December 21, 2011

India Gate, New Delhi

"An axis so spacious as the King's Way, leading to an architectural complex of such size and splendour as the Viceroy's House (President's House/Rashtrapati Bhavan) and the Secretariats, demands an ostentatious beginning. The height of the arch is 138 feet; but this is increased optically by the system of steps on the roof and the utter flatness of the surrounding plain. Its chief characteristic derives from the fact that the arch of the main opening, although 75 ft. high, springs from a point less than half way up the whole building; so that the arch, as an arch, has something to support, and is therefore invested with a kind of life, a quality which the Arc de Triomphe, for example, lacks. Close above the key-stone of the archway runs a decorative bands of rayed suns, carved flat, but with sufficient emphasis to break the hard line of shadow from the cornice above. The cornice is thin and prominent – unusually so for a monument of this kind. But it is precisely this shelf-like quality which brings it into harmonious relation with the mass of masonry, 40 ft. above it. This mass takes the form of three irregular steps, the topmost and deepest of which has its narrow ends interrupted by heavy, concave recesses. On top of this rests a small flat dome, finished with a convex eye, slightly moulded...its eventual function will be to emit a huge panache of memorial smoke, which the Public Works Department, slightly despairing, hopes to achieve by means of gas and electric fans...The whole arch stands on a low red base. The sides are pierced by two lesser openings, each 54 ft. high, and decorated with stone pineapples above the doorways at the bottom."
– Robert Byron, The Architectural Review "New Delhi"

Our second stop on the HOHO tour of Delhi, the majestic India Gate, originally known as All India War Memorial and designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, stands 42 meters high and is inspired by the Arc-de-Triomphe in Paris. The memorial, bearing the names of 13,516 British and Indian soldiers killed in the Northwestern Frontier in the Afghan war of 1919, commemorates 90,000 brave Indian soldiers who lost their lives in the period 1914-19 fighting for the British Army during World War I and Third Anglo-Afghan War. The foundation stone of the monument was laid by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Connaught in 1921 and it was dedicated to the nation 10 years later by then Viceroy Lord Irwin.

The colossal, eye-catching memorial stands on a base composed of red Bharatpur stone and rises in stages to a massive moulding which has both its faces inscribed with the legend INDIA, flanked by the Roman numerals MCMXIV (1914, left) and MCMXIX (1919, right). The shallow bowl surmounting the structure was intended to be filled with burning oil on anniversaries but this is not done now.

Memorial to the Unknown Soldier

Located reverentially as a shrine under the arch of India Gate since the Indo-Pak War of December 1971 is a graceful black marble cenotaph surmounted by a rifle propped on its barrel and crested by a soldier's helmet. Serving as the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" with each of its face inscribed in gold with the words "Amar Jawan" ("Immortal Soldier"), the cenotaph itself is placed on an edifice which has an eternal torch perpetually kept alive on each of its four corners. To remind the nation of soldiers who laid down their lives in the war, this "Amar Jawan Jyoti" ("Flame of the Immortal Soldier") burns perennially day and night.

The towering flags represent the three arms of Indian military (Army, Navy and Air Force) and soldiers drawn from one of the forces guard the shrine on a rotating daily basis in coordination with the usual retinue of policemen and armed personnel thereby contributing to the consideration that the area is one of the safest and most militarized in the city. In a solemn ceremony observed every Republic Day, the Prime Minister along with the three Chiefs of the armed forces pays homage to the fallen soldiers before joining the annual parade at Rajpath.

The "Amar Jawan Jyoti", "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" (Photo courtesy -

Not surprisingly, not many people are aware that before the British took over the area and had it landscaped, a dilapidated tomb known as "Hijre ka Gumbad" ("Tomb of the Hermaphrodite") existed in the immediate vicinity of the location of India Gate! The tomb was destroyed in its entirety and no trace of it survives today except for the entry made by Archaeological Survey surveyor Maulvi Zafar Hasan when he documented Delhi's architectural heritage in his remarkable tome "Monuments of Delhi" (1919). The same goes –

"The dome and the arches are brick built. A portion of the dome has fallen, but the building still presents a picturesque appearance. There is no trace of any grave now."

One wonders what Delhi's landscape and cartographic existence would have appeared like if the tomb belonged to a deceased Emperor or was an architecturally/artistically splendid monument. Would the axis of British capital New Delhi, that is defined by the India Gate at one extremity, have spatially or angularly existed elsewhere? What then of nearby located Rashtrapati Bhavan and Parliament House that exist in relationship with it? Fascinating that a single, non-existent structure could throw up so many fantastical questions!

Its emptiness symbolic of British retreat from India, a vacant canopy made of sandstone is located immediately behind the India Gate memorial – also designed by Lutyens, it is inspired by a 6th-century Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu) pavilion and originally housed a realistic sculpture of King George V (later removed to Coronation Park with other statues).

King George's umbrella

Vehicles are prevented from coming near the memorial arch by means of police barricades and venturing close to the structure is prohibited even for pedestrians. Surrounding the imposing structure is an immense expanse of lush green lawns which, despite these severe restrictions and the commemorative nature of the monument, prove to be a popular picnic spot. Hardly any tourist to Delhi gives the structure a miss. Numerous vendors gather to sell their wares and one can purchase fruit chaat, bhel puri (puffed rice tossed with onions, fried gram flour noodles, sweet tamarind chutney and coriander leaves), potato chips, ice cream, candy floss and aerated drinks. There are photographers for hire too who would click and quickly develop one's photo with the memorial in the background at a nominal charge of Rs 30-40 (of course, they badger one more by repeatedly prompting to have several photos printed). If the sheer numbers of cars, auto rickshaws and two-wheelers lining the boulevard leading up to the monument are any proof, the best time to visit is after sunset when the majestic structure is floodlit and the fountains located nearby are also illuminated with colored lights to add further resplendence to the ambiance.

Location: Secretariat area
Open: All days, round the clock
Nearest Metro Station: Central Secretariat
How to reach: Walk from the metro station. Autos and buses are also available from different parts of the city.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Suggestions: The area is notorious for pickpockets and child kidnappers. It is advisable to be prepared against such eventualities.
Other monuments/landmarks located in the neighborhood -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Connaught Place
  2. Pixelated Memories - National Museum
  3. Pixelated Memories - Parliament House
  4. Pixelated Memories - Presidential House
  5. Pixelated Memories - Secretariat Blocks
Suggested reading - 

1 comment:

  1. You could have added more of a description of the surroundings..unlike your other posts, this post is all about information which could have gotten from, say, Wikipedia. Just a suggestion..