Imperial Durbars, a glimpse into the past & their Hyderabad connections.
Durbar, an ostentatious court assemblage of grandee Nobles, Aristocrats, officials, important subjects tended by staff in full prestige and honor in submission to the chair, organized to mark important milestone during the journey of a potentate. In the domestic context, any authority apex in their jurisdiction conducted and presided over their own durbar graced by their subjects. To discount a durbar on frivolous grounds was construed as subversive and mutinous with the chair taking strong exception to it. Durbars invariably meant gatherings inside imposing buildings with exceedingly embellished halls or tents, adorned by men in their highest standards of dressing code, often followed by distribution of honors, investiture of ranks, delegation of responsibilities, proclamations, exchanging benefactions and much more. Customarily elaborate in scale and magnitude, arrangements varied contingent to the stature and rank of those presiding it.
In the Indian context, it is, without exception, the Imperial Durbars’ that remained peerless all in reputation and prestige.
Gathering from historical accounts, a lesser-known Imperial Durbar was held on the 9th November 1875, it was the first to be graced by the presence of imperial kins. Presided over by the Queen's eldest son Albert Edward The Prince of Wales. He was to later to become King Edward VII. From Italy, royals were ferried in HMS Serapis to Bombay via the Suez Canal.
This was the first of the Royal assemblages to be arrogated to the status of an Imperial Durbar. Officiated by the then Viceroy Lord Northbrook in Bombay. Regent to HH (His Highness) the Nizam fostering adolescence, the Nawab Salar Jung together with his state Nobles constituted the Hyderabad delegation. HH the Nizam Mir Mehboob Ali Khan, 7 years of age thereabout, during this minority his Hyderabad was being taken care of by an able council of regency.
Nizam VI Mir Mehboob Ali Khan spent much of his time with their mother Allah Rakhi Begum Sahiba and grandmother Dilawar Unisa Begum Sahiba. A letter of apology on behalf of the young Nizam was carried by Sir Salar Jung expressing the young Nizam’s inability to attend the events of the Imperial Durbar.
Media of the day carried columns with bold heading saying the Nizam refused to meet the Imperial delegation causing flutter throughout the empire. Some opinions went to the length trivializing justifications that bygone modes of journeying on elephants and horses have now given way to railways that run right from Nizam's gate to both Bombay and Calcutta, and thus the grounds on which HH declined to attend were frivolous. He was the only surviving son of his father HH Afzal’ud Dolwa Nizam Ul Mulk, Asaf Jah V, and the most influential at his court were staunchly reluctant to depute the young prince anywhere given the degree of stakes involved, regardless, HH was reckoned to be of delicate health during his formative years, the same thus formed the pretext to polite refusal of attendance.
At the Durbar, although the Regents (Turab Ali Khan Sir Salar Jung & Amir e Kabir Nawab Rashid uddin khan Shams ul umra) in their capacity were entitled to a 17 gun salute, they were greeted by the warm reception of customary 21 Guns in the honor of the Nizam of Hyderabad in absentia, they were received well at every stage and invited to all the state functions in the same manner as H. H the Nizam would personally do.
The Durbar of 1877:
Next in the line of regal gatherings, was the Durbar of 1877 & popularly known as the Queen’s Proclamation. Held in Delhi on the 1st January 1877, J.T Wheeler was formally commissioned to detail this historic assemblage. Bavari plains in Shahjahanabad were chosen for the venue and the same was retained for 1903 & 1911 as well. Queen Victoria assumed the title Queen Empress of India, one of the primary intentions towards this assertion was to present to her Indian subjects replacement of a surrogate Company entity by a direct personal authority and to make clear her relations with the states and Kingdoms of India, this proclamation was read out by the then Viceroy Lord Lytton on her behalf.
At Hyderabad, albeit HH’s mother and grandmother were nervous this time too, but declining would mean disregarding the imperial invitation with the possibility of inviting antagonism of the English, notwithstanding bonafides of the grounds. Understanding the case, premier Nobles at Hyderabad satisfactorily convinced the Royal zenana about the intricacies of diplomacy involved. H.H Mahbub Ali khan, now 11 years of age, finally made it and was accompanied by his regents Sir Salar Jung and Nawab Shams ul Umara, In addition to the numerous military and other officials forming the Hyderabad delegation in its entirety.
At least 46 important nobles and officials of various ranks tended to him round the clock, this should be understood in the backdrop of high risk involved to the future of Hyderabad state owing to the fact that HH Mehboob Ali khan being the only male heir, his safe repatriation was of great concern to all stakeholders. Interestingly despite all the elaborate arrangements grapevine has it that someone else was made to personate HH the Nizam, the same was also carried by a couple of prominent newspapers of the period causing unwarranted speculation among the attendees.
Imperial Durbar of 1903:
Held during the viceroyalty of Lord Curzon, this assemblage was to mark the succession of King Edward the VII. In the backdrop, only sometime back the Viceroy negotiated a deal for, seemingly, the permanent settlement of continuation of the Lease of Berar Province, something agitating the mind of H.H the Nizam and his advisors for long, although the Nizams’ acceptance was perfunctory & under protest, for the viceroy, it was an achievement of sorts. While on the face of it the issue was resolved, the next important communication sent by the viceroy was his letter of 19th March 1902 containing the announcement and invitation of the Durbar of 1903. H.H Mir Mahbub Ali khan through the resident of Hyderabad confirmed and reciprocated by his acceptance of invitation together with his best wishes vide letter dated 10th April 1902.
The most elaborate of the arrangements among the Native chiefs was that of H.H. The Nizam, although according to the plan he was supposed to stay at the venue, HH desired to occupy Ludlow castle rented from the Delhi club. Painted yellow- being the official color of Hyderabad state, elaborate gardens were set up and the entire venue was embellished with flags and banners in the gleaming livery of the same color. A miniature replica of Char Minar and a canvas mosque with minarets were set up in the gardens. Shah’zade Mir Osman Ali khan (heir apparent ) resided next to it. HH was accompanied by at least 30 high Nobles and others of various statuses and ranks, making up for the most splendid delegation among the princes’. Following the elephants of the imperial caravan of HRH the king and the Viceroy, HH Mahbub Ali khan was the first to trail given the order of precedence of native chiefs. At the Durbar amphitheater H.H occupied the front row in block “W” to the right of the imperial Dias, he was flanked by Col. David Barr the Resident and Shah’Zade Mir Osman Ali khan, attended to by Peshkar Maharaja Kishen Pershad Bahadur, Lt.Col. Nawab Afsar U’d Dolwa, Nawab Fakhr ul Mulk, khan I Khanan were among other Nobles of note.
During the paying of respect ceremony, HH was accompanied by Shah’zada (heir apparent) and His Peshkar to the dias where H.R.H was seated with his Royal consort, HH extended his loyal congratulations with a brief encomium. On this occasion H.R.H, the duke of Connaught invested H.H Mahbub Ali khan with the “Grand cross of the Order”. This time Sir Salar Jung Jung and Nawab Shams ul Umara Bahadur now deceased were replaced by Peshkar Maharaja Sir Kishen Pershad Bahadur together with the commander of the regular forces Lt. Col. Nawab Afsar Ud Dolwa (later General Afsar Ul Mulk Bahadur) who stood by the Nizam as the former did.
The Durbar of 1911:
Last, in the series of imperial Durbars’ at Delhi, this marked the period of high noon of the British empire, King George V assumed the title of Emperor of India. In the backdrop only three months had elapsed with the unexpected demise of H.H Mahbub Ali khan, shah’zade Osman Ali khan has just succeeded to the Masnad as the Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar. H.H was assigned camp no.300 at the durbar venue, yet again or rather in keeping with his 1903 tradition, he chose to occupy for himself and his principal officers 6 bungalows near the civil station in Delhi outside the Durbar encampments. Order of precedence of the Princely states determined their camp’s proximity to that of the Emperors’, and thus Camp no. 300 was nearest. The resident at Hyderabad lt-Col. A.F. Pinhey occupied camp no.9. For the first time Hyderabad had three of her subjects representing at the Imperial cadet corps viz., Nawab Rais Jung and Nawab Rais Yar Jung, being the sons of Nawab Fakhr ul Mulk and Nawab Khusrau Jung the son of Nawab Sir Afsar ul Mulk Bahadur, they were assigned camp no 41.
Nizam VII Mir Osman Ali Khan
Major Nawab Hashim Nawaz Jung O.B.I S.B, of Hyderabad imperial service troops, was stationed at camp no 491/6*(*491 by plan, 496 by records), he was “Imperial service officer in possession of orders”, earlier he was entrusted with overseeing arrangements of Hyderabad delegation & since deputed to Delhi from the days early preparations began. Two fire events were reported, one in the Hyderabad camp, and the other in the residents camp.
The last visit from the Royal family came in 1921, Prince of Wales George Frederick Ernest Albert later George the fifth journeyed to India, however, he did not visit Hyderabad. India was undergoing tumultuous times, and an intensified Non-Cooperation movement started in the light of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre and Khilafat wrongs were in full swing. At Benares, Prince attempted a speech in Urdu, which went down well with the students, sensing the hostile environment this Royal tour was soon to wound up, and with this ended the intimate romances of British kings with India that all started from 1874.
By Syed Mohammed Aun Mehdi for The Deccan Archive Originals.