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Iftar parties at the Rashtrapati Bhavan were discontinued by APJ Abdul Kalam: Read the reason here…

Mangey Ram was tasked with maintaining the President’s library. Organizing the annual Ram Lila was as important to him as cataloging books. The humble employee claimed to have directed many Ram Lilas that were indeed nurseries for acting talent, even for Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh Khan. In spite of his retirement in 2014, Mangey Ram continued to visit the Ram Lila at the Rashtrapati Bhavan until last year, when the pandemic interrupted our lives. Mirza Nafees Baig, who retired as chief cook, also portrayed the role of demon king Ravana with the ease of a consummate actor. On the 330-acre campus of Rashtrapati Bhavan, there are many such stories.

We will soon celebrate Diwali during the festival season. More than 5,000 people live on the President’s Estate, a cross-section of India at its most diverse. In contrast, last year’s pandemic had snuffed out celebrations at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The first Indian to occupy the Bhavan was C Rajagopalachari, whose celebrations and religious events mirrored the cultural vibrancy of India. Rajaji was the interim governor-general during Diwali of 1947, the first festival of lights in independent India, since Lord Mountbatten was away. A sombre note reflected the trauma of Partition in his greetings to the people:

‘We may not have the mind to indulge in festive rejoicings when we are surrounded by difficulties, and so deeply immersed in anxieties as we are today, but Deepawali is a great national day associated with hope and joy from time immemorial in India. The lights that are lighted on that day also represent the hope for more and more enlightenment…’

Diwali celebrations at the Rashtrapati Bhavan were started by the first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. An entry in his diary indicates that he witnessed the Diwali evening illumination for two hours on October 18, 1952. Furthermore, he notes that there were very few arrangements for Diwali celebrations in 1951, and many people, especially the Prime Minister, wanted a better-organized Diwali celebration at the Bhavan. Rashtrapati Bhavan now shines brightly with dynamic facade lighting every evening during Republic Day. The glowing Rashtrapati Bhavan, with its North and South Blocks and India Gate, has become a symbol of a modern and forward-looking India.

There is a mandir, a masjid, a gurdwara, a masjid, and a church in the President’s Estate. Presidents have visited these places of worship. An upgrade of the mosque and temple on the Estate was sanctioned by the former president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. In Ramadan, presidents participate in the Khatam Shareef ceremony, held after the Quran is recited. Iftar parties were traditionally held during Ramzan, but they were discontinued during the presidency of APJ Abdul Kalam (2002-07). The money spent on them was used to provide food, clothes, and blankets to orphanages.

Read more: Puneeth Rajkumar: Why the Kannada actor had a huge fan following in South India?

Every year, President Kovind celebrates Eid and Janmashtami with the residents of the Estate. He gifted a high-end racing bicycle to a talented schoolboy named Riyaz, who loved cycling but could not afford a racing bike. For Riyaz, the gift of the president marked Eidi (a gift).

On Gurpurab, Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary, and Mahavir Jayanti and Buddha Jayanti, most presidents have attended a Gurbani recital. Giani Zail Singh organized gurbani recitals at the Ashoka Hall. In the true spirit of Guru Nanak’s message of Naam Japo, Kirat Karo, and Vand Chhako (focus on God, living an honest life, sharing with others), he also shared langar with the invitees. In celebration of Gurpurab, other presidents have also held gurbani recitals and other special events. President’s Bodyguard, the oldest regiment of the Army, manages the gurdwara at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The renovated gurdwara was inaugurated last year on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak.

Additionally, the Bhavan has links to the Buddha’s legacy. In the Rashtrapati Bhavan’s garden in November 2017, President Kovind planted a small sapling from the Mahabodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, Bihar; today it is six feet tall. On the Buddhist festival of Asadha Purnima, known as Dharma Chakra Day, he planted another tree sapling from the Mahabodhi tree in the Rashtrapati Bhavan in July.

Some of these festivals are celebrated at Rashtrapati Bhavan. During Dussehra in Tamil Nadu, president R Venkataraman recalls the celebration of Kolu – the festival of dolls – which he references in his memoir My Presidential Years (1994, HarperCollins). The festival was once held in the Ashoka Hall under the guidance of Janaki Venkataraman, the first lady. The rich tapestry of Indian culture and spirituality has been celebrated on the President’s Estate, presidency after presidency.


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