Free Press Journal

Today 87 years ago ‘New Delhi’ was inaugurated as capital city


Indian people gather at India gate during New Year's Eve celebrations in New Delhi on December 31, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET

New Delhi, Feb 13 (PTI) New Delhi, the modern capital of India with the Raisina Hill complex as its architectural centrepiece, took over 20 years to build, and was inaugurated on this day in 1931 by Viceroy Lord Irwin. The new imperial city was born on December 12, 1911, during a grand ceremonial ‘Durbar’ here when British monarch King George V had announced the shifting of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi.

“The meaning of imperial Delhi reached both its fullest expression as well as its fullest contradiction in February 1931, when the new capital was opened to the world in an inauguration that lasted a week,” D Johnson and Richard Watson say in the book ‘New Delhi: The Last Imperial City’. The ceremony was held at the Raisina Hill, with the Viceroy’s House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan), and North Block and South Block witnessing opulent functions to mark the occasion.

“From the city’s earliest beginning in 1911, the capital was meant to be much more than a place to do work of the imperial government. It was destined to be a crowning achievement in colonial architecture and colonial town planning, a capital worthy of the British Empire,” the book says.

Designed by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, the city was, incidentally christened ‘New Delhi’ on December 31, 1926. On the day of the inauguration, four iconic Dominion Columns, each made of red sandstone and topped by replica of a ship, were unveiled by Lord Irwin amid fanfare of trumpets followed by the playing of the (British) national anthem, according to the book ‘Glittering Decades: New Delhi in Love and War’.

“The four columns which are the immediate purpose of our meeting today are tokens of something wider than anything which the past cities of Delhi represent,” says the book, quoting the Viceroy’s speech at the unveiling. The columns, each a gift from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, marked a gesture of friendship and unity within the British Empire.

“People come to the Raisina Hill for admiring the architectural elegance of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the grandeur of North and South Blocks, but hardly anyone notices the four columns, which are still standing,” said Shashank Gupta, a city-based colonial history enthusiast, who conducts heritage walks in Lutyens’ Delhi.

On February 25, he is holding the event ‘Walk to Lutyens’ Delhi: A Journey of the Making of an Imperial City’ as part of the month-long India Heritage Walk Festival that started early this month. “The use of Delhi Order in building columns, the jharokhas in Secretariat Complex, the elephant motifs in the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the North and South Blocks, the dome of the Bhavan inspired from the Sanchi Stupa and the Jaipur Column in the forecourt, it’s a fascinating story,” Gupta said.

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