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Durbar (from Persian: دربار - darbār) is a Persian term meaning the Shah's noble court or a formal meeting where the Shah held all discussions regarding the state. It was later used in India and Nepal for a ruler's court or feudal levy as the latter came to be ruled and later administered by Persians and Perso-Turcomen rulers. A durbar may be either a feudal state council for administering the affairs of a princely state, or a purely ceremonial gathering, as in the time of the British Empire in India.
In the former sense, the native rulers of Mughal and colonial India and some neighbouring Hindu or Muslim monarchies, like the amir of Afghanistan, received visitors in audience, conferred honours and conducted business in durbar.
A durbar could also be the executive council of a native state. Its membership was dual: the court's grandees, such as the wasir and major jagirdars, shone at the ceremonies but the real political and administrative affairs of state rather rested with an inner circle around the prince, often known as diwan. There was some overlap between the two groups. This was originally another word for audience room and council, but in India it also applies to a privy council and chancery.
In the latter sense, the word has come to be applied to great ceremonial gatherings called the Delhi Durbar in Delhi and elsewhere during the period of the British Raj, held as demonstrations of the loyalty to the crown which also proved vital in various wars in which Britain engaged.
The practice was started with Lord Lytton's Proclamation Durbar of 1877 celebrating the proclamation of Queen Victoria as the first Empress of India. Durbars continued to be held in later years, with increased ceremony and grandeur than their predecessors. In 1903, for instance, the Coronation Durbar was held in Delhi to celebrate the accession of Edward VII to the British throne and title of Emperor of India. This ceremony was presided over by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon.
The practice of the durbar culminated in the magnificent spectacle that was the Delhi Durbar, which was held in December 1911 to officially crown the newly enthroned George V and his wife Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India. The King and Queen attended the Durbar in person and wore their Coronation robes, an unprecedented event in both Indian and Imperial history held with unprecedented pomp and glamour. They were the only British monarchs to visit India during the period of British rule. Practically every ruling prince, nobleman and person of note, attended the ceremonies to pay obeisance to their sovereign in person.
These were perhaps the greatest official shows on earth, parading with great pomp, including elephants, as a dazzling demonstration of the successful British colonial formula of indirect rule: the Raj could largely depend on the loyalty of most princely state rulers because of their feudal allegiance to the paramount ruler, a position the British crown (especially since it formally took over from the HEIC) occupied instead of the toppled Mughal dynasty, as the first durbar consecrated symbolically expressed in the new style of Kaiser-i-Hind (Emperor of India). Several monuments in India serve as memorials of the King and Queen's visit, most notably the Gateway of India in Mumbai.
No durbar was held for later British monarchs who were Emperors of India. Edward VIII reigned only a brief time before abdicating. On the accession of his brother George VI, it was decided to hold no durbar in Delhi, due to several reasons: the cost would have been a burden to the government of India, rising Indian nationalism made the welcome that the royal couple would have received likely to be muted at best, and a prolonged absence of the King from the UK would have been undesirable in the tense period before World War II.
In Malaysian history, Durbar is the Conference of Rulers that begun in 1897. It was a platform for Federated Malay States rulers under British protectorate to discuss issues pertaining state policies. The membership of Durbar increased after the Federation of Malaya was formed in 1948 to encompass other states of Malaya.
It was further enlarged after modern federal Malaysia was formed in 1963, and became the electoral college for the federal paramount ruler.
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- Vickers, p. 175
- Bradford, p. 209