Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar – A great Indian reformer


By Bhudeb Chakrabarti


India, in the 19th century, witnessed the peak of Britain’s colonial era, with the administration of the country shifting from the East India Company to the British Empire in the mid-19th century. This was also the period in which the many reform movements were initiated in an attempt to clear the web of archaic traditions and practices trapping the society.

Born in this age was Ishwarchandra Bandyopadhyay, a crusader of change in the Indian society. A polymath, scholar, social reformer, writer, philosopher and philanthropist, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar was a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance that had begun with Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

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Rani of Jhansi – The 19th century warrior queen


By Bhudeb Chakrabarti

Rani Jhansi poem

The extract from the poem ‘Jhansi Ki Rani‘ by Subhadrakumari Chauhan, is an ode to the valiant queen of Jhansi, who had challenged the British to defend her Kingdom and became a leading figure in India’s First War of Independence against the British rule.

Here’s a look into the life of the brave queen, a legendary figure  in India’s history, whose name is synonymous with patriotism and heroism.

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Darjeeling Himalayan Railways in the 19th century – Vintage Pictures


By Somali K Chakrabarti

“Mere Sapno Ki Rani kab aayegi tu….”

This romantic Hindi song from the movie Aradhana, had enchanted hundreds of thousands of people from all over India in the 70s. Sitting atop an open jeep, Rajesh Khanna, crooned the lively song to woo Sharmila Tagore, who sat reading a book in the Toy Train, as the miniature steam engine chugged uphill in the scenic settings of Darjeeling.

The “Toy Train” on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) line has been a unique feature of Darjeeling since the 19th century. Ferrying between Darjeeling and Ghoom (India’s highest railway station), the Toy Train moves through the hilly terrain absorbing the magnificent beauty of Darjeeling hills.

Inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, DHR became the first Hill Railway in India, and the second in the world to be accorded this status.

Here are some vintage pictures of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway from the 19th century.

Darjeeling Station, ca 1891

Darjeeling Station 1891
Photograph of Darjeeling Station, ca 1891

Darjeeling was the chief summer resort for the British government in Bengal. Read more

Lucknow in the 19th century – Vintage Pictures


By Somali K Chakrabarti

Lucknow, the city of Nawabs, was also once the city of adab and tehzeeb (etiquette and manners).

Refined speech, manners, art, literature, poetry and “Nawabi” style cuisines once marked the culture of the city.

The capital city of Uttar Pradesh, on the bank of River Gomati, has a cultural legacy shared by Hindus and Muslims, with a strong influence of Persian court culture. The nobility consisted mainly of Shiite Muslims, who traced back their ancestry to Persia.

Peppered with Persian vocabulary and idioms, Udru language spoken in Lucknow was known for its elegance, expressiveness and extreme politeness. Lucknow Urdu played a key role in the city’s cultural milieu.

Street scene , Lucknow, 1800
Street scene in Lucknow, with shops and traders and a horseman

Lucknow first attained prominence in the 15th century under the sultans of Jaunpur. Later it was ruled by Mughal governors. By the 17th century, Lucknow was a prosperous commercial centre, and continued to flourish till 1856 as the capital of the independent Nawabs of Avadh (originally governors under the Mughals).

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Forts and Palaces in Rajasthan – Pictures from the 19th century Part II


By Somali K Chakrabarti

“And here, over the portals of my fort,
I shall cut in stone the word
which is to be my beacon and my banner.
The word which will not die should we all perish in battle..”

–  Ayn Rand, The sacred word

Taking on from my last post on Forts and Palaces in Rajasthan – Pictures from the 19th century  Part I, here I continue further with the imaginary leap back in time, and present pictures and photographs from the 19th century of the historic forts and palaces of ChittorgarhUdaipur, Bundi, Jodhpur, Bikaner  and Jaisalmer


Palace of Bheem and Padmini, Chittorgarh, ca 1885

Palace of Rana Bhim and Padmini, Chittaurgarh,1829

Engraving of Padmini’s Palace in Chittorgarh, by Edward Francis Finden and Patrick Young Waugh, ca 1829

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Forts and Palaces in Rajasthan – Pictures from the 19th century Part1


By Somali K Chakrabarti

“Sublime wonders lie in store,
I am shown a regal residence;
a mighty kingdom, an empire
with more grandeur than before …”  

– E.A. Bucchianeri, Poetry for the Phantom of the Opera

Forts and palaces never fail to fascinate me. These rare examples of architecture offer a glimpse into the past grandeurs and reveal many a story of kings and their kingdoms, the wars they fought, the courts they held, and the way they lived.

Here are some pictures and photographs from the 19th century that capture the oriental magnificence of the historic forts and palaces of Rajasthan.


Amber Fort, ca 1860

Amber Fort, ca 1860

Amber Fort, part of Raj mahal & Maota Lake, watercolours by William Simpson ca.1860

Eleven kilometres to the north of Jaipur, is the town of Amber.

The impressive fort and the palace complex, on a hill overlooking the Maota Lake was built at Amber, in the late 16th century by Akbar’s famous general, Raja Man Singh (ruled 1592- 1614). Alterations and additions to the palace structures continued throughout the 17th century and beyond, until the fort was finally abandoned in 1727.

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Chennai in the 19th century – Vintage Pictures


By Somali K Chakrabarti

A city with a curious blend of tradition and modernity, Chennai has a rich historical legacy.

Formerly known as Madras, Chennai was a leading urban location and naval base, at the time of the British rule. Madras derives its name from Madrasapattnam, a fishing village located on the Coromandel Coast, where the British East India Company had first built a trading post in 1639, and followed it up with the construction of Fort St. George.

At that time, the weaving of Cotton fabrics was a local industry and the English invited
the weavers and native merchants to settle near the Fort. Businesses flourished on the crowded streets of the province known as George Town.

Here are a few pictures from the yore.

Outskirts of Madras, ca 1851

Outskirts of Madras, 1851

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Delhi in the 19th century – Vintage Pictures


By Somali K Chakrabarti

I asked my soul: What is Delhi? She replied: The world is the body and Delhi its life. ~ Mirza Ghalib

An excerpt from Delhi : A Novel, by Khushwant Singh.

Delhi, a city with a rapidly changing skyline, has been a part of India’s ancient history.

Indraprastha, the legendary capital of Pandavas, is described in the epic Mahabharat and it is believed to have existed where the present day New Delhi is.

The city that has witnessed the rule of many dynasties over centuries, has been plundered, destroyed and rebuilt several times.

Hindu kings from the dynasties of the Maurya, Kushan, Gupta, Tomar Rajputs and Chauhan Rajputs ruled Delhi till the 12th century. The end of the 12th century saw the onset of the Delhi Sultanate, and marked the beginning of the rule of Islamic rulers including Ghori, rulers from the Mamluk (Slave) dynasty, Khiljis, Tughlaks, Lodi, and later on the Mughals.

Delhi passed into the direct control of British Government in 1857 after the First War of Indian Independence, and became the capital of British India in 1911.

Here is a collection of Vintage Pictures of Delhi from the 19th century. The pictures are mostly of the architectural structures of the British and Mughal period, most of which exist till date.

New Delhi, designed by Edwin Lutyen and some other brilliant architects such as Robert Tor Russell, E. Montague Thomas, Herbert Baker, did not exist in the 19th century and was inaugurated in 1931.


VIEW OF QUTB – DELHI , ca 1850

Delhi - Qutb 1850

Watercolours, painted on ivory plaques with the views of Qutb, Delhii by unknown artist ca.1850

Qutb Minar, the world’s tallest brick minaret at 72.5 metres, was built in 1193 by Qutb-ud-din-Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi. Qutab-ud-din Aibak commenced the construction of the Qutab Minar, but could only finish the basement. His successor, Iltutmush, added three more storeys, and in 1368, Firoz Shah Tughlak constructed the fifth and the last storey.

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