Historic rooms being restored to original glory after Pranab wanted it to be opened to people

When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India in December, he became the first dignitary in recent times to use the ‘South Drawing Room’ in the sprawling Rashtrapati Bhavan. The South Drawing room with its teakwood panelled walls, cream and green colours and exquisite art work known as the ‘Company’ paintings is used by visiting Heads of State to receive Indian dignitaries.

Mr. Putin’s meeting with United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj in the historic room is being perceived as the starting point of a new beginning in the erstwhile Viceregal Lodge where doors are literally being thrown open.

“There were rooms that were locked and not being used, in some even the windows and the doors had been boarded up. We have begun with the restoration of some of the rooms, like the Long Drawing room, the North Drawing Room, where the President receives Heads of State and the Durbar Hall, and are opening them to people,” said Omita Paul, Secretary to President Pranab Mukherjee.

The President’s wish to make the Rashtrapati Bhavan accessible to the common man has is being followed up with the restoration of historic rooms to their original glory, culling out antique furniture from the dank insides of store rooms and rolling out the rich tapestry.

Nothing new added

“There were rooms that were bare and all the nice furniture, artefacts and art works were locked up. We began with the aid of old photographs and started to reassemble the furniture in the rooms as was envisaged and designed by Edward Lutyens. As of now, nothing new has been added to any of the rooms, everything has been sourced from the storerooms in the Rashtrapati Bhavan,” said Ms. Paul.

Buoyed by the restoration and the recent use of Durbar Hall for the ASEAN summit, the President’s Office is now considering Durbar Hall as the venue for important events such as swearing-in ceremony for Ministers. “We are exploring the possibility of limiting the Ashoka Hall to hosting banquets for visiting dignitaries,” she said.

The Ashok Hall, originally designed as a Ball Room for the Viceroy, is now being used for ceremonial functions — including the presentation of credentials by Heads of Missions of foreign countries. It also has the famous ceiling painting showcasing an equestrian portrait of Fateh Ali Shah, the second of the seven Qajar rulers of Persia on a hunt with his sons.

Nuggets of facts

Alongside the marble and stone floors and columns that are being scrubbed and the chandeliers that are being polished, nuggets of facts are being uncovered for introducing the people of the country to the historic edifice.

“The Rashtrapati Bhavan was being used to showcase the exhibits of Indian art till the time the National Museum got its own building. Later, while all the exhibits were moved there, a Buddha sculpture dating back to the Gupta age that is in the Durbar Hall and a Ashokan Bull were retained here,” said Venu Rajamony, Press Secretary to the President, during a tour of the restored portions of the historic building.

Cleaned and spruced up

While the Durbar Hall, Ashoka Hall, Library, Long Drawing Room, South Drawing Room, North Drawing Room and the Loggia and Banquet Hall have all been spring cleaned and opened up, work is also under way to give the ‘Guest Wing’ of the Rashtrapati Bhavan a new look.

“We are hopeful of making the wing suitable for hosting foreign dignitaries. Work has just begun and will take at least a year before the wing is ready for its first guest,” said Ms. Paul.

More In: Delhi