Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Delhi Durbar, 1911

In the winter of 1911, the grand Delhi Durbar was held to commemorate the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India. A massive tent city was created north of the areas of Paharganj and Sadar Bazaar, and royalty from all over India came to stay in these tents. Every princely state was in attendance.
The decor of each tent reflected the culture and crafts of each kingdom - if you've been to Culture Gully at Kingdom of Dreams you'll know what I mean. The Jaipur tent had an Italian garden outside it. There was even a tent where the poles were covered in beaten silver :)

A massive coronation event was organised, and the King and Queen were seated on a dias in a temporary shamiana. Parades, music, salaams by 'loyal' local princes, presentations of awards - the whole event went on for a week.
I thought the shamiana's dome looked familiar - and when I looked closely it seemed almost a replica of the Jama Masjid dome. I can only assume that some political point was being proven. Or that the organisers were looking for something exotic and un-British-like and chanced upon the nearest inspiration.
On returning from the Delhi Durbar, King George gave a speech to the English Parliament in 1912. "All of India", he declared grandly, had commemorated his coronation. The event and indeed the entire visit, he said, had provided him with "overwhelming proof of the devotion of the Princes, Nobles, and Peoples of My Indian Empire to Ourselves and of their loyalty to My rule".

Remind me not to take kings and leaders too seriously :) Because, of course, the statement was quite far from the truth. The Partition of Bengal by Curzon in 1905 had already led to massive unrest. At the Congress session at Calcutta in 1906, presided by Dadabhai Naoroji, Indians were already asking for  'Swaraj' (self-government). The Swadeshi movement had been launched by Lokmanya Tilak; and Tilak had been sent to jail in 1908 for sedition. The British were trying to drive further wedges into Hindus and Muslims through the unpopular Morley-Minto "reforms" of 1909.

No wonder they felt that an appearance by a member of the royal family in 'flesh and blood' might help their cause and rally the 'native princes' to their side. The King and Queen even gave 'darshan' to the public from Red Fort, a la Shahjahan and other Mughal kings.
In concrete terms, I don't think the durbar achieved much to improve British standing in India. But King George V made two important announcements in Delhi: firstly, the partition of Bengal was annulled and, secondly, it was announced that the capital of India was to be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. These two events make the 1911 Delhi Durbar an imporant event in the history of India.

1 comment:

Sonali said...

Great article... and nice pictures.