Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Courts

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Painting of procession on Ram Singh II of Kota, India, about 1850, Museum no. IS.564-1952

The word maharaja, literally ‘great king’, conjures up a vision of splendour and magnificence. The image of a turbaned, bejewelled ruler with absolute authority and immense wealth is pervasive and evocative, but it fails to do justice to his role in the cultural and political history of India.

From the beginning of the 18th century to the mid-20th century the changing role of the maharajas and their patronage of the arts, both in India and Europe, resulted in the production of splendid and beautiful objects symbolic of royal status, power and identity.

Royal spectacle

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Detail of a scroll showing a religious procession, about 1825-1830, Museum no. IS.45-1963

The secular and sacred power of an Indian king was expressed most spectacularly in the grand public processions that celebrated royal events and religious festivities. Riding a richly caparisoned elephant or horse, the ruler was lavishly dressed and jewelled and surrounded by attendants bearing symbolic attributes of kingship: a royal parasol, chauri, fans and staffs of authority.

The vision of a king in all his splendour was believed to be auspicious. It was central to the concept of darshan, the propitious act of seeing and being seen by a superior being, whether a god or a king. Although originally a Hindu notion, the idea of darshan became an integral aspect of kingship throughout the subcontinent.

राजकीय नजारा

भारतीय राजा के लौकिक एवं पवित्र शक्ति को सबसे शानदार तरीके से, उन भव्य सार्वजनिक शोभायात्राओं में प्रदर्शित किया जाता था जो राजकीय घटनाओं एवं धार्मिक उत्सवों को मनाने के लिए आयोजित की जाती थीं| एक पूर्ण रूप से सुसज्जित हाथी या घोड़े पर सवार राजा, शानदार कपड़ों और आभूषणों में सजा हुआ होता था| उसके चारों ओर राजत्व के प्रतीकों को पकड़े हुए सेवक रहते थे| इनमें: एक राजकीय छत्री,चौरी, पंखें एवं अधिकार की छड़ी शामिल थे|

राजा को उसके शानसके शानदार रूप में देखना शुभ माना जाता था| यह दर्शन की धारणा का केन्द्र था| एक अधिक श्रेष्ठ व्यक्ति को देखना एवं उसके द्वारा देखे जाने का शुभ कार्य, चाहे वह भगवान हो या राजा| यद्यपि, मूल रूप से यह एक हिन्दू धारणा थी| फिर भी, दर्शन की धारणा पूरे उपमहाद्वीप में राजत्व का एक अनिवार्य पहलू बन गयी|

Kingship in India

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Turban jewels (jigha and sarpati) presented to Admiral Charles Watson by the Nawab of Bengal, about 1755, Museum nos. IS.3&A-1982

In India rulers were expected to exercise rajadharma, meaning the duties and behaviour appropriate to a king. These would include the protection of their subjects, the adjudication of disputes, and the ministering of justice and punishment. Martial skills were as important as administrative and diplomatic ones; as well as being wise and benevolent, kings were expected to be fierce warriors and skilled hunters. Rajadharma was also exercised through the patronage of poets, musicians, architects, artists, craftsmen and religious foundations.

The concept of rajadharma derived from ancient texts and evolved in response to foreign invasion as well as to religious, social and cultural changes. By the 18th century the Mughals had created a dominant notion of kingship that united indigenous models with those derived from Islamic culture.

भारत में राजत्व

भारत में, शासकों से प्रत्याशा की जाती थी कि वे राजधर्म का पालन करेंगे| जिसका मतलब था, ऐसे दायित्व या व्यवहार जो एक राजा के लिए उपयुक्त थे| इनमें शामिल थे, अपनी प्रजा की रक्षा करना, विवादों का न्याय निर्णय, न्याय और दंड देना| सामरिक कौशल को प्रशासनिक एवं राजनयिक कौशल के जितना ही जरूरी माना जाता था; ज्ञानी एवं परोपकारी होने के साथ-साथ, राजाओं से यह प्रत्याशा की जाती थी कि वे प्रबल योद्धा एवं निपुण शिकारी होंगे| कवियों, वादकों, निर्माणकर्ताओं, कलाकार, शिल्पकार एवं धार्मिक संस्थापना को अपना प्रश्रय देकर भी राजधर्म का पालन किया जाता था|

राजधर्म की धारण, पौराणिक पाठों से ली गयी है| विदेशी आक्रमण एवं धार्मिक, सामाजिक और सांस्कृतिक बदलावों के प्रति उत्पन्न होने वाली प्रतिक्रिया के माध्यम से भी इसका विकास हुआ| 18वीं सदी तक मुगलों ने राजत्व की एक प्रमुख धारणा की रचना कर ली थी| यह धारणा, देशी नमूने के साथ इस्लामी संस्कृति से ली गयी धारणाओं को जोड़ती थी| 

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