In Pictures: India Through Postcards

From the time of Clive Street in Calcutta to Jain Temples in Jodhpore, explore the various monuments of India through postcards from a century ago
The Taj Mahal
The Taj MahalWikimedia Commons

Postcards were a unique concept that allowed messages to be sent out without the need for an envelope. They have a very interesting history, although it is difficult to trace their exact origins since they evolved rather than being invented. The concept dates back to the 1900s. It is believed that the first commercially produced postcard was created in 1861.

The first printed picture postcard, with an image on one side, was created in France in 1870 at Camp Conlie by Léon Besnardeau (1829–1914). They became very popular and had their golden age in the 19th and 20th centuries. They played a significant role during times of war, with many propaganda postcards produced to convey patriotic messages and boost morale.

In India, the Post Office introduced an inexpensive quarter anna postcard in July 1879 for use within British India. The government and reply postcards followed in 1880 and 1890, respectively, and this postcard system still exists in modern, independent India. However, postcards gradually lost their popularity with the advancements of technology in the late 20th century, and now they have a vintage value.

Explore what India looked like in the past through the various postcards representing India's numerous heritage monuments.

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Jama Masjid

Dating between 1903 and 1959, this postcard show the grand Jama Masjid of Delhi. On the back, the postcard has a snippet from a speech by Lord Curzon that reads, "In 1857, after the mutiny, it was solemnly proposed to raze to the ground the Jumma Masjid at Delhi, the noblest ceremonial mosque in the world, and it was only spared at the instance of Sir John Lawrence."

Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram

Shore Temple
Shore TempleWikimedia Commons

Dating from the 1900s, this postcard shows the Shore Temple of Tamil Nadu. It was an advertisement by India Tea. It is a brand dating from 19th-century and is known for striking advertisements. The temple dates from 725 AD and is considered the finest early example of medieval southern Indian temple architecture.

Elphinstone College, Mumbai

Elphinstone College
Elphinstone CollegeWikimedia Commons

This postcard is signed by Paul Gerhardt and dates back to 1899. He was one of the very first people to produce artist-signed postcards in India and was a chief lithographer at the Ravi Varma Press. The Elphinstone College is among the top educational institutions in India established in 1856. It was designed by James Trubshawe in the Venetian Gothic style and is a must-visit place.

The Tipu Sultan Mosque, Kolkata

Tipu Sultan Mosque
Tipu Sultan

This postcard dates back to the late British era rule in India. It shows the Tipu Sultan Mosque of Kolkata which was earlier known as the "Dhurmtollah Musjid." The mosque is an exquisite example of Islamic architecture in India and was constructed by Prince Ghulam Muhammad, the eleventh son of Tipu Sultan, in 1842.

Bangalore Palace, Bangalore

Bangalore Palace

Published by Raphael Tuck and Sons, a business started by Raphael Tuck and his wife in Bishopsgate in the City of London in October 1866, this postcard illustrates the Bangalore Palace. The palace, a summer retreat for the Royal Wadiyar family in the 19th century, was designed to resemble England's Windsor Palace under the direction of Maharaja Chamraja Wadiyar. Reverend J. Garrett gave it a Tudor-style look as per the Maharaja's request. It is a must-visit site.

Raj Bhawan, Kolkata

Raj Bhawan

Shown in the postcard is the Raj Bhawan which presently serves as the official residence of the governor of West Bengal. During the British era, the building was known as the Government House. After the transfer of power from the East India Company to the British Crown in 1858, it became the official residence of the Viceroy of India. It is a brilliant example of Indo-Saracenic architecture and a place of significant historical importance which makes it a must-visit.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Chhatrapati Shivaji

Dating from the British era and published by Raphael Tuck and Sons, this postcard shows us the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus from a time when it was still known as the Victoria Terminus. The historic railway station in Mumbai was designed by the Italian architect F W Stevens. It is an architectural marvel that combines Victorian Gothic and traditional Indian styles. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a bustling transportation hub. The highlights are high ornamented ceilings and an excellent heritage gallery.

Jain Temple, Jodhpur

Jain Temple

In the picture are the Jain Temples of Jodhpur on a postcard. The Jain temples in Jodhpur are the oldest structures dedicated to Lord Mahavira. The are attractive tourist spot and the architecture is characterised by interiors decorated with intricate murals and paintings depicting scenes from the life of Lord Mahavira.

Golden Temple, Amritsar

Golden Temple

In this postcard from pre-independent India, the Golden Temple stands in all its glory. It is a must-visit site for travellers from all walks of life. The construction of the temple started in 1581 by Guru Arjan and was completed in 1604. It is a masterpiece in terms of architecture. The temple is situated in the middle of a pond, the Amrit Sarovar (Pond of Nectar), which gives the golden monument a beautiful reflective surface.

Netaji Subhash Road, Kolkata

Netaji Subhash Road
Netaji Subhash

The Netaji Subhash Road is a significant street in Central Kolkata that was once known as Clive Street. It was a place where Bengali merchants and British traders interacted, creating a powerful hub for business and entrepreneurship. Similar to Wall Street, they made money, explored business ventures, and took risks. It is a must-visit place that houses several oldest and important buildings.

Qutub Minar, Delhi

Qutub Minar

Another postcard by Raphael Tuck and Sons shows us the Qutub Minar of Delhi. It is one of the most visited places in Delhi and has several other monuments and tombs added to the place overtime. The site attracts tourists and historians alike with its exquisite architectural styles, history, and mysterious anecdotes attached to it.

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