Madura. The Great Pagoda Jewels.
Linneaus Tripe enlisted in the army of the East India Company at the age of seventeen. While in England on furlough in 1851 and 1853, he purchased cameras and photographic apparatus. The views he made of ancient temples in Hullabede and Belur in 1854 attracted the attention of the directors of the company, who in 1855 requested that the Indian presidencies use photographers rather than draftsmen to record regional antiquities. The following year Tripe was appointed government photographer to the Madras presidency, and in 1857-58 he made an extended photographic tour of the southern districts, producing six volumes of handsome photographs, most of them of temples, in 1858. This photograph is plate 11 in the third section of the Madurai volume. One of several photographs taken at the Great Temple of Madurai, it represents the special adornments for the idols and their mounts which were ceremoniously carried through the temple compound in festival processions. In addition to the richly jeweled crowns, necklaces, and forehead ornaments, there are stirrups of gold and bridles of pearls and coral. The large ornaments in the background embellished the lingam, the phallic symbol of the god Shiva. Placed over the lingam, the cobra would coil around it, raising its hood in an exorbitant display of protective majesty. The principal lingam resided in the innermost temple, forbidden to foreigners. Tripe's picture is thus about a ceremony he could not photograph and the absent symbol of a god he could not see.
Linnaeus Tripe (British, Devonport (Plymouth Dock) 1822–1902 Devonport)
With the invention of photography, the eighteenth-century British passion for recording exotic lands and studies of the peoples in India was given new impetus. The earliest photography on the continent dates from 1840 in Calcutta, the political center of British India. The technology for photography arrived in India quickly became popular among the local rulers-many of whom employed photographers at their courts-as well as the British who had come to make their fortunes in the colony. For both populations, the new medium replaced painting as the method for recording the local landscape, architecture, people, and important events.