by archaeological relics unearthed in the  country, one is guided out into an internal court of beautiful stairways where the a marble bust of the architect is placed. Architect of the building, Sir Edwin Lutyens it says. What pride for an architect to not just design a marvelous structure, be not just acknowledged or awarded for it, but have a figurine that claims the intellectual rights! Inspired by that rare display of adjudication, I felt thrilled, honored and privileged to be an architect, who could contribute in building literally, the world!

Architecture that inspires is the best architecture of them all, just like art. Wanting to build beautiful buildings, Lutyens spread the love for beauty, that is indeed a joy forever through his winning work.

Here’s an anecdote featuring the man himself:

When Lutyens left Rashtrapati Bhavan for the last time, he wiped the stone with his handkerchief and kissed it. He said leaving the house felt like giving away his daughter in marriage.