An ornate two-tonne crystal chandelier that hangs 33 metres from the roof arrests attention as one steps into the circular Durbar Hall, a historic niche in the resplendent Rashtrapati Bhavan. The crystals are gleaming, the bulbs luminous, the floor has been scrubbed, portraits restored, columns of marble and stone polished, and the dome shaped roof has a fresh coat of paint: Durbar Hall, after long years of not being used is ready to host dignitaries and watch events unfold.
President Pranab Mukherjee’s brief -- to utilise the space in Rashtrapati Bhavan and to thrown it open to the country and its people -- is being followed by restoring all unused rooms, rediscovering old furniture and artefacts and positioning them as per the original design.
This past Thursday, the Durbar Hall was used for the President’s interaction with delegates of the 13th Conference of Chief Justices of the World. “The hall was not being used because of the problem with acoustics. That problem has been addressed and we are now hoping to use it for the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in December,” says Venu Rajamony, Press Secretary to the President.
The new acoustics system and fresh set of paintings of Mahatma Gandhi, C. Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajendra Prasad and bright wine coloured banners with the national emblem are the only recent additions to the room which has a Buddha sculpture dating back to the Gupta Period occupying the pride of place.
“This Hall is historic, it was here that Panditji took oath as Prime Minister in 1947; in 1948 Rajaji -- the first Governor-General took oath of office -- and in 1977 when Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed passed away while in office, his body lay in state in the Durbar Hall,” says Mr. Rajamony.
As part of the ongoing restoration at Durbar Hall, old mirrors that were installed as per the original plan are being reinstated and old photographs are being consulted to locate the artefacts that were installed here.
Restoration is also being carried out at the South Drawing Room, where the Prime Minister used to meet the foreign dignitaries who were guests at the Presidential House.
“We want to restore these rooms to their original design, so we decided to locate the original carpets that were used. We are repairing what needs to be repaired, polishing what needs to be polished and replacing what needs to be replaced. We are maintaining the original colour schemes, for instance in the Yellow Drawing Room, the upholstery will be in the same colour,” says Mr. Rajamony.
The refurbished and renovated rooms will also be part of the tour of Rashtrapati Bhavan that is organised on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.