"Ajab ye karte hain, tasveer mein kamaal kamaal; ustado ke hain ustad Lala Deen Dayal (In the art of picture making he does things of absolute wonder, a master of masters is Lala Deen Dayal)," thus said Mahboob Ali Khan, the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, impressed with Deen Dayal's art.
BN Goswamy, the famous Indian art critic and historian, in his critique of Narendra Luther’s book, Raja Deen Dayal: Prince of Photographers, however, points out that this famous couplet might have been tweaked over the years. Drawing from Farhang-I Asifiya, he remarks that the original couplet might have actually read: "Ajab yeh karte hain tasvir mein kamaal kamaal/musavviron ke hain ustad Lala Deen Dayal".
Above: Mecca gate, Aurangabad | 10 x 11 inches
Goswamy says in his column, "I point this out not only because 'ustadon' in the couplet as cited does not fit into the metre, producing a sakta as Urdu knowers would say, but because replacing the word musavviron (painters) with ustadon (masters) robs the couplet of the fine reference to the comparative arts of painting and photography. What the Nizam said was that this gifted photographer is far ahead of the painters, and can teach them a thing or two! Which he could perhaps, given the state to which painting had been reduced by that time."
Above: View from Bala-Hissar, Golconda | 8 x 10 inches
Luther in his book mentions that of all the Indian photographers, Deen Dayal's name stands out as a "bright star in the firmament."
"He was the one Indian photographer who not only stood on par with European photographers but also outclassed many of them," Luther writes.
Also read on Firstpost: A vintage collection of photographs of Indian maharajahs showcases the culture, customs of royalty of yore
Above: Dowlatabad Fort | 8 x 10.5 inches
Born in 1844 in Sardhana near Meerut, Lala Deen Dayal was educated at Thompson’s Civil Engineering College in Roorkee. Deen Dayal’s interest in photography started when he caught the eye of Sir Henry Daly.
Daly, who was the agent of the Governor-General in the Central Indian states, was using a camera and Deen Dayal asked if he could borrow it.
Above: Fulk-Numa Palace | 8 x 10.5 inches
When Deen Dayal was discovered to be a talented photographer, Daly introduced him to Sir Lepel Griffin of the Bengal Civil Service. Deen Dayal accompanied Griffin on his tour to Bundelkhand in 1882 where he worked as an architectural photographer.
He produced magnificent photographs of ancient architecture at Gwalior, Khajuraho, Rewah, Sanchi and other parts. Eighty-six of the images he took made it to Griffin’s book titled Famous Monuments of Central India.
Above: Gateway in Warungal Fort | 8 x 10.5 inches
When the book was published in 1886 in London, a copy was presented to Queen Victoria. Lord Dufferin, Viceroy to India, saw his photographs and decided to appoint Deen Dayal as his official photographer. This exposure led Deen Dayal to become the official photographer of successive Viceroys after Lord Dufferin as well. In 1887, Deen Dayal received a royal warrant of appointment as the photographer to Queen Victoria. In 1900 when she passed away, her son King Edward VII renewed it.
Above: Gateway of Islam Khan’s tomb, Aurangabad | 10.5 x 8 inches
After having received enough recognition, Deen Dayal decided to cover other parts of India to complete his architecture photograph series. He also set up studios in Indore, Secunderabad, and Bombay.
Above: Mecca Musjid, Hyderabad | 7.5 x 11 inches
In 1885, he was introduced to the Nizam of Hyderabad. Deen Dayal accompanied the Nizam to ceremonial parties, receptions and hunting expeditions where he photographed his palaces, rich carpets, marble statues amongst many other riches. In addition, Dayal photographed buildings and monuments of archaeological significance in the Nizam’s territories. He also documented events in the Nizam’s dominions, such as visits by viceroys and rulers of other countries.
Above: Bashir Bagh Palace, Chuderghat | 8 x 10.5 inches
He officially became the court photographer in 1894 and was given a salary of Rs 600. The Nizam was so impressed by Deen Dayal that he was given the title of Raja Musavvir Jung Bahadur (Bold Warrior of Photography); the titled allowed him to keep a cavalry of 2,000, a procession of 1,000 horses and a personal pennant. However, Deen Dayal preferred to be called Raja Deen Dayal from that moment.
Above: (Left) Ahillia Bai’s Temple at Ellora | 8 x 5.5 inches; (Right) Interior of Sotar-ki-Jhonpri Cave, Ellora | 7.5 x 5.5 inches
After he settled in Secunderabad and set up a studio ‘Raja Deen Dayal & Sons’ there. At the time, Secunderabad was under British rule and so it functioned as a cantonment. As it was a cosmopolitan city, there were plenty of people there — both British and Indian. Deen Dayal’s studio employed around 50 people including two German oil painting artists.
Deen Dayal was an enterprising man. "His studio had a catalogue of prints for sale — unmounted copies of size 8 x 5 inches sold for 12 annas," mentions a report by The Hindu.
"While the studio decided how the subject should pose, apparently, Dayal’s studio offered interesting 'Hints to Sitters' — where they list colours of clothing that are suitable for photography, how you can choose your own pose and the studio will still do a good job of the photograph! And then, how, though it is a trouble shooting children, and many plates may go wasted, the studio doesn’t charge extra!" The Hindu report further adds.
Above: Heap stead of Singareni coal fields | 8 x 11 inches
In 1892, he opened a zenana studio in Hyderabad. He also employed an Englishwoman, Mrs Kenny Levick, to be in charge of the ladies’ section of the studio as the purdah system was prevalent at the time. She was the wife of The Times correspondent who was also the editor of the Deccan Times. This also allowed the studio to have more exposure. The zenana studio not only encouraged women's employment but also allowed Indian women to be safely photographed. It is one of the reasons why there exist many prints of women — ranging from Indian royalty, European elites, to dancing/nautch girls and commoners — in his collection.
Above: Mosque at Saifabad | 8 x 5.5 inches
Deen Dayal was a talented photographer who kept a varied record of Indian life and moved with ease between the two worlds. He was quite skilled with the use of light and the angle of vision at a time when photography was still in its infancy in India. Both princely India and the British elite, civil and military, gave him work. His positive relationships brought him many patrons who even had their families photographed.
In 1899, he also wrote his autobiography titled A Short Account of My Photographic Career, which was yet another testimony to his success and wide acclaim both within India as well as internationally.
Above: Sarai at Ajunta built by Asaf Jah I | 8 x 10.5 inches
Deen Dayal, during his lifetime, received numerous awards in exhibitions in India and abroad, notably the World Colombian Commission in 1893 in the USA. In November 2006, the Department of Posts, Ministry of Communications, Govt of India, released a commemorative stamp honouring him. The Rs 5 stamp was issued in collaboration with a curated collection of his work exhibited at Salarjung Museum during the Times Hyderabad Festival.
He passed away on 5 July 1905 at the age of 61. His son Gyan Chand continued his work in Hyderabad studio and subsequently, his sons Trilok Chand, Hukum Chand and Ami Chand carried on with the business in Hyderabad until the time India got independence. Later, with lesser proximity to the British elites, the downfall of the royal patronage and the advancements in the technique of photography, Deen Dayal's subsequent generations couldn't hold the reins of their business and eventually, Deen Dayal & Sons entered into the realm of oblivion.
Above: The Kailas rock-cut temple, Ellora | 8 x 11.5 inches
Manu S Pillai, author and historian, in his column in Live Mint writes, "But despite the unhappy end to their tale, Deen Dayal had made his mark — today there are dozens of studios still thriving in Hyderabad, all of them claiming for themselves the legacy of the old man from Sardhana who first brought a 'native' touch to photography in India."
Bleed image: Tomb at Golconda | 5 x 8 inches
— All images and captions courtesy of Prinseps.
An album of 58 albumen prints ((a method of producing photographic print using albumen found in egg whites)by Deen Dayal, originally commissioned for the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1888, are being auctioned as a complete album at Prinseps' first-ever live sale on 17 November. The auction will be preceded by previews at The Leela Palace in New Delhi on 2 November, and at the Taj Art Gallery in Mumbai from 13-16 November.