The Mysore Queens Who Became The Face Of The World's First Vaccination Campaign

The Mysore Queens Who Became The Face Of The World's First Vaccination Campaign

The first vaccine for smallpox in pre-Independence India was made and transported to India by the British physician, Dr Edward Jenner in 1802. However, the vaccine was met with suspicion and scepticism by native Indians firstly because they did not trust the British enough, and secondly because of the need to pay a small fee for it. The ‘Tikaadars’ whose livelihood depended on providing jabs or ‘tikaas’ for prevention of diseases, also put up a strong front against the vaccination efforts by the British.

The princess, Devajammani arrived at the royal court of Mysore in 1805 to marry Krishnaraja Wadiyar III. She became inclined to promote the smallpox vaccine, as a token of gratitude to the British, to whom the Wadiyars were indebted for having put them back on the throne after more than 30 years of exile. Her unwitting role as an ambassador for the vaccine was captured in a painting commissioned by the East India Company to “encourage participation in the vaccination programme”, according to Dr Nigel Chancellor, a historian at Cambridge University, as reported by the BBC.

According to Dr Chancellor, the painting dated back to around 1805 and is a great indication of the efforts taken by the British to inoculate Indians. The subjects of this painting were initially believed to be portraits of courtesans, until Dr Chancellor busted the claim, instead citing proofs to support his theory that the three women in the painting were Wadiyar queens. He pointed out that the date of the painting matched the Wadiyar king’s wedding dates and the court records from July 1806, announcing that Devajammmani’s vaccination had a ‘salutary influence’ on people who came forward to be inoculated. As an expert in Mysore history, Chancellor was also certain that the ‘heavy gold sleeve bangles’ and ‘the magnificent headdresses’ were characteristic of Wadiyar queens. He also pointed out that half-smiling royal women striking a casual pose for a European painter could not have been for a run-of-the-mill portrait, as that would have risked infamy and scandal.

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