These photographs and their captions are an attempt to scratch the surface of the rich cultural and architectural heritage of India, one of the oldest and most complex in the world. They are drawn from the Samuel Bourne and Raja Deen Dayal collections (consisting of 546 and 51 images respectively) in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Library catalog titles for each image appear at the bottom of their labels.
Curated by Edward Proctor, Librarian for South & Southeast Asia at Duke and UNC, and Margaret Brown, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Exhibits Coordinator, this exhibit has benefited from the assistance of Mark Zupan, Senior Graphic Designer, Zeke Graves, Digital Production Specialist, Sean Swanick, Librarian for Middle East and Islamic Studies, Michael Daul, Digital Projects Developer, Andy Armacost, Head of Collection Development and Curator of Collections, Aaron Welborn, Duke Libraries’ Director of Communications, Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Coordinator, Henry Hebert, Conservator for Special Collections, and Ben Alper, Owner, Supergraphics.
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THE MUGHALS & THE MAHARAJAS
Prior to colonization by the British, an enormous variety of rulers controlled varying swaths of the Indian subcontinent. This exhibit focuses on the architecture of the Mughal Emperors and on Maharajas, indigenous Indian rulers, photographed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by an Englishman, Samuel Bourne, and an Indian, Raja Lala Deen Dayal.
A Muslim Turkic dynasty originating in Central Asia, the Mughals (a mispronunciation of “Mongol”) ruled from 1526 to 1858. Descendants of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, they came close in the early eighteenth century to controlling all of South Asia. But after a long period of decline, the last Mughal Emperor was deposed by the British for his role in what is known variously as the Indian Mutiny, the Rebellion of 1857, the Great Uprising, and India’s First War of Independence. The Mughals most lasting legacy is a wealth of breathtaking architecture, including one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Tāj Mahal.
“Providence created the Maharajas to offer mankind a spectacle.”
— Rudyard Kipling
Dating back hundreds (some say thousands) of years, Hindu dynasties frequently claim divine origin, some being considered incarnations of deities, while others trace their pedigree to the Sun or the Moon. Many were patrons of the performing and visual arts, and they lived in lavish palaces and seemingly impregnable forts from which they controlled almost a third of India. Known indigenously by a wide array of titles—including Rāja (or Rānī, if female), Mahārāja (“Great King”), Rāna, Mahārāna, Chhatrapatī, Thakur, among others—the British referred to them simply as “Princes” (to distinguish them from truly independent kings). Forced to support British rule (the Raj), the Maharajas/Princes in return were promised control over internal affairs in perpetuity. But when the British quit India in 1947, they abrogated all treaties, forcing all 565 Princes to forfeit their semi-autonomous status and accede to either India or Pakistan. Although promised substantial allowances by the government of independent India, these “Privy Purses” were cancelled in 1971, and the legendarily extravagant lifestyles of the Maharajas came to an end.