Raj Bhawan : A Magical Palace
It is not everyday that one gets an opportunity to visit the Raj Bhavan. And when this rare opportunity came our way, we immediately took the plunge. On April 16, 2009, my photographer and I set on a trail to discover this magnificent edifice. We were awestruck from the very moment we set foot inside this historical building. The sheer magnanimity of the structure swept us off our feet. The Raj Bhavan is not just any heritage building. It is one of Kolkata's most outstanding landmarks which evoke past memories. Raj Bhavan, the erstwhile Government House, used to be the seat of British Imperial power during the days of the Raj.
The design of Raj Bhavan is an adaptation of the plan of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, was built during the years 1759-1770 by the renowned architect Robert Adam for Lord Scarsdale, the great-great-grandfather of Lord Curzon who later lived here as the Viceroy and the Governor General exactly 100 years after Lord Wellesley. Although the fame of Kedleston Hall was on many lips in the second half of the 18th century on account of its decorative features and the beauty of its style, it was the remarkable suitability of the general design to the conditions of a tropical climate which led to its adoption as the general model for Government House in Kolkata which was built during the years 1799-1803.
Governor General Lord Wellesley took up residence in Government House, as it was then called, in 1803, even before the last of the artisans had vacated this huge mansion. Such was his impatience to live in a home worthy of a ruler of the British Empire in India. The Government House was completed on January 18, 1803. Twenty-three Governors-Generals and, later, Viceroys lived in this house, until the capital shifted to Delhi on April 1, 1912.
In keeping with Lord Metcalfe's vision, this meticulously planned and well structured building was specially created away from the rest of the metropolis, magnificently proportioned amidst acres of lush green gardens. Tall intricately patterned wrought iron gates with massive lions perched atop reiterated the same regal majestic message. The 'plebeian' and the 'common man' were to be kept out of what was the abode of the Governor General, the symbol of the power and might of the Monarch and the Throne. The Raj Bhavan occupies a total of 27 acres of land. The building has 84,000 sq.ft of floor space. This three-storied building with a huge central area consisting of large halls has curved corridors on all four sides radiating to detached wings, each constituting a house in itself.
The residential suites and the Ballroom are situated on the second floor while the main suite - the Prince of Wales suite - used by visiting dignitaries is situated in the North West wing of the first floor. The first floor central area consists of the Throne Room, Banquet Hall, the Blue Drawing and the Brown Dining Room. In the North Eastern corner of the first floor is the Council Chamber in which major government decisions were made during the British rule. In the ground floor of the building is occupied by the Marble Hall, Record Room, Library and other offices. The Inside Story:
The Ball Room : This grand Ball Room truly inspires awe from its visitors. During the days of the Raj, the Ballroom on the second floor attracted a great deal of attention. Lord Wellesley decorated it with beautiful chandeliers and mirrors bought at the sale of the property of General Claude Martin in Lucknow on October 15, 1801. The Ballroom has some wonderful paintings displayed on its walls. The balcony which is situated on the southern end of the room offers a magnificent view of the Maidan beyond the long gravel stretch leading to the south gate of the Raj Bhavan.
The Banquet Hall : The Banquet Hall with rows of Doric pillars on each side and flowering chandeliers above the black mahogany tables laid in the centre has entertained eminent guests and dignitaries of the likes of Queen Elizabeth and King Saud among several others.
The Council Chamber : It is here where the Governor-General used to preside over the Executive, and also, later, the Legislative Council, now used only when the Governor presides over meetings too large to be held in his Study. A small drawing room known as the Bharat Ratna Room which is used after lunch and small dinner parties and a billiard room is situated outside the Council Chamber.
The Throne Room : As the name suggests, the Throne Room derives its name from the throne which is placed at the centre of the room. This throne was used by Lord Wellesley. The oil paintings of Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, J. L. Nehru and Dr. B. C. Roy are displayed on the walls of this room. A brass urn in a glass case is placed right under Mahatma Gandhi's painting. Once, this urn used to contain the ashes of Gandhiji. One can also see the Throne of Tipu Sultan placed right beside Lord Wellesley's throne. The Yellow Drawing Room : The Yellow Drawing Room is situated on the first floor of the Raj Bhavan. This beautiful drawing room has some wonderful paintings on its walls. The Blue Drawing Room : The Blue Drawing Room is an elegantly furnished room which is used by the governor to meet a few guests.
The Brown Dining Room : The Brown Dining Room is situated right next to the Blue Drawing Room. This room is now used for small conferences and meetings. The Marble Hall : The Marble Hall is located in the ground floor of the Raj Bhavan. It is now used for occasional State and private meetings. Marble busts of Twelve Caesars adorn the east and the west aisles. If speculations are to be believed, then these busts were seized from a French ship which was taking them as a present from the French King Napoleon to the Nizam of Hyderabad Tipu Sultan.
The Library : The Raj Bhavan has a wonderful library. A great deal of improvement has been brought about in the library due to the efforts of the present Governor Shri Gopal Krishna Gandhi.
The Lift : OTIS Elevator Company installed this lift under the instruction of Lord Curzon. This special lift with an ornamental design embossed on the ornate door is perhaps the first lift in the subcontinent.
The Garden House: Shri T. N. Singh who was appointed as a Governor on November 6th 1977. Soon after his appointment, he expressed his unwillingness to stay in the Raj Bhavan, stating that it was too big for his liking. It was under his instruction that the Garden House was constructed.