People of India

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 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 »

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 »

A Bhisti (Water-carrier)

Water-carriers in the Subcontinent were named Bhishti, after the Persian ‘bihisht’ meaning paradise. For centuries before the invention of the bottle and refrigeration, these men were the sole providers of succour to anyone who ran out of water on the road. The Bhisti’s trademark bag or mashaq was made from animal hide and it could… Read more »

Whose land is it anyway?

We examine the themes presented in Saju Kunhan’s work as they are represented in our collection of rare 19th-century portraits, war photography, engravings, contemporary art and Warli painting