December 12 2011

100th anniversary of the Delhi Durbar of 1911.

In India, the Persian word durbar (from دربار , darbār) meant either a feudal state council for administering the affairs of a princely state or a purely ceremonial gathering. The Persian word diwan overlaps with it in meaning, but usually refers to an inner council.

The British durbars in Delhi were demonstrations of loyalty by Indian princes and dignitaries to the British Crown. Two of them took place in Delhi while the capital was still Calcutta.

The Proclamation Durbar of 1877, less than twenty years after the Crown had replaced the East India Company, when the Viceroy was Lord Lytton, celebrated the proclamation in 1876 of Queen Victoria as Empress of India.

The Coronation Durbar of 1903, with Lord Curzon, celebrated the accession of Edward VII. It was filmed by RW Paul (watch in full screen and with the music off):

The culmination was the Delhi Durbar of December 1911, which George V and Queen Mary attended in person. They were the only British monarchs to visit India during the period of British rule. (Edward VIII had visited as Prince of Wales, as had George V himself, and Edward VII.) Practically every ruling prince attended to pay homage. The Gateway of India in Bombay commemorates the visit. The Viceroy was Lord Hardinge.

At the durbar, George V announced that the capital would be transferred forthwith from Calcutta to Delhi. The foundation of New Delhi was laid three days later. It was planned by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, christened New Delhi in 1927, and formally inaugurated on February 13 1931 by the Viceroy Lord Irwin, Viscount Halifax (who was Foreign Secretary when the war broke out).

Mughal processions, in the Victorian imagination, with their umbrellas and brown Kims on swaying elephants, were something romantic, fantastic, but the 1911 durbar was more elaborate than anything previously seen. It could hardly have been called charming. Was the 1877 durbar more authentically Mughal in feel? During the royal wedding in London this year, I found myself wondering whether the famous British skill at pageantry was not really something we had brought back from India.

With Our King and Queen through India – or The Durbar in Delhi – was filmed in Kinemacolor and released in February 1912. About two hours of film survive, but it was originally longer. List of Kinemacolor films. Why was the process not used more often and why not after 1914?


Another film:

The king then went big game hunting in Nepal. See Hon John Fortescue, Narrative of the Visit to India of Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary and of the Coronation Durbar Held at Delhi, Macmillan, 1912.

Elgar’s The Crown of India was staged at the Coliseum Theatre in London in March 1912. The king and queen had arrived home in February. The words, spoken and sung, were by Henry Hamilton. It was a masque consisting of two tableaux.

Tableau I: The Cities of Ind

1 – Introduction
Sacred Measure
2 – Dance of Nautch Girls
India Greets Her Cities [The cities of Ind were Agra, Delhi, Calcutta, Benares, Lucknow, Bombay, Madras, “Haiderabad”, Mysore, Gwalior, Allahabad, Lahore.]
3 – Song (Agra): “Hail, Immemorial Ind!” (The Homage of Ind)
Entrance of Calcutta. India: “Welcome Calcutta!
Entrance of Delhi. Delhi: “Stop! That place is mine” [Delhi-Calcutta rivalry!]
4 – Introduction
March of the Mogul Emperors. India: “Illustrious Emperors!”
5 – Entrance of John Company. Calcutta: “Good John Company, reply” [John Company was a colloquialism referring to the East India Company.]
Entrance of St. George. India: “Calcutta, Delhi, give your quarrel pause”
6 – Song (St. George): ”The rule of England”
7 – Interlude

Tableau II: Ave Imperator!

8 – Introduction
Warriors’ Dance
9 – The Cities of Ind. India: “Hail festal hour from out the ages drawn”
10 – March: The Crown of India. India: “Incessu patuit Imperator”
The Homage of Ind
11 – The Crowning of Delhi
12 – Ave Imperator!

There’s nothing I like on YouTube and most of it is not great music.

On the accession of George VI in 1936, when the Viceroy was the 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow, it was decided not to hold a durbar. The cost would have been a burden to the government of India, and Indian nationalism was rising.

2011 – 1911 – 1811. In 1811 the British East India Company, confronted with a reassertion of Mughal rights in Bihar and Bengal, had already declared that it was “unnecessary to derive from the King of Delhi any additional title to the allegiance of our Indian subjects”.

BBC news links:

Low-key celebrations

Audio slideshow. The narrator says that when he came to Delhi in 1945 it was like a village compared with Calcutta.

Indian maharajah’s daring act of anti-colonial dissent

Photographs of the 1911 durbar by Lilah Wingfield

Nineteenth-century photographs by Felice Beato

Old posts:

To Delhi, from Farghana and Calcutta

Persian in India

After Aurangzeb


4 Responses to “Durbar”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    So Delhi, as distinct from New Delhi, was the capital of India from 1911 to ’31.

  2. […] first of these films is by RW Paul. I’m not sure about the second. We have already seen Paul’s film of the 1903 Coronation Durbar in […]

  3. […] is by RW Paul. It works better without the music. I’m not sure about the second. We have already seen Paul’s film of the 1903 Coronation Durbar in […]

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