If there is one iconic structure that anyone around the world can identify Delhi with, it is the India Gate.
Christened 'All-India War Memorial' at birth, the India Gate initially received much less attention than its much bigger counterparts — Government House (Rashtrapati Bhavan) or the Secretariat. In fact, some quarters of the British government wanted it to serve a more utilitarian purpose than just being a war memorial.
The memorial was designed by Edwin Lutyens, who had considerable experience of building similar memorials in Britain and Europe. It is dedicated to nearly 70,000 Indian soldiers who died during World War 1, at the north-west frontier and in the third Afghan war of 1919. The names of the martyrs are etched into the sandstone monument.
It is believed that the central vista from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate is inspired from the Avenue des champs-élysées and the war memorial itself is copy of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The layout of New Delhi consisted of hexagonal lines, at the apex of which was the Rashtrapati Bhavan, joined by North and South Blocks and a grand vista culminating at the India Gate.The foundation stone of the memorial was laid on February 10, 1921 by the then Duke of Connaught and the structure was finally inaugurated a decade later in 1931, by the then Viceroy Lord Irwin, amid much fanfare.
Initially, there were plans to have a half-spherical urn atop the memorial from which smoke would bellow throughout the day.
More than a war memorial, India Gate is now more of a hangout zone for Delhiites. In fact, the central vista and lawns around the All-India India Memorial were a hit with the crowd from the day it was inaugurated. Delhiites would come out on the lawns around Princes Park (the India Gate C Hexagon) for their evening stroll and the place would be packed on Sundays and holidays.
In 1971, the Amar Jawan Jyoti was added alongside the tomb of Unknown Soldier. The shrine is a black marble cenotaph with a rifle placed on its barrel, crested by a soldier's helmet. A soldier each from the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force guards the gate and tomb for 24 hours.
Lawns, vista made it a crowdpuller
A major part in the axis of the imposing sandstone structures of New Delhi — Government House, Secretariat and All-India War Memorial — was played by the Central Vista and the lawns around the memorial. It was the tree-lined vista that brought some much-needed greenery and life to the heavy masonry and cold sandstone that flanked it.
Though Lutyens wanted the Princes' houses to line the wide vista, Lord Hardinge insisted that they rather have trees. The famous lawns around India Gate has not only hosted generations of Delhiites looking for an open space under the sky to relax but to also protests and dharnas of all hues till about two decades ago.
In 1936, when King George V died, Lutyens designed a memorial to him 500 feet away from the war memorial, set on a pedestal placed in a circular pool of water, with four slender pillars holding up a cupola under which was placed a white marble statue of the late king. He felt that from here, the King’s spirit could survey the city.
The statue stood under the canopy till 1968, after which it was shifted to the Coronation Park in north Delhi, the site of the proclamation of New Delhi as India's new capital. There have been plans to install a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the pedestal but nothing materialised.