Tour Of India – The Durbar

December 6, 1911, DELHI. Just a line in hopes of catching the mail before I go to bed. One of the last places I visited in Agra was the old Roman Catholic cemetery. There were a lot of Christians there in Akbar’s time, mainly Portuguese ; but the oldest tomb with a legible date is, curiously, an Englishman’s, who came to Agra in 1605 and talked with Akbar. He died in 1614.

I caught the 16.45 (as they please to call it) at Agra Road. I got into a carriage in which were an Englishman and a well-to-do Mohammedan. At the next station fifteen native students got in, or tried to. Each carried a fat roll of bedding, and they got hopelessly stuck in the doorway, chattering and struggling like monkeys.

The train started while the doorway was still jammed, with two of them outside on the foot-board. Thereupon up rose the Englishman, silenced the babel with one word, pulled in the bedding-bundles and stored them away himself, and so cleared the doorway, then relapsed into his newspaper. The incident seemed to me symbolic. The fifteen disposed themselves all about the carriage, crowding the Mohammedan’s seat, squatting on the ‘ floor, on their luggage, in the rack but none of them thought of attempting to sit on our seat ; so we two sahibs sat spaciously on an oasis of silence surrounded by babbling Indians, all of them in Bank Holiday spirits.

On arrival at Delhi we found thousands of unnecessary people on the platform, and after extricating ourselves spent over an hour trying to find this camp, as to the whereabouts of which there was a conspiracy of misdirecting garrulity. However, here we are at last, and quite ready for bed.

December 9, 1911, IN CAMP, DELHI.—This place is even more odious than I had expected. The Durbar will have to be very fine to make up for it and I have aggravated the evil by never doing the right thing. To my surprise I have been invited to the evening Reception, and I have no breeches.

I have brought no carriage or bicycle, and find it almost impossible to get about. This camp is two miles from anywhere, and six miles from all the great sights of Delhi, except the Fort, which the police have closed till the day before I leave. I shall therefore see nothing except in Jim’s motor, and I am three miles from his camp. Walking is horribly unpleasant one can’t get breakfast till nine or half-past, and lunch only at 1.30 ; meals are unobtainable except in camp, so to get anywhere one has to walk in the heat of the day, and the roads are as crowded as Piccadilly in the season, and one is jostled by thousands of natives, and the dust fills the air, and the place is alive with flies, and one gets a head-ache from the sun. Consequently in the four days I have been here I have hardly stirred from camp without regretting it.

The statistics are wonderful, of course ; there are scores of square miles of camp, and millions (such, I am told, is the official police estimate, but Sir John Hewett’s estimate is five hundred thousand, a biggish divergence !) of strangers in Delhi. But the experience is disagreeable, and there is a pervading sense of waste which is very depressing. Untold millions of rupees have been spent, which go to enrich hotel-keepers, contractors, and dressmakers; and all that is got for it is three or four fine shows and the rather arrogant assertion of the British Raj. Meanwhile there is already actual famine in some districts and great distress in others. The rajahs have spent all their spare cash in this show, and have no means of relieving their subjects : indeed, they themselves are likely to be hard up, as their revenues will probably fail them. And I very much doubt whether the political effect will be good. The common people are no doubt impressed by the display : but in this respect their own rajahs far outshine the King, and they are quite as likely to get the impression that their own princes are finer than ours as to realize that their fine princes are vassals of our King. But I dare say that part is all right, only it doesn’t seem worth while ; it makes one think of the famine districts in the same depressing way that a London ballroom sometimes makes one think of the slums.

So far there have been two bright spots from the spectacular point of view. The first of these was the State entry—the most extraordinary fantasy of splendour that has even been seen, I imagine. All the native chiefs drove in procession behind the King’s escort. The latter—the Imperial Cadet Corps— consists of the sons of rajahs, and has a most lovely uniform of cream-colour and sky-blue, with gold plumes in their turbans.

But the chiefs’ procession was the wonder. There were about a hundred of them : I made out ninety-eight, but I’m told a hundred and three is the total. Each one had a little procession of his own. First two splendid liverymen with gold staves, then about a dozen horsemen in uniforms which tended to the fierce or fantastic. One set was in chain-mail from head to foot, others in leopard skins, and so on in infinite variety : at the least they were gorgeously uniformed, various shades of blue and yellow being the favourite colour-scheme. (Some of the horses were lovely too.) Their arms were nearly always lances or pikes : a few had axes or scimitars.

These were followed by a band of trumpeters, and sometimes two men with golden objects one might well call maces, beautifully wrought. This group was, like English trumpeters, the most richly uniformed of all, with silks and cloth of gold, the turbans being especially magnificent.

Then came the rajah’s coach, drawn by six horses, with leaders and postilions ; and the coachman was generally too gorgeous to be expected to hold the reins at all. The coaches themselves varied greatly : seven of them were entirely made of solid silver, no wood anywhere, and profusely overlaid with raised goldwork. Others were of wood inlaid with gold and silver ; some were like English royal carriages, and some were quite shabby. They were generally lined with blue or purple cloth, sometimes white. In the carriage sat the rajah in a sumptuous shot-silk robe, generally gold shot with pink or blue : others wore white silk richly embroidered with gold, while some had tapestry patterns on the silk. Their breasts were covered with enormous jewels, chiefly pearls and emeralds : but the hugest of all were always in the front of the turban, and some of these were of incredible size, and sparkled brilliantly in the sun ; and often the lines of the turban were picked out in rubies and pearls, and pendant. emeralds hung down over their foreheads. On the left of each rajah sat the British Resident, and two sumptuously attired courtiers opposite.

The rajah’s carriage was followed by two or three other carriages, containing princes and weirs ; but in between there were almost always two led chargers, whose whole harness and saddles were made of solid embossed gold or silver : and a few had fantastic silver litters carved with lions and dragons.

Behind the carriages came a crowd of foot-soldiers, and these were generally the most oddly attired group of all : they bordered on the panto-mimic. They were dressed, as it were, in caricatures of their respective national costumes ; so one saw Pathans in shaggy bearskins, Baluchis, Arabs from the Aden Hinterland, Sikhs, Rajputs, Deccanese, South Indians, Kashmiris, Sikkimese, Bengalis, Burmese with golden pagodas on their hats, Assamese with straw hats a yard wide, Gujeratis with squat blunderbusses, Afridis with guns eight feet long, and so on in bewildering pageant. The procession took nearly three hours to pass, and it was impossible to take it in : but it remains a thing to dream of for the rest of one’s life. I don’t think it can ever become a regular ceremony. There is a feeling about this Durbar that it will never be repeated.

The other fine sight I saw yesterday from the roof of the cloister of the great Mosque. There were ten thousand or more Mohammedans in the great courtyard for the Friday service, and when they prostrated themselves in unison they made a patterned carpet of every conceivable bright colour. Each man was on one square of the pavement, so they were in perfect lines. When they prayed, they swayed up and down like a coloured sea, to the rhythm of long-drawn ” Al-lahs.”

Sunday, 10th.—For once this camp is within a mile of something, and I could get to church this morning with reasonable comfort. After breakfast, I took advantage of an offer of a bicycle, and rode round the chiefs’ camps. There are four enormously long streets of them, and I rode right up one and down another, and so saw the outside of about half of them. They are truly magnificent ; they vary in size, averaging about a hundred and fifty yards of frontage and going back about two hundred and fifty : but some are much bigger. The Nizam and a few others have two camps (he is said to have brought over a hundred wives up here).

Each camp had a reception pavilion : of these, almost every one that I could see into had silver chairs and the rest of the furniture to match. A few had arches and even kiosks entirely overlaid with silver. In odd contrast to this _richness, the decorations generally took the form of small cheap calico Union Jacks with hideous ” portraits ” of the King and Queen- stamped on them these were in great profusion.

I only went into two camps, including the Kashmiri, which was far the most artistic of them all. The whole of its frontage had for a paling a screen of pierced wood, which was perfectly lovely. The wood was dark, like old oak, but grained like chest-nut. (It is. walnut.) The screen was about six feet high and stood on a three-foot brick plinth. Every panel was carved into a group of flowers, each one different, most exquisitely done, with a lace-like effect, and one could see through it quite well, as the spaces were cut right away. The gate-way had similar flower carvings, but in relief and not pierced-work. It was of the same wood and gabled with burnished copper. The effect was extremely fine.

The pavilion was a large tent without sides (i.e., open at the sides). It was supported on poles of solid silver (they may have been overlaid, but did not seem so), about four inches in diameter and spirally carved. The floor was carpeted with dark plum-coloured silk rugs, embroidered with flowers, not very thickly. The ceiling was of the same there were two rows of silver chairs leading up to two thrones of gold and silver, and no other furniture in the room at all.

A wonderful feature about all the swell camps, English as well as Indian, is the gardening. Nine months ago this area was bare, dry, open veld, and now each camp has extensive grass lawns with beds of chrysanthemums, palms, sunflowers, etc., and some of them have ” morning glory ” convolvulus entirely covering their front railings.

Wednesday, 13TH.-The last two days have been very full. On Monday Jim took me in his motor, and we visited all the great sights south of Delhi.

This locality has been a city from time immemorial : but it emerges into history after the first Mohammedan invasion of India, about A.D. 1000. The then existing city was eleven miles south of the present one. It was captured by the Moslem Viceroy, Kutab-ud-din, in 1193. This Kutab later threw off his allegiance to the Kings of Ghazni (in Afghanistan) and set up an independent kingdom with Delhi as capital. From this date onwards Delhi has almost always been the capital of the chief power in India : but successive dynasties moved their citadels, first eastward, then north-ward ; so that now there is a chain of ruined forts, palaces, and mosques along fifteen miles of road.

Most of these ruins are mere shells ; the best preserved are the oldest, namely, Kutab’s mosque and minar, built to signalize his victory. The mosque must have been magnificent ; there remain some grand arches, more Gothic-looking than later ones, and a cloister made of pillars taken from twenty-seven sacked Jain temples, very finely carved. More famous, but (I think) less beautiful, is the minar, which is nearly two hundred and forty feet high, a queer tapering shape, but too like a vast factory chimney to be very pleasing. It was three hundred feet, but the top was knocked of by lightning. You can see it looking very big from here, eleven miles off.

Besides the ruins, the most interesting things were a series of well-preserved Moghul tombs, showing the development of that style. The earliest existing Moghul tomb, Humayun’s (Akbar’s father), who died in 1556, is here, not three miles from the latest one, Safdar Jang’s, who died 1754, two years before the sack of Delhi by the Afghans.

The Durban was very good from the purely aesthetic point of view it was worth all the week’s discomfort, and as a political education in imagination it may even be worth all the money spent on it.

The way the thea’tre was laid out was like this. A circular space was enclosed, on the south by a small semicircular covered stand for twelve thou-sand people, on the north by a big open mound for fifty thousand. In the centre of the big circle was a high platform (thirty steps), with two solid silver-gilt thrones under a silver and gold canopy

and within the sector of the smaller circle was a sumptuous pavilion of gold and silver, supported on silver-gilt poles with gold tent-ropes, containing two gilt thrones on a raised dais, with two lesser pairs of thrones below, on the right for the Hardinges and on the left for Lord Crewe and the Duchess of Devonshire.

The King and Queen arrived at twelve o’clock in purple and ermine robes, the King crowned, and drove round, past one half of the mound stand, then in, past the high platform, to the pavilion or shamiana. For some unexplained but no doubt excellent reason I was given about the best seat in the place, in the front row of unofficial people, just opposite the shamiana and not thirty yards from it.

The scene was brilliant quite beyond description. The distant mound was like a vast tulip-bed of turbans : the flower-like effect was heightened by the fact that large schools occupied blocks of it, having uniform turbans : in this way were formed a yellow bed, a green one, a purple one, a sky-blue one, an orange one, and several white ones. In front of these came the massed scarlet of eighteen thousand troops disposed round the gorgeous crimson and gold platform. The steps of the latter were crimson with broad gold rods, but the strong sun made such a dazzling glitter on these that the whole staircase at times seemed to be made of gold. Over the platform was a golden dome that fixed and focused the whole scene : its gold was not glittering, but frosted to an even lustre, like that of a glass lamp-shade. The thrones on the platform faced away from us and towards the mound. From the platform a broad carpeted way led to the shamiana, and this was not troop-lined, so that there was a completely open grass space in the middle foreground, and this was extremely effective.

From the shamiana three or four steps led down to the open carpeted space just in front of our seats, the front row of which was occupied by the chiefs and other homage-doers.

After the King had made a formal speech, the homage began. First the Viceroy went up, knelt and kissed hands ; then the others one by one came forward and made bows, nobody coming up to the King or touching him. He bowed slightly in return to each, and so did the Queen : she had a splendid dress of white satin embroidered with gold, a tiara of diamonds and emeralds, and diamonds and emeralds on her breast—the emeralds almost as big as the rajahs.

Each rajah came up by himself, very slow and stately, and when he passed across the open carpeted space his jewels sparkled and flashed in the sun in a way which made one wonder why people ever troubled to wear jewels in the evening. The diamonds were far and away the most effective, and most of them had magnificent diamonds. Some of the finest jewels were worn by the King’s and Queen’s pages, little rajahs of from seven to thirteen years old, headed by Jodhpur. They were not uniformly dressed, but all wore some sort of cloth-of-gold dresses, and yellow or gold or orange turbans. These turbans are made of a wonderful shimmering stuff, which the ladies said is never seen in Europe : all the chiefs had it. It looks like a very fine gauzy silk shot with gold and silver, and gives a different sheen with every movement. The biggest jewel of all is always worn in the front of the turban, and from it often rises either an aigrette or else a spray of diamonds, pearls, or rubies : I never saw a sapphire at all on any Indian.

After the homage the King and Queen moved in a truly oriental procession along the carpeted way to the high platform, attended by pages, umbrella-bearers, men with golden implements like long-handled aces of spades, to keep the sun off at the sides, men with fly-protectors, men with golden spice-horns, and the Imperial Cadet Corps in attendance. Then followed a proclamation and much saluting and trumpeting and band-playing, and then a procession back again to the shamiana, where the King made the dramatic announcement of the transfer of the capital and the restoration of Bengal.

The official world does not altogether seem to relish this scheme. They vary greatly : Bombay officials mostly welcome it, as it brings Bombay trade. Whether the others oppose it from mere conservatism, or because it reverses Lord Curzon’s policy, or because it benefits the seditious Bengalis, I don’t know. But it strikes one that part of the official world has got into unsatisfactory relations with the native world. The soldiers and the old-fashioned officials seem out of sympathy with native aspirations.

Thursday, 14th. t is astonishing how this show is prolonged from day to day without a sense of anti-climax. This is made possible by the skilful variation of the pageants. Yesterday’s garden-party and fête was a wonderful sight and entirely different from the rest. It was held in the Fort, which is only less lovely than Agra Fort, and in the same style. The chief difference is that the inlay work is mostly not of precious stones but of gold, and the rest of it is really paint, in many places ; and it has suffered from the looters of the eighteenth century. But all the fountains were running, which added greatly to the effect : and the gardens had been prettily bedded out.

Between the Fort and the River Jamna is a flat, bare space five hundred yards wide and three-quarters of a mile long. This space was filled with dense masses of natives—I should be afraid to say how many, but far the biggest crowd I have ever seen : and looking down from above, the sea of turbans was a very wonderful spectacle : it stretched as far as one could see in every direction, in places a moving crowd, in places a packed mass. Presently the King and Queen appeared in crown and robes, and sat on their silver thrones in a projecting marble balcony, and got a tremendous welcome from the crowd below. Then the natives of various States collected in mobs round banners, and marched past wearing uniform turbans of bright colours, and waving innumerable little flags of the same colour.

This lasted till sunset, and then, as it got dark, the Fort was illuminated most beautifully. The whole of the battlements were outlined in lights : others were hung right in and upon the trees, like fruit ; and the various marble pavilions and waterfalls were lit with soft lamps. It was lovely, though it inevitably bore a family resemblance to the White City. It was odd how by artificial light the stucco buildings looked as good as, or better than, the marble ones.

Then they finished up with fine fireworks in the Bela below, and the rockets showed up the huge crowd, now even denser than before.

I am writing this at the Review, the last of the great shows ; they have fifty thousand troops here, and the general effect is fine, but at present they are a long way off.

Tonight is the Investiture, which ought to be the finest of the evening functions the Reception was ordinary—but the mail leaves before it.

I hope to see some more of the Fort before I leave to-morrow. I am cutting the State departure, as it is a purely European procession and won’t be worth waiting for ; and as soon as the King goes there will be such a rush away that I am told I could not get a place for three days ; so I am leaving to-morrow night for Jaipur. I mean to spend next week visiting Jaipur, Ajmere, Chitor, and Udaipur, which are all in Rajputana on the railway between here and Bombay.

There are endless other things to record and reflections to make, but are they not written in the books of the Chronicles?