The three Raj Bhavans in Odisha- the summer resort at Puri, the Lal Bagh Palace at Cuttack and the Raj Bhavan at Bhubaneswar- present an interesting account of the evolution of modern Odisha. These three buildings served as the residence of the Governor of Odisha from 1936 to 1942, from 1942 to 1960 and from 1960 till date respectively. The first two were called Government Houses during British rule and the last mentioned one is a post-independence structure. The Raj Bhavan at Puri is still used by His Excellency during his visit to the city, but the one at Cuttack is now used as a pediatric hospital, popularly known as Shishu Bhavan.
The history of the three Raj Bhavans is inextricably linked with the history of modern Odisha. The three buildings together tell the story of Odisha passing from Mughals to Marathas, from Marathas to the British and finally to people's representatives.
The Raj Bhavan at Bhubaneswar is an important landmark of the modern capital city of Odisha. Situated on a hillock known as Bhalu Mundia, the building presents a magnificent sight. The construction of a residence for the Governor was taken up in a sprawling plot of land measuring 88 acres, which was then located in the western part of the existing township. Architect Shri Julius Vaz prepared the design.
The foundation stone was laid by Dr. Harekrushna Mahtab, the then Chief Minister of Orissa [now, Odisha]. Construction work started on 1st January 1958 under the supervision of the Chief Engineer Shri K.K.Kartha, Superintending Engineers, Shri S. Behera and Shri S.R. Padhi and Executive Engineer Shri Mumtaz Ali. The construction was completed on 31st March 1960. However, it took several more months to furnish the Raj Bhavan, after which it came to be occupied by the Governor.
The Raj Bhavan at Puri, which was known as Government House during the British rule, was constructed in the early part of the twentieth century. Soon after the Province of Bihar and Orissa was carved out of the Bengal Presidency in 1912, the administration of the newly formed province functioned at Ranchi. However, it was decided that Bankipore Patna would be the capital and Puri would be the summer capital of the province.
The construction of the Government House at Puri commenced almost at the centre of sprawling Balukhand Government Estate towards the later part of 1913 and was completed in 1914. During the period from 1914 to 1936, as many as ten Lieutenant Governors and Governors of Bihar and Odisha made an annual stay here during summer months.
After Orissa [now, Odisha] was accorded the status of a separate province in 1936, Cuttack became its capital. However, the Government House at Puri now served as the interim residence of the Governor. All care was taken to make the building suitable and comfortable for the imperial dignity of His Majesty’s representative in the province. Later, several additional structures were raised.
After the Governor’s residence shifted to Cuttack in August 1942, the Government House at Puri served as the summer resort of the Governor. Successive Governors and their guests stayed here during their visits to Puri. Several dignitaries including His Excellency Lord Linlithgow and His Excellency Lord Mountbatten visited the Government House. “Puri sea beach is the best beach I have ever visited and the Puri Government House is the finest,” remarked Lord Mountbatten in 1948, as Smt Saroj Mukherjee, the daughter of His Excellency Dr. Kailash Nath Katju, recalls.
Usually, when the guests of His Excellency visit Odisha, they make it a point to visit to Puri. The soothing sea breeze relieves them of their anxiety, the fever and fret of the world and gives a healing touch to the fatigued body and careworn mind. The body recharged and the mind rejuvenated, they return invigorated.
Originally, the Government House stood in an area measuring 30.226 acres, out of which a plot of land measuring 8.926 acres was alienated. Hotel Neelachal Ashok was built here in 1983 to give a boost to tourism in the State. The two-storey Puri Raj Bhavan comprising 11 suites including 4 VIP suites, a kitchen and a dining hall besides an office room, a reception hall and a sprawling verandah, now stands in an area of 21.30 acres.
Situated on the bank of the Kathjodi, the Lal Bagh Palace at Cuttack has a long and colourful history. This building witnessed the rise and fall of several rulers who controlled the fortune of Odisha. It was constructed by the Mughal Subedar stationed at Cuttack. Subsequently, the property passed into the hands of the Marathas. Over the years the premises have undergone several alterations and modifications.
William Bruton visited Cuttack in 1633, when the Lal Bagh
Palace was under construction. In 1741, Saulat Jung, the Naib Nazim, fixed his residence in the palace. The building was occupied by the Naib Nazims till 1751 and by the representatives of the Bhonslas of Nagpur from 1751 to 1803. Lal Bagh came into the possession of the British in 1803 when Colonel Harcourt’s men defeated the Maratha soldiers.
The Lal Bagh Palace was apparently leased out but again came into the possession of Government, who sold it in January 1862, and the purchaser sold the estate along with the building to the East India Irrigation Company. In 1863, the building came into the possession of the Government when they took over the irrigation works from the Company. Since 1868 the building was occupied by Commissioners and sometimes by Collectors.
In 1896, Shri R.C. Dutt, the then Commissioner, who was also a well-known historian, lived in this building. In a letter to his daughter, he describes the building as “the best-situated Commissioner’s house.” The building which was still under the Irrigation Branch was transferred to the Buildings and Roads Branch of the Government in 1914. In 1941, Shri K.C. Gajapati Narayan Deo, Maharaja of Parlakimedi and Premier of Orissa [now, Odisha], fixed his residence at the Lal Bagh palace for a time.
On 18th July 1942, the Lal Bagh Palace became the new Government House. Sir Hawthorne Lewis was the first Governor to live in the Lal Bagh palace. This historic building, which stood witness to countless political and social upheavals during Mughal, Maratha and British rule in Odisha, became the center of administration.
The Lal Bagh Palace continued to serve as the residence of the Governor till 1960. During the tenure of Shri Sukthankar in 1960, the Raj Bhavan was shifted from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar. Shri Sukthankar generously donated the building to the Indian Red Cross Society to utilize it as a children’s hospital. The Government of Orissa [now, Odisha] took over this hospital in 1966 and made it an independent institute for post-graduate training and research. At present, the institute is known as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Post Graduate Institute of Pediatrics, and is popularly known as Shishu Bhavan.