A Peep into the Past through the Drishyakala Exhibition

It is always a new learning in heritage walks. Few months back, I visited Delhi Art Gallery (DAG)’s Drishyakala Exhibition mounted at the Barrack Number 4 in Delhi’s Red Fort which was led by INTACH’s Ms. Jaya Basera. The exhibition put up in association with ASI was inaugurated by the Prime Minister in February 2019 and will be open till February 2020.


The barracks built by the British in the midst of the historic Red Fort of Shah Jahan have been the islands of incongruous eyesore for long – out of bound for visitors and screened off by metallic grills in the midst of the erstwhile Hayat Baksh Garden, a pleasure garden built to evoke an eternal  Season of Rains, the Sawan and the Bhadon, whose alcoves glowed all night with simmering candle flames behind falling cascades of water, giving an impression of a thousand twinkling stars thrown onto the waters. At the midst of these two structures, Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar built another structure seemingly floating in the middle of water tank and which could be reached by wooden arched bridges, over which sat a battery of musicians every evening to entertain the royals. And tearing through this image of eternal beauty, the British built the Army Barracks and barricaded them with iron grills.

Now thankfully, the barracks, tastefully re-fitted with heavy glass panes and provided with air-conditioning, host a variety of museums and exhibitions. The galleries, accessible via a differential ticket pricing, also double up to provide some respite to visitors in air-conditioned halls in this sweltering summer heat.


The top floor of the temporary DAG exhibition at the Red Fort Barrack number 4 has all the paintings by the uncle Thomas and his young nephew William Daniell. Their paintings are quite well known, but the collection of all the paintings under one roof and curated by Dr Giles Tillotson,, Director of Research, Maharaja Sawai Mansingh II Meseum, Jaipur, and author of many books, is a well-orchestrated project. On the second floor of the barrack building, the left side displays the uncle-nephew duo’s paintings from their northern tour of India while the right gallery is from their southern tour. On their northern tour, they left Kolkata in 1788 on a boat upstream on the Hooghly and became inspired by beautiful riverine views of Mughal architecture. The tour lasted three years and they travelled from Kolkata to Patna, Varanasi, Prayagraj, Kanpur, Agra, Delhi, and then to the hills where they became the first Europeans to visit the Garhwal Hills: Najibabad, Srinagar (Pauri Garhwal), Pilhibit, Kannauj, before returning to Kolkata in 1791 via Lucknow, Gaya, Deo, Rohtas, Sultanganj and Gaur. They had a large entourage with them and were able to raise funds for their travels by a subscription revenue stream for from paintings back home in England.

Here are some images from the Daniell gallery of Delhi followed by few of the colonial print section on the first floor.



The artwork titled ‘The Mausoleum of Amir Khusero, at the Ancient City of Delhi – 1801’ of size 17.7 x 23.7 inches was drawn and engraved by Thomas & William Daniell in December 1801. A rare mistake: known for their beautiful landscapes that offer a glimpse into the past, the duo mistakenly named this Amir Khusrau’s tomb which obviously is the Chausanth Khamba pavilion in the same vicinity of Nizamuddin.

The Chausanth Khamba, or the 64-pillared hall, was built by Kokaltash, son of Atgah Khan in 1625 and houses the graves of Kokaltash and his family members. There are 16 single pillars, 16 double-pillars and its four corners have sets of four pillars each, making a total of (1×16) + (2×16) + (4×4) i.e. 64 pillars. In the painting, we can see few palm trees around it and a palanquin in the foreground, thus depicting an important visitor. It was customary to build graves around shrines of famous Sufi saints in the belief that they would be looked after till eternity by the blessings of the saints. Other tombs around the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin are that of Mughal Emperor Humayun, Princess Jahanara, poet Ghalib, Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah ‘Rangeela’ and many others.

On the other hand, Amir Khusru’s tomb is inside the main shrine complex of Nizamuddin Dargah. People often visit Amir Khusru’s tomb before they go into the shrine of his teacher, Hazrat Nizamuddin. Both the monuments exemplify the mentor-disciple philosophy.



A serene view of the Nizamuddin Baoli (stepwell) with trees from the side of the Dargah, which is not possible to witness at present because of a jaali installed now, with few domed buildings on the left that are now lost in encroachments. Stone or wooden loops and a pulley can be seen on the right to draw water from the baoli. Three people depicted on the right seem to be enjoying the cool wind. The painting titled ‘A Baolee near the Old City of Delhi’ was drawn and engraved by Thomas and William Daniel in December 1802 with a dimension of 18.0 x 23.7 inches.

The baoli is said to be built by Hazrat Nizamuddin himself in 1320. There is an interesting and popular story behind it. During that time the Sultan Ghiasuddin Tughluq was building his massive citadel in Delhi, known now as Tughluqabad Fort. Obsessed with building his new capital; the sultan ordered all laborers to exclusively work on his fort, and even those who were working on Nizamuudin Auliya’s baoli, were asked to abandon their work for the Saint. The workers had no choice, but out of their compassion for the Saint, they continued their work for Nizamuudin in the night, after the days’ work was over. Furious on hearing the same, the emperor stopped sale and use of oil so that night work would stop at the baoli. However, Nizamuddin asked his disciple Hazrat Naseeruddin to light the lamps with water, and miraculously the lamps glowed and the step-well was completed in a record 7 days. As a testimony to this victory, Hazrat Nizamuddin awarded the title of ‘Roshan Chiragh Dilli’ to Hazrat Naseeruddin.



Drawn by Thomas Daniell in January 1797 of size 18.2 x 23.7 inches, and titled ‘The Jummah Musjed, Delhi’, it depicts The Jama Masjid. The painting does not depict the sandstone pulpit because it was commissioned much later in 1830’s along with the world map and sundials in the mosque’s forecourt by Mirza Salim bahadur Shah, brother of Bahadur Shah Zaffar.



Titled ‘Eastern Gate of the Jummah Musjed at Delhi’, it was drawn and engraved by Thomas Daniell in March 1795 with a dimension of 18.5 x 23.7 inches. The eastern gateway to the Jama Masjid that was reserved for use by the Mughal royals is given a beautiful character here by the symbolism of a convoy of men mounted on elephants and horses.



The painting of 18.5 x 23.7 inches dimension, drawn and engraved by Thomas Daniell in May 1795, was titled ‘North East view of the Cotsea Baug, on the River Jumna, Delhi.’ This remains the only depiction of the Qudsia Bagh fort gracefully standing on the banks of Yamuna. The river has long receded from the spot, the Kashmire Gate ISBT now removes any such sense of serenity as depicted here, and no such building remains as of today. The Red Fort can be seen in the background giving a symbolic balance of power between the old and new in a single frame.



The painting of size 18.2 x 23.7 inches was drawn and engraved by Thomas Daniell in March 1796 and was titled ‘The Western Entrance of Shere Shah’s Fort, Delhi.’ We can see the Purana Qila with an undulating and unlevel ground all around, as if depicting falling apart of the Mughal Empire.



The artwork is titled ‘The Observatory at Delhi -1808’ of 18.2 x 24 inches size was drawn by the duo in December 1808. The giant Samrat Yanta sundial commissioned by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1724 seems lost in mounds of unlevel earth all around. The artists have shown people not only at the top of the gnomon where there was another small sundial, but also there are as many as three observers on the curved marble-lined dial plate. It is not possible to say if these people were engaged in an observation experiment.



Another view of the sundial, as seen from the north. Much of the ground appeared to be dug up. Beyond the soaring gnomon of the Samrat Yantra, the circular shaped Ram Yantra can also be seen. The strip of the marble dial plate is particularly highlighted on the right. It was titled ‘The observatory at Delhi’. Drawn in December 1808 by Thomas & William Daniell, its dimensions are 18.2 x 24.0 inches.



A very special depiction of the Qutub since it is the earliest depiction of the monument with the cupola mounted on top of it. The cupola fell down during an earthquake. The painting of size 25.0 x 17.0 inches by the duo in December 1808 was titled ‘The Cuttub Minar, near Delhi’.

The minar was originally surmounted with a cupola and ASI memoir 22 shows a conjectural view of the same that was retained by Feroz Shah Tughluq when he extended its height. When the Daniells visited Delhi, they saw the minar with the cupola and this painting becomes the first rendition of the same. When East India Company engineer Major Robert Smith carried out restoration much later, he installed an artistic replica of the same but that did not quite go well with the architecture and was taken down.



The painting titled ‘View at Delhi, near the Mausoleum of Humaioon’ was drawn and engraved by Thomas & William Daniell, in February 1803 of size 18 x 23.7 inches. It depicts a sweeping view from the point where the toilets are presently situated at the left of the Humayun’s Tomb’s main entrance:  from left to right ae the western gate of Humayun’s Tomb, the Afsharwalla tomb and mosque, Isa Khan tomb, the gate of Arab Serai, the gate of Bu Halima’s garden and the Sabz Burz that is now at the traffic roundabout.



Of the Firoz Shah Kotla that is more famous for djinns and cricket now, not a trace remains of this magnificent four storied circular building. The painting of size 18.5 x 23.7 inches was drawn by Thomas Daniell in September 1795 and was titled ‘Remains of an Ancient Building near Firoz Shah’s Cotilla, Delhi.’ Once again, we see the site abandoned to the elements during the duo’s travel to Delhi.




A family portrait of the House of Windsor.  This and the following prints of the British Royal family, must have been sold so that people get them framed and hang them in their houses. This print is an oleograph ( a print textured to resemble an oil painting) on paper of size 19.5 x 14.0 inches.  Before 1947, it was common even in village schools to have a framed photo of George VI and his wife.



An untitled oleograph on paper poster of size 10.7 x 8.5 inches by the Manchester-based Ralli Brothers in 1910s features the late Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, with the current heads King George and Queen Mary with their children- Princess Mary and the princes Edward, Albert, Henry, George and John.



An anonymous art from early 20th century representing Queen Mary wearing the Crown as a divine representation of Madonna.



Portly figure of Queen Victoria devoid of heavy jewelery, Empress of India, by an anonymous artist, attempts to portray an endearing motherly image to the Indian masses.



Printed by A. Vivian Mansell & Co, London in 1910s displays the splendid coronation of King George V and Queen Mary at Westminster Abbey, London that became popular in India on the eve of their journey soon after to Bombay and then to Delhi for the Delhi Durbar of 1911. The chromo-lithograph on paper is titled ‘The Coronation of His majesty King George V & Queen Mary’ and is of 19.7 x 26 inches size.

The Delhi Durbar, literally meaning ‘The Delhi Court’ was a mass assembly function organised by the British at Delhi’s Coronation Park to announce succession of an Emperor or Empress of India. The 1911 Durbar was the third and the last such function and was the only one that a ruling Emperor George V attended. The ceremonies lasted from 7 December to 16 December with the Durbar held on 12 December, when practically every ruling Prince and nobleman in India paid obeisance to the new Emperor and Empress of India, George V and Queen Mary. On 13 December, the royal couple stood on the iconic projecting balcony at Delhi’s Red Fort – granting a customary jharokha darshan to the mass of common people assembled below, thus replacing the Mughal Emperor in a symbolic gesture as a continuation of the practice of an Emperor standing atop the Fort’s jharokha to whom the people could bow and pay obeisance.



An anonymous souvenir print of the British royal family.



An anonymous print based on the 1911 Delhi Durbar shows King George V and Queen Mary in velvet robes holding scepters, with the crown on the left side and the coat of arms of the House of Windsor in the background.



The print titled ‘Imperial Delhi Durbar’ by A. Vivian Mansell & Co, London in the 1910’s shows the fantastic royal splendor of the 1911 Durbar. The dimensions of this oleograph on paper are 19.5 x 26 inches.



This untitled print is an oleograph on paper, pasted on card paper, and its dimensions are 12 x 9.2 inches. Global trading conglomerate Sassoon & Co with deep roots in India and China here uses the divine word ‘Shri’ to further their appeal with the Indian masses. On the bottom right, there is ‘shubh labh’ written in Gujarati. The word ‘shubh’ means ‘Good Luck’ and ‘labh’ means ‘Benefits’, and it is believed writing ‘shubh labh’ with turmeric or vermilion pleases Lord Ganesha and Goddess Laxmi, thus bringing both the benefits.

Established in 1867 by E.D. Sassoon and headquarter at Bombay. It started trade in dry fruit, cotton, silk, metal, spices, camphor going to export of opium and textiles to China and thereafter expanded operations to places like Baghdad and Japan. The image in the print is that of his son Sir Jacob Elias Sassoon who expanded its operations to Karachi and Calcutta. By 1927, it was the largest cotton mill in Bombay and by the WW-II, it was employing as many as 30,000 employees working in 15 mills. The business successes and an philanthropic spree by the Sassoons earned them the sobriquet of the ‘Rothschild of the East’.



A calendar by Manchester-based Ralli brothers invoke blessings of Queen Mary even when their target audience was in India.



Printed at A. Vivian Mansell & Co, London in the 1930s show the assembly of Indian princes in their ceremonial robes in the print titled, ‘The Ruling Princes of India, with the Nizam of Hyderabad at the center. The group often met for meetings at Delhi under the umbrella of Chamber of Princes.

Hope you liked this blog post. Looking forward to your comments and feedback!


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