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Portrait of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II of Jaipur

Mirza Firuz Shah
Akbar Shah II 1806–1837

Portrait of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II of Jaipur



Ram Singh ascended the throne of Jaipur in 1835 after the death of his father Jai Singh III. He was 16 months old at the time of accession. Initially, a regent was appointed to him. The regency continued for 16 years until he turned 18. He is generally considered as a pro-reforms ruler, who was influenced by Western ideals. However, Rober Stern argues that much of his pro-reform stances derived from a tendency to acquiesce to British preferences in exchange for titles and honours, thus ensuring his seat of power. Between 1854 and 1855, the dewan and bakshi were given charge of revenue and army respectively. Subsequently, the duties of the prime minister lightened. During this period, Ram Singh established four new departments – education, police, medical, and survey and settlement. In 1856, he built his own private secretariat. The kingdom was divided into five districts. Each district had a separate magistrate, judge, collector and police chief. In 1867, Ram Singh founded a Royal Council which consisted of eight members. To prevent any corrupt practices, two to three ministers were given charge of each portfolio. Ram Singh reorganised the police department of his state. The police departments consisted of two separate units – rural police and general police. While the rural police consisted of chowkidars (night watchmen) and Sepoy, the general police was directly under the control of the respective minister. Previously criminals were imprisoned within the fort. Ram Singh built the Jaipur Central Jail in 1854 where the prisoners were kept. According to Jadunath Sarkar, the greatest contribution of Ram Singh "to the cause of economic progress was the construction of metalled and bridged roads, with good staging bungalows at intervals". These bungalows were necessary for road travel. He built 127 miles (204 km) of the Agra–Ajmer road. The road connected the western and the eastern parts of his kingdom and his capital Jaipur was located at the road's midway. He also built the 48 miles (77 km) long Jaipur–Tonk road.The Karauli to Mandawar road built by him became an important route of trade. Ram Singh wanted to convert the city of Jaipur into a "second Calcutta" (present-day Kolkata. At that time, Calcutta was the capital of the British India). He built modern schools, colleges and gas lights in streets of Jaipur. Piped water supply was also introduced. He built the Ram Niwas Garden after being inspired by the Eden Gardens of Kolkata. He built the Jaipur Zoological Gardens as a counterpart of the Alipore Zoological Garden. The Calcutta Medical College found its Jaipuri counterpart in Mayo Hospital.He also constructed the Maharaja School for Girls in 1867 for the cause of women's education Photography Ram Singh was passionate about art and photography; he captured (and developed) numerous photographs of women, junior functionaries (like tailors) and nobles of his court. It is believed that Ram Singh was introduced to a camera in 1864 when photographer T. Murray visited Jaipur. After learning how to photograph, he used to carry his camera on all his trips. When western visitors came to his court, he used to learn photography from them. Many of the photographs taken by him were of elite women who so-far lived an entirely secluded private life in the zenanas of his palace; captured in an western artificial setting, consisting of elegant backdrops, Victorian furniture and Persian carpets. It has been since considered as a pioneer effort at portraying Rajput women behind the purdah. Aprior to Ram SIngh's photographs, portraits of specific Rajput women were nearly unknown and artists mass-produced idealized representations of women based on a single model, to serve a variety of occasions, for centuries. Interestingly, the names of the photographed women were not mentioned and whether the Maharanis allowed themselves to be photographed is unknown. Laura Weinstein, an acclaimed art curator argues that the photographs served as an important tool to engage in the widespread discourse about Indian women behind the purdah and they stood out as a rare group of photographs that did not mirror oriental conceptions of Indian domestic life. By appropriating the very European model of portrait photography – which emphasized the dignity and propriety of women, he infused dignity into the life of his photograph-figures unlike other concurrent attempts and refuted the colonial notion of the zenana-inhabitants being idle, unhygienic, superstitious, sexually deviant and oppressed.Rather than reforming the purdah system or associated woman issues, his photographs were modern tools that staunchly defended the tradition, much more than it breached, by portraying an apparent normalcy. Ram Singh had also commissioned numerous self-portraits in a variety of poses ranging from a Hindu holy man to a Rajput warrior to a Western gentleman.Vikramaditya Prakash, an art-historian had described them as "self-consciously hybridised representations [which] straddle and contest the separating boundary – between colonizer and colonised, English and native – the preservation and reaffirmation of which was crucial for colonial discourse". The glass negatives that produced the portraits, the albumen print photograph collection and his own self-portraits are now displayed at the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum in Jaipur. He was also a life-time member of Bengal Photographic Society.


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