19th Century Photography

The Nautch Bungalow, Shalimar Bagh, Srinagar

This photograph of the Nautch Bungalow at the Shalimar garden in Kashmir was taken by Burke and Baker in the late 19th century. Mughal king, Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) built the Nautch Bungalow for his beloved wife Nur Jahan in 1616. The garden is one of the few surviving Mughal gardens, based on the Persian ‘charbagh’ style.  To… Read more »

Residency at Chaderghat, Hyderabad

This photograph of the British Residency in Hyderabad is attributed to Lala Deen Dayal (1844-1905). The British Residency, located on the banks of the Musi river, was built between 1803–1806 as a Palladian palace by Samuel Russell of Madras Engineers. It served as the official residence of the British officers appointed as the Resident at… Read more »

Martiniere, Lucknow

This photograph of La Martiniere, the oldest college in Lucknow, was taken by photographer Felice Beato (1832-1909) in 1858. General Claude Martine (1735–1800), a Frenchman, constructed La Martinere in 1795. It was intended to be a country home and was given the original name Constantia. The place was later converted into a college and served… Read more »

Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II of Jaipur

Sawai Madho Singh II (1862-1922) was the adoptive son of Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur. On 30 September 1880, at the age of twenty, he ascended the throne of Jaipur. This is a hand-painted photograph of the Maharaja photographed by Gobindram and Oodeyram, preeminent photographers in Jaipur in the 1880s. The late 19th century… Read more »

Vindusagar tank, Bhubaneshwar

This late-19th century photograph of the Bindusagar lake was published in Antiquities of Orissa, authored by Indologist Rajendralal Mitra (1824 – 1891). The lake dating back to the 8th – 9th century is situated north of the Lingaraja Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Bhubaneshwar. It measures about 1300 ft in length and 700 ft… Read more »

The Taj Mahal, Agra

When Arjumand Banu Begum (1593-1631), principal consort of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, passed away, a marble mausoleum was constructed to house her mortal remains on the south bank of the Yamuna. The Taj Mahal, originally named Rauza-i-Munawarah, took fifteen years from 1632 to be completed. Marble from Makrana, jasper from Punjab and jade from China… Read more »

Bhishtis (Water-Carriers)

Bhishtis were a community whose traditional occupation was to provide water to people. This included supplying drinking water and water for household use, animal maintenance, and the cooling of blinds in family residences. They were crucial to armies, supplying water to thirsty and wounded soldiers even during the thick of battle. The Bhisti’s trademark bag… Read more »

An illustrated historical album of the Rajas and Taaluqdars of Oudh

This illustrated historical album of the Rajas and Taaluqdars of Oudh (Awadh, Lucknow) was produced in the late 19th century by Darogha Abbas Alli, an assistant municipal engineer in Lucknow active between 1860-1880. It is an important album that includes a series of portraits of governing land-holders, who were also the collectors of local revenue… Read more »

Traders (Marwarree Brokers), Bombay

This photograph of traders from the Marwari community was taken by William Johnson in late 19th century Bombay. The port city of Bombay attracted early photographers, and the first official Indian photography organisation was founded here in 1854. William was a founding member of the Bombay Photographic Society and one of the first to produce… Read more »

Parsee (Parsi) Ladies, Bombay

This photograph of the women from the Parsi community was taken by William Johnson in late 19th century. With the British granting freedom of religion and equality before the law to migrants and minority communities, the city saw an influx of Parsis, who went on to play a pivotal role in the making of metropolitan… Read more »

Unidentified Prince of Rewa

This is a portrait of an unidentified prince of Rewa, an important princely state in Central India, second only to Gwalior.  Rulers in the Indian Subcontinent were typically chosen from the ranks of warrior nobility and given legitimacy by a council of ministers and nobility. Kingship was often hereditary and princes—and, less frequently, princesses born… Read more »

Unidentified Woman, Bombay

This is a studio photograph of an unidentified woman by an unidentified photographer. Early Indian photography was defined by the gaze of the coloniser. So, these images are accompanied by information meant to serve the British administration in tidily cataloguing by community, profession or faith the diverse populations of the Subcontinent. Towards the end of… Read more »

A Group of Thugs, Simla

Derived from the Sanskrit’ sthagati’ for ‘he covers/deceives’, the word as it is used in the caption of this photo—’A Group of Thugs’—referred to men who were hereditary murderers and thieves. Some historians argue they killed to appease their deity, Goddess Kali, and the stealing was just incidental; others make the case that they were… Read more »

Jayajirao Scindia, Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior and his suite

This photograph is of Jayajirao Scindia (1834-1886), the Maharaja of Gwalior, with his counsels. The Maratha Confederacy was an invincible force in 18th-century India. Ranoji Shinde, a Peshwas lieutenant who was pivotal in the Peshwas’ fight against the Mughals in Malwa, was one of the army’s rising stars. In 1731, Ranoji established his rule in… Read more »

Sultan Shah Jahan Begum, Begum of Bhopal

This is a Carte de Visite portrait of the Begum of Bhopal, Shah Jahan Begum (1838-1901). The state of Bhopal was unique in Indian history for being ruled exclusively by women for over a hundred years. Their line began with the 19-year-old widow of the second Nawab of Bhopal, Qudsia Begum. A remarkable matriarch, Qudsia fought… Read more »

Palanquin Bearers, Bombay

This photograph of the Palanquin Bearers was taken by William Johnson in Bombay. The root-word for the English ‘palanquin’ is the same as the one for the Hindi ‘palang’: ‘palyanka’, Sanskrit for bed. Baked into the word itself is a promise of comfort. Palanquins were the transport of choice for wealthy travellers in 18th- and… Read more »

Mir Mahboob Ali Khan Siddiqi, Nizam of Hyderabad

This is a Carte de Visite portrait of the sixth Nizam, Asaf Jah VI Mir Mahboob Ali Khan Siddiqi, who reigned from 1869 to 1911.  During this time, he developed the railways and established cotton and silk mills in the State. In popular culture, Mahboob Ali Khan is probably best remembered for his legendary collection of gemstones,… Read more »

Jagatjit Singh, Maharaja of Kapurthala

This is a portrait of Jagatjit Singh, Maharaja of Kapurthala from the album Delhi Coronation Durbar, 1st January 1903 by Wiele and Klein. Jagatjit Singh (1872-1949) carried his royal Sikh heritage with pride. He was the descendant of Sardar Jassa Singh, founder of the Ahluwalia dynasty, who led the various misls or ancestral warrior clans… Read more »

Ranbir Singh, Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir

This is a Carte de Visite portrait of  the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Ranbir Singh (1830-1885). After the decline of the Mughals, power over Jammu was seized briefly by the Afghan Durrani dynasty who were defeated in the early 19th-century by the armies of the Lion of Punjab aka Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja… Read more »