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Old 15th October 2021, 07:19 PM   #39
Silver John
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 31

I thought I’d add a little related information, as this photo has just come up for auction with the following description:

“A Nihang bodyguard serving in the Nizam of Hyderabad's irregular Sikh army
India, Hyderabad, by William Willoughby Hooper (1837–1912) and George Western (1837–1907), circa 1865
albumen print, in mount
190 x 148 mm.
Formerly in the collection of M. & Mme Horvat.
Private UK collection.

Another print of this image appeared in the exhibition Empire, Faith and War: The Sikhs and World War One, Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London, July-September 2014; and that same print has been published in A. Singh Madra, P. Singh, Warrior Saints: Four Centuries of Sikh Military History, vol. 1, London 2013 (front cover); and in D. Toor, In Pursuit of Empire: Treasures from the Toor Collection of Sikh Art, London 2018, pp. 264-265.

The two photographs presented here (lots 325 and 326), taken in the princely state of Hyderabad in the Deccan, could arguably rank among the most mesmerising photographic portraits ever taken anywhere in the world. Although little by way of documentation comes down to us, it can be readily surmised that these warriors were members of the Sikh community located in Central India and connected with Takht Hazoor Sahib, the final resting place of the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

Separated from the traditional Sikh heartlands of Punjab by hundreds of miles, the proud Sikhs of Hazoor Sahib steadfastly maintained ancient practices and manners that were largely lost to their northern compatriots, who had lost their fiercely independent nature after having come under British rule in the mid-19th century.

Among the Deccani Sikhs, one of the most beguiling characters to make an appearance is Maharaja Chandu Lal (1766–1845). For over four decades beginning in the first half of the 19th century, this diminutive bookkeeper, who rose to become virtual dictator of the Muslim-ruled state of Hyderabad, stands out as Takht Hazoor Sahib's single-most important patron many years before Maharaja Ranjit Singh took a keen interest in the Guru's Deccani legacy. Chandu Lal's interactions with Sikh warriors, who he employed in his personal bodyguard as well as irregular troops responsible for local policing and revenue collection, provides a fascinating insight into a little-known aspect of Sikh history.
In 1858, not long after Chandu Lal's death, one of the photographers of our work, William Hooper, arrived in India and joined the 7th Madras Cavalry just after the Sepoy Uprising was quelled. As a young lieutenant he became known as an enthusiastic and competent amateur photographer. In 1862, he was released from military duties to allow him to contribute to The People of India project, a monumental, eight-volume catalogue of ethnic, racial and caste types of the subcontinent. He was transferred to the 4th Cavalry, Saugor and Secunderabad, where he devoted himself for the next four years almost exclusively to acquiring and taking portraits of the peoples of the Central Provinces of India. These, like our portraits, were taken against a plain cloth backdrop and are distinctive for the intensity of the subjects' expression and the immediacy of their presence.
Hooper worked in collaboration with a Madras army veterinary surgeon, George Western, in the 1860s and together they achieved some commercial success with their firm Hooper and Western.
The present prints are two of only three known to have come onto the art market in the past three decades.

The intense stare of this fearsome and prodigiously armed Sikh of the Nihang ('Crocodile') order, coupled with his curled-up moustachios, gives him the singular air of energy and vigour characteristic of his warrior creed.

The unnamed warrior grips a double-edged khanda sword in his right hand, and in his left he holds a ball and chain flail (kamand-karora). Tucked in his cummerbund is an all-steel South Indian dagger (chillanum). His other weapons include a hide shield (dhal), a talwar sword and a pistol (tamacha), the butt of which is visible under his left arm. His peculiarly tied battle-turban is fortified with an array of razor-sharp steel quoits, miniature blades, crescents and steel chains.

Philip Meadows Taylor, a British officer who served in Hyderabad in the 1850s, gave the following description of the Akali-Nihangs ('Immortal Crocodiles'), presumably from his own personal experience: 'It is only in the native states, at Hyderabad in the Deccan, for instance, where the Akalees in all their pristine fierceness and defiance of order are to be met with; and their wild figures when in the company with bands of their own countrymen who serve as soldiers, are always very remarkable.' (See J. F. Watson & J. W. Kaye, The People of India: a Series of Photographic Illustrations, with Descriptive Letterpress, of the Races and Tribes of Hindustan, 8 vols., London 1868-75, vol. 4, p. 225.)

The bands of soldiers referred to were the Jama'iat-i-Sikhan ('Assemblage of Sikhs'), an irregular force of purely Sikh troops established at the beginning of the nineteenth century by the Nizam of Hyderabad's minister, Maharaja Chandu Lal. He had achieved the high office of deputy diwan (finance minister) in 1809 through the influence of the state's British resident. Well aware of his precarious position in a hostile court, this devotee of Guru Nanak wasted no time or expense in hiring a large personal bodyguard recruited from the thriving colony of Sikhs at Nanded. Chandu Lal was its single-most important patron.

Besides serving as his bodyguards, especially against the Arab and Rohilla mercenaries inhabiting the region, the Jama'iat-i-Sikhan collected revenue from uncooperative landlords and suppressed local rebellions. This tradition was continued by Chandu Lal's successors, all of whom occupied his political office for the remainder of the 19th Century.”

Last edited by Silver John; 15th October 2021 at 07:32 PM.
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