By Kunal Dutt
THE magnificent Parliament House, which may soon hand over its position as the country’s hallowed legislature to a new complex coming up in its vicinity, was inaugurated on this very day 96 years ago by the then Viceroy Lord Irwin.
The historic building, an architectural marvel with its charming circular design and an impressive colonnade of 144 creamy sandstone on the first floor, was opened amid much fanfare at a time when the new imperial capital of the British Raj -- New Delhi -- was being built at a site in Raisina Hill area. According to archival documents and rare old images, a grand ceremony was held on January 18, 1927 to mark the opening of the majestic building, then called as the Council House. Over a century ago, when the nation was still in the making and Independence 26 years away, Britain’s Duke of Connaught had laid the foundation stone of Parliament House on February 12, 1921, and said it would stand “as the symbol of India’s rebirth to yet higher destinies”.
The building, with a diameter of 560 ft and circumference of one-third of a mile, was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who along with Sir Edwin Lutyens was chosen to design the new imperial capital in Delhi.
According to the book “New Delhi - Making of a Capital”, Lord Irwin had arrived in his viceregal carriage at a pavilion set up at the Great Place (now Vijay Chowk), and then “proceeded to open the door of the Council House with a golden key, handed to him by Sir Herbert Baker”.
The opening of the Parliament House building, revered today as India’s temple of democracy, was much talked about then in both domestic and foreign press. The sprawling edifice covering an area of nearly six acres and its creamy sandstone colonnade on the first floor is one of the most distinctive Parliament buildings anywhere in the world, and one of the most defining and widely-recognised structures. The last legislative sitting in it till the end of year 2022 was the Winter Session of Parliament which concluded on December 23.
Over the decades, as India evolved into the nation it is today, Parliament House has been witness to many a moment in history from cerebral debates to high-decibel, raucous discussions and the passing of legislations--some landmark and others controversial.
In its 96-year-old journey, the iconic building has also seen the dawn of Independence in 1947, its famed chambers heard the echoes of the famous “Tryst With Destiny” speech by first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and it has witnessed the foundation laying of a new Sansad Bhawan, currently under construction.
The multi-chequered history of the old Parliament building will be frozen in time, if the Winter session perhaps was its last legislative sitting. The odyssey of the old Parliament building is also the journey of the new capital of India built under the rule of the then monarch King George V, later christened New Delhi by him in 1926, less than a month before the inauguration of the circular landmark.