The great chiefs and native retainers, indescribably clothed… an Eastern survival of the old feudal grand seigneurs of Catholic Europe… One maharaja, half insensible from opium, had a loyal, beneficent smirk… painted… on his inexpressive countenance… in their howdahs of fantastic design… What histories, what traditions, what crimes they represented!… a horrible medley of the infernal and the grotesque, the ancient barbaric and the modern vulgar, the superb and the squalid… power without glory, and rank without grace.1
There was no group of Indians upon whom the e British expressed more emphatically and desperately their dependence in running the Raj than the princes of the Native States, sometimes called “Ruling Chiefs”. And, as the above excerpt reveals, they were “read” by presupposed notions of Eastern decadence against the unspoken assumptions of a Western work ethic and British stiff upper lip. The author Pearl Craigie also describes the eyes of Oriental princes that “seem to express every possible evil and good emotion at a single glance”, with “an effeminate figure, a clumsy gait, and an air of unmistakable intelligence” (Craigie 33). I will focus on contradictions between what the British projected onto princes’ bodies and the princes’ own ways of negotiating their public identities and images in Britain and at home through photographs. Analysing maharajas’ portraits in official government-approved books published for each coronation durbar, especially the images of maharajas who attended at least two durbars, held high rank or were British favourites, I will examine these photographs’ place and function within the broader spectrum of similar photographs taken in other circumstances in London and throughout India, commissioned by the maharajas themselves and thus in their control.
As Barbara Ramusack notes, “After 1858, colonial knowledge specifically targeted the princes and their states” (88). Put forward and honoured in every coronation durbar, the princes were not a monolithic group, and their roles changed significantly between 1877 and 1911, changes reflected in their photographic portraits in each coronation durbar’s official book. Thephotographs represented a complex mix of prevailing stereotypes of maharajas, the political intent of individual viceroys, princely self-fashioning and their photographers’ own styles.
Maharajas varied widely in their views of their roles in the Raj and of the Raj itself, some loyal enough to fight and die for Britain, others resistant in subtle ways. They also had a variety of relations to their subjects: some with long genealogical legitimacy, like the Rajputs, others with recent kingships, some sharing the religion and culture of their subjects, others at variance with them. Theprinces were not a cohesive group and did not share overarching cultural, social and political views. They differed among themselves on how to rule; whether to support the Indian National Congress, and if so, to what extent; and how to institute social change and reform.4 Princes and the Native States.
In 1900, there were almost 700 Native States in British India,5 dispersed over the territory and constituting about 42% of the dominion. Native States were defined as autonomous, but in 1858 their rulers formally assumed the status of feudal vassals owing allegiance to Queen Victoria. The policy of indirect rule, the prime condition of such subordination, did not preclude the British from removing rulers they felt were “uncooperative” and replacing them with distant relatives, often hand-picked young boys educated by British tutors; or by taxing rulers and charging them for military assistance to the British; or for the construction of railroads, all justified by the concept of paramountcy (British authority and laws override local laws) articulated by Viceroy Lytton (Ramusack 97). The British approved successors, adoptions (if there were no sons), princes’ expenditures and travels abroad.7 British resident officers supervised princes’ economic and political affairs, and diwans, pro-British Indians, were maharajas’ assigned “consultants” or regents.8 The colonial administration took a percentage of state taxes, minerals and agricultural wealth. Depending upon political affiliation— Tory or Liberal—the viceroys formulated different strategies in their treatment and expectations of the princes, as did residents and diwans. Princes had to continually navigate policy changes and conflicts between Parliament and the India Office in London, and between the viceroy and his political secretary in India.9
The British also created a hierarchy of princes, each accorded a number of gun salutes: 21 the highest, nine the lowest— Queen Victoria received a 101-gun salute, the viceroy a 31- gun salute. For the 1877 Durbar, Lytton raised the three richest rulers, Hyderabad, Baroda and Mysore, to 21-guns each. The more loyal to the British in 1857, the more guns, sometimes with gifts of territory. Many princes tried to raise their place in the hierarchy and gain more gun salutes. Maharajas also complained that the fewer gun salutes allotted to them, the more the Government of India interfered in their administration and finances (Allen and Dwivedi 211). Choreographed protocols indicated seating arrangements, dress codes and the assigned spot where a prince stood to meet government representatives, viceroys or members of the British royal family.
The ceremonies initiated for Lytton’s 1877 Coronation Durbar —or “Imperial Assemblage”, a term the viceroy preferred— set precedents for rituals and homage rites for subsequent durbars. Among post-1858 institutions was the Order of the Star of India for princes and British military and civilian officers in 1861. The first 25 members included the loyal maharajas of Patiala and Gwalior. Members received a sun pin and necklace of alternating rose and lotus patterns with a pendant image of the queen. By 1865, the Order included hundreds in a three-tier hierarchy. Meanwhile, bestowing with one hand while appropriating with the other, British economic interests took from the states land taxes, agricultural revenues and revenues from manufacture of arms, opium, salt and alcohol. British land management often pitted princes against nobles, and provoked peasant riots. Heavy taxes were oppressive for both landlords and peasants (Ramusack 114).
The British worked to find ways to bind maharajas to the Raj. Initially the British strategised to educate princes as little Englishmen, but in the 1870s they added “traditional” education and parallel versions of British public schools, creating elite colleges for princely sons. The general opinion, however, was that these young princes received only a smattering of moral and intellectual education, and spent too much time on sports and other diversions. Some princes complied with British demands, and others resisted. The states of Gwalior, Idar, and Bikaner fought for Britain in the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900–01 and in World War I. Maharana Fateh Singh of Mewar, Udaipur turned back at the Delhi train station in 1903, refusing to attend the ‘Curzonation’ — Viceroy Curzon’s Delhi Durbar — as a vassal. He did not attend the 1911 Coronation Durbar either; the British considered deposing him several times (Allen and Dwivedi 96–98).
Some princes went abroad to avoid viceregal control. Several maharajas were reformers who, on their own initiative and without consulting the British, developed industries, public institutions, roads, trains, social reforms (e.g., age of consent for girls), and infrastructural grids for electricity and water supply.
The Viceroys and the Princes Intent on devising a symbolic mechanism to strengthen political affiliations, Lytton proposed to establish an Indian peerage to bring the maharajas closer to the Crown, but the government finally did not agree to this.13 Curzon’s attitudes toward Indians were more complicated; he did not think them capable of complex administrative tasks and refused to have any on his Council (Gilmour 168). He admired only G.K. Gokhale among Congress members, did not like Bengalis, and greatly admired the rough masculinity of Beluch Sirdars and the Mahsud Waziris.15 He proclaimed Scindia of Gwalior “my colleague and partner”16 and expressed appreciation for the maharajas of Jaipur, Cochin and Travancore. He created the Imperial Cadet Corps so that the princely sons could be meaningfully placed and engaged with the empire. Curzon complained that the queen invested maharajas with a halo; to dampen Victoria’s fascination, he reported on “dissolute” chiefs as “frivolous and sometimes vicious spendthrifts and idlers”, describing the habits of each one he disliked (Gilmour 185–86). He admonished Anglophile princes against sending their sons to Oxford where a prince’s son learned “to despise his people, their ways and their ignorance” (Gilmour 188). "e viceroy thought one promising maharaja became “a sensual extravagant debauchee” and another “a nerveless inebriate” through the experience of European travel. His circular in August 1900 insisted that princes’ European trips must benefit both chief and people. He upbraided chiefs on private family matters, including their sexual activities. Curzon “glorified the feudal image of the princes”, and considered the conservative Madho Singh of Jaipur the ideal ruler. He wanted princes to be hardworking but not too efficient, yet he identified Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia of Gwalior as his favourite with the observation that: “… in his [Scindia’s] remorseless propensity for looking into everything and probing it to the bottom he rather reminds me of your humble servant”.19 But writing to the India Secretary, he described princes as “unruly and ignorant and rather undisciplined school boys”, which is probably a more accurate expression of his feelings.20
Viceroy Hardinge praised the chiefs’ loyalty and admired the nizams, Rajput chiefs and Jaipur’s “sterling loyalty”, Scindia (“one of my greatest friends in India”), and the ruler of Idar, Pratap Singh’s “exceptionally high and chivalrous character”, which included being “the best pig-sticker in India.” As an administrator Hardinge admired Indians for loyalty and manliness, but found Indian troops useless, and dismissively noted “the extraordinary ignorance of ordinary Indians” (Hardinge 35, 34, 11, 21).
After 1858, the British encouraged Indians to dress in as “Indian” a manner as possible, as defined by the British, especially during the Prince of Wales’ 1875–76 visit to India in anticipation of Victoria becoming empress (Cohn 124). By the 1877 Durbar, the British considered princes “natural” leaders, and important allies by 1910 when the Raj was confronted with increased Indian nationalism (Ramusack 129–31). Maharajas travelled to England for Victoria’s Jubilees in 1887 and 1897, and for coronations in 1902 and 1911, often appealing to the crown when granted an audience. By then the viceroys invited them into legislative councils which some maharajas resisted (Hyderabad and Mysore) as threats to their personal authority, but which others supported. Rules of homage and dress symbolic of lost autonomy were crucial to the mandated protocols of public ceremonies; for one viceregal trip, the government undersecretary dictated that “the Viceroy will receive His Highness within the Reception Room, at a distance of one pace from the threshold” (Waghorne 35). Curzon required maharajas to wear their finery and bring their elephants, even when they drove cars to Delhi; cars first appeared in India c.1890s and private planes in the 1920s. Bernard Cohn describes these codes of conduct as a means for enabling Britons to keep a distance from Indians “physically, socially, and culturally” (111).
Wearing finery, jewellery (often jewellery that was part of the state’s official wealth, not privately owned) and turbans had been standard durbar dress for decades in many native states (Allen and Dwivedi 214–16). However, when required by the British, dress became a symbol of being kept “medieval’’ and subjugated, and thus could also be deployed as a symbol of resistance. Those who broke even minor infractions were reprimanded.
Figure 1. Left: Charles I at the Hunt. Sir Anthony Van Dyck. c. 1635. Oil on Canvas, 2660 x 2070 mm. Musée du Louvre–Paris (INV. 1236). Figure 2. Right: . Right: Jonathan Buttall: The Blue Boy. Thomas Gainsborough. 1770. Oil on Canvas, 1794 x 1232 mm. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, & Botanical Gardens–San Marino, California.In 1911, Viceroy Hardinge condemned Baroda for removing his jewellery and changing into “the ordinary white linen everyday dress of a Mahratta with only a walking stick in his hand” at the homage ceremony for the king and queen;29 even more serious was the allegation that the maharaja had turned his back too abruptly. His real sins, however, besides his “un-Indian” dress, were his many reforms that made him a model of independent rule among the influential nationalists whom he hired at his university (moderate Romesh Chandra Dutt, radical Aurobindo Ghosh, and Maratha activists) and met in Paris during his frequent European trips.30 He was an honoured speaker at the Congress’s 1902 anti-durbar counter-meeting in Ahmedabad.31
Pre-Raj Portraiture: Conventions of Royal Images
Many early photographers in India were originally portrait painters, and this training infiltrated their handling of the new medium later to dominate the visual rendering of the durbar extravaganza (Falconer 268). Mughal conventions of painting included the face delicately rendered in profile and contrasting with the large scale of the body. Often maharajas were depicted in battles or hunts, displaying masculinity, or in durbar settings, displaying royal prerogative; some of these conventions persisted into the subsequent centuries.33 From the seventeenth century on, maharajas hired British portraitists who brought to India aesthetic conventions34 in which figures are posed amid furniture and in front of columns, or against distant landscapes. Occasionally, objects such as books or maps refer to the subject’s interests or achievements.35 Perhaps the paradigm of British aristocratic portraiture is Anthony Van Dyck’s Charles I, c.1635 (fig. 1), the king’s power metonymically represented by his horse and the landscape of his domain, and embodied in his “swagger” pose, associated with “a theatrical excess… rather than anything of the sitter’s own character or disposition”.36 Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, 1770 (fig. 2), continued conventions of aristocratic, posed and self-absorbed figures before a rich, agitated landscape, which haunt the 1854 portrait of Duleep Singh commissioned by Queen Victoria37 (fig. 70) from her court painter, Franz Winterhalter.
Figure 1. Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh. Franz Winterhalter. 1854. Oil on Canvas, 2038 x 1095 mm. Royal Collection, Osbourne House, East Cowes, Isle of Wight.
Similar portraits of Indian aristocrats were done in India by imaginary. He looks directly at the spectator with a typically aristocratic gaze. His haughty stance, however, disguises stunning imperial contradictions. In 1848, at the age of 10, he converted to Christianity, became a ward of Britain, and was given a country manor, Elveden Hall, in East Anglia. His father Ranjit Singh, the “Lion of the Punjab”, resisted the British; this resulted in his son’s exile. His extremely valuable Kohi-Noor diamond was taken by Governor-General Dalhousie for Queen Victoria; the gem was presented to her by Lord Dalhousie in 1850 through the young exiled Duleep Singh, who was coerced into presenting the diamond to her. In this colonial cultural economy, Singh in aristocratic pose disguises the tensions of his forced exile with a pretence of regal authority that does not hint at his confinement or foreshadow his later anti-British sentiment, rebuttal of his financial settlement, and self-exile to Paris where he died in 1893. Singh’s chivalry and apparent autonomy is really a defeat whose colonial signifier is the image of Victoria around his neck. Belying its iconicity, his sword signifies impotence, not Punjabi militancy; it also foreshadows all the princes later being formally reduced to subjugation as feudal lords in 1858.xxx
Princes and Photography
… the specifically English backdrop and the style of portraiture were intended to convey a sense of place and occasion… Ranji of Nawangar actually took along different outfits, discarding his army fatigues for brocades, pearls and emeralds in the same sitting… grand postcards for the visiting rulers… with tell-tale signs of their westernisation, such as… the Maharaja of Gondal’s English country estate backdrop. [Harris 12–13]
The conventions that characterise Singh’s portrait persist in those of later maharajas; for instance the one of Rajah Ajit Singh of Khetri (in Rajasthan’s Jaipur district) by the Lafayette Studio taken during his visit to London in June 1897 for the Diamond Jubilee (Fig. 4; Chiefs and Leading Families 76–77).
Figure 4. Rajah Ajit Singh of Khetri (Jaipur district of Rajasthan), Visit to Britain for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Lafayette Studio. 1897 381 x 330 mm Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Photographer’s Ref. GP (L) 1245B, 18 June)
Specialists in photographing British royalty, this studio was very popular with Indians.42 In a quilted silk coat with fringed cuffs, epaulettes and sequins, Khetri stands beside European furniture and a studio column before a painted backdrop typical of eighteenth-century British portraits.43 Maharajas were intrigued by photography, some hiring personal photographers to record themselves, their families and domains. In 1869, Maharaja Malhar Rao of Baroda hired Hurrychind Chintamon; Ragubir Singh of Bundi hired Ganapatrao Kale, while Holkar of Indore paid Lala Deen Dayal who worked in the Indore Public Works Department and was hired by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1884 as official photographer, and given the title ‘Raja’. In Secunderabad, Dayal had a zenana studio where Mrs. Kenny-Levick photographed women who followed the custom of purdah (see Worswick).
Wealthier maharajas were photographed in Calcutta, Delhi and Bombay by prominent photographers and firms like Bourne & Shepherd or Deen Dayal, and they frequented fashionable London studios— Lafayette, Vandyck’s or Bassano’s.45 Maharajas came with changes of dress: Indian royal finery, military uniforms and English suits. Studios provided props—tables, chairs, statuettes—and curtains or backdrops of columns, stairways, grand architecture or eighteenth-century painted landscapes. Similar backdrops appear in Raja Ravi Varma’s oil portraits of maharajas,46 recycling photography conventions back into painting. Additionally, many painted portraits were often copied from photographs; see Waghorne 37 for examples. Photographs symbolised the maharajas’ modernity and progressiveness: princes hired photographers to record their reform and famine relief projects, construction of new schools, viceregal visits, etc. These photographs were placed in bejewelled albums. The Maharaja of Marwar photographed his subjects for an ethnographic record in 1891. Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur, who was a member of the Bengal Photographic Society and owned many cameras and over 2500 glass plate negatives,48 created a hotography department at the local university. Jaipur probably learned photography from Colin Murray, his court photographer in the late 1860s who became a partner in Bourne and Shepherd’s firm (Falconer 277). The maharajas of Tripura were photographers: Birchandra Mankikya founded a photography club and his son Bara Thakur won medals for his abilities with the new medium (Dehejia 226–29).
Bourne & Shepherd were official photographers for the 1877 Coronation Durbar book by J. Talboys Wheeler, although many of the photographs in the official book were taken by Bourne & Shepherd during the Prince of Wales’ 1875–76 tour of India, and often cropped when put into the durbar book (the original images are in the ‘Royal Photographic Album’ created for the Prince in 1876, and now in the Royal Collection).51 Their portraits are filled with standard props (furniture, tables, flowers, books, rugs) against blank walls. The Gaekwad of Baroda’s sword (fig. 5), almost as tall as he is, drags on the floor, signifying his subservience: the British deposed his predecessor, placed the naïve youngster on the throne and hired an English tutor for him.52 He is further colonised by the “AE” cipher of the Prince of Wales on the cover of the book set curiously upright on the table against which he leans.
Figure 5. Left: H.H. Maharaja Sayaji Rao III, Gaekwar of Baroda. Bourne & Sheffield. c. 1877. from the album Chiefs and Representatives of India. 1877. Albumen Print, 335 x 260 mm. Fugre 6. Right: H.H. !e Begum of Bhopal, G.C.S.I. Bourne & Sheffield. from ‘The History of Imperial Assemblage at Delhi’. c. 1877 Woodburytype, 191 x 121 mm.
The Begum of Bhopal (Fig. 6) is one of the few portraits in which the sitter stands gazing directly at the camera. She is self-assured, her robes filling the space and pushing studio props to the margin of the frame. Her dress is a hybrid of Indian and British—she wears a kameez over a churidar, Western shoes and gloves, with the mantle, sash, collar and insignia of the Order of the Star of India. Her dress symbolises her family’s dynastic support of British rule for generations. The begums of Bhopal were Muslim women leaders who ruled for decades, esteemed by, but keeping their distance from, the British. Sikander Begum supported the British during the 1857 Uprising, and consequently was decorated with the Star of India; her 1870 book describing her pilgrimage to Mecca was “dedicated, by gracious permission, to Queen Victoria”. The begums utilised purdah strategically, veiling at viceregal meetings but not when photographed, as evidenced in splendid images of them in court regalia as well as informal dress, taken in 1862 by Lieutenant James Waterhouse who had been assigned to photograph the “tribes” of Central India. Sikander’s daughter Shah Jahan Begum, who attended the 1877 Durbar, commissioned a mosque in the English town of Woking.53
Figure 7. Left: H.H. General !e Maharaja Sindia of Gwalior, G.C.B, G.C.S.I., from from The History of the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi. Woodburytype, 192 x 120 mm. Figure 8. Right: Madhav Rao Sindhia, Maharaja of Gwalior,. from the album ‘Chiefs and Representatives of India’, c. 1877 Albumen Print, 278 x 238 mm. — both by Bourne & Sheffield. c. 1877.
Her well travelled author-daughter Sultan Jahan Begum combined a personal commitment to Muslim piety with support for women’s emancipation. Her veiled appearance during the homage ceremonies at the 1903 Durbar, while laying a gold casket at the viceroy’s feet, was described by the enthralled press, as the high point of the day’s ceremonials.54 European fascination with her had its own frisson. The Maharaja of Gwalior’s portrait (Fig. 7) is a cropped version of the original (Fig. 8) in which his figure is much smaller against a large wall space, and seated off-centre on the settee as if waiting in a parlour, visually trapped by the carpet’s obtrusive patterns, table and settee frame. The disengaged countenance of Holkar of Indore, photographed with an attendant (Fig. 9) fulfilled the stereotype of the “decadent” maharaja, as he was described by various viceroys. His dreamy glance contrasts with the Begum of Bhopal’s assertive stare. In Wheeler’s book, these portraits alternated with photographs of Delhi ruins, the symbolic format implying that princes were relics of the past and, like India’s historical ruins, needed British care.
Figure 9. Left: H.H. The Maharaja Holkar of Indore, G.C.S.I. from The History of the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi. Woodburytype, 192 x 120 mm. Figure 10. Right: H.H. Maharaja Sir Sayaji Rao Gaekwar of Baroda, G.C.S.I. from History of the Delhi Coronation Durbar 1903, 1902–3 (Published 1904) Photogravure, 163 x 120 mm. — both by Bourne & Sheffield.
In the 1903 Durbar’s official book by Stephen Wheeler, son of J. Talboys, there is more variety, with standing portraits and three-quarter views. The figures’ clothing appears less ornamented and more restrained: the Gaekwad of Baroda in simple whites with a walking stick (fig. 10), or the military uniforms worn by the maharajas of Bikaner in a three-quarter portrait (fig. 11) and Gwalior (fig. 12), whose loyalty was rewarded with military honours rarely bestowed upon native princes.
Figure 11. Left: H.H. the Maharaja (Sri Sir Ganga Singh Bahadur) of Bikaner, K.C.I.E by Esmé Collings. Figure 12. Right: Colonel H.H. the Mahraja (Sir Madho Rao Scindia Bahadur of Gwalior, A.D.G., G.C.S.I., G.C.V.O.) by C. Vandyk. Both photogravure, 163 x 120 mm. From History of the Delhi Coronation Durbar 1903, 1902–3 (Published 1904).
Against these images, the viceroy appears overdressed in his regalia (fig. 13). The portrait of Raghubir Singh of Bundi (fig. 14) by his court photographer Ganapatrao Kale contrasts with the others; he is in simple dress in customary durbar pose, hieratic, seated against a gaddi (the traditional durbar cushioned throne) with shield and sword, metonymic of Rajput warrior ideals.
Figure 13. Left: His Excellency, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, P.C., G.M.S.I., G.M.I.E., Viceroy and Governor General of India. by Bourne & Sheffield. Photogravure, 197 x 121 mm, From History of the Delhi Coronation Durbar 1903, 1902–3 (Published 1904). Figure 14. Right: H.H. the Maharao Raja of Bundi (Sir Raghu Singh Bahadur), G.C.I.E., K.C.S.I. by Ganpat Rao Abha. Photogravure, 163 x119 mm. From History of the Delhi Coronation Durbar 1903, 1902–3 (Published 1904).
The conservative Raghubir Singh kept his distance from the British, adhering to Rajput traditions. His father equivocated during the 1857 Uprising, but he and his son retained good relations with the colonial regime. Raghubir Singh was made a K.C.S.I. in 1897 and a G.C.I.E. in 1901. These images appear more masculine and less ornamental than the images of the 1877 Durbar. This perhaps indicates a practice of construction of identity by the subjects of the photographs between the 1877 and 1903 Durbars. Examining the images and stated purposes of Sorabji Jehangir’s Representative Men of India (1889), Christopher Pinney notes a split in the ideology of late nineteenth-century photographs: on the one hand, their function of positing an ethnographic hierarchy in which the subject was framed within an ethnic-geographic identity; and on the other, their position as representative portraits of cosmopolitan, well travelled and often Anglophone elites (Pinney 97). The photographs of 1877 seemed to imply the ethnographic siting of the maharajas, their collective identities, with little variation, marked by signifiers of clothes, jewels and postures. The 1903 collection, a more diverse selection, indicates more agency on the part of the maharajas in terms of choosing how to present themselves and therefore actively constructing their public identities, probably with some knowledge of the widely dispersed and diffused spectating public for these photographs.
Figure 15. Left: Major-General His Highness Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh of Jodhpur, G.C.S.I., G.C.V.O., K.C.B., A.D.C. by Gobindram and Oodeyram. Printed Photograph, 190 x 140 mm. Figure 16. Right: H.H. the Maharao Raja of Bundi (Sir Raghu Singh Bahadur), G.C.I.E., K.C.S.I. by Vernon. Printed Photograph, 190 x 139 mm. — both from From !e Historical Record of the Imperial Visit to India 1911, 1911–12 (Published 1914).
In the official authorless “compiled” book documenting the 1911 Durbar, published in 1914, images are characterised by the appearance of the most elaborate backdrops, full of columns, palatial walls, outdoor views and grand staircases. The theatricality of dress, jewels and traditional court garments is replaced by another staged dress that is increasingly martial. Pratap Singh (Fig. 15), a military leader and avid Anglophile rewarded with the state of Idar in 1902 for his loyalty, is in military dress, as is the Maharaja of Dhar (Fig. 16), whose sword completes an animated curving line from the staircase through his cummerbund.57
Figure 17. Left: His Highness the Maharaja Gaekwar of Baroda, G.C.S.I. by Vernon. Printed Photograph, 189 x 140 mm. Figure 18. Right: Her Highness the Nawab Begum of Bhopal, G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., C.I. by Frederick Bremner. Printed Photograph, 176 x 140 mm. — both from From !e Historical Record of the Imperial Visit to India 1911, 1911–12 (Published 1914).
The Gaekwad’s “seditious” dress (Fig. 17) consists of under decorated white clothing. The Begum of Bhopal is in black with a white cape (Fig. 18) beside an ornate chair before a backdrop of columns, as are the royalty of Baroda, Idar, and Gwalior. All are standing, except for Ragubir Singh (Fig. 19), whose pose resembles that of the 1903 image, but without the shield and with more flamboyant flared skirts, his beard longer on each side, and epaulettes adding a martial touch.
Figure 19. Left: His Highness the Maharao Raja (Sir Raghu Singh) of Bundi, G.C.I.E, G.C.V.O., K.C.S.I. by Ganapatrao Kale. 166 x 138 mm. Figure 20. Right: Major-General His Highness the Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior, G.C.S.I., G.C.V.O., A.D.C. by Ganpatrao Kale. Printed Photograph, 166 x 128 mm. — both from The Historical Record of the Imperial Visit to India 1911, 1911–12 (Published 1914).
His appearance is more “othered” and fierce—his open gaze in 1903 becomes in 1911 a determined glare to the side, refusing to acknowledge the spectator. But this 1911 photograph is actually dated 1888 and has a backdrop with pilasters and thin graphic curtains drawn on either side, creating a curious combination of studio props and traditional gaddi, sword and martial Rajput pose. Ironically, most of the maharajas, who were in fact forbidden to have armies or significant weaponry under their control, are in military uniform, except Gwalior (Fig. 20) who wears a wide robe and folk-like white costume with English shoes. The Nizams’ portraits from 1877 to 1911 also show a steady increase in the elements of Westernised clothing and more assertive stances (see Benjamin Cohen’s essay in this volume).
The official books for the 1903 and 1911 durbars are conglomerate collections of portraits.58 In 1903, photographers and studios included Deen Dayal, Bombay; R. Holz, Simla; R.L. Desai, Gwalior; Edulji Behramji, Bombay; Herzog and Higgins, Mhow; George Craddock, Lahore;, Barton, Son & Co., Bangalore; F. Nelson, Junagadh, and from London: Esmé Collings, Lafayette, W. Whiteley, and Carl Vandyck.59 The photographers and studios in 1911 include many of these, along with Jahlboy, Lawrie, Jenkins, Bremner, Johnston & Hoffmann, and Lumsden, among others. Photographs in these books were made in many cities under varied circumstances; some were even taken in London during princes’ visits there. The varied sources of these photographs gathered for the official books for the 1903 and 1911 durbars imply that the maharajas had some autonomy in selecting which of their portraits were to be featured. The portraits then became “official” by virtue of their inclusion in these volumes and by the texts to which these images were appended.60
These portraits simultaneously revealed and concealed the embedded political contradictions of the princes’ post-1858 status. Studio props collected and diffracted their own symbolic associations as signs of the maharajas’ Europeanisation, power to travel and be photographed, and control over their public images. In culturally specific and intensely symbolic terms, princes’ bodies were also imbued with darshan, the power to bless the viewer/worshipper through the royal power of auratic presence.61 Tinting photographs further underscored their spiritual authority while downgrading photography’s documentary functions by the “unreality” of tinting. Tinting then underscored princes as active patrons of arts, religion, scholarship and sports, involved in policies of reform and social justice and actively shaping regional and national cultures and identities (Ramusack 132). They hired European servants, governesses and photographers. Women of princely families supported social institutions (Ramusack 144). Just as princes found ways to exploit inconsistencies in the colonial administration, they managed to acquire agency with regard to their own photographic representations, which glorified them among their subjects even as the images reinforced the reality of British panoptical surveillance.
Reading Bodies, Reading Props
Photographers grappled with the difficulties of establishing a single, incontrovertible meaning through their medium; despite strategies of closure, such as narrative sequencing or captions, photography’s status as a pure tool of positivist science came under challenge.
Given the conglomerate nature of images in the official accounts of the 1903 and 1911 durbars, it is obvious that the portrait photographs were de-contextualised from their original production conditions when they were placed in these books. I would like to at least partly re-contextualise them within the many other kinds of photographic images of maharajas rendered in this period: with their staff or diwan or British Resident or tutor, at meetings with other maharajas, on horseback in Western clothes, on hunts, at durbars and state ceremonies, in cars and aircraft, and with their families. Their wives and children were subjects of individual and group portraits, sometimes with servants. Photographs of Indian princes and English administrators together recorded visits, durbars and other ceremonies. Bust portraits, portraits in vignette frames, and tinted photographs were also popular with the native rulers.65
After mid-century, photographs were republished in varied texts. James Waterhouse’s powerful images of the begums of Bhopal, taken in 1862, were reprinted in Volume 7 of the multi-volume The People of India (1868–75) and in The Textile Manufactures and Costumes of the People of India (1866).66 By the 1890s, Rulers of India, a series of biographies of prominent princes, British governor generals and viceroys,67 and books on regional rulers created a valorising discourse of these narratives while re-using earlier photographs. By 1911, several maharajas were well known, having been described and imaged for decades in the Illustrated London News and the Times. Photographs of the 1911 homage ceremony were printed as popular postcards. During World War I, portraits of maharajas who supported Britain even appeared on carte-de-visite-sized advertisements for Wills’s cigarettes (Fig.21).68
Maharajah Sir Pertrab Singhji, Both sides of a Wills’s Cigarettes cigarette card, 36 x 68 mm. Collection of Russell Harris.
Their widely varied circulating images appeared in a range of media—postcards, newspapers, books, advertisements, cartes-de-visite and studio portraits—offering complex, layered subjectivities constructed in “dynamic and intimate relationship between colonial photographer and subject”, and between consumer and subject (Lydon 5). Such wide circulation of photographs in a broad range of photographic genres generated multiple meanings for individual photographs as complicated signifiers among different texts and captions, uses, consumers, and circulation trajectories. Their trajectories continue now in websites for museums owning these photographs, in the tourism-oriented websites of historic cities in former Native States, and on the websites of auction houses.70
The princes exploited this wide public presence: the Maharaja of Patiala, for instance, ordered five dozen prints at one time (Harris 9). Having their portraits done by prominent studios defined the maharajas’ social status and “made it visible to themselves and to others” (Satish Sharma, cited in Harris 10). There are correlations between a photograph’s style and use, from a formal photograph made by Bourne & Shepherd for commercial release, to the Vandyk “backstairs” images of the Patiala royal family, which were marked “not for publication”.73 The images were hung on walls and incorporated into books, albums, personal souvenirs, press reports and handwritten ephemera. It is intriguing to speculate as to whether the public’s readings of maharajas’ portraits were similar to their interpretations of photographs of European royalty, and whether durbar portraits of the extravagantly clad viceroys were read as “oriental” or feminised, as were images of maharajas. Props in maharajas’ portraits, reminiscent of furnishings they bought in Europe to decorate their state palaces, mark them as anglicised Indians. Yet in Indian clothes they appear as guests in English-furnished parlours and are thus equated with middle-class Britons and Indians also photographed in these studios. Maharajas are simultaneously de-historicised and re-historicised in a space both theirs (after all they purchased British furniture) and not theirs (Indian dress in English interiors). Inert backdrops and objects evoke spaces that are both familiar and strange, intimate and alien. We can read these “official” bodies as images of both compliance and resistance. Thegeneral trend toward a standing posture in the 1903 and 1911 durbar photographs, as opposed to a seated posture in the 1877 photographs, brings them closer to aristocratic paintings than to popular Victorian portraits, and thus seems to masculinise them.
Gandhi notes in his autobiography that the maharajas felt feminised in being forced to dress up in their finery for the coronation durbars.74 This had been traditional durbar practice for centuries in Native States, with elaborate vestments symbolic of the ruler’s divinely-ordained mandate; however, the same clothing demanded by the British, so sure that clothes were simple codes whereby Indians could be ethnically and socially classified, only reflected the subjugation and reification maharajas experienced at the durbars and under other imperial events and regulations.75 Over the course of three coronation durbars, maharajas decolonised their bodies by wearing simpler, martial clothes, including high boots, and assuming masculine postures. Changed settings from European furniture to backdrops of grand columns implied they were indeed Curzon’s “pillars”, as he called them, on which India rested. This change also aligned the images with other kinds of portraits; for instance, in the case of Sayaji Rao’s portrait by Vandyk in London in June 1911 (fig. 90), where the ruler wears the Vikramaditya, a Baroda state medal he may have designed but which he would not have worn publicly in Britain.76 Another Vandyk image of Sayaji Rao in his uniform appeared on a postcard produced by Beagles Postcards, London, which cited Baroda’s offer of troops to Britain in World War II.
Sayaji Rao’s local Baroda uniform, a variation of that of the 6th Bengal Cavalry, exemplifies Emma Tarlo’s notion of how such clothes construct classifications, as well as simply follow them (Tarlo 7). In their martial dress, the maharajas were redefining themselves by breaking the stereotype of lazy and decadent princes associated with heavily ornamented dress. These relatively austere images of 1911 bring maharajas closer to the English in military dress, thus eliding a crucial difference that justified imperial policy and ideology. Princes become the “reformed, recognizable ‘Other’… almost the same but not quite” that Homi Bhabha notes is constructed by patterns of mimicry subtly practiced by many maharajas (86). Only by de-ornamentalising their dress could maharajas at least partially resist being typecast and caricatured as brutish, indolent voluptuaries habituated to dynastic privilege, and re-present themselves as multifaceted, manly and modern.
Thus, reflecting such progressive aspirations, these later portraits appear more “authentic” in terms of elite subject vities, even if backdrops now intrude as theatrical illusions. In later durbar photographs we can see, hyperbolic backdrops notwithstanding, that the subjects have managed to realign their identities toward an assertive masculinity, despite, (or perhaps necessitated by) the hollowness of their crown and their lack of military power. As Pinney observes, their photographs appear “as a creative space in which new aspirant identities and personae can be conjured” (85).
Yet even masculinised images, however efficiently presented as an alternative to the stereotype of “degenerate” princely demeanour, are conventionally anglicised—in uniform, on horseback, in cars, or amid prolific families. The stylised repackaging of the “modern” self against the rigid aesthetic conventions signified via props or settings results in hybridised identities; this mode of “king-building” is the construction of public identities “in which different performances are acquired”, and photography in these cases is a technology of “augmentation… to leave substantive traces of what otherwise would be mere dreams” (Pinney 91) in these cases, dreams of masculinity and equity acquired through Anglophilia and maharajas’ self-representation within European conventions.
The portraits paradoxically both expose and disguise difference and similarity; their subjects’ varying dress, props and backdrops simultaneously articulate the maharajas’ self-fashioning and mimicry, and British-imposed otherings of them. Many anglicised Indians moved easily and contingently between Indian and European dress in their ordinary lives, changing identities to fit social and professional circumstances.81 Through their engagement with photography, the princes were able to practice this adaptation in formal/political terms as well, remaining sensitive with regard to the varying impact and effect of their image as Raj vassals in both Britain and India. Celia Lury defines “seeing photographically” as modern subjectivity constituted in a post-photograph counter memory (86) an “afterlife” Barthes calls “the advent of myself as other” in photographic image of “what-was-but-is-nolonger” (cited in Lury). The moment of posing is when “I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object… I am truly becoming a spectre” (15). For Barthes’s spectator, photographs become sites for imagining and reconstructing selves out of a desire that can never be satisfied. In portraits of the Indian elites, British viewers saw their own fantasies of a dying epic which maharajas could be read as representing, despite the incongruity of being located in contemporary Victorian spaces recreated in studios. Queen Victoria herself compiled a series of albums in which photographs of maharajas were placed in the midst of images of European royalty and politicians in yet another context of her imagination (Gordon 115). This surreal relocation or dislocation of native self and persona resuscitated in photographs filled these portraits with “suggestibility and the powers of animation” as Craigie’s asserts, despite their portrayal of princes as thoroughly anglicised and domesticated in the studio and, thus, habituated to these modes of being strategically ‘othered’ and enframed (Lury 88–91).
Arjun Appadurai describes backdrops of colonial photographs as producing “various cultural imaginaries” in a “struggle between photographic modernity” and the cultural environments of colonised spaces, believed to exist in a premodern state.87 Backdrops invite subversive ironies, because as pastiches they generate “sites of epistemological uncertainty about exactly what photographs seek to represent”. Like Duleep Singh, the princes appear aristocratic, while in reality they are feudal vassals. Their photographs also invoke ontological slippages, questions of the nature of the princes’ post-1858 identities defined by Raj authority, not by ancestral histories or places. Backdrops further subvert the realism presumed to be photography’s ontology, by putting the maharajas in a homogenised studio space without locale or temporal dimensions, but open to imagination. Appadurai considers backdrops visible (in the picture) and invisible/hidden (derived from earlier photographers’ images and discourses) (4–7). The backdrops in the maharajas’ portraits bear invisible discourses of aristocratic portraits from earlier centuries.
However, visible backdrops in the pictures are simulacra, not real landscapes, columns, or staircases. Their rolled edges peek out behind the figures’ feet and furnishings, satirically puncturing the façade of what they are not. In this respect, the studio is a fantasy site where subjects play dress-up, unlike ethnographic subjects who are presumably in ‘authentic’ dress, despite their often being photographed in studios made to look like natural settings. The daughters of Duleep Singh are shown in “Oriental” costume and in English ‘costume’ in poses reminiscent of orientalised photography and eighteenth-century aristocratic female portraits, respectively (Fig. 22), their identities as fluid as those of any Briton gone native—as they, Indians raised in England, appear to have done in these photographs.89
Duleep Singh’s daughters (Oriental), possibly for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee by Lafayette Photography Ltd. and Ede and Ravenscroft. Glass Plate Negative, 305 x 380 mm. (Thanks to Russell Harris for this information).
Reading these images post-colonially, I see their disparate functions as instances of British surveillance and Indian self-fashioning. They also contain complex layers of selfassertion and mimicry that expose fault lines of power and control, as maharajas take advantage of changing viceroys and circumstances to find new avenues of power, resistance, and compliance. Images of the 1903 and 1911 durbars indicate a British willingness to see princes as ‘modern’, as the princes self-fashioned themselves in these photographs. Victorians subscribed to the notion that visibility permitted control and knowledge of colonial subjects, but visibility in these photographs hides and eludes much, and offers disjunctions and ironies that do not simply reflect identities imposed by the state apparatus. On their part, the maharajas appropriated conventions of portraiture, manipulating props and costumes as they “tried on” images for different circuits of public consumption. Christopher Pinney describes how “local photographic traditions creatively deform the geometrical spatialisations of colonial worlds” (202). In the maharajas’ portraits, creative deformation emerges from within colonial worlds themselves. Princes’ portraits offer their own “vernacular modernism” that subverts “colonial representational regimes” by treating those regimes to ludic interventions and mimicry that upend colonial “rationality”. It seems that studio backdrops engender not a documentary realism but an imaginary site, paradoxically valid in completely opposite ways for subject and viewer: as an exotic pre-Raj ideal for Britons, and as a progressive, modern autonomy for the maharajas.91
Last modified 23 August 2016