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Capital's centenary: A walk down the Kingsway Camp

Tuesday December 13, 2011 09:43:22 AM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

The main pavilion at Kingsway Camp in 1911 erected for the former British royalty for the coronation durbar.

New Delhi: One hundred years ago, India - which was a colony of the British empire - spent nearly one million pounds sterling to host King George V at the coronation durbar at Kingsway Camp in the capital Dec 12.

The day marked the beginning of a journey for the ancient city of Delhi - the mythical Indraprashtha of the Mahabharata - as a modern, cosmopolitan capital.

The foundation of the new city was laid Dec 15, 1911 - three days after the coronation durbar. The capital was named New Delhi in 1927 and was formally inaugurated Feb 13, 1931.

Two British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker laid out the architectural map of the city.

Commemoration of 100 years of the coronation durbar of King George V may not be a mega social event on the government's calendar - but the centenary of New Delhi has become a private pilgrimage down the lanes of the country's colonial past for many.

"The government of India feels that if it commemorates the coronation durbar - it might legitimise colonial rule in India," said writer, journalist and heritage activist Sunil Raman, the co-author of a new book, "Delhi Durbar - 1911: The Complete Story".

The biggest change that the grand coronation durbar of Dec 12, 1911 brought in to the city "was the decline of the old city of Shahjahanabad".

"Delhi had always been a capital - except for a short while (when the East India Company was headquartered in Kolkata). But after the coronation durbar, the old city of Shahjahanabad was virtually abandoned. The British regent wanted a new capital city," Raman told IANS.

"The coronation durbar - hosted in a tent city and attended by 100,000 people - was the first event outside UK to be covered in colour films," Raman said.

Spread over 72 acres, the coronation camp hosted more than 2,140 people in 2,000 tents, Raman said.

The king and the queen had a suite of six tents in two rows of three. The high point of the camp was the great state reception tent, located below the Flagstaff Tower of the Delhi ridge.

The coronation - a show of opulence and ostentation - elicited a mixed reaction from the then nationalistic and British-owned media.

"The nationalist press and the American press commented on the food shortage (and the famine-like situation) in India. But the British-owned Pioneer and Times of India dealt with it in great detail," Raman said.

The requisition and expense list is mindboggling - as is the behind-the-scenes correspondence between the political agents in the royal provinces and the British viceroy's office.

"Garrard & Co, the official jeweller to the crown, were commissioned to make new crowns for the India coronation. A new crown, weighing almost one kilogram, known as the imperial crown of India and worth 60,000 pounds - was made for the king," Raman said.

The bill was footed two years later from Indian revenues, he added.

For Queen Mary, "the royal jewellers used the 103-carat Kohinoor diamond, which had been presented to Queen Victoria after the Anglo-Sikh wars".

"Adorned with 2,200 other diamonds, the queen's crown was made in such a way so that its arches could be removed and turned into a less formal circlet," Raman said.

A special copper telegraph wire measuring 950 miles in length was laid between "Bombay (now Mumbai) and the Durbar office in the capital".

Confusion arose over protocols as the princely states and their rulers were not recognised in a pecking order, said writer and heritage activist Rohit Aggarwal.

The system of purdah among the royal women and harems further complicated the issuing of invites for the coronation, he said.

A request from the ruler of Malerkotla in Punjab to bring three of his queens to the coronation was turned down. He was issued invitations for two queens - one who would be his official wife and the other would come as a cousin, Aggarwal said.

The royal yatch was named HMS Madina - to strike a chord in the Arab world.

Hundred years on, memories of the coronation durbar remain a scintillating moment in the history of the capital as it prepares to lobby for World Heritage City status from United Nations.









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