Photography By Sawai Ram Singh II | Jaipur Thru The King’s Lens

Vintage pictures retain a charm of their own. They evoke a feeling of nostalgia. Over the last few years, I have published a few vintage pictures of Jaipur in this blog. In my series – Jaipur Then & Now, I shared the transition over a period of 100-150 years through pictures; a set of the current and old picture shot from the same angle and location. Most old pictures of Jaipur were clicked by the leading photographers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of them were Samuel Bourne of Bourne & Shepherd, Gobindram Oodeyram Studio, Raja Deen Dayal, and Martin Hurlimann. Allow me to share the least familiar fact about Jaipur. One of the kings of Jaipur court – Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II (1835-1880 AD) enjoyed a keen interest in photography. He remains the sole Jaipur king to document 19th century Jaipur.

Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II of Jaipur

His photographic collection includes several glass plate negatives that escaped the attention of the world and many of these were discovered as late as the 1980s. It is believed that a collection of close to 2000 negatives were found in Tasveerkhana (photography room) of Jaipur City Palace.

Though his collection is eclectic, it includes a variety of pictures. I enjoyed an opportunity to witness some of his pictures in one of the photography exhibition in Jaipur. Some of these represent historic & rare pictures of Jaipur which I have ne’er observed hitherto. It appeared befitting to share them since this is a Jaipur blog. Most of these pictures are glass plate negatives collodion. A few are in a grim condition while others are usable with some deterioration marks. There are 3-4 dominant themes in his picture collection.



A considerable number of  Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II’s pictures have women as a subject. Information by way of the names of the subjects is unavailable. A variety of theories have been proposed to solve the theory. Some say these were mistresses or concubines, others propose these were probably royal ladies. The most befitting theory is they were dancers. Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II  established a theatre in Jaipur – Ram Prakash Theatre. Dance and theatre shows were held here on a frequent basis. Time and again, outstation performers visited Jaipur. Ram Prakash Theatre was the first cinema hall of Jaipur. It was started in 1879 AD. It is a reasonable probability that the subject of these portraits represents performers and dancers. Their clothes don’t depict a royal connection.


The woman in the following picture is wearing Sari in a style that was not prevalent in this region.



Many social historians consider this as a considerable feat because women in those times used to live in the Purdah system and Maharajah’s interest to photograph them shows he did not belong to the old school that advocated the Purdah system for women.

Visiting Dignitaries/ Guests

This picture shows men from the British Indian army

There are many pictures of the visiting dignitaries especially the Europeans or British. Jaipur state had entered into a treaty with the British (India was under a British colonial rule.) which allowed the king to govern in lieu of revenue sharing. Therefore, a British political agent would oversee the affairs of the state. There are many pictures of Europeans and nobles from other Indian states. One of the most prominent people he photographed was King Edward Albert, Prince of Wales in Jaipur during his visit to India in 1875-76.

Visiting British guests at Jaipur City Palace

Featured in the following picture are European men in a hunting party. Hunting was a popular sport among the ruling British and the royalty would often organize hunting parties for their visiting guests. You can read more on hunting in Shikaar Bagh


The three young British girls at the Residency (the residence of British political agent in Jaipur.)


The below two pictures capture aristocrats from Jodhpur court.



Self Portraits/ Pictures of Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II


There are quite a few self-portraits of Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II. It is likely he employed someone to click his pictures, maybe he hired service of some other visiting photographer or maybe trained a servant. There is no conclusive answer. But he remains an exception among his lineage – the sole king to enjoy so many pictures clicked.




These pictures provide light on many aspects of his personality. A considerable number of his portraits capture his routine – offering prayers, riding a horse to name a few. He was a devout follower of Lord Shiva, an exception in the lineage of Vaishnavas.

Pictures of Jaipur

Hawa Mahal and Badi Chaupar

There are many fascinating pictures of Jaipur from the 19th century. The most interesting one is a picture of City Palace with Mansagar Lake and Tal Katora in the background. It seems to have been captured from Issar Laat. Other compelling pictures are of Galta Ji, Ghat Ki Guni, Mansagar, Badi Chaupar, Chaura Rasta, among others.

Seen below: Chhoti Chaupar with Nahargarh Fort in the background.

Chhoti Chaupar


The residency is now better known as the Raj Mahal Palace hotel.


Very few people will be able to recall this place which looks like a village. This is Ghat Ki Guni.


The ceremony during the arrival of Prince of Wales Edward Albert during his India Visit in 1876-77 AD in which he laid the foundation stone of Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur.



A welcome gate at Badi Chaupar, Jaipur during Prince Of Wales India trip – February 1876 AD.


How Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II’s interest developed in photography is unknown but some sources claimed that he invited British photographer T. Murray to aid him in his photography in the 1860s. It is believed that Mr. T Murray visited Jaipur many times; quite likely it was in connection with the photographic interest of the king. Some scholars believe he became a photography teacher to the king. In the initial days of photography, when the photographic equipment was bulky, he included his camera with him during travels and documented the lives of his times. It includes not only Jaipur but other cities where he visited. He was updated with recent photographic launches and development. It is likely that during his visits to Calcutta(Kolkata) which was imperial capital and one of the leading cities in Asia during that time, he took out time and visited photography studios and shops.


Maharajah was a member of the Bengal Photographic Society which was established in Calcutta in 1856 with a large number of Indian and European members. The aim of this society was to help in the development of photographic interest. It was during this time that almost all royals developed a keen interest in photography often employing or commissioning photographers for pictures. Lala Deen Dayal was one such photographer. But what unquestionably makes Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II stand out among other royals is that he was an ace photographer himself and devoted considerable time in photography. He was presumably the first Indian photographer king. Only another known contemporary is the king of Tripura but there is a stark difference in their photographic interests. His work consists of albumen prints, the technology standard in those days.


Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II was one of the most acknowledged kings of Jaipur. He was a reformist and gifted the city with the first college and girls school, a new state museum, and the first art and craft college. The king was known to disguise himself as a commoner and mingle with the crowd with intent to identify the authentic event rather than rely on official informers; a king like none other.


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While Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II, the founder of Jaipur is credited with being a visionary there is no denying Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II was a true reformer. He is credited for giving Jaipur the famous terracotta pink color during the visit of King Edward Albert, Prince of Wales. His photographs remain a leading resource for those studying the history of Jaipur and a reference point for the social anthropologists. I can easily conclude that Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II was no ordinary king even though he might resemble a commoner.

Disclaimer: There is no commercial interest in using the above pictures; it purely an academic one.

96 thoughts on “Photography By Sawai Ram Singh II | Jaipur Thru The King’s Lens

  1. Jaipur is one of my most favourite cities in the country. The city speaks of a rick history ad there is a charm which I can’t explain in words. I visit it at least once a year. I love to read about the history of the city and about the total family. And this post and your blog have given so much to read on. Thank you so much for such wonderful posts. You made me fall in love with the city again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad you love Jaipur, Arushi. Yes, the city has a rich history and offers much more beyond architecture and buildings. I’m glad you liked this post and blog. I’m sorry for posting a late revert, somehow this comment landed up in spam folder. What brings you to Jaipur every year?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Epic post buddy! Really loved every picture! It’s impressive to see how those high profile people posed those days! They looked very humble, and I see very less showmanship in spite of being royals!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true. When we compare with how everyone clicks selfie for social media these days, it is such a contrast. These pictures depict the evolution of people photography. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, coming from a photographer is a big compliment. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Such an amazing collection of photographs and great insight into the life of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II as a photographer which is not known to us. It is sad to see some photographs in bad condition but the collection is highly precious. Thanks for sharing with us this lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Considering the time duration and technology, these pictures are pretty good. It is because of his pictures we can understand our past and culture in much better manner. I love all his pictures. Do you love vintage pictures, Sarmistha?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Its good Arv no new local infections for over 90 days ,,The Thai government are very strict who comes into the country..lots of hoops to jump through so no chance of new infections getting in ,,How is it for you?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I wouldn’t like to say, Arv so many people have ignored social distancing etc and that is why their infections have been so high and ongoing…Here from the very beginning guidelines were issued and everyone complied also they know exactly where the infections are, have come from and who has been in contact with whom and they close it down pretty quick… they have good track and trace system…I would not wish to be living anywhere else at the moment…Stay safe and well 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thanks for sharing this information. If you feel safer, that’s the best place to be. In any case, travel is not preferred, for the time being, at least.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. He was a visionary and it was certainly “Ram Raj” under SRS’s rule. It must be interesting to see pictures of the city in which you grew up from a different era.


  4. Arv, I love this post and also the many wonderful photos.
    It is always very interesting for me to read about cities and areas that I have never visited before. Maybe i will never visit them, because Germany is very, very far away…
    Thank you very much for such a nice post!
    Arv, I wish you all the best…
    Rosie from Germany 🌹

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rosie, it’s delight to read your comment; I’m happy to know you enjoyed this post and pictures. Well, said that it is interesting to read about cities we have not visited. I agree it is far away but who knows in this age? I hope you get to visit Jaipur sometime soon. I’m sure you will love this trip.

      Liked by 1 person

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