This essay explores the three Delhi Coronation Durbars and their relationship to topics of spectacle, imperial policy, visual culture, modern media, and Indian and British responses to these events.
The Delhi Durbars were coronations of English monarchs as emperors or empress of India: Victoria (r.1837–1901) in 1877, Edward VII (r.1901–10) in 1903, and George V (r.1910–36) in 1911. These massive events held in Delhi lasted from two to four weeks and required months of strenuous preparation (Trevithick). Events included homage by maharajas to the British monarch, military reviews, musical performances, lavish banquets, sporting events, public entertainments, exhibitions of Indian art, receptions and garden parties. Considered the archetypal Victorian invented tradition, these durbars were creations of the viceroys of India – Robert Lytton (active 1876-80), George Curzon (active 1899–1905) and Charles Hardinge (active 1910–16). Each durbar expressed imperial policies and combined three ceremonies: the Indian durbar, the British coronation, and processions that resonated with political and religious life in both countries.
In the durbar ceremony, the monarch, wearing formal dress and jewels, heard petitions, displayed himself and his aura (darshan) to his people, and exchanged gifts to mark reciprocal relationships and obligations between the Indian monarch (raja) and his/her subjects. Its semi-circular seating arrangement made manifest guests’ social positions in the hierarchy. The traditional durbar gift exchange of special clothes embodied continuity and the incarnation of political and social systems through the raja’s body. Joanne Punzo Waghorne writes that the gifted special clothes exchanged (brocades, robes, etc.) were imbued with a particular sanctity (Waghorne 21). Bernard Cohn notes that in this exchange “clothes literally are authority . . . . Authority is literally part of the body of those who possess it. It can be transferred from person to person through acts of incorporation, which not only create followers or subordinates, but a body of companions of the ruler who have shared some of his substance” (Colonialism 114). Recent studies have shown, however, that the robes were often made in a kind of factory system and often never worn by the monarch, but the ceremony sustained a mythic mutual incarnation of monarch and subject (Gordon).
In the late 1850s, the British held many durbars, inventing titles and bestowing gifts, monetary rewards and land in return for allegiance during the Uprising. The British, however, appropriated the durbar as a ritual of subordination. Instead of exchanging robes as signs of reciprocity and shared authority, Indian princes became subjects of Britain, which granted them the pin of the Order of the Star of India created in 1861 and a silk-lined blue robe with a decorative chain of alternating lotus and palm fronds and pendant of the queen (the wearing of which was anathema to Muslims). These items, to be returned when the wearer died (unlike traditional durbar gifts, which were handed down to descendents), indicated both feudal subjugation and favored colonial status under Britain (Cohn, Colonialism 113). After the Uprising, when the British government took over administration of India from the East India Company, even Indian princes of so-called independent “Native States,” which were not directly under British rule but were loyal to the Raj, also became subjects of the Crown. The British devised elaborate protocols and codes of conduct, including the mandate that maharajas wear finery to durbars and other prescribed occasions as signs of respect, fealty, loyalty and submission (Codell, Power and Resistance 111-39). Maharajas’ clothes and jewels, traditionally worn at durbars, shifted from symbolizing their authority to marking their subjugation as spoils of conquest, a change about which they complained (Gandhi 230).
Between 1858 and 1877, maharajas (which meant prince, not king or raja) loyal to Britain in 1857-58 were re-organized hierarchically in a formal vassalage to the British monarch and given appropriate numbers of gun salutes up to 21. In the 1877 durbar, maharajas were placed at the receiving end of the ceremonies, precisely where their own subjects would have been in traditional durbars.
Coronation durbars were not conventional English coronations, either. They lacked the monarch (until 1911) and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Instead, viceroys Lytton and Curzon read Queen Victoria’s 1 November 1858 Proclamation granting clemency to “all offenders” and promising not to impose Christianity on India; they then formally declared the monarch as empress or emperor. This part of the ceremony was held on a stage under a shamiana (awning-tent; gazebo) set up in an arena surrounded by a huge amphitheatre filled with attendees. British officials and Indian maharajas paid ritual homage to the Crown, presenting gifts and bowing to Lytton seated before a large portrait of Queen Victoria in 1877; to Curzon and the Duke and Duchess of Connaught in 1903; and in 1911 to George V and Mary, who were introduced to over one hundred maharajas (Frykenberg 232).
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (active 1868, 1874–80) proposed the queen’s new role as empress in 1876 (Eldridge 487). After much parliamentary debate and hostility from political opponents and the press, for whom “emperor” connoted Germany and Russia, Britain’s rival in Central Asia, this bill became law. The first durbar in 1877 was intended to celebrate the bill and to bring closure to residual feelings and tensions remaining from the 1857-58 Uprising. Lytton wrote that Victoria’s assumption to empress “conspicuously places her authority upon that ancient throne of the Moguls” (Millar I, 209-15), voicing a dominant myth that Britain was the Mughal heir, a view promoted through durbar pomp, procession routes and use of ancient Mughal buildings in Delhi. Delhi had been the Mughal capital; Calcutta (now Kolkata) was the capital of the British Raj. Lytton’s “Assemblage,” as he called it, became the template for the two subsequent coronation durbars, each successively larger, more inclusive and more closely tied to its monarch: Victoria was absent; Edward VII sent his brother, the Duke of Connaught, to Delhi; and George V and Mary attended in person.
Initially Lytton (poet and son of novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton) was sympathetic to the complaints of Indian professional classes. He rewarded loyal princes and tried to soothe post-1858 racism. Anglo-Indians (defined as Britons living and working in India) thought him too sympathetic to what they called the “Black Raj,” their term for any concession to Indian demands for representation or political participation. Lytton accepted an address from Indian journalists and his durbar became a forum for the Indian press, princes and nascent organizations calling for more powers for maharajas and modifications of civil service exams (Masselos 737-60). Lytton proposed an Indian peerage of maharajas, but the government rejected this. Yet famine in 1876–77, callous government response to it and his Press Act censoring vernacular newspapers led to his unpopularity (Lutyens).
Writing to the London India Secretary Lord Salisbury in May 1876, Lytton insisted that spectacle appealed to Indians, who, he wrote, adored a “bit of bunting” (cited in Cohn, “Representing Authority” 192). His durbar theme in 1877 was medievalism. Decorations, official music and other details alluded to Victorian notions about the Middle Ages, and artists and photographers were important disseminators of durbar events. John Lockwood Kipling (1837–1911), Rudyard’s father, teacher at the Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay from 1865 to 1874, then curator of the Mayo School of Art in Lahore from 1875 to 1893, designed uniforms and decorations for 1877. The pavilion had canopy shafts with satin bannerets displaying the Cross of St. George and the Union Jack. Valentine Prinsep (1838–1904) was commissioned to paint the ceremony in the central pavilion. Alexander Caddy painted a phantasmagoric panorama of 1877. Partners Samuel Bourne and Charles Shepherd (active 1858–78) did most maharajas’ portraits for the 1877 official book by J. Talboys Wheeler published by the government (some were shot earlier for other occasions and cropped for the book). Both Disraeli and Lytton had belonged to the medieval revivalist Young England. Lytton refused to use any Indian decorations or images, although the lotus was included in a pavilion frieze containing the English rose, Scottish thistle and Irish shamrock. He did not include the Indian princes in the state entry procession through Delhi, in which they would participate in 1903 and 1911. Large banners with coats of arms were designed by Robert Taylor, Bengal civil servant and amateur heraldist, who invented eighty coats-of-arms for the maharajas (Taylor). As Lytton entered the arena, six trumpeters in medieval costume played a fanfare from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The trope of medieval India expressed supposed Indian backwardness and British paternalism, but the Middle Ages also symbolized utopia to Victorian medievalists like Lytton, who fantasized a benign, harmonious and idyllic medieval feudal hierarchy.
Durbars’ imperial authority was underscored by processions, common in English coronations and Indian religious celebrations even today. The state entry, led by the most prominent British and Indian individuals, went along four or five miles through Delhi to a vast tent city for durbar attendees in North Delhi. The durbars constructed a rhetorical geography, which expressed imperial power relations through various activities that made imperial rule palpable: processions to the 1857-58 Rebellion or Uprising sites to memorialize British victory; military displays and parades of Uprising veterans; a tent city constructed for attendees but arranged in a social and imperial hierarchy to distinguish British from Indian attendees; the very use of Delhi, once the Mughal capital, to convey the British notion that they were the heirs of the Mughal empire (Cohn, “Representing Authority” 179). Lytton’s 1877 ceremonies on the North Delhi site, just 20 years after the Uprising, commemorated Britain’s barely-won victory by facing the Ridge, site of intense fighting, marked by a memorial today. Durbar guidebooks described Uprising locations and monuments in Lucknow and other cities’ battlefields and memorials. J. Talboys Wheeler’s official 1877 durbar book, commissioned by the government, contained photogravures and descriptions of Mughal and Mutiny monuments in Delhi and Lucknow (J. T. Wheeler; Hosagrahar 83-105).
The Mughal empire was also invoked in 1903 for which Captain G. Batthyany Sanford of the Indian Army wrote Proclamation Music, performed by an oversized military band (Barringer 178). The 1903 Durbar state entry procession passed the Mughal fort built by Shah Jahan and the Champs de Mars and went around the central Mosque (Jama Masjid) clockwise, 360º north into Chandni Chowk, the street of the main bazaar, and west past the Town Hall toward the Mori Gate (Thomas; 1903 Directory). In 1903 and 1911, receptions were held in the Diwan-i-Am, the Public Audience room, and the Diwan-i-Khas, the Private Audience room, of the Mughal Red Fort. Curzon had these restored and fitted with electric lights for his durbar. His vast art exhibition was held in the restored Qudsia Bagh, the Mughal garden created in 1748 by Nawab Qudsia Begum, wife of Emperor Muhammad Shah (r.1719–48). In 1911, the royal tea was held in the Mughal Hayat Baksh Bagh (Urdu for “Life-Bestowing Garden”). These uses inspired some archeological restoration as well.
Curzon arrived in India right after the North-West Frontier rebellions of 1897–98. He viewed the native princes as pillars of the State (Hobbes 29, 31). He punished the West Kent regiment after twenty soldiers committed rape, an incident ignored by military authorities. He punished soldiers who beat servants, sometimes fatally. He visited famine and plague victims in 1899–1900, created canals to irrigate famine lands and undertook extensive, though largely inaccurate, restorations of buildings, including the Taj Mahal. But he created the North-West Frontier Province, whose administration provoked Mahsud Waziri uprisings in 1901, initiated a war with Tibet in 1903–04, introduced the Universities Bill in 1903–04 that restricted Indian higher education, and partitioned Bengal, all without consulting “the articulate strata of the Indian people, and provoking protests, demonstrations and a few sporadic acts of terrorism” (Parry 42-43).
Curzon’s 1903 ceremonies, however, were conducted facing away from the Ridge, perhaps to mark a break with that past. Curzon’s theme in 1903 was modernity. According to Stephen Wheeler, author of the 1903 durbar’s official book, Curzon “closed the page of the India of the past . . . of . . . mediaeval pomp [and] opened the new chapter more prosaic, but also more progressive, of the empire’s modernity” (v). Curzon employed the Indo-Saracenic style, a hybrid aesthetic popular among British architects, for decorations and architecture in temporary buildings and the amphitheatre, designed by architect and Chief Engineer of Jaipur state, Swinton Jacob (1841–1917), who imitated Mughal buildings from Agra and Delhi. Curzon changed some features of Jacob’s design, such as substituting Saracenic fabric for Jacob’s blue-and-white striped canvas (S. Wheeler 103), in the belief that such decorations were more “Indian.” Structures built in iron and wood were painted white to look like marble. Students from government art schools decorated the Art Exhibition Hall where Curzon organized an enormous exhibition of Indian crafts. The number of chiefs (as the British dubbed maharajas) increased from 63 in 1877 to 100 in 1903. Unlike Lytton, Curzon incorporated Indian art in the four-sided pavilion’s fabric of exclusively Saracenic design copied from one of Akbar’s buildings in Agra, held celebrations in the Mughal Fort and sat among the princes in the amphitheatre, not apart from them, to make them feel that they came “not to pay a reluctant homage to alien rulers as in 1877, but as . . . trusted supporters of the Indian Government” (S. Wheeler 107).
But in Curzon’s durbar, the veterans’ review occurred at the site of the battlefield of Badli-ki-Sarai, thus still memorializing British victory and Indian defeat (S. Wheeler 178). In addition, the viceroy’s party stood in front of the Mutiny Monument at the junction of Jaipur and Boulevard roads, commemorating the deaths of British soldiers and their Indian supporters. Curzon’s state entry also signified British domination: once through the city and outside its walls, he proceeded to the camp along the Ridge in horse and carriage, the standard British mode of transportation. This changed transportation from royal Indian elephant to British carriage separated the Mughal city from the British imperial spatial order of the tent city.
Bourne and Shepherd were official photographers for the 1903 durbar. Lala Deen Dayal (1844–1910), a foremost photographer, was hired by Curzon to photograph his 1898–99 tour of India and the 1903 durbar. Some maharajas were amateur photographers and hired photographers to record their events and celebrations in their provinces. Curzon ensured that journalists had good viewing positions for the state entry and a sophisticated communication system to send their reports home.
Viceroy Hardinge, while the target of an assassination attempt when he entered Delhi in 1912, was generally liked. A Liberal, he initiated the Morley-Minto reforms in 1909 (Indian Councils Act), which increased Indian legislative representation in the central Indian government and in the provinces, admired Gandhi, and courted Indian groups and the maharajas. He implemented the reversal of Curzon’s Bengal partition and improved students’ living conditions at Calcutta University. However, the Muslim community felt betrayed by the end of the partition that had combined Eastern Bengal and Assam into one province, creating a predominantly Muslim area. Anglo-Indians, too, felt betrayed by decisions that they felt cost them economic and political clout (Frykenberg 238-40), especially moving the capital to Delhi, a surprise announced by King George.
King George and Queen Mary attended their 1911 Durbar, and the king took charge of preparing royal crowns and protocol. (See Fig. 1.) Their tour of India began in Bombay where they landed after touring the Middle East, continued after the durbar to Calcutta, and culminated in the king’s Nepalese hunting trip and the queen’s tours of monuments (“The Royal Visit”). Receptions for the 1911 durbar were held in the Ridge Pavilion; about 100 survivors of 1857 rode into the main arena to much cheering, as they had done in both earlier durbars. This durbar, which incorporated European music by Handel and Meyerbeer (Barringer 181), had no central theme but contained some surprises: the king announced the reversal of Curzon’s 1905 partition of Bengal and the transfer of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. The 1911 durbar was heralded as a new starting-point for the future as thousands of school children of all castes and creeds greeted the monarchs (A Brief Historical Memoir of Delhi 61; Historical Record 1911). The Red Fort became the royal seat where the king and queen revived the custom of darshan, i.e., appearing on the fort balcony in full regalia and robes to share their aura, recalling the practice of Shah Jahan (r.1628–58) and Aurangzeb (r.1658–1707). 100,000 people passed to view the king and queen (Hardinge 57). At the investiture ceremony, they sat on thrones in the shamiana in the middle of the arena surrounded by the amphitheater of attendees. When they left their thrones under the shamiana, many Indians rushed from the amphitheater to kiss the thrones and the ground on which the royals had stood, carrying out a mass puja, or worship. Amphitheaters and arenas accommodated 84,000 spectators in 1877 and 250,000 by 1911. The fort at Delhi, which, according to Hardinge who had a budget of £100,000, was once a wilderness, was built up with fountains, water runnels, green lawns, shrubberies, stately pavilions, seating for 100,000 people and space for 30,000 troops (Hardinge 42). Durbar camps were west of the Ridge, and villages were cleared to make room for events. A sanitary zone was created around camps of viceroys and the king and queen. An open space guarded by troops separated campsites from surrounding areas. The camps were arranged according to a hierarchy out from its center, the viceroy’s camp. Native camps were sometimes nine miles away, in fear that provincial travelers might bring cholera. Ditches were filled in to prevent malaria. Maharajas’ plot size and location depended on their places in the hierarchy. The Maharaja of Jaipur had 1,200 guests and retainers and an Italian garden. King George’s 85-acre camp had green lawns and English roses. Attendees stated that walking through the camps was like a mini-tour of India (Thomas 27; Philip). The durbars’ setting in 80 square miles of a remote North Delhi area was transformed into a temporary city with light rail, hundreds of tents for tens of thousands of guests and their servants, dining areas, reception tents, arenas for sporting events and military reviews, communication centers for the press, extensive gardens, health facilities, and pathways. The revivification of North Delhi was described as a miniature empire-building, bringing civilization from barrenness, gardens from dust, and order from chaos.
The durbars sanctified the Raj with hybrid rites and pageants, despite their claims that they were continuing past rituals. These invented rituals were re-rooted in new “historical” origins and intended to impress a global population with the administrative skills of the Raj. Foreign guests from Asia, South Africa, and America (the vicereine, Mary Curzon, was American) and journalists watched the procession from the Jama Masjid. European spectators watched from the Fort; Indians watched from along the streets, behind a cordon of military guards.
Viceroys commissioned artists, journalists, photographers and filmmakers who disseminated durbar events around the world through paintings, illustrations, periodicals, travel narratives, life writings, photographs, cartes-de-visite, postcards, official books, private albums and films. By 1911, George V requested filmmakers be officially included (the 1903 durbar had been filmed, too) and illustrator and painter George Jacomb-Hood was in the king’s party. (See Fig. 2 below for an example.) Durbar photographs, part of photography’s larger cultural history, now appear on the web in museum and Indian tourist websites and sustain high market values in auctions.
The durbars were initiated in hopes of securing the loyalty of Native State maharajas and professionals in 1877 and 1903, and of the Indian public by 1911. The colonial administration believed its governance depended on the maharajas who, as Salisbury wrote Disraeli, were “the only ones over whom we can hope to establish any useful influence.” But lavish durbars thinly disguised the sword on which the Raj relied, while also revealing the Raj’s vulnerability balanced upon the goodwill of maharajas humiliated and subjugated by the Raj. Military reviews, marches of 1857 veterans and the review of Curzon’s short-lived Cadet Corps for Indian nobles, all foregrounded the military force girding the Raj. In 1911, King George reviewed a parade of 50,000 British and Indian troops that stretched for four miles.
Yet these spectacles faced an increasing Indian resistance, which viceroys tried to accommodate. Durbars had different meanings and consequences for Britons, Anglo-Indians and Indians. While European and Anglo-Indian media and agencies like Reuters praised the durbars, the Indian press was openly critical. Coinciding with famines in 1877 and 1903, durbar events appeared a callous waste of money better spent on alleviating hunger. R. C. Dutt noted Curzon’s dubious “gift” of an expensive durbar to famine-stricken India, ironically a spectacle celebrating the Raj as bearer of progress and prosperity. Tens of thousands were still in relief camps in 1903 due to 1897 and 1900 famines in which millions died (Dutt II, xix). The Indian press and Indian National Congress (INC, founded 1885) were especially unhappy when durbars were followed by repressive measures, such as Lytton’s 1878 Vernacular Press Act and Curzon’s partition, both of which belied promises made at the durbars. The INC, hostile to Curzon, held its annual meeting early, so its competing December 1902 exhibition in Ahmedabad would pre-empt Curzon’s exhibition. Congress President Surendranath Banerji compared bad memories of 1877 with similar feelings in 1903 (Encyclopaedia 338). The Congress’s exhibition speaker, Sayajirao, Gaekwad of Baroda (r.1875–1939), appeared “in the simplest of simple dress,” which he also wore to the 1911 durbar, a form of political resistance vis-à-vis mandates regarding maharajas’ dress, and Hardinge interpreted this as a sign that Sayajirao was seditious (Nuckolls).
The Indian press praised the Gaekwad and the Congress, severely criticized Curzon’s spectacle (Codell, “Gentlemen Connoisseurs”),and put Congress news on its front pages. Some dubbed the 1903 event “Curzonation Durbar.” The radical Amrit Bazar Patrika described the viceroy’s speech as “full of the usual platitudes” (17). The Bombay Gazette opposed the Durbar due to excessive costs (5). The Bengalee asked, “What has Lord Curzon done to revive the industries in British India?” (5). The Hindoo Patriot called the 1903 durbar “an extravagant waste” and considered its exhibition merely a “symbol of Britain’s power and glory in the East” (2). The Anglo-Indian Statesman praised the exhibition, then criticized it as “a glorified bazaar” in which a “European mind supplies the outline, the measurement, the broad character; Oriental ingenuity and fancy are confined to the ornament” (4). Comments on the 1911 spectacle were much milder (Holdrich).
The durbar spectacles were transcultural stagings, with speeches delivered in English and Urdu. Viceroys borrowed from British and Indian ceremonies and histories to celebrate the Raj and disguise imperial problems and failures, from famine to a disgruntled Indian professional class to partition of Bengal and its revocation, both of which stirred outrage from Indian and Anglo-Indian communities, including Muslims who benefited by the partition and felt betrayed by its revocation. Meant to evoke and create national memories to replace Mughal history and the Uprising, coronation durbars anticipated modern fascist rallies in their scale and staging of imperial politics. Each viceroy faced new problems that provoked ceremonial accommodations that in the end only triggered intense Indian nationalism and Muslim politicization. Britain moved the capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911 to avoid increasing late nineteenth-century militancy and early twentieth-century Swadeshi boycotts in Bengal, only to provoke a failed attempted assassination of Hardinge in Delhi in 1912.
Ironically, the North Delhi site of all three durbars—marked a few years ago by a lone surviving obelisk built to commemorate the royals’ visit, empty pedestals, some statuary in a small wooded area outside the site and children playing soccer—is now undergoing restoration as a tourist site. Such restoration, part of the revival of British India for tourism, will undoubtedly recall the pageantry of the coronation durbars, whose commemorative souvenirs are readily available online and contribute to the current wave of neo-imperialism.
published June 2012
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 Sections of this entry are from my introduction, “Photography and the Delhi Coronation Durbars, 1877, 1903, 1911,” in Codell, Power and Resistance, 16-43, with permission of the Alkazi Photography Collection.
 Now in the Royal Collection, this painting hangs in the Banqueting Hall, St. James’s Palace, London. Prinsep wrote of his trip throughout India to paint portraits of maharajas who attended the 1877 Durbar in Imperial India.
 Each Coronation Durbar also provided multiple directories and guidebooks for the attendees, such as the Directory 1877.
 Curzon’s exhibition produced a catalog by George Watt. See Codell, “Indian Crafts,” 2009, 149-70; and Codell, “Imperial Exchanges,” 2009, 311-15.
 Stephen Wheeler was J. Talboys Wheeler’s son.
 See Metcalfe, An Imperial Vision; also see Codell, “Gentlemen Connoisseurs and Capitalists . . . in the 1903 Delhi Durbar Exhibition of Indian Art,” “Imperial Exchanges of Goods and National Identities,” and “Indian Crafts and Imperial Policy.”
 Examples of guidebooks are those by J. Renton-Denning, G. A. Nateson, Valentia Steer, and Wiele Klein.
 These themes became commonplace and appear in memoirs by Stanley Reed and John Fortescue.
 Examples are accounts by Dorothy and Mortimer Menpes, John Finnemore, and Helen Rutledge. See Bottomore and Allen.
 George Jacomb-Hood, sent by The Graphic to the 1903 Coronation Durbar, was by 1911–12 a member of the king’s staff; see George Jacomb-Hood, With Pencil and Brush. See also B. B. Sharma, 247–57.
 For collections of reports in individual newspapers, see India and the Durbar: A Reprint of the Indian Articles in the “Empire Day” Edition of The Times, May 24, 1911 and Coronation Durbar, 1911, Being a Reprint of Articles and Telegrams previously published in The Pioneer.
 See Encyclopaedia of the Indian National Congress, IV, 294; M. N. Das, 1: 1885–1918.
 In 1911, Banerji proposed the Congress hold a reception for King George V in Calcutta, so pleased was he with the sovereign’s revoking the partition (Frykenberg 1986), 237; see Surendranath Banerjea (modern spelling Banerji).