The Delhi Durbar of 1911 was perhaps the grandest extravaganza of the British Raj. An event to mark the coronation of King George V as King-Emperor of India, it was attended by the who's who of the British Empire. At that time, it cost around one million pounds and a year of preparation went into executing it. The Rajas and Nawabs of every princely state in India were in attendance and it was here, amidst the pomp and splendour of the Raj, in full regalia, that it was announced that capital of British India would be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.
While numerous photographs are available of the Durbar, we also have some stunning videos thanks to Pathé News. Founded by Charles Pathé in 1896, Pathé News was a producer of newsreels from across the British Empire from 1910 to the 1970s. The company is now called British Pathé and has uploaded all its archives on YouTube for people to access. This rare footage of the Delhi Durbar comes alive thanks to British Pathé.
The Delhi Durbar was held at a place called Coronation Park, located on Shanti Swaroop Tyagi Marg, Model Town in North Delhi today. A commemorative obelisk stands exactly where King George and Queen sat. In this video, you can see the grounds and the soldiers ready to receive the royal couple, Indian princes arriving in all their splendour, on elephant back and finally King George V and Queen Mary arriving for the Durbar, with their entourage. It was December and the only time perhaps when one could have worn the heavy coronation gowns, that you see the King and Queen wear.
The Begum of Bhopal
One of the most interesting guests at the Durbar was the Begum Sultan Jahan of Bhopal - the only female ruler to be there to pay respects to the King-Emperor. Seen heavily veiled here in this video, the Begum came from a long line of female rulers who had ruled over Bhopal. She wore a very peculiar burkha, which some commentators said made her look like a walking tent. No footage of the Begum of Bhopal at the Durbar exists, though there is this British Pathé clip, of the Begum visiting London in 1921.
The Rare Colour Video
This is the very rare colour footage of the Delhi Durbar - the only clip that survives and can be seen. Charles Urban an Anglo-American film producer made a documentary in colour recording the events of the Delhi Durbar of 1911. This was even shown at the Buckingham Palace. Only one ten minute reel survives of the original documentary. It is among the oldest documentaries, in colour, in the world!
The Delhi Durbar marked a watershed of sorts, as King George V used this occasion to announce the shifting of the capital to Delhi. This triggered a massive building initiative, where a new city was planned and built. Lutyens’ Delhi as we know it today, was intended to recreate the grandeur of the Mughal Empire, with a new classical western air. But within 36 years of the Delhi Durbar, the British had to move out of India. New Delhi became the capital of Independent India.
Ironically, today there is nothing grand about the venue of the Grand Durbar. The Coronation Park is a dusty, ill-maintained park in North Delhi.