Prior to 1799, the British Governor General of India used to live in rented residences, like other officials below his rank. It was in 1799 that the then Governor-General of India, the 1st Marques Wellesley, took an exception to the system and took the initiative to build a suitable majestic palace for the purpose. He believed that India should be ruled from a dignified palace and not from a country house. He took up the matter with the Imperial authority and started the work in 1799. At his initiative and instance the graceful building was completed on 20th April 1802 at a fabulous cost of £63,291. However, it was opened officially only on 26th January 1803. Incidentally, Wellesley lost his job for misappropriation of East India Company’s fund and was called back to England in 1805. Anyway, credit goes to him for the construction of one of the finest colonial buildings in Calcutta.
During the pre-independence period, this beautiful mansion was known as the Government House. After the transfer of power from the East India Company to the British Crown in 1858, it became the official residence of the Viceroy of India, shifting here from the Belvedere Estate. However, after shifting the capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911, it became the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal. Since the independence of India in 1947 it serves as the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal and was renamed as Raj Bhavan.
Designed by Capt. Charles Wyatt on the lines of the Curzon’s family mansion of the Kedlesion Hall of Derbyshire, the Raj Bhavan was constructed in neoclassical style with distinct Baroque overtones. It is considered to be the best example of Georgian architecture in the country. The metallic Dome was added in 1860s by Lord Elgin. In 1899, Lord Curzon introduced electricity and installed a lift to Raj Bhavan The ornamentally designed little lift, known as the Bird’s Cage Lift, is still in use.
The Raj Bhavan covers an area of 84,000 square feet and lies within a compound covering an area of about 27 acres of land. It has impressive 6 gateways, one each on North & South and two each on East & West. The four gates on the East & West have a grand archway, crowned with a lion. The minor archways on the sides are topped with Sphinx. The compound wall is surrounded by a balustrade wall with a grand arched gateway. The state rooms are in the core area and are accessible from outside by a flight of grand steps on the north. A portico surrounded by a colonnaded veranda with a dome above is on the south side.
The North Gate of the Raj Bhavan serves as the main gate. A long graveled way, past a decorated Chinese cannon, leads to a flight of majestic stairs to the portico crowned with the triangular pediment supported by six ionic pillars. The Chinese cannon, mounted on a dragon and flanked with other minor cannons, were brought from Nanking in 1842.
On the ground floor the central area is called the Marble Hall. The first floor central area consists of the Throne Room, Banquet Hall and the Breakfast Room. The Banquet Hall is for entertaining eminent guests. It has rows of Doric pillars on each side with flowering chandeliers and black Mahogany tables. The throne room has the throne of Lord Wellesley and the throne of Tipu Sultan. Apart from that, there are paintings of Mahatma Gandhi, Subash Chandra Bose, Nehru, et al.
There are four Royal Suites in Raj Bhavan. The Prince of Wales Suite in the northwest wing of the first floor is meant for the very important guests of the state – like the visiting President, Vice-President and the Prime Minister of India and also the heads of other countries. The Wellesley Suite is located on the second floor in the northeastern wing, the Dufferin Suite is on the second floor in the northwest wing, and the fourth suite is the Anderson Suite. The Council Chamber, where important Government decisions were made during the British rule, is in the northeast corner of the first floor. The second floor includes the residential suites, including the Governor’s private quarters and the Ball Room. Apart from that, there are two aesthetically decorated drawing rooms, elegantly named as Yellow drawing room and Blue drawing room.
There are about 60 rooms in Raj Bhavan, beside public halls, verandas, porticoes, banquets & halls and the Throne room. However, the quarters of the Raj Bhawan employees are located outside the North Gate.