Old stables tell India's story at new Rashtrapati Bhavan museum
A flower petal that was found on the body of Mahatma Gandhi after his assassination, a piece of rock from the moon, gold-plated ceremonial chairs used by the British colonial rulers, Edwin Lutyens' rough sketches of a grand sandstone structure that took the shape of what is now Rashtrapati Bhavan -- such invaluable artefacts are part of a museum to be inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee at the presidential palace Friday.
The president, who completes two years in office, will dedicate the museum to the nation at an event Friday. The museum is housed in what used to be stables and a coach house used by the British rulers.
Each of the small arched rooms has priceless artefacts, including some that were found in old, dust-covered trunks kept in the unused rooms of the sprawling presidential palace.
"The museum tells the story of Rashtrapati Bhavan and its occupants and what happened after Independence," Omita Paul, secretary to President Mukherjee, told reporters during a special preview.
Paul said that among the displays are those discovered in an old trunk covered in dust and lying neglected for years.
There are also many drawings by Lutyens, when the master architect was giving imaginative shape to what the British viceroy's grand residence should look like.
Lutyens' detailed architectural drawings are there as well as many of the tables and chairs he desgined.
Some of the chairs were discovered being used by guards to sit on, said a presidential palace aide.
The museum is a "story-telling museum", with each room relating a story about India right from the Delhi Durbar of 1911 when the capital of British India was shifted to Delhi and Edward Lutyens was tasked with building seats of government, till the time of President Mukherjee.
There are life-sized statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Mountbatten and all the presidents down to Mukherjee.
A computerised digital sensor in each room will help visitors know about the story behind the exhibits with a finger touch on the screen opening up a page of information.
One of the small rooms has the figurines of Nehru, Gandhi, Sardar Patel and many others sitting around a small table June 2, 1947 when the fate of the subcontinent by the partition of India was decided.
The table is the very same used on that historic occasion.
There are other rooms where many of the gifts presented to Indian presidents over the years are showcased.
There is an exquisite multi-coloured marble table that was gifted to India's first president Rajendra Prasad from Afghanistan. The little green leaves at the edge of the table turn a darker shade with the touch of a finger.
The presidential palace authorities are planning to put a protective covering on the table to protect it, said a staffer.
A room, dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, has a table with a small glass box which contains a single flower petal that was found on the still-warm body of the Father of the Nation just after he was assassinated Jan 30, 1948.
There are also old horse carriages, including a double-decker hunting carriage, used by the British.
Rashtrapati Bhavan has plans to open a much larger story-telling museum, where sound and light videos, laser and holographic projections will make the story come alive.
That is the second phase of the museum to be ready by the end of 2015, said Paul.
The museum will be open to visitors free for the first three months, after which a nominal fee will be charged, said the top official.
Bookings can be done online at www.presidentofindia.nic.in.
(Posted on 24-07-2014)