The Retainers Review
‘On Wednesday, January 7th, the Amphitheatre was the scene of a spectacle which, for its historical interest, as well as for unexpected scenic effects of a purely Asiatic type, might be accounted the most curious and even remarkable of all the celebrations at Delhi.
This was the review of native chiefs' retainers which was held on the morning of that day.
Here the picturesque splendour of Indian courts, and whatever they retain of medieval pomp and profusion, were presented with no contrast of Western order and organisation.
Some forty States responded to the invitation by sending their contingent, and two thousand horsemen and one thousand five hundred footmen marched past, with 160 elephants and about the same number of camels.
"An artist friend told me how to see the review of chiefs' retinues to-day. He said:—" Don't be satisfied with sitting in that Amphitheatre and seeing them go round like a circus. Get up early, and watch them arrive on the plain outside. That's the place to see things."
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"We wandered about on the plain, outside the arena sketching different groups, and had our breath taken away before the review began by pictures that were simply magnificent. One broad sweep of changing, glittering colour was stretched out before us for mile upon mile, formed of clumps of retainers from the tribes of India."
The event of the day was the march-past of the retinues and retainers of the Native Chiefs, and it had been arranged that this should take place in the Durbar Amphitheatre so that the spectators might have a good view of the strange and motley contingents that still accompany Ruling Princes on State occasions.
To describe the scene as a whole would be impossible. All one can do is to give little peeps of the different groups we saw about the grounds.
Thus the motley throng went on, each group more dazzling and more barbaric than the last. It was an ideal opportunity for the painter. One does not more than once in a lifetime get a chance of seeing thousands of tribes together. Here we saw groups that we should never see again. Here were people, living thousands of miles apart, who had probably never seen one another before, camped so closely that one could move from State to State in a few strides.
There were tribes from Cashmere, from the highlands and the lowlands, camels, elephants, men in armour, animals in armour, and costumes of every conceivable colour and form. It was a bewildering show.
The review of the Princes' retainers was unique. No one in that arena had ever seen, or ever would see again, anything to approach it. For days we had been satiated with marvellous spectacles and colour-schemes that left us breathless; but this was something different, something more wonderful than all.
One's brain could not take it all in. If you could only have arrested the procession now and then and isolated a portion of it, there would have been some chance of remembering and realising what you saw. That was impossible, and artists and writers groaned aloud with dismay as each new and brilliant combination of colour appeared. How could any one hope to convey any idea of that bewildering spectacle to the people at home? There are occasions when words are useless, and this was one of them.