The late anthropologist Bernard Cohn famously referred to the Delhi Coronation Durbar as colonialism’s ‘hyperbolic historical fantasy’. There were actually three such Durbars in Delhi organized by respective colonial Viceroys, each expanding in scope and spectacle. The first was held in 1877 by Lytton, the second in 1903 by the widely unpopular Curzon. A few months after the Durbar of 1903 Curzon wrote, ‘For the first time history…has succeeded in moulding into a single whole the scattered and often warring atoms, which hitherto formed the countries and peoples included within the Indian continent.’ For Curzon the Durbar was the ultimate performative proof of colonial rule, producing the ‘warring atoms’ as one. This performative energy would reach its peak in 1911 with the Royal Visit. The final Durbar was a grand 1911 spectacle witnessed by hundreds of thousands and saw the announcement of a new capital in Delhi by the King. All Durbars saw large mobilizations of technological infrastructures, new forms of urban control and policing, complex crowd management and the circulation of images, books, memoirs.
September 2012, volume 36, No 9