Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mystery from Muzaffarpur

I found a stack of old photographs at a recent estate sale.  They were mostly studio portraits and group shots of men, women, small children from the Midwestern United States. 

I see pictures like these all the time at estate sales and yard sales.  But mixed in with them, was a large photograph the likes of which I'd never seen before.  Torn at the edges, apparently well over a hundred years old, was a group shot that had been removed from a photograph album.

What in the world was going on in this picture? I thought.  I turned it over and saw the words written in ink:

"1st Conf" in where?

Thank God for being able to search the Internet for the correct spellings of far-off locations:  Muzaffarpur.  The city is in Northern India, said to be one of the gateways to Nepal. 

I looked more closely at the people in the photograph.  My guess is that the men on the left in the front row (pith helmets removed for the photograph), and most of the women in the front row, were English or otherwise not-from-around-here:

The rest of the people in the photograph were perhaps locals. 

The man on the end of the top row, right, and the short man in the center are holding books.  The tallest man in the top row holds a violin, and his expression seems to show he's ready to play as soon as the photographer dismisses the group.  None of the people in the photograph is wearing a caste mark.  Another person stands to the far right, next to the building.

But who were they, and why were they together?  Does "1st conf." stand for "First Conference?"  If so, of what?  Are the books religious or philosophical treatises?  Does this photograph relate to the Indian independence movement?  I also wonder, why was this photograph in with all the American studio portraits?  (And what did the violinist have to do with the gathering?)

I'm e-mailing a link to this blog entry to some Indian history organizations, to see if they can help solve this puzzle.  I'll keep you posted.

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