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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

New Delhi hits a century

A 100 years ago,when the British shifted the capital of a fledgling country to an ageless metropolis,they laid the foundation for a city whose influence on modern India would be as towering as its many monuments.

Written by Sweta Dutta | New Delhi |
December 12, 2011 1:51:55 am

A 100 years ago,the capital emerged from under the shadows of the ageless Purani Dilli,which saw many a dynasty rise and fall during its centuries-old history

A 100 years ago,when the British shifted the capital of a fledgling country to an ageless metropolis,they laid the foundation for a city whose influence on modern India would be as towering as its many monuments. Much has changed about New Delhi in the last 100 years. And yet,if Sir Edwin Lutyens,the British architect of modern Delhi,were to take a walk through the city today,he’d find it strangely familiar and irrevocably different.

When Lutyens built the Viceroy’s Palace (Rashtrapati Bhavan),little did he envisage that a century later,his masterpiece would become the cornerstone of India’s equally vast democracy. So where did it all began? Who is the architect of modern Delhi? Was it right to christen New Delhi as Lutyens’ Delhi when other brilliant architects too helped build the city? Even as the debate continues,it is the blueprint that Lutyens drew up with his friend Herbert Baker that made the city much of what it is today.

Sir Edwin Lutyens was appointed as a consultant in 1912 with a brief to prepare a Master Plan as the head of the Delhi Town Planning Committee. Lutyens together with Herbert Baker created a unique urban form to reflect the aura of the empire. Initially,as the concept of a ‘new’ Delhi developed,the Viceroy’s Palace was given an enormous scale and needed a prominent position.

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Questions arose whether the capital would be better placed near the axis of the Coronation Pillar in North Delhi. But several surveys showed the area to be flood-prone and finally on June,9,1912,it was decided that it would be located on Raisina Hill. And from this focal point,the city expanded. The core town planning idea was to link the new capital with the older city. The Central Vista links the Viceroy’s House at one end of the King’s way (Rajpath) to the north gate of Purana Qila. A perpendicular road,Queen’s way (now Janpath) runs from Connaught Place,the commercial hub in the north,and ends at a circle south of Rajpath.

Eventually,India Gate,a 138-feet high arch,to commemorate the soldiers who died in World War I,again designed by Lutyens in 1921,would come to occupy the prime spot on the cityscape.

A network of streets was planned between Connaught Place and Rajpath,which was mirrored on the south too,making allowances for existing buildings like Safdarjung’s Tomb,Lodi Garden group of monuments,etc.

The new capital took 18 years (1912 to 1930) to build and was planned to accommodate 60,000 people. New Delhi was inaugural-ted on February 13,1931 by Lord Irwin,the then Viceroy of India.

The city of Delhi has undergone many radical changes in its topography,topology and demographics. As Delhi opened its bosom to all,towering highrises to house its ever burgeoning population began sprouting up matching heads with the Rashtrapati Bhavan that Lutyens had envisaged to be standing tall,lording over all of British India.

The high seat of democracy

Viceroy’s Palace


Inaugurated in 1931,the Viceroy’s Palace,meant to be the residence of the Viceroy and Governor General of India,became the focal point of New Delhi. Sir Edwin Lutyens,the architect of the majestic building,had to make numerous trips between India and England to oversee the construction of the Presidential Palace which took 19 years. The Viceroy’s Palace has 340 well-decorated rooms including the Durbar Hall that was designed to host all official functions. Since the budget for constructing this monumental residence was reduced,the size of the building had to be scaled down,but Lutyens maintained its grandeur. Indian architectural influences can be seen in the use of red and buff sandstone and decorative elements such as jaalis (windows),chhatris (canopies) and chhajjas (parapets).

Central Vista

It was decided that the Viceroy’s Palace would be linked to Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) by a pathway to be known as Rajpath (King’s Way) or the Central Vista. It leads from the National Stadium past India Gate,Vijay Chowk,the North and South Blocks of the Secretariat building converging at Viceroy’s Palace.


Post-Independence,the new Governor-General continued to stay here till he was replaced by the President of India in 1950 after which the Viceroy’s House was renamed the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Today,the Presidential Palace can only be seen with official permission and only the Durbar Hall,Ashoka Hall,Cabinet Room,State Dining Room,Marble Hall,Museum and a gallery for children are open to public. Every Saturday,between 10.35am and 11.10 am in winter and from 8.30am to 9.15am in summer,the President’s bodyguards hold a changing of the guard ceremony,which can be viewed from outside the gates. The 13-acre Mughal Gardens inside the Bhavan was designed on the insistence of Lady Hardinge,wife of Lord Hardinge,to replicate the gardens built by the Mughals. It is known for more than 250 varieties of roses including the Benkinsian Rose.

The two-mile long Central Vista continues be the center of the city and is a high security zone. The grand Republic Day parade is held on Rajpath every year.

A gate to city turned tribute to martyrs

India Gate


Initially it was planned as a gateway to Delhi for those entering the palatial grounds of the Viceroy’s Palace. The design was to imitate the Mughal style of creating impressive gateways to mark the entry and exit points of the city. However,when during the World War I a large number of Indian soldiers fell in battle for the British Empire,it was decided that a War Memorial was desirable,and thus India Gate was turned into the All India War Memorial. The foundation stone of the structure was laid on February 10,1921,by the Duke of Connaught and it was completed in 1931. British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens took inspiration from the Arch de Triumphe in Paris,France,which India Gate is often compared to. At a height of 138 feet,India Gate is built in the shape of a huge gateway mounted on a low red sandstone base. On both sides is inscribed INDIA,flanked by MCM and to the right,XIX. The two columns of India Gate are inscribed with over 90,000 names of Indian and British Soldiers who served in the British Army and were martyred during the First World War and the Afghan War of 1919.


The memorial was later inscribed with the names of soldiers who received the Param Veer Chakra Gallantry Award and soldiers martyred in the 1971 Indo-Pak War and the Kargil War. However,in 1970,an eternal flame was installed underneath the arch in honour of the martyred soldiers. This eternally-lit shrine is made of black marble and a rifle has been placed on it in a standing position with the helmet of a soldier atop paying homage to those unknown soldiers. ‘Amar Jawan’ is seen inscribed in pure gold which means ‘Immortal Warriors’ on every face of the shrine. There are three flags that represent the three Indian military forces Army,Navy,and Air Force and a soldier from each force guards the gate 24×7.

Connaught Place


It was proposed that a commercial hub be planned that would link the new city with the old. Connaught Place was designed by R T Russell. The construction of the complex began in 1929 and continued over five years. Connaught Place’s Georgian architecture is modeled after the Royal Crescent in Bath,England. A two-storied structure with an open colonnade,it almost makes a complete circle. It was designed with two concentric circles,creating the Inner Circle,Middle Circle and the Outer Circle and seven radial roads.


It was no surprise that the Delhi Metro while planning its network decided to make Rajiv Chowk (the official name for Connaught Place) its nerve centre. Despite several malls and commercial centres mushrooming across the Capital,CP continues to be the buzzing city centre. The empty block of the Inner Circle was filled up in the late 1970s with the construction of an underground market,Palika Bazaar,a first in Delhi,at the junction point.

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