Shillong prides itself in the abundance of architectural structures with a deep-rooted history that are permeated throughout the city. In this episode of Shillong’s Iconic Structures, we bring to our readers the Raj Bhavan or the Governor’s House – a heritage stately home that defines the administrative history of Meghalaya and the Northeastern region as a whole.
The Raj Bhavan is one of the most revered structures that has borne witness to significant accounts of history. Located near the famed Ward’s Lake, the Raj Bhavan, formerly known as Government House, is a 118-year-old structure spread across 30.67 acres of land. With a busy street right in front of the main entrance gate, the subtlety of the Raj Bhavan and its surroundings are in contrast to the bustle outside.
According to a book written by NEHU Professor Imdad Hussain titled “From Residency to Raj Bhavan – A History of the Shillong Government House” (2005), in the 1800s, the Raj Bhavan was a private house of the Deputy Commissioner Colonel Henry Stuart Bivar. When Shillong became the headquarters of the newly created province of Assam in 1874, Bivar’s house was transformed into the Chief Commissioner’s Residency.
The masonry building with a corrugated iron roof was however completely destroyed in the great earthquake on June 12, 1897.
Former Meghalaya Governor (L) M.M. Jacob wrote that work on the reconstruction of a new Government House was started in earnest. The sketch plan for the new house was produced by the Executive Engineer of the Assam Bengal Railway in May 1898. In lieu of the conventional stone masonry, the new building was of the ‘earthquake-proof’ pattern, using timber frames, with ‘ekra’ covered with plaster in between, while the roof was made of teak shingles, an advancement over the aged corrugated sheets. The new Government House was completed sometime in October 1903. “From then on its history has been inextricably interwoven with that of the hill city,” wrote Prof Imdad Hussain
The Government House was renamed ‘Raj Bhavan’ with effect from December 6, 1951.
As one enters from the main entrance gate, the surroundings look like a forest reserve and the spotless driveway leading to the Raj Bhavan is utterly magnificent, filled with varied trees on both sides with small squirrels running up and down.
The Raj Bhavan is famous not only for its heritage wooden structure but its breath-taking surroundings like the lush green lawns, the driveway, flower beds, age-old trees, water fountains, monoliths (Mawbynna), majestic swans paddling on the lawn, with three summerhouses in sight – truly a spot to wind down.
The property is divided into three blocks, namely, the main block, the kitchen garden, and the staff quarter.
The main block consists of a lawn tennis court and 8 buildings. The Raj Bhavan Bungalow, Governor Secretariat, Secretary Quarter, House Comptroller’s Quarter, Gym & Memorabilia, Multipurpose Hall, Sentry Barrack, Office of the Deputy Superintendent of Police, and Office of Special Branch Police.
It is said that some of the faithful believers belonging to the Anglican Church would meet at the Governor’s House every Sunday for prayer services before the construction of the All Saints’ Church in Shillong. To know more about the history of this heritage structure, watch the full episode on our Youtube Channel @TheShillongTimes as we take you on a trip down memory lane.