Private View: Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts

Maharajas pick their favourite exhibits on the opening night of the Maharajas exhibition

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Video Transcript

David Redhead, Producer, V&A Channel

Anna Jackson, you’re the curator of Maharaja. I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about the show.


Anna Jackson, Curator of Maharaja, V&A

Ok. Well this is the first exhibition ever to explore the remarkable culture of India’s kings. And we look at the incredible objects that were created for them from 1700 through to independence in 1947. Really for the first time we borrowed objects from the present day maharajas. We felt we couldn’t really do a show like this without engaging them in the subject. And actually they’ve been incredibly enthusiastic and supportive. We just had to convince them that their objects would be safe, not just physically safe, but intellectually safe. That we had something interesting and meaningful to say about the objects and about the heritage and the culture of the maharajas.


David Redhead

Does it bring back memories for you of a different era?


Princess Yasmien Abassi of Bahawalpur

Yes it does. I was lucky to have grown up at a time when everything was still very much in tact. Its now unfortunately disappeared. The throne rooms and crystal furniture and old portraits and chandeliers and the bar holds, are all familiar playgrounds. As a child I remember running through all these old palaces. We had a lot of freedom and a lot of fun. So yes, it does bring back memories.


David Redhead

You very kindly lent quite a lot of the objects, which are in the show. Do you have a personal favourite or one that means a lot you that you’ve seen?


Shri Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur

Well, difficult to say which one particular object is closest to my heart. But the paintings that have been picked and brought over here are absolutely masterpieces and they have great historical relevance.


David Redhead

The Rolls Royce that’s featured in the exhibition that did at one time belong to your family is that right?    


Shri Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur

Yes I think that the Rolls Royce is a beautiful car. When I first came to England in 1966 it was one of my first assignments. My father wanted to….he didn’t have any use for it because we had some others. I truly feel that that’s a great and beautifully restored. After it was brought over here it was beautifully restored. I think that would be one of my favourite items on display here, undoubtedly.


Maharaja Gaj Singh IIof Jodhpur

I am particularly fond of the model of the fort because the Fort of Jodhpur, Mehrangarh Fort is the depositary of our museum.


David Redhead

I was much taken by the palanquin. Was that used in your memory?


Maharaja Gaj Singh IIof Jodhpur

I have just seen them in use. To go up in the fort is quite a steep thing. The ladies used to be carried up.


David Redhead

Equalia has contributed quite a few objects to the exhibition. Do you have a favourite?


Bindu Manchanda

I think I love those little shoes, the rhinestone shoes of Maharani Chinkuraje, I mean they’re my personal favourite.


David Redhead

Why’s that?


Bindu Manchanda

I think they’re whimsical, you know? There’s something in them. To wear those shoes, and she was very tiny only about four feet high. And you know those tiny shoes made especially for her in Paris or wherever. It just gives me a kind of an inkling of how they lived and, you know, how they dressed and how they behaved and the whole lifestyles.


David Redhead

What’s impressed you?


Nigel Coates

Rubies used in a way to make the bodies explicit. So there are these little attendants of Shiva, I guess with a ruby for each bottom and a ruby for each breast, which I thought, was pretty good. And the gold filigree is all the underwear and the straps on the body. Such kind of brilliant craftsmanship, really amazing.


David Redhead

What’s your impression of the show?


His Excellency Mr. Nalin Surie

It’s magnificent. For me what’s more important is that this tradition, this art, this culture, this heritage still lives. You can find paintings like this; you find artefacts like this, in an average household in India. And the tradition continues and that’s what’s important that in spite of us becoming a more modern country the traditions continue and there are new patrons for the arts for culture. We are very happy to bring this before the British public and we hope that they get a good idea of what we were and where we’re headed.


David Redhead

What was your favourite thing?


Erin O’Connor

Do you know I coveted a pair of earrings that I saw on an elephant no less? I mean how opulent is that? Drop chandelier earrings for an elephant to wear. I was quite taken with those and in fact if I tried to put them on myself it would be like wearing two very shiny expensive lampshades. Standing lamps. 


The opening night of the V&A’s opulent exhibition Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts had a suitably glitzy sub-continental feel. Among the VIP interviewees picking exhibits are the Maharana of Udaipur (who chooses a Rolls Royce that once belonged to his family), and the Maharaja of Jodhpur.

Other members of Indian royalty recall the realities of a court life that is now lost forever. Meanwhile V&A curator Anna Jackson explains the challenges involved in staging the show while model and V&A trustee Erin O’Connor owns up to coveting an elephant's earrings.