The Delhi Durbar that took place on December 12, 1911 was actually to commemorate the coronation of George V and Queen Mary in Britain that had taken place a few months earlier, and their proclamation as emperor and empress of India.
But without any prior notice from the British authorities, this became the venue where the shifting of India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi was announced.
Pretty much every ruler of India’s princely states, zamindars and VIPs attended the giant durbar that took place at Coronation Park (near today’s Nirankari Sarovar) to pay obeisance to the sovereigns.
George V and his queen also appeared for a ‘darshan’ at the jharoka (balcony window) of the Red Fort that was attended by more than 500,000 common people who had come to greet them.
The event was captured in the film, ‘With Our King and Queen Through India’, also known as ‘The Durbar in Delhi’, that was released in 1912 and was one of the earliest colour films in the world.
The foundation of the new capital was laid on December 15, 1911 and was planned by the two leading 20th
century British architects, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker. The new capital was named ‘New Delhi’ in 1927 and was officially ‘inaugurated’ on February 13, 1931, by Governor-General Lord Irwin.
This wasn’t the first time that rulers of India had claimed Delhi as their capital. In 1280, Delhi became the capital of the Delhi Sultanate under Qutabuddin Aibak while the Mughal dynasty started its rule under Babar in 1526.
But the 1911 Delhi Durbar and its corresponding announcement of Delhi as the capital of India marks the beginnings of the city that now exists.