19th Century Nitty-Gritty: The Indian Exhibition

5 min read

By Melissa Rayner

The previous posts in this series have explored Western life through a Western lens. This week, I’d like to mix it up a little. Let’s take a look at the East for a change, and let’s look at it through… a Western lens–well, you can’t change everything at once, can you?

The World’s Fair, what would you give to be able to travel back in time and attend it for yourself? If you just lend me a few moments of your time, I can take you to this marvelous, majestic, mysterious, and otherwise m-ridden land. Close your eyes…

exhibition guideNow open them!

Whoa. Are we in India?

No, but close. We’re in London, circa 1895. There’s clearly a big party going on, which means we’ve come to exactly the right place–the World’s Fair. And, boy, is there a lot going on. Maybe we should look at the program to figure out the best place to start.

Okay, it starts us off with a list of our gracious hosts. We have a few rajas and maharajas followed by a couple pages of English nobility and military personnel, members of the Tea Company, no doubt.

I’m trying to flip through quickly, but there are just so many ads. What should people attending a celebration of Indian culture be looking to buy? Apparently, they need such essentials as soap and sanitary tools, tobacco and whiskey, pills and ointments, and, of course, beef sauce.

Oh, here’s the explanation of why this exhibition was established:


“The beauty of its Oriental architecture, the warmth of its colouring, the picturesque costuming of its peoples, the skill of its artisans, and the interest with which its history is regarded by Englishmen were reasons for the selection of India for my initial effort. Further, I believed that the tie—both political and commercial—which links the two countries together would be strengthened by such an Exhibition; that the Englishman would learn more about India, and that the various peoples of that country would appreciate the interest which was being taken in their native land.”

MusiciansI’m definitely interested in learning more about India. Let’s start with the stage performances. All White faces on the stage, I see. And the music is… familiar. German, perhaps? Oh, and there’s “God Save the Queen.” While pleasant, I don’t feel as though we’re learning much about India.

Let’s just stroll around and see what we find, shall we?

Ooh, this looks good the reproduction of an authentic Indian jungle ala a fun pop-up zoo. It’s hosting such exotic creatures as a variety of insects, snakes, wild sheep, tigers, and more! That tiger was definitely scary. Makes me want to practice my marksmanship, should the two of us meet again outside of this place. Luckily, the fair organizers already thought of this! Their range hosts the finest targets in the world, both moving and still animals. What a perfect follow-up to a zoo visit!

HookahBed of NailsWhile I did enjoy those last two exhibits, we still haven’t seen any actual Indian people. Perhaps, the Indian Showhouse will deliver. Ahh, yes, up on stage there are native countrymen of India wresting and fighting one another and lifting very heavy weights between rounds. Is this what Indian culture is all about?

Well, maybe we went to the wrong theater. Here’s another that features “Hindu magicians and snake charmers… in their weird and mystical performances. Hindu music, changing stones into money, burning the turban, thread and fire trick, the sacrificial act, the famous basket trick, playing with the deadly cobra, and many others.”

Wow, that was exciting!

I can’t believe Indian people live like this all the time. Personally, I’m exhausted and could use a good sit-down. Let’s see what the food court offers… Looks like we have 1, 2,3–15 unique restaurants, and–hey–one of them even offers Indian food!

I definitely had fun, but maybe next time I’ll just stick to a ride on the Ferris Wheel.


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Melissa for Caricature (2)About the Author

Melissa is obsessed with books, birds, and bonbons. She is a new mom and holds an MA in Applied Sociology. She also writes fiction and skips about the interweb as Emlyn Chand.





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