The Delhi Durbar in 1911

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Today Coronation Park is a graveyard of Raj era relics, but 105 years ago this week it was the site of a magnificent Durbar which saw Delhi announced as the new capital of British India.

Ever wondered what used to stand on the plinth in front of India gate?  Have you heard about a place in Delhi where statutes of British royalty and viceroys still stand, but don’t know where it is?

This posts takes a closer look at the events surrounding the Delhi Durbar and takes a little look at Cornation Park, the place where the Durbars took place.

Durbar is a Mughal or Persian term used to refer to a rulers court

Durbars were used by the British to mark the succession of an Emperor or Empress of India.There were three held in Delhi, one in 1877 which announced Queen Victoria as Empress of India. A second in 1903 for King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra and the final one and the most majestic, proclaimed George V and Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India on the 11th December in 1911.

All three Delhi Durbars took place on the same site

The British choose a large plain of land outside the city as the site of the first Delhi Durbar in 1877.  The same site was used in 1903 and 1911.

Once an empty patch of land, the site of the Delhi Durbar now sits at the northern edge of the city limits.  Today it has been re-christened Coronation Park (sometime called Memorial Park).

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The 1911 Delhi Durbar was a 10 day spectacle

The Durbar took a year to plan, was attended by 200,000 people and was estimated to cost £1million.

Anyone who was anyone, princes, maharajas, rulers, merchants and administrators attended from all over India.  Over 50,000 troops were present and on parade.  The Congress Party condemned the pomp and ceremony Durbar, citing the cost at the expense of the India people.  Rare colour footage of the 1911 Durbar gives a idea of how grand an affair this was.

Durbars were used by rulers to make big political announcements

At the 1911 Durbar on the 12th December 1911 the King reversed the unpopular decision to partition Bengal, but made the shock announcement that the capital of British India would shift from Calcutta, in Bengal to Delhi.

After the First War of Independence in 1857 (also referred to as the Indian Mutiny) the British ransacked Delhi and left it to rot.  This announcement meant that Delhi would once again be the most important city India.

What was wrong with Calcutta (now Kolkata) and what was so good about Delhi?

Calcutta had served the British well for 150 years, it was the hub of its Indian administration, so why the switch?

Lord Hardinge, the British Viceroy to India, in a letter to Lord Crewe, the Secretary of State for India wrote that the new legislative powers given to India meant that the British needed a more central location from which to rule.  But in the letter he also acknowledged that there was growing opposition to British rule in Calcutta and it was time to move out.

New Delhi took 20 years to build

The foundation stone was laid at the Delhi Durbar, but building the new capital commenced after World War One.  After in depth survey Raisina Hill (it was once a hill, but was flattened to make the city) wa chosen as the site of the Viceroy Palace (now the President of India’s residence)

The new capital , called New Delhi, is also known as Lutyen’s Delhi and Lutyen’s Bungalow Zone (LBZ), after the architect who designed it, sprung up around this site.  The new capital was inaugurated on the 13th February 1931.  Following India’s independence in 1947, New Delhi was officially declared as the capital of the Union of India.

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King George V – The sun sets on the end of empire at Coronation Park

The empty canopy in front of India Gate once housed King George V

A huge statute of King George V once looked over the streets from in front of India Gate. For 20 years after independence, King George maintained his place.  But after Nehru’s death in the later 1960’s George was moved onto a new home at Coronation Park.

He’s not alone here, other Raj relics keep him company, but he, his fellow administrators are in a bit of a sorry state.  Of the 16 plinths at the Park only five contain statues.  King George V is standing the test of time better than the rest, but time is still taking its toll.

At the centre of the park sits the oblisek that marks the spot of succession.

A graveyard of statutes is a surreal place to be.  It’s in north Delhi, here’s a map to help you guide you here.

Take a time machine back to the events of 1911 at The Imperial New Delhi

The 1911 Bar at the Imperial Hotel on Janpath houses uniforms of British Raj battalions that served in India along with the country’s only Victoria Cross.  The walls of the 1911 Restaurant pays tribute to the event that led to the emergence of New Delhi as the capital of India.  Take a walk around the Imperial to be transported back in time.

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One thought on “The Delhi Durbar in 1911

  1. Pingback: You’ll love these lassi walahs | Namaste New Delhi

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