“Contiguous to the Esplanade is the Government House, a superb edifice, approached by four colossal gates emblazoned with the Britannic Arms.”
Thomas & William Daniell, British painters, 1810.
“without doubt the finest Government House occupied by the representative of any Sovereign or Government in the world.”
Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India (1898 – 1905)
In the early nineteenth century Calcutta (Kolkata) was at the height of its golden age. Known as the City of palaces or St. Petersburg of the east, Calcutta (Kolkata) was the richest, largest and the most elegant colonial cities of India.
It was during this time one of the finest colonial structures of Calcutta (Kolkata) was constructed. Built in 1803 the Government House, now Raj Bhavan served as the official residence of the Governor General of India and later after independence as the official residence of the Governor of Bengal.
Before 1799 the Governor General resided in a rented house, called Bukimham House, located in the same location. It was in 1799 the then Governor General of India, Lord Wellesley, took the initiative of building a palace, because he believed that India should be ruled form a palace and not from a country house.
After 4 years construction was complete at a colossal cost of 63,291 pounds (about 3.8 million pounds in today’s estimate). Wellesley was charged for misusing of Company’s fund and was finally recalled back to England in 1805.
Designed by Capt. Charles Wyatt and on the lines of the Curzon’s family mansion of the Keddleston Hall of Derbyshire, the Raj Bhavan follows a Neoclassical style with distinct Baroque overtones. In a strange coincidence, a 100 years after its construction started, the most illustrious son of the Curzon family, George Nathaniel Curzon came to occupy the Raj Bhavan as the Viceroy of India.
Since the days of Lord Wellesley the Raj Bhavan had undergone several changes. In 1860s the Viceroy Lord Elgin added the metallic Dome. Lord Curzon brought electricity and lift (popularly known as the ‘Bird Cage Lift”) to Raj Bhavan. The tiny ornamentally designed “Bird Cage Lift” operates to this day.
The Raj Bhavan covers an area of 84,000 sq. ft. and is surrounded by a compound covering an area of 27 acres. The Raj Bhavan has 6 gate ways one each on North & South and 2 each on East & West. The 4 gates on the East & West have a grand arch ways topped with a lion. The minor archways on the side are topped with Sphinx. Sadly these 4 colossal gates hardly provide a good view of the Raj Bhavan.
The best view of the Raj Bhavan is obtained from the North Gate, which also serves as the main gate. A long walk past a decorated Chinese cannon leads to a flight of stairs to the portico crowned with the triangular pediment supported by six ionic pillars.
The Chinese cannon, mounted on a dragon and flanked with minor cannons, was brought from Nanking in 1842. An inscription on a marble plaque reads “The peace dictated to the Emperor of China under the walls of Nanking by the military force of England and of India.” The South gate also provides a grand view, with the tree lined drive leading on to the lofty ionic pillars supporting the huge metallic dome. Entry inside the complex is strictly prohibited but photography is allowed from outside the gates with permission of the officer in charge at the gate.
- An Artist’s Impression by Desmond Doig
- Swasat Kolkata by Nishitranjan Roy
- 10 Walks in Calcutta by Prosenjit Dasgupta
- Jaywalkers Guide Calcutta by Soumitra Das
- White Mughal by William Dalrymple
List of my Blog entries on Calcutta (Kolkata)