Queen Victoria's Durbar Room at Osborne House, created 1891
Called the Proclamation Durbar, the 1877 Durbar was held in January 1877 to mark the coronation and proclaim Queen Victoria as Empress of India. The 1877 Durbar was largely an official event and not a popular occasion with mass appeal, as the later Durbars were designed to be. It was attended by the Viceroy of India 1st Earl of Lytton, maharajas, nawabs and intellectuals. Although it was several decades overdue, the event was supposed to represent the end of the transfer of control in India, from the British East India Company to the British Government. Inside Victoria Memorial in Kolkata is an inscription taken from the Queen’s message, presented to the people of India.
Delhi Durbar, 1903 (Life)
1903 Procession by Menpes
Coronation Park, north of Old Delhi had been turned into a gigantic tent city, complete with temporary light railway to bring crowds of spectators out from Delhi. The tent city had its own post office, telephone facilities, shops, a police force, hospital, magistrate’s court, sanitation and lighting systems. Charlotte Cory was particularly impressed with Maharajahs who came with great retinues from all over India. The massed ranks of the Indian armies, under their Commander-in-Chief Lord Kitchener, held daily parades, band practice and polo matches. This Durbar included sports, music, a state ball, a huge display of Indian arts and crafts, and a review of 34,000 troops.
There is an Australian connection to the 1903 celebrations. Mortimer Menpes (1855–1938), an Australian artist, author and illustrator, published the book "Durbar", which told the tale of the spectacular event and illustrated it in beautiful detail. In June 1903 Menpes also exhibited the pictures he had painted of the Durbar at a fancy London art gallery in New Bond Street.
Rabbiting On has the most wonderful paintings from the 1903 Durbar, with a particular focus on the central figure in the entire process – Lord Curzon. Old Indian Photos has stunning photos.
Delhi Durbar, 1911
Royal ceremonials were a popular subject for early newsreels. Consequently this event was probably the greatest effort in news coverage that the young film industry had yet undertaken. Over a dozen cameramen from five different British film companies were despatched to cover the Durbar. Speed was of the essence, and the companies competed with each other to process their films and rush them back to Britain for viewing. The films were hugely popular in Britain, with interest being fuelled by incidences which had been covered in the British press. The films were also distributed widely abroad; to India and the Empire of course, but also to non-British countries elsewhere. The films included the unveiling of the King Edward Memorial Tablet, the Presentation of Colours and the Church Parade.
Delhi, (ex)Viceroy's House
How impressed were the Indians with the Durbars, attended as they were by lines of Indian princes riding on bejewelled elephants, maharajas and nawabs? They seem to have been written out of Indian history because nationalists campaigning for Indian independence at the time and in later years did not want to be associated with princely rulers. The princes' perceived decadence was a source of some embarrassment. Nationalists wanted that part of the independence struggle to be be deleted from history because maharajahs were seen as too closely associated with the worst excesses of the Raj.