Imperial Durbar turns hundred in a year. However, the Coronation Park, the site of the event, is in a state of decay

In about a year from now, the centenary of the Imperial Durbar of 1911 will be observed. To quote Pran Nevile's Sahib's” India: Vignettes from the Raj (Penguin), the Durbar was originally planned to be held on January 1, 1912, but since that day happened to coincide with Moharrum, “Their Majesties, out of consideration for their Muslim subject” decided to hold it a few days earlier on Dec 12,1911. January 1, however, had a special significance since it marked the annual commemoration of the proclamation of the Empire and the Durbars of 1877 and 1903.

Describing the event, Nevile says “The King and Queen (George V and Queen Mary) arrived in Delhi in December 7 and were taken in a royal procession through the streets of Delhi before reaching the entirely new “city” of tents set up on the occasion (in Kingsway Camp). As many as 233 camps were spread over an area of 25 square miles with 10 miles of canvas and the construction of 60 miles of new roads and over 30 miles of railway with 24 stations. Two vast concentric amphitheatres were built for the Durbar itself; the larger one to hold 1,00,000 spectators, the smaller one for princes and other notables. The cost of the Durbar came to 6,60,000 pounds as against 1,80,000 pounds which (Lord) Curzon had spent on his tamasha (in 1903).”

Nevile goes on to say that the imperial thrones were in the centre of a marble platform under a golden dome. And it was at this place that the royal visitors were crowned Emperor and Empress of India and received the homage of the princes in their colourful robes and bejewelled ornaments. The most important event of the Durbar was the announcement of the shifting of the Capital from Calcutta to Delhi, much to the joy of the people of Delhi and the chagrin of the Bengalis and British officials.

Incidentally, the Imperial Durbar of 1877 was organised by Lord Lytton to mark the 1876 proclamation of Queen Victoria as the Kaiser-i-Hind (Empress of India). The site was outside the city of Delhi. Lytton arrived on December 23 from Calcutta by a special train. About that time, “400 Indian princes and their retinues also assembled in Delhi. On New Year's Day, the Viceroy and his family came for the Durbar seated on elephants. The extravaganza was reminiscent of Moghul pomp and splendour. The royal herald read out the proclamation, issued after the Mutiny by Queen Victoria in 1858 and the promise of justice and equality for her Indian subjects.

Nevile then goes on to speak of the 1903 Durbar held by Lord Curzon to celebrate Edward VII's coronation as the successor of Queen Victoria, who had died in 1901. It surpassed Lytton's Durbar and the events spread out from December 29 for 10 days in the New Year. Part of the celebration was held in the Dewan-e-Am of the Red Fort.

However, the centenary of the most famous Durbar will be a hollow celebration unless Coronation Park, which marks the site, is rescued from the oblivion and decay into which it has fallen. The statues particularly need to be spruced up and Victoria's statue added to the motley assembly, for though breathing the free air of independence, we cannot ignore the events of the Raj, which also willy-nilly form part of our history.


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