Decoding the History Behind the Disputed Teen Murti Bhavan

The Teen Murti Bhavan was built in 1930 and was initially called the ‘Flagstaff House’. 

4 min read
Decoding the History Behind the Disputed Teen Murti Bhavan

The debate over the historically rich Teen Murti Bhavan, famous for preserving India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's legacy, has recently come under the political spotlight.

Now, historically, the Teen Murti was slated to be regarded as the official residence of the Prime Minister of India.

However, somewhere along the line, its very existence became synonymous with Nehru – his contribution to the freedom struggle, his political journey as prime minister, and his ideals and dreams for the country.

Following independence, Nehru moved in to the 30-acres-spread colonial housing, which before him staffed the British Commander-in-Chief.


In 1966, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library was established on its premises as an autonomous institution under the ministry of culture. It was fashioned as “a memorial to Jawaharlal Nehru, the architect of modern India”.

It glamorously commemorated him – from safeguarding his drafts for his speeches to preserving his letters to his daughters, not to mention housing the priceless souvenirs gifted to him by foreign dignitaries who he would host in the Teen Murti Bhavan.

Nehru’s study in the Teen Murti Bhavan.
(Photo courtesy: Facebook/@Teen Murti Bhavan)

Without getting into the controversy regarding the "legacy" of Nehru's former residence and the apparent threat that the Congress allege the BJP is aiming at it, let's instead take a look back at the history behind the Teen Murti Bhavan.

Who built it and why? And how did it come to Nehru's keeping?

Who Built the Teen Murti Bhavan and When?

Teen Murti Bhavan was built by Robert Tor Russell.
(Photo courtesy: Facebook/@Teen Murti Bhavan)

The elegant building was built by Robert Tor Russell, a distinguished British soldier and architect, who also famously designed Delhi’s Connaught Place and the Pataudi Palace, back in 1930.

Back then, it was called the 'Flagstaff House' and was to be the winter headquarters and official residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the British-Indian Army, according to Shakti Sinha, the Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

The building, which faces the southern view of Rashtrapati Bhavan (back then it was the Viceroy's house), was built of stone and stucco. It boasts of a confluence of Victorian and French architecture.

Teen Murti Bhavan was initially called the ‘Flagstaff House’. 
(Photo courtesy: Facebook/@Teen Murti Bhavan)
The ‘Flagstaff House’ was soon renamed as Teen Murti Bhavan — for the three statues designed by British sculptor Leonard Jennings, as a symbol to commemorate the Jodhpur, Hyderabad and Mysore lancers, who had fought gallantly in battlefields across Syria, Palestine and Sinai in the Second World War. These are placed at the roundabout in front of its main gate.

When Nehru Moved In

Following Independence in 1947, it was decided that the prime minister of a free India would reside in the Teen Murti Bhavan, Sinha says in his article. The then Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Auchinleck was simultaneously relocated.

Speaking about the changing nature of the historical building once Nehru began to reside there, an article by Scroll states:

The three soldiers turned from loyal subjects of the British empire to early patriots, fighting someone else’s war in exchange for freedom. Flagstaff House was reinvented as the nerve centre of a democracy, the place where the ideas of India came from. 
An excerpt from an article by Scroll
The three statues are placed at the roundabout in front of its main gate.
(Photo courtesy: Facebook/@Teen Murti Bhavan)

Nehru resided in the Teen Murti Bhavan for 16 years, until his death in May, 1964.

Teen Murti as a Memorial for Nehru

On 9 August, 1968, the Union Cabinet decided that the building should once again house the following prime ministers of India. However, this did not happen, and it was agreed upon by all concerned authorities, that Teen Murti House would instead be turned into a memorial for Nehru, Sinha states.

Aside from the Memorial Museum, a Nehru Memorial Library, which was started in 1966, was formally inaugurated in 1974. It initially functioned from the main building itself, until a separate building was built for it later.

The Nehru Planetarium, was also inaugurated by Nehru’s daughter and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, on 6 February, 1984, within the premises of the Teen Murti Bhavan.


To conclude, here’s an excerpt from a review on the Teen Murti Bhavan by Derek L Elliot, a Professor of History at the University of Cambridge, who spent three months in the Nehru Memorial Library back in 2013:

"Teen Murti provides a space that is steeped in Indian history and an intellectual environment that is unsurpassed by any other large archive in Delhi.”

While it remains to be seen whether the new museum in the Teen Murti, proposed by the Centre follows through, one can definitely say – without choosing sides – that the building isn’t just a symbol of history – it IS history.

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