Today in History: New Delhi Was Named the Capital of British India

Today in History: New Delhi Was Named the Capital of British India

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(This story was first published on 13 February 2017 and is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the day Delhi was named the capital of British India)

The foundation stone of Delhi was laid by George V, Emperor of India, during the Delhi Durbar of 12 December 1911. Delhi was inaugurated as the capital of British India by Viceroy and Governor-General of India, Lord Irwin, on 13 February 1931.

King George and Queen Mary at the Delhi Durbar of 12 December 1911. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="http://www.royal-fans.co/the-delhi-durbar-tiara/">Royal Fans UK</a>)
King George and Queen Mary at the Delhi Durbar of 12 December 1911. (Photo Courtesy: Royal Fans UK)

The Announcement At The Delhi Durbar

The Delhi Durbar, also known as the Imperial Durbar, was held three times, in 1877, 1903, and 1911. The 1911 Durbar was the only one attended by George V.


The Delhi Durbar of 1911, with King George V and Queen Mary seated upon the dais. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delhi_Durbar#/media/File:Delhi_Durbar,_1911.jpg">Wikipedia</a>)
The Delhi Durbar of 1911, with King George V and Queen Mary seated upon the dais. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Why Was The Capital Moved From Calcutta?


The Emperor’s 12 December 1911 announcement, naming Delhi the new capital, stunned the nation. Geography was one of the main reasons behind the move, with the British government being of the opinion that ruling India from Delhi (which was the seat of governance of several empires earlier) was easier and convenient.

Some studies also say that the British had grown wary of the violence and nationalist uprisings in Bengal and that they planned to undo the Partition of Bengal and move out of the conflict zone.

Goodbye, Calcutta

The Victoria Memorial was under construction when Kolkata lost its Capital city tag. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Memorial,_Kolkata#/media/File:Victoria_Memorial_Kolkata_panorama.jpg">Wikipedia)</a>
The Victoria Memorial was under construction when Kolkata lost its Capital city tag. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

The Prince of Wales, later King George V, laid the foundation stone of the memorial to Queen Victoria – who died in 1901 – in Kolkata on 4 January 1906.

With the capital being moved to Delhi in 1912, the Victoria Memorial was formally opened to the public in 1921, in a provincial city, and not the capital as had been intended.

Hardinge Vs Curzon

In a letter sent from Shimla to London, dated 25 August 1911, Lord Hardinge – the Viceroy of India – elaborated on the need to move the capital.

Viceroy of India (1910-1916) Lord Hardinge (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hardinge,_1st_Baron_Hardinge_of_Penshurst">Wikipedia</a>)
Viceroy of India (1910-1916) Lord Hardinge (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)
Viceroy of India (1899-1905) Lord Curzon (Photo Courtesy:<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:George_Curzon2.jpg"> Wikipedia)</a>
Viceroy of India (1899-1905) Lord Curzon (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

On the other hand, Lord Curzon, a former viceroy and commissioner of the Victoria Memorial who had taken the decision to partition Bengal, opposed the move.

Ambitious Plan: Let’s Build New Delhi In Four Years

The new capital was designed by British architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker. They chose the southern plains beyond the old walled city of Shahajanabad as their site. The roads were to be huge, in contrast to the walled city’s narrow lanes.

Sir Edwin Lutyens (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Lutyens#/media/File:Edwin_Lutyens.jpg">Wikipedia</a>)
Sir Edwin Lutyens (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

The area was first made a district province of Punjab. It was named “New Delhi” in 1927.

The viceroy, Lord Hardinge, hoped that “New Delhi” would be ready within four years. But he could not have foreseen the coming of World War I. The war, which imposed stringent funding constraints, affected the construction of the capital of British India.

It would take 20 years more, until 1931, for the British to officially inaugurate their new city.

A poster In Bristol during World War I (Photo Courtesy: <a href="http://www.amdigital.co.uk/images/modules/Collections/Item-Images/1366/c3ebfd16acbd45009f563fb8b62cdee3.jpg">Amdigital</a>)
A poster In Bristol during World War I (Photo Courtesy: Amdigital)

The British worked swiftly to establish a temporary seat of government in Civil Lines. In 1912, they constructed a secretariat building to house government offices while the North and South Blocks were constructed on Raisina Hill in New Delhi.

Where Are The Monuments Now?

A commemorative Obelisk was erected at the place where King George V and Queen Mary sat during the Durbar of 1911. It can be viewed at Coronation Park.

The Commemorative Obelisk (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronation_Park,_Delhi#/media/File:The_Obelsik_marking_the_Durbar_of_King_George_V_at_Coronation_Park,_Delhi.2JPG.jpg">Wikipedia</a>)
The Commemorative Obelisk (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

King George V's statue was removed in the 1960s from the canopy opposite India Gate. It was relocated to a plinth in Coronation Park, where it has been placed across the Obelisk.

King George V’s statue now lies in Coronation Park, opposite the Obelisk. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/Emperor_King_F_George_V%27s_statue_now_at_Coronation_Park1.JPG">Wikipedia</a>)
King George V’s statue now lies in Coronation Park, opposite the Obelisk. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

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