Born in a family of jewellers in 1844 in Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh, Lala Deen Dayal (famously known as Raja Deen Dayal) received his technical training at the Thomson College of Civil Engineering at Roorkee. In the year 1866, Lala Deen Dayal entered government service in the Department of Works Secretariat Office as the head estimator and draughtsman in Indore. While at it, he took up photography, and his first patron in Indore was Maharaja Tukoji Rao II. Impressed by his works, the Maharaja introduced Deen Dayal to Sir Henry Daly, who was the founder of Daly College and an agent to the Governor-General for Central India 1871–1881.
All the praises, appreciations, and encouragement that he received for his works lead him to set up a studio in Indore. Soon enough, Lala Deen Dayal was getting commissions from the Maharajas and the British Raj. He was also commissioned to photograph the Governor General’s tour of Central India.
In the year 1868, he founded his studio and named it Lala Deen Dayal & Sons. He was also commissioned to photograph temples and palaces of India. In the year 1875-76, he also photographed the Royal Tour of the Prince and Princess of Wales – Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark. In the early 1880s, Deen Dayal travelled with Sir Lepel Griffin through the lands of Bundelkhand to photograph the ancient architectural grandeurs of the region. Sir Lepel Griffin had commissioned Lala Deen Dayal to capture archaeological wonders via photographs. The result of this was a portfolio of 86 photographs, which were known as “Famous Monuments of Central India”.
The following year, he retired from the government service and gave his entire time and attention to becoming a professional photographer. In the year 1885, he went on to become the court photographer to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad – Asif Jah VI Mir Mahboob Ali Khan Siddiqi Bayafandi. Asif Jah VI ruled the princely states in India between 1869 and 1911. Following this great opportunity that came his way, Lala Deen Dayal moved from Indore to the City of Nizams – Hyderabad.
In the same year, he was also appointed as the official photographer to the Viceroy of India. This was the time when the Nizam of Hyderabad gave him the honorary title – Raja Bahadur Musavvir Jung Bahadur. To honour the title given to him, Dayal created the firm – Raja Deen Dayal & Son in Hyderabad. He was appointed as the official photographer to the Viceroy in India in the year 1885. In 1897, he received the Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria and was appointed as the official photographer of the Queen. He accompanied the Royal tour of the Prince and Princess of Wales – George V and Mary of Teck in 1905–1906. Raja Deen Dayal set up studios in Indore in the mid-1870s, a studio in Secunderabad in 1886, and a studio in Bombay in 1896.
Large collections including celebrated images of the 1870s’ famine are at the Peabody Essex Museum in the US and the Alkazi collection in Delhi. In the year 1989, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in Delhi bought a collection of 2,857 glass plate negatives from the Lala Deen Dayal Studios’ collection. Even to this date, this remains the largest reposition of his work.
In the year 2006, during the Times Hyderabad Festival, a well-curated collection of Deen Dayal’s photographs was exhibited at the Salar Jung Museum. In the same year during November, the Ministry of Communications, Department of Posts released a commemorative stamp in his honour. This ceremony was held in the Jubilee Hall.
In 2010, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in Delhi, Jyotindra Jain curated a retrospective exhibition of Raja Deen Dayal’s famous works.