Raja Deen Dayal: Capturing India Frame by Frame

He is called the Prince among Photographers and it is said that so impressed was the Nizam of Hyderabad with Lala Deen Dayal’s pictures that he recited an impromptu couplet in praise of him in 1894 CE, To quote the Nizam Mehboob Ali Pasha

‘Ajab ye karte hain, tasveer mein kamaal kamaal; ustaado ke hain ustaad Lala Deen Dayal’ (Deen Dayal’s work is magical He is the best among among the best !)

The mid 19th century CE saw the start of photography as we know it. By the mid 1840’s a series of European photographers, early explorers were trooping into India to capture this exotic land. In 1847 CE William Armstrong Fallon surveyed in Temples in the Ajanta and Ellora caves and published a book. In 1855 CE Thomas Biggs, captured the beauty of Bijapur, Aihole, Badami and other old capitals in Central India.

These were heady times and the world was fascinated by the new art of photography!

Lala Deen Dayal is called the Prince among Photographers

Interestingly, a lot of young Indians today, will be relate to Lala Deen Dayal’s journey as a photographer. Dayal started out studying engineering at Thompson College of Civil Engineering at Roorkee (now IIT Roorkee) in 1866 CE. He then joined a cushy government job in Indore as head estimator and draughtsman in the Department of Works Secretariat Office. As a diversion, from the mind numbing monotony of his day job, he took up photography as a hobby and soon grew very good at it. His skill was recognized by Sir Henry Daly, the British Political Agent at Indore, who encouraged Deen Dayal to set up a photography studio.

Lala Deen Dayal’s big opportunity came when the Prince of Wales visited Indore in 1875 CE, and he was in charge of photographing the visit. Soon he became so famous that he was appointed the photographer to the Viceroy of India. In 1885 CE, on the recommendation from the Viceroy, he was appointed as a Court Photographer to the Nizams of Hyderabad.

Photograph of a drawing room in the Bashir Bagh Palace in Hyderabad, taken by Deen Dayal in the 1880s
Photograph of a drawing room in the Bashir Bagh Palace in Hyderabad, taken by Deen Dayal in the 1880s|Wikimedia Commons

During his stint here, he meticulously photographed palaces, ceremonies, city life, and visiting dignitaries across the world. In 1894 CE, the Nizam of Hyderabad, very pleased with his work gave him a title of ‘Raja Musavir Jung”, which roughly translates to ‘Bold Warrior of Photography’. Thereafter, he became famous as ‘Raja Deen Dayal’

In 1897 CE, Lala Deen Dayal received a ‘Royal Warrant’ , appointing him as a Photographer to Queen Victoria.

He became so famous that he was appointed the photographer to the Viceroy of India

Raja Deen Dayal, at his height, became such a sought after photographer that he set up a firm ‘Raja Deen Dayal & Sons’ and had a flourishing business with studios in Bombay, Indore and Secundarabad. The who’s who of Indian and British Indian society were his clients and he even set up a ‘Zenana Studio’, where women in Purdah, could visit and be photographed.

Lala Deen Dayal also photographed a large number of historic monuments like Ajanta, Sanchi, Khajuraho and Orchha, and these provide some of the earliest visual records of the time. Lala Deen Dayal passed away in 1905 CE, at the age of 61.

Today’s Lala Deen Dayal’s photographs are priceless and part of many meticulously curated private collections, here in India .

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