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Decoding Victorian costumes in India

Anshu Khanna



The influence of Victorian costuming is evident in many silhouettes adapted by the Indian princely states during the Raj era. From the mandatory gloves which had to be worn, while offering courtesy to the visiting monarch during the Delhi Durbar, to the long overcoats, embellished and embroidered in gold and worn over breeches and sharp pants, the Maharajas adapted their dress style immensely in the company of the British viceroys and Brigadiers.

The women too were not left far behind. Especially those from the hill kingdoms of Punjab and Kashmir who were often seen wearing gownesque silhouettes over their salwar like pants. Or the Ranas of Nepal who wore tiaras over their asymmetrical wedding gowns.

However, if there is one costume that both men and women happily adopted it is the cape, possibly the strongest symbol of Victorian dressing. Founded simply as a round piece of cloth, capes evolved into more complex styles that demanded tailoring and intricate stitching. Their many iterations were used to signify rank or occupation. The British royal’s capes were double-stitched, fur-trimmed and made from velvet, silk, or satin. Interestingly, capes in scarlet red epitomised good breeding and high standing in society. And the ultimate in capes are the ones worn by Queen Elizabeth, who really knows how to wear one with style!

Back home in India, the capes as a sartorial style statement remained at the heart of royal dressing, right through the Raj only to remain long forgotten till the legendary costumer Umang Hutheesing fetched them out of the Hutheesing costume collection, reviving them for posterity. It is singularly his contribution of bringing the cape back into vogue. The Hutheesing capes are cordon bleu, reminiscent of the Raj and a symbol of utmost regalia. Many have found their way into museum shows like the one held with the Al Thani jewels in Bahrain. Or the show he presented with the YSL trust in Paris. Or at the Baroque Museum in Mexico where he held a solo show titled The Baroque Maharaja.

Another royal, Rani Jaykirti Singh from Baria too should be applauded for adding the cape, created in rich velvet, to dressing royal in this era. It is to her atelier that many young royal Rajput women rush to refurbish, revive and restyle their vintage capes. Or simply creating a remake. Giving her capes a simpler, wearable form, Jaykirti, every winter rustles up a complete range in stately black, festive maroon and rich blue. Three universal colours that can be worn over pants, saris, skirts and gowns.

A couturier who imbibes vintage designs especially Victorian with immense élan, designer Rohit Bal has presented some stunning capes on the ramp. Drenched in the richness of Victorian embroidery, his ubiquitous rose render to his black velvet capes exuding an air of regal richness.

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Royally Speaking


The Amba Vilas Palace is the focus of all the activities and in fact, its spectacular illumination is yet another highlight not to be missed



The Dasara festival at Mysore is renowned throughout the country for its flamboyance and pageantry. The annual 10-day-long celebrations are conducted with great pomp and show that culminate in the much-awaited grand procession which marks the finale of the festivities. The Amba Vilas Palace is the focus of all the activities and in fact, its spectacular illumination is yet another highlight not to be missed. Incidentally approx. 97,000 light bulbs are used for the purpose of this mega illumination. There are also numerous other traditional rituals and ceremonies that take place within the Palace precincts, these are not open for the public so as a photographer when I got the opportunity and privilege to document these proceedings I was but naturally rather overwhelmed. The year was 2012 and the Dasara Celebrations were presided over by the late Maharaja Srikantadatta Narsimharaja Wadiyar, the 26th head of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore.

The Mysore Palace or the Amba Vilas Palace, the official residence of the Mysore Royal family certainly takes your breath away. Constructed in the Indo – Saracenic style, this splendid edifice was designed by British architect Henry Irwin who has taken elements from Hindu, Islamic, Rajput, Mughal and Gothic styles of architecture and fused them brilliantly to create this incredible and magnificent structure. Here within the precincts, I was witness to numerous rituals, ceremonies, and pujas including the Ashwa and the Gaja puja (worship of the Horse and the Elephant) the Shastra Pujan – worshipping the Arms and weapons, the elaborate Royal Durbar, and even an annual wrestling competition all of which were presided over by the Maharaja, regally dressed in ceremonial attire, traditional headgear and jewellery.

The Royal Durbar held at the ostentatious Darbar hall was an unforgettable experience; the Maharaja at the auspicious hour ascended the seven steps leading to the dazzling 900-pound gold throne that had been previously assembled as per religious protocol at the pre-ordained hour. The priceless gems and diamond-studded Golden throne or the Ratna Simhasana bearing the Royal Mysore Crest is the legacy and seat of power of the former Rulers of Mysore and is now used only during the Dasara celebrations each year. The Royal Dasara Darbar is a privilege for only those who are invited to partake in this special ceremony. The traditional manner in which the entire proceedings are conducted successfully conjures up images from a glorious bygone era of the Mysore Royals. The private ceremony however is now merely symbolic and a social commitment between the former ruler and his courtiers, the nobility and members of the Royal household who come to pay their tributes and respects on the occasion of Dasara.

Besides the Durbar Hall, the Kalyana Mantap or the Marriage Pavilion is yet another of the many stunning venues within the Palace. Primarily used for conducting wedding ceremonies and important rituals, this imposing, octagonal-shaped structure boasts of a strikingly beautiful, multicoloured, Belgian stained glass ceiling which is supported by handsomely crafted cast-iron pillars from Glasgow.

Maharaja Shrikantadatta Narsimharaja breathed his last on 10th December 2013. He was succeeded by his nephew Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja who was anointed as the 27th head of the Royal House of Mysore. The 28-year-old Boston educated Maharaja continues to uphold all the Royal traditions and functions befitting the erstwhile and former Kingdom of Mysore.

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Royally Speaking


Many young royal scions indulge in music and classical dance, training their wards into performing artists and turning them into veritable child prodigies

Anshu Khanna



The Maratha families are known not just for their penchant for the fine arts but also their legacy of performing arts. The dance form of Bharat natyam is traced to the Maratha courts of Thanjavur. The states of Gwalior and Indore being home to the famed Gwalior and Indore gharana. While the former boasts of maestros like P.V. Paluskar and Veena Sahasrabuddhe, the latter has fuelled the talent of many with its slow-tempo and leisurely raga development.

(L-R) Kaushalya Reddy, Riddhima Saurabh Chadha with Dr (s) Raja Radha Reddy

(L-R) Artist Elanchezhiyan Pichaikannu, Kaushalya Reddy, Riddhima Saurabh Chadha with Dr(s) Raja Radha Reddy and Anu Bajaj

Their love for living with the arts starts young. Even today many young royal scions indulge in music and classical dance, training their wards into performing artists and turning them into veritable child prodigies.

One such family is that of Shraddha Nikam, daughter of a noble family of Kolhapur who is not just a spectacular designer but also a trained chef. The Nikams are Nikumb Rajputs who trace their lineage to Lord Rama. Shraddha, a maestro in tapestry art and a truly talented designer takes bigger pride in the training she has had her truly talented daughter Riddhima Saurabh Chadha partake from none other than Guruji Raja and Guruma Radha Reddy. A love for music and the dance directing her to teach her little daughter Riddhima, in the intricate dance form of Kuchipudi

All of ten and already training in classical English vocals and piano, Riddhima revels in Kuchipudi that she learns at Natya Tarangini. She recently danced before a select audience, in the presence of her gurus for the opening of the art show by Art Positive curated by Anu Bajaj titled: Beyond the Myth.” 

An exhibition explore the sculptors of acclaimed artist Elanchezhiyan Pichaikannu presenting a wide series of the resemblance of cow, bull, yogi and sacred trees  inspired by the Indus valley civilization motifs. Especially Lord Shiva and his favourite Nandi bull. And what better way to salute Shiva and his faithful Nandi then with a performance of Kuchipudi in the gracious presence of Raja Reddy who across the world is referred to as dark Shiva.

Kuchipudi, like other classical dance forms in India, traces its roots to the Sanskrit Natya Shastra, a foundational treatise on the performing arts. The text, states Natalia Lidova, describes the theory of Tandava dance, the theory of rasa, of bhava, expression, gestures, acting techniques, basic steps, standing postures – all of which are part of Indian classical dances.

The dance-drama tradition in Andhra Pradesh is of ancient origins, and the region is mentioned in the Natya Shastra. Bharata Muni credits a graceful movement to Andhra region and discusses it as Kaishikivritti. The pre-2nd century CE text calls one raga as Andhri, that is from Andhra.

According to Manohar Varadpande, the Kuchipudi dance emerged in the late 13th century, when Ganga rulers from Kalinga were patrons of performance arts based on the 12th-century Sanskrit scholar Jayadev particularly the Gita Govinda. This royal sponsorship, states Varadpande, encouraged many poets and dance-drama troupes to adopt Radha-Krishna themes into the then prevailing versions of classical Kuchipudi. These were regionally called Vaishnava Bhagavatulu.

Brought back to its past glory by the dance gurus, Dr. Raja and Radha Reddy and Kaushalya Reddy, the dance form of Kuchipudi finds its presence in many a historic royal homes. As Shraddha puts it, “Our families were the custodians of living cultures and performing arts. I am so glad that not just us in our forties but also many of our little ones are interested in keeping the legacy of art alive.”

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Royally Speaking


What is so unique about The Cobalt Company, is that Tarini has developed the rare technique of combining the film technique of sun printing or cyanotype with calligraphic sketches to develop fabric prints



Amidst the creative cityscape of Jodhpur that has long since bustled with design hallmarks, former NIFT graduate and 36-year-old Tarini Singh’s design label, The Cobalt Company stands out as its latest retail affair. Unlike the majoritarian success stories of rebranding and repackaging some long-existing market potentials, Tarini’s initiative takes the colour blue and deploys it to paint innovation in multiple forms. The multi-professional designer combines photographic art with jewelry and accessories to craft her very own fashion and lifestyle line.

What is so unique about The Cobalt Company, as its name suggests, is that Tarini has developed the rare technique of combining the film technique of sun printing or cyanotype with calligraphic sketches to develop fabric prints. What had been invented in 1842 as a film development technique using light sensitivity with sunlight to produce photographic prints and paper soon became the world’s solution to simple and low-cost photocopying. Colloquially referred to as ‘blueprint’ for its original purpose of making architectural blueprints and photograms, cyanotype forms the chief orbit at The Cobalt Company.

Using its lesser-known wonders, Tarini has begun to produce a distinct clothing range on the one hand, and an eye-catching photographic portfolio on the other. For example, she has used this creative medium to develop original photographs of Jodhpur and other architectural or landscape images that she captured during her travels. She also devises cyanotype fabric products such as bags and scarves that are printed using real leaves and flowers.

Tarini provides a brief introduction to her inception as a designer. “I started The Cobalt Company because I wanted to create a brand that is eponymous with my hometown Jodhpur. I studied accessory design in college and pursued my master’s in leather bags and shoe design. So most of my career post-college revolved around working with accessories. Over the years my design language has evolved to be quite simplistic with a focus on futuristic forms, as is evident in my design catalogs”, she says. Apart from being trained to design professionally, Tarini later opted to hone her keen photographic interest into a formal skill. “I always had a keen interest in analog photography and carried a film camera with me at all times. I got the chance to do a short course in analog photography at Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University, which is where I learned the process of sun printing or cyanotype. It was when I developed my first cyanotype and saw the possibility of developing photographs in blue and white that I knew that I had to explore it further. The particular beauty of this art form is the number of ways in which it can be tweaked so as to get vastly different results!”, she adds.

She combines digitally printed photographs and cyanotype to mix digital and manual double exposure to create a series that Tarini calls Rigid/Fluid. The unmoving properties of her photographic compositions, such as buildings and landscapes comprise the rigid, whereas their dominating botanical skies in cyanotype form the fluid. This particular technique is The Cobalt Company’s signature invention, and Tarini is also beginning to delve into the world of portraiture using this very combination.

While this novel series, as well as the art of printmaking, keep Tarini heavily preoccupied, she hasn’t given up on her foundational grasp of accessory design. This is illuminated in her fine collection of bags, particularly the Martingale bag, a convertible shoulder tote and backpack, and the Saddle weekender, which she has infused with a durable design and versatile strap. These are open to retail and e-commerce via premium fashion websites such as Ogaan,, and 6degree.

“My objective is to experiment”, Tarini states, a conviction put across so succinctly that one is compelled to ponder over whether they’ll perceive the vast spectrum of colors without halting at blue a little longer. The Cobalt Company, for one, makes it difficult to resist cobalt as blue’s trendiest and most eclectic hue, and one that just got its very own address!

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Royally Speaking


Alka Rani Singh, from the Pratapgarh Royal family is a true blue evolved soul who is constantly immersed in recreating the gentle aura of her Avadh.

Anshu Khanna



‘As little girls we were told that Avadhinafasat and nazakat was personified by the gentle whiff of the ittar that was better perceived by the nose of the one standing before you more than the one who dabbed it gently on her pulse point. It was seen as a mood elevator, a relaxant and a calmer.”

Alka Rani Singh, from the Pratapgarh Royal family is a true blue evolved soul who is constantly immersed in recreating the gentle aura of her Avadh. Be it through the hand painted saris that she creates, gently layering a gossamer chiffon with splashes of organic colours or the revival of the long forgotten craft of weaving tissue gold saris that are one thread silk and one thread gold.

She has, however found her niche, her inner calling in the role of a beauty evangelist who, with missionary zeal, is recreating every forgotten beauty ritual that she saw her grand mother and mother perform each day. The Princess of Pratapgarh married to a family of bureaucrats, Alka grew up in the sleepy town of Pratapgarh that her family were the talukdaars of. Where their badihaveli co existed with the sprawling farms, the village folks and the many performing artists who mastered crafts of the heart and the hand.

It was whilst growing up that she learnt from her maternal grand mother and mother, who was married into Vijaypur, close to Mirzapur in Avadh, how a gentle princess were to keep her eyes lined with kohl, her hair fragrant with the whiff of lubaan and her skin porcelain like with ubtan. “I was so enchanted with the way the women of the house would spend a full day extracting natural kajal over a clay lamp, kneading it in pure cow’s ghee and infusing the wick with lots of herbs before it was gently filled into a kajaldaani.” Alka creates the same kajal, made following the ancient practice, simply rolling this organic kajal on a convenient roll on stick.

Ittars too are close to her heart and she presents them in hand blown glass miniature bottles that are worn around the neck. She shares, “Every Princely family in Avadh had its own famed fragrance. Pratapgarh was known for roohkhas (concentrated) and roohmogra. These ittars basically were not distilled in sandalwood oil and so strong that one dot rubbed on your pulse point did the trick.”

Alka revived this tradition of ittar making, also commissioning a family of blown glass artist to make her the bottles. “There is a family in Agra that used to make tiny animals out of hand blown glass. They hand crafted my bottles with such joy.”

Alka’s ittars “Ease your nerves and tackles your anxiety. The pocket sizedbottles help you to keep dabbing. They are a replica of the bottles our mothers got made in silver and gold. Many even embellished with precious stones.”

The royals of Avadh believed that skin must be served with the same delicate food that you consume: The refined herbs, the organic oils. It is with this vision that she has recreated her shahiubtanfor the hair that is made from dry fruits, wild haldi, ashwagandha and other edible ingredients. “My ubtan is a traditional recipe made from 32 convenient ingredients. The 33 added by me is pure gold dust which I get from and ISO certified lab.”

The purist in her also launched a comb nadcrafted from neem that is bacteria and fungus free. “Combing the hair is a ritual that helps rush blood to your scalp. The plastic bristles of the brish simply adds friction to the hair. My comb has rounded, wooden teeth that literally massage the scalp.” Add to that her lubaan, a ritual of running a incense stick under your hair. The lubaanstick is fileld with goodness of googal and ashwagandha and when placed under the long tresses adds a fragrance and body to the hair.

“We are all getting close to our roots then why not return to beauty rituals that are linked to the earth?”

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Villas at The Black Buck Lodge are a celebration of elegance, wilderness

Khyati Singh



Each of the 14 villas of lodge has an en suite room with a patio, sitting area, bedroom, indoor and outdoor bathrooms, and a deck looking out to the exquisite beauty of the bush.

Nestled along the Velavadar National Park, The Black Buck Lodge is set in several acres of plains owned by Mickey Desai who hail from a village in Gujarat’s Kathiawad Peninsula just about an hour from Velavadar. Each of the 14 villas of The Black buck Lodge are an en suite room with a patio, sitting area, bedroom, indoor and outdoor bathrooms, and a deck looking out to the exquisite beauty of the bush.

The interiors are the right combination of the rustic and contemporary elegance – the bedrooms have polished wooden furniture and granite floors, rough-hewn stone walls, wooden logs carrying bedside lamps and an alcove along the window with mattresses and bolsters that can double as a sitting area with a view or a bed to sleep. The best time to visit the destination is from mid October to March. During this time, the weather is cool and chance of sighting of migratory birds are greater. We consider it as the peak time.

The lodge is open throughout the year though the park is closed from mid June to mid October but this is a beautiful time to enjoy the monsoon greenery around the lodge. One can encounter the endangered Lesser Florican and Saras Crane in this region during the monsoon period. When its come to food we have different kind of food variety such as veg, non veg, sea food, Gujarati food, Kathyavadi food, continental food etc.

“Our prime concern when we were planning and executing the construction and layout of the lodge, was that our resort should not interfere with the environment. In fact we went the extra mile to seamlessly blend it into the vistas of the neighbouring National Park. Even the lighting in the pathways and cottages has been kept muted so that our guests can experience this Indian savannah. We have taken various measures to maintain tranquility in our surroundings. Loud music and honking is not permitted. The use of plastic in any form including bottles and wrapping is strictly avoided,” Shares Mickey.

Villas at The Black buck Lodge are a celebration of elegance, wilderness and blackbucks in a remarkable river setting offering an extraordinary experience. The Villa blends the boundaries between inside and outside, creating a seamless integration with nature with rustic doors and windows. Each villa has a luxurious outdoor private shower along with an indoor bath. It offers all modern facilities to offer a rather comfortable stay. Our guests can stay at the villa and come closer to the goodness of nature.

Velavadar Black Buck National Park is a unique grassland park which is compact being spread out in an area of 35 square kms and the only grassland eco system in this part of the continent. While myriad species of birds call this region home, it is the black bucks that reigns supreme here. Indian wolf and striped hyena also roam these plains freely.

The Bush dinner is a must experience if you are staying at the lodge. It’s the best place to unwind yourself enjoying barbecued snacks followed by authentic local Kathiawadi food under star lit sky and around bonfire.

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Royally Speaking




She’s hip and she’s sassy, she’s unassuming and she’s nonchalant. When asked about the staggering figure of 18.1 thousand that organically follows her Instagram handle, the fashionista casually dismisses it as social media fun coupled with sheer chance. A freelance associate producer and event manager based in India’s Maximum City, Vedika Rana is living life one dream at a time. This fall, Rajputana Collective rises to the opportunity of featuring the upcoming creative entrepreneur vis-a-vis her breakthrough into the Indian entertainment industry, notions of professionalism, merit, and the status of women therein.

Back in 2010, a young and aspiring Vedika had descended into Maximum City as an undergraduate student of Mass Communications at Sophia College. Like most young aspirants that enter the pulsating beat of Mumbai, Vedika’s story was no less devoid of struggle and perseverance in competing measures. She formally launched her career shortly after college as an assistant director, and soon enough found her calling in the art of production. Alongside her professional refinement as a freelance producer, Vedika’s socially hospitable personality and suaveness paved her way towards event management and brand promotion. In short, the full-time filmmaker and part-time model-cum-event manager comprehensively juggles her passions and fortes to make the most of a life that she leads purely on her terms.

While professional ascends like Vedika’s might not be rare occurrences in the scintillating pulse of Mumbai, her journey hints at the determining power held by a person’s outlook in the individual framing of one’s destiny and the perusal thereof. In other words, she doesn’t spend too much time romanticising her struggles and instead, places a strong emphasis on the importance of pragmatism, networking skills and capitalising on one’s existing resources.

Speaking of the latter, she attributes much of her gratitude towards her family from which she has derived immense support and encouragement to follow her dreams. Maintaining a similar win-win outlook towards her work, Vedika describes her professional insight in her own words, “I had to go through a considerable number of jobs before arriving at where I am today. Yes, production is difficult and work often gets really tasking and time-consuming. Events too, can really take you over the edge if they don’t turn out great. You don’t always look your best in front of the camera but it is nonetheless exciting and worth it.”

While describing her notions of professionalism, Vedika makes no qualms about taking a pragmatic approach towards one’s workplace and colleagues. The granddaughter of

a regional films’ producer Shri Bharat SJB Rana, Vedika swiftly disperses the compulsion to bask under professional elitism and makes an explicit choice that entails meritocracy and a growth-oriented work ethic. She elaborates, “people tend to get fascinated by my ancestral lineage and my grandfather’s creative output in the industry but I feel that in today’s day and age it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your name is, but more of who you are as a person and how you treat others. Before coming to Mumbai, I was a different person. Getting out in the real world really broke me down in the best way possible and I’m grateful for that. One of the things that I learned here was that at the end of the day, we are nothing but mere specks in this universe and remembering our humble origins makes life so much easier and simpler.”

Through the past five years, her level-headedness at work and outside have brought Vedika some interesting projects and events to focus on. And yet, when asked about her most memorable shoots, she nostalgically reminisces her Lakme shoot as an 18-year-old, simply because a first is always special for being a first. The frequent juxtaposition that Vedika executes being behind and in front of the camera has helped enable her to perceive the entertainment industry from two essential standpoints that are mutually exclusive for most people- that of a crew member as well as a model. “Being a girl, I feel people don’t take you seriously in the industry. Half of them think you’re working behind the camera to eventually come in front of it, not realising that in my case, acting was never really an incentive because I believed to lack any potential to act. So, it took me a while but I got there” Vedika states.

Hence, more often than not, one’s creative mettle does suffer the conventional burden of stereotypes associated with being a part-time model, but personal determination trumps speculation for the 26-year-old freelancer, and rightfully so.

Being on either side of the film reel also enables Vedika to cultivate a more nuanced view into the rampant sexism that has consistently plagued the entertainment industry through its various eras. She admits to the continuing trends of objectification of women that continue to linger despite female actors getting more equitable roles vis-a-vis their male counterparts. According to Vedika, much of the problem of gender-based discrimination arises from the generalised tendency to value looks over acting talent. Vedika advances her point by saying, “despite changing times, the entertainment industry has a long way ahead of it in terms of gender equity. Sadly, a lot of actresses are in the industry more for their looks than their acting which eventually leads them to be just a pretty face in the film rather than a powerful actor”. Her views stand supplemented by several critics of Indian cinema, who have timelessly postulated the blatant sexism that accompanies gender-based roles wherein a female lead of lesser acting expertise is traditionally cast alongside a more competent male actor simply because the former is expected to supplement the latter with fine aesthetics and a bare-minimum of acting.

An effective remedy to this media-based chauvinism lies in diversifying every sector of the entertainment industry, such that an increasing number of women can reclaim roles and spaces that have thus far been dominated by stereotypes and generalisations to their lesser advantage. By occupying the dual roles of production as well as modelling, Vedika seems to be inadvertently reclaiming empowering spaces in her own right, and Rajputana Collective wishes her every success in her endeavours.

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