Delhi Durbar: Empire, Display and the Possession of History
22A, Janpath Road, Windsor Place, New Delhi
23 September – 6 November 2023
10:30 am – 7:00 pm
During the period of the Raj, the British held three great ceremonial durbars in Delhi. The first, in 1877, was staged to declare Queen Victoria as Empress of India. The second, in 1903, proclaimed the succession of her son King Edward VII as King Emperor. The third, in 1911, proclaimed King George V, and on this occasion both the King and his consort, Queen Mary, attended in person, marking the first time a ruling British monarch had visited India. The pomp and ceremony of these events were on a lavish scale, to display the majesty and power of the Raj, and the loyalty of eminent Indian subjects, including Maharajas and Nawabs of the Princely States.
DAG invited leading historians of Delhi, Swapna Liddle and Rana Safvi, to explore our archives collection. The items they found there include numerous photographs of the three durbars, taken by prominent photographers of the day. They also include many other objects relating to the durbars, from portraits and medals, to maps and official guidebooks, and to tickets and programmes. Historians in the past have analysed the ideology of the Delhi durbars, but never before has such a collection of the material culture of these events been brought together for display.
The visual imagery of the durbars drew heavily on the heritage of the city: on Mughal courtly ceremony of the past—as the very name ‘durbar’ indicates—as well as the stately architecture of the Mughal and sultanate periods. Delhi had also, of course, been the scene of some of the bloodiest conflict during the Uprising of 1857, and the first of the durbars was held in Delhi just twenty years later, partly as a gesture of reconciliation and healing. Consequently, our exhibition begins with a ‘darshan’ of the great monuments of the city, as seen in paintings, photographs and postcards of the time, and then includes images of Delhi in 1857, before proceeding to the three imperial durbars in turn.