Today: Jun 18, 2024

Parliament House was opened on January 18, 1927 with much fanfare

3 mins read

New Delhi: 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, six days ahead of schedule, with opposition members forcing repeated adjournments in the final days over their demand for a discussion on the border issue with China.

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 Bhavan, currently under construction.

The new Parliament building, whose foundation was laid in December 2020 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is being built in its vicinity and the work was expected to be completed before the Winter Session. It was earlier expected to be completed in time for the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence Day on August 15 last year.

The new building will also have a grand Constitution Hall to showcase India’s democratic heritage, a lounge for members of Parliament, a library, multiple committee rooms, dining areas and ample parking space.

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.

Parliament House and Sansad Bhawan are both used interchangeably in official parlance, while the building was named as a Council House when it was conceived by the British in 1920s after the imperial capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.

Lutyens and Baker gave shape to the new imperial capital, with the Viceroy’s House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan) and the North Block and South Block as the centrepiece of ‘New Delhi’, as the city was officially named in 1926.

On February 12, 1931, Lord Irwin also dedicated the All India War Memorial to the nation in a solemn ceremony as part of the official inauguration ceremony of ‘New Delhi’ which started on February 10 and lasted about a week.

While the tricolour replaced the Union Jack atop its majestic roof when India threw off the yokes of the British rule and the Viceroy House neighbouring it built around the same period soon assumed the avatar of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Parliament building has essentially remained timeless albeit for a change of few names.

“Till the Council House or Parliament House as we know it today, was built, the legislature was housed in the iconic Old Secretariat building of the government, which today is home to the Delhi Assembly,” said Swapna Liddle, Delhi-based historian and author of “Connaught Place and the Making of New Delhi”.

Once the new Parliament building, part of the redevelopment of Central Vista, is completed, India will in many ways turn a page since the opening of the old Parliament in 1927.

“Today, you meet for the first time in your new and permanent home in Delhi,” Viceroy Lord Irwin had said, addressing the first session of the third legislative assembly on January 24, 1927.

“In this chamber, the assembly has been provided with a setting worthy of its dignity and importance, and I can pay its designer no higher compliment than by expressing the wish with that the temper, in which the public affairs of India will be here conducted, may reflect the harmony of his conception,” he said.