History of Delhi in photographs

A magnificent photography exhibition titled, ‘Dawn Upon Delhi–The Rise of a Capital’ that portrays the journey of Delhi from the Mughal era to the present times is on at the National Gallery of Modern Arts.

The Alkazi Foundation has brought together vintage photographs, detailed engravings, original maps, plans, postcards and antiquarian books of Delhi from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. Many of these have been put on exhibition for the first time and are a wonder for any lover of history and photography.

At least 200 photographs from the private collection of Ebrahim Alkazi, chairman, Alkazi Foundation, collected from various photographers, collectors and dealers over the past decades, are on display here. Others have been sourced from the archives of Archaeological Survey of India, Central Public Works Department and architects and photographers DN Chaudhuri and Habib Rahman. The curator of the exhibition, Rahaab Alana says, “The aim is to present an alternative history of Delhi through photographs. And what better occasion than the completion of 100 years of Delhi as the Capital city?”

The section which depicts the 18th and 19th century photographs also has some pictures of Kolkata and Mumbai that trace the history of Capital cities of India. There are never before seen photographs of Kolkata’s Great Eastern Hotel, Law Court and the Post Office. Also displayed are the oldest photographs of the Taj Hotel at Mumbai as well as the spot where the Gateway of India was later built.

One of the oldest photographs in the exhibition is an eight part panorama of Shahjahanabad as it was in 1858. It was shot by historical photographer Felice Beato and shows the Akbarabadi mosque which was razed soon after the photograph was taken. Then there is the shot of the legendary clock tower, once located in the Kingsway area of North Delhi. It was taken by photographer DN Chaudhary and is said to have been destroyed when a lightning struck it around 1947.

There are grand pictures of the Delhi durbars of 1877, 1903 and 1911. Large photographs depict trains bringing in royal guests to the venue of Delhi durbars, banquet halls, tea garden parties and the durbar itself with British governors and kings.

The 20th century section displays the first photographs of Delhi Secretariat, Parliament House and Mughal Gardens. There are original plans of Connaught Place signed by architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker themselves. Interestingly, Lutyens sketch of Connaught Place of 1915 shows the Wengers Pastry Shop which runs from the same place even today.

A movie on the events preceding Indian independence A Tryst with Destiny runs alongside in the exhibition and creates the perfect environment to soak in the rich history.  

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