The constitution of India—the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world—has always been associated with Dr BR Ambedkar. While Dr Ambedkar, the chairman of the drafting committee, was undoubtedly its architect, little is known about the man who penned the constitution.
The first draft of the Indian Constitution, which was completed on 26th November 1949 is no less than a masterpiece. While Nandalal Bose and his students designed the borders of every page and adorned it with beautiful art pieces, it was the singlehanded effort of Prem Behari Narain Raizada (Saxena) that brought the primary contents and the preamble to the Constitution, to life.
Shri Prem Behari was born on 17 December 1901, in a family of traditional calligraphists. He lost his parents when he was very young and was brought up by his grandfather Master Ram Parshadji Saxena and uncle Mahashya Chatur Behari Narayan Saxena. Prem Behari’s grandfather was a scholar in Persian and English. He even taught Persian to British officials.
Growing up in a family of calligraphists, Shri Prem Behari learned the art from his grandfather.
Later, after graduating from the St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, Shri Behari eventually became a master in calligraphic art.
When the draft of the Constitution of India was ready to be printed, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru approached Shri Behari with the proposal of handwriting it in a flowing italic style. He asked him how much he would he charge for the job.
“Not a single penny. By the grace of God I have all the things, and am quite happy with my life,” was his response to PM Nehru.
However, he did have a request.
“But I have one reservation—that on every page of Constitution I will write my name and on the last page I will write my name along with my grandfather’s name.”
Granting his request, the Government of India entrusted with Prem Behari the prestigious job of penning the Constitution. He was allotted a room in the Constitution Hall that later came to be known as Constitution Club. At this point, the draft consisted of a total of 395 articles, 8 schedules, and a preamble. Prem Behari took six months to complete the task.
According to Prem Foundation, 432 pen-holder nibs were used throughout the process, and he used No. 303 nibs for this calligraphy.
The nibs were affixed to a wooden holder and dipped in ink-pot for the writing.
The original manuscript of the Constitution was written on parchment sheets measuring 16X22 inches which have a lifespan of a thousand years. The finished manuscript consisted of 251 pages and weighed 3.75 kg.
This manuscript was signed by the members of the Constituent Assembly on 24th January 1950.
It was first signed by Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, while the last to sign in was Feroze Gandhi, the president of the Constituent Assembly.
Photolithographed copies of the finished and signed manuscript were made at the office of the Survey of India in Dehradun. Interestingly, pages of the Constitution with the original design and writing are not as widely distributed as is the Preamble.