Andrew Roberts: India, Still the Brightest Jewel

Roundup: Talking About History

Mr. Roberts, a historian, is author most recently of The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (Harper, 2011). 

On Dec. 12, 1911, a century ago, the British Empire reached its apogee at the Delhi Durbar (Hindi for "court"). Half a million Indians, including all the ruling princes and nobility of the subcontinent, came to Delhi to celebrate the coronation of their new King-Emperor, George V. More than 100,000 of them assembled in the vast Coronation Park outside the city. The King-Emperor made the surprise announcement that the capital was to be transferred from Calcutta to Delhi.

"The ceremony at its culminating point exactly typified the oriental conception of the ultimate repositories of imperial power," recorded The Times of London. "The monarch sat alone, remote but beneficent, raised far above the multitude, but visible to all, clad in rich vestments, flanked by radiant emblems of authority, guarded by a glittering array of troops, the cynosure of the proudest princes of India, the central figures in what was surely the most majestic assemblage ever seen in the East." Kenneth Rose, in his biography of George V, called it "the most splendid spectacle in Indian history." In some ways, the splendid ideals of the Empire continue today in India's vibrant democracy.

The 1911 spectacle was the most magnificent of the three Delhi Durbars, but also the last...

comments powered by Disqus