An artist's view of early 19th
In 1911, when King George V announced that the national capital
would move to Delhi from Kolkata, this city shed its tag of a
historical city to become a metropolitan behemoth.
The making of the new Delhi required mammoth build-up -- of plans,
buildings, infrastructure and a new city. Major portions of it
were documented by various agencies, artists and photographers who
moved around the city with their box cameras and sketch books.
Several of the photographs and the pioneering blueprints of the
capital were stowed away in the Central Public Works Department
archives. The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) and the Alkazi
Foundation have brought out hundreds of buried documents for
A month-long showcase, "Dawn Upon Delhi: Rise of a Capital", which
opened at the NGMA late Monday evening, has now recreated the
making of the city of Delhi from the Mutiny of 1857 to the present
day with more than 250 rare documents.
These are engravings, maps, plans and vintage and modern
photographs of the capital as well as the British strongholds of
Bombay and Calcutta (now Mumbai and Kolkata respectively).
"The archive is a hidden treasure of maps and photographs by state
photographs, which is untapped. We have enlarged and digitised the
documents we have dug up for the exhibition. Most of them are in a
deplorable condition...They need to be saved now or they will be
lost forever," curator of the showcase Rahaab Allana of the Alkazi
Foundation told IANS.
Some of the visuals have also been acquired from the Alkazi
Collection, the Archaeological Survey of India, and the personal
archives of photographers D.N. Chaudhuri and Habib Rahman.
"The Delhi Coronation Durbars of 1877, 1903 and 1911 were at once
self-appraising representations of imperial power. In contrast to
the close knit architecture of Old Delhi, the durbar city easily
lent itself to the panoramic photography," Allana said.
Glimpses of the Durbar and the people who attended it have been
represented in the exhibition through iconic 19th and 20th century
photographers like Vernon & Co, Johnston and Hoffman, Bourne &
Shepherd, Raja Deen Dayal & Sons and artists like Mortimer Menpes.
Two of the other sources were the Illustrated London News and the
Illustrated Times published from London.
"We have tried to show the historicity of the capital to put its
evolution in context. There is a representation of Tughlaqabad,
Siri, the Qutab complex - and references to the seven ancient
cities which made Delhi. In a sense, we wanted to show the
transition from Kolkata to New Delhi," Allana said.
The visuals are mounted in a loose chronological order, beginning
with engraved 1858 images of the siege of the capital from the
"History of Indian Mutiny" by Charles Ball, which were published
by The London Printing & Publishing Company.
Rare black and white photographs of the last Mughals, their clans
and homes, an old Delhi nautch girl, trading communities of old
Delhi, the early days of Connaught Circus, the erstwhile maharajas
of India, a photographic portrait of Lord Curzon and the
construction of the secretariat, north block and Lutyen's Delhi
offer fascinating peeks into another era - transporting viewers to
A priceless hand-drawn and signed map of the imperial bungalows of
old Delhi by British architect Edwin Lutyens, the master-planner
of the capital city between 1912 to 1930, shines in the crowd of
In contrast, photographs by Habib Rahman and D.N. Chaudhuri
present the contemporary past of the capital.
"I started my work on New Delhi 60 years ago in 1952. I bought a
box camera with seven pounds that I received from the Illustrated
London News for publishing a photograph of my father - Niradh C.
Chaudhuri - and went around the city photographing the landscape.
Later, I was joined by my wife Malavila Chaudhuri. Now I carry
digital camera... Even today I photographed two nilgais foraging
for food in the garbage piles near the Tughlaqabad relics,"
photographer D.N. Chaudhuri, son of Nirad C. Chaudhuri, told IANS.
Chaudhuri is author of a 2005 pictorial volume, "Delhi: Light,
Shades & Shadows".
Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)