Calcutta had held the post of the administrative capital of British India for over 150 years. However, Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal had caused huge Nationalist opposition in Bengal. With continuous bombings, political assassinations, the boycott of foreign goods, and the swadeshi movement taking the route, Calcutta had become very hostile for the British.

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View of Rashtrapati Bhawan atop Raisina Hill © India tv news

Further, the narrow streets and hot humid climate of the subcontinent had started taking its toll on the homesick Europeans. They were desperately in need of a space they could call their own, that would remind them of their homeland. 

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Old photo of Rashtrapati Bhawan © civils daily

In 1911, the British decided to restore Shahjahan’s capital city to its former position as the center of power. Delhi was perfect not only for its strategic location and closeness to the summer capital but was well suited to play host to the city that would mark the authority of the British over the Indians. The uprising of 1957 had conveyed very well the symbolic and strategic importance of Delhi and the emotional connect people had with the place. 

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Roads of Lutyens Delhi ©newsmobile
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Teen Murty Bhawan and its magnificent lawns © Wikipedia

Delhi was conceptualized as a city within a city that would speak of the opulence and majesty of the English lifestyle. The three principal actors, Hardinge, Lutyens, and Baker agreed on the need for an architectural style that would manifest Britain’s imperial position in India. The grand Kingsway vista (Rajpath) flanked by the secretariat buildings leading up to a palatial Viceroy House (Rashtrapati Bhawan) atop the Raisina Hill, luxurious bungalows surrounded by huge lawns, well-landscaped English gardens, and wide roads stood in stark contrast to the narrow streets and organic settlements of Shahjahanabad. The sheer grandeur of the spaces was so designed to overwhelm the Indians, hence forcing them to accept the British as their superiors. 

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Parliament House ©New Indian express

Lutyens had worked extensively on the planning of New Delhi. Strategic locations were marked out for important buildings. Willingdon Crescent forms the western boundary of the presidential estate and runs between Teen Murti Bhavan and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. The landscaped roundabouts are bedecked with life-size statues of soldiers. The India Gate hexagon at the end of the ceremonial axis with the statue of King George V occupying the central location with the Princely palaces surrounding it as if in submission symbolizes the authority of the king of Britain over India. The design of the parliament house and the Connaught place is known to be undemocratic with their circular form. While the Bungalows and the administrative offices stand behind low walls easily visible to the natives — a daily reminder of British authority, the huge lawns, and tall iron gates were imposing elements that made the buildings seem overpowering and unapproachable for the locals. 

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Soldiers statues in front of then Murty Bhawan © Reddit

There were several aspects of design in the design of the new capital that was adopted from the Indian culture. Delhi has a specific architectural style that has a mix of western classical architecture with the details filled by Indian motifs giving an Indo-Saracenic look to the new city. A new order of columns was designed specifically for Delhi that came to be known as the Delhi order and was inspired by the Greek orders and combined Indian motifs. The color scheme and construction materials were adopted from the traditional Mughal architectural style. 

Today, Lutyens Delhi is an integral part of the colonial history of India, and as the Indian Railways, is an example of the infrastructural improvements the British had introduced in India. Post-Independence several buildings of Lutyens Delhi such as Rail Bhawan, Krishi Bhawan, and Udyog Bhawan were set up as offices for the newly formed Indian government, hence maintaining this mark of British dominance in India.

Author

Akshara is a graduate from SPA-Delhi who believes that the ability to see and read the world around through multiple perspectives is one of the must haves to make a positive change. As an architect, she aspires to develop her writings as a medium of self-expression and self-exploration.

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