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Jaipur Thru The King’s Lens: Sawai Ram Singh II

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 century. 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.

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Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II of 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. 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.

Zenana/women

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A considerable number of  Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II’s pictures has 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.

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

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

Visiting Dignitaries/ Guests

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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 in Jaipur during his India visit in 1875-76.

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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

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

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The below two pictures capture aristocrats from Jodhpur court.

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Self Portraits/ Pictures of Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II

 

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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.

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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

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Hawa Mahal and Badi Chaupar

There are many fascinating pictures of Jaipur from 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.

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Chhoti Chaupar

 

 

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

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

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The ceremony during the arrival of Price 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.

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

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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.

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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 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.

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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. 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.

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62 thoughts on “Jaipur Thru The King’s Lens: Sawai Ram Singh II

    1. I can understand, Somali. I think there are many aspects of our history that we don’t like much but can’t do anything about it. Hunting was popular both among the nobility and British. Tiger extinction is majorly because of this reason too. By the time of our Independence most of the tiger population in Indian subcontinent had gone down.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Because we don’t have information or context we are left to carry out a lot of guess work. So there is a theory 1 and theory 2. We all can pick whatever sounds more convincing.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike, I think these pictures are more than pictures, they convey so much information, Many of these pictures are partially damaged. Despite that it is a great find. Do you like vintage photos, Mike?

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      1. I agree Puja that these old pictures have their own charm. In this age of plenty, photos in those times meant something else. It was accessible to only the priviledged ones. Is this good or bad? well, it varies but I feel plentiful is never a good situation. We don’t value what we have.
        Since you liked looking at old picturs of Hawa Mahal, you should read Jaipur hen & Now – Hawa Mahal. This post has old and new pictures shot from the same location. I’m sure you will love it, Puja!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. What an informative post Arvind. The photos are a treasure for sure.

    Sawai Jai Singh II was quite a visionary and much ahead of his times. I like the way he has used props in his portraits; quite studio like.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Monika, I’m happy you liked this post and the pictures. Well, this is a common style in pictures of that era. I guess this is something that we don’t follow anymore. Even studio set up is a thing of past. Finding a studio is not easy, these days. Right?

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  2. Even though the photos are old and in many cases a bit damaged from all these years in storage, they still transmit the spirit of a bygone era. They capture the essence of a world that words cannot describe. Thank you, Arv!, for sharing them with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The first thought that came to my mind was, he doesn’t seem to be a king! The emperors had a personality in those days and looked impressive. Even his eyes fail to capture attention!
    Those pictures are great revealers and it is interesting to note that women too were photographed. Yes, these don’t seem to be royal ladies from their attire and jewellery but we can only surmise, as the images in our minds are created from their depiction in the movies 🙂
    Thank you for this wonderful post arv. I liked it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, he looks more like commoner and doesn’t have that regal look. But there is more to personality that the looks. I have never heard of any adverse thing. I agree that our perception is shaped by media and movies. To be honest, I never watch any period movies or serials because often they are full of historical distortions because of comemrcial interests. Most epic Bollywood movies have love stories which is far from reality. A very few movies are realistic. I’m glad you liked these pictures and post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I have had an opportunity to scan through many other such pictures. I have never seen someone smiling in any of pictures. Probably, that was unwritten rule of getting yourself clicked during those times. Hawa Mahal is a place that everyone can relate to because it is an iconic monument. I’m sure every traveler must have seen it. When I compare these portraits of current times i.e. selfie it is such a contrast. Isn’t it, Neel?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh tell me about it 😃
        This makes me wonder how portraits will happen a few generations down the line. There’s going to be an overdose from present times, as everything’s up on cloud! Also, wonder if they’ll smile or not and thinking of gestures, wonder how that might be like 😄

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    1. I’m glad you liked it, Cornelia. I’m sure being a photographer you will have a different persepctive to share. I find it amazing that despite technology that had just evolved, the pictures are quite sharp. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cornelia, I can understand what you mean. This can be understood in this way too. Almost everyone is a photographer these days with smartphone. But not everyone understands the concept of composition and framing. It takes a lot of practice, study, and an eye to get the frame right. Isn’t it so?

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  4. These photographs too me back so many years. Specially the photo of Hawa Mahal and area around it. The picture of residency which has now become a hotel. Going back in time. Great post. Excellent narration.

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    1. I agree these pictures takes us back in time. Hawa Mahal is an iconic place so everyone who has been to Jaipur will be able to relate with this place. Thanks for taking out time and sharing your thoughts. 🙂

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  5. Your blog or should I say eulogy to Jaipur is didactic to your reader’s.I see jaipur in a complete different Way,I never knew about this king with such a unique persona,A ruler with a passion for photography is indeed a-ma-zing.I could have read lines and lines about your royal highness Maharaja of Jaipur,for his engrossing identify and we would have never know about the 18th century Jaipur if he hadn’t documented Jaipur,in pictures and in its authenticity.
    If I love Jaipur more than Kolkata,It might be this blog’s fault who has made me fell in love with Jaipur.

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  6. What a treasure these photographs are to get a glimpse of the past. I am sure you would like a tasveerkhana of your own 🙂
    I think the woman in the 9 yard saree could be a lavni dancer from Maharashtra.
    Very interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Sandhya. I wish I had a Tasveerkhana of my own. 🙂

      Your note on Lavni dancer might be true since this is not a local dress. Thanks for adding your insights, Sandhya. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for these wonderful pics. It was a lesson in history. I’ve actually seen the pic of the lady in the typical Mahatashtrian style sari online but i never knew it was taken by him. Excellent post this is! 👌

    Liked by 1 person

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