A Nihang with a conspicuous tall turban, 1865

A Nihang with a conspicuous tall turban, 1865


Albumen print by William Willoughby Hooper and George Western, Hyderabad

A3 (297mm x 420mm)
170 gsm illustration printing paper (specially chosen for its excellent anti-aging and anti-yellowing properties)
This print is a faithful reproduction of the original
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About the Print

The most striking aspect of this photograph, which was taken as part of a series illustrating the different types of head-dress worn in British India, is the grand steel emblem bound to this Nihang Sikh’s peaked dastar bunga turban. According to Sikh tradition, only a warrior of ancient times who had proven themselves in battle was deemed worthy of bearing this totemic emblem, known as the gajgah (‘grappler of elephants’). Over time it came to represent superior strength, intellect and daring.

One of the photographers of this work, William Willoughby Hooper (1837–1912), joined the 7th Madras Cavalry in 1858 and arrived in India 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. Hooper worked in collaboration with a Madras army veterinary surgeon, George Western (1837–1907), in the 1860s and together they achieved some commercial success with their firm, Hooper and Western.

Image credit: © Toor Collection

Print series: Empire of the Sikhs

Published in: In Pursuit of Empire: Treasures from the Toor Collection of Sikh Art by Davinder Toor with an introduction by William Dalrymple