This extraordinary canopy is part of a set of panels commissioned by Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad of Baroda. It was intended to be a gift to the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad as a gesture of respect towards the Hindu ruler’s Muslim subjects. The panels are entirely covered with seed pearls and glass beads, rubies, emeralds and diamonds. The set is said to have cost 6 million rupees.
Hindu rulers traditionally ate from dishes of gold and silver, these precious metals being deemed pure. Gradually, glass and porcelain came to be used, as being impermeable they were also considered immune from pollution. Western firms took advantage of these changing habits and produced wares for the Indian market. This thal service, for Indian-style dining, was made by the Birmingham firm of F & C Osler and is engraved with the crest of Mewar.
European military dress had a great impact on the attire of the maharajas. This uniform, (comprising a jacket, trousers and a helmet) with its elaborate embroidery, was made for Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad of Baroda. He would have worn it when inspecting his troops or on other such ceremonial occasions. Indian rulers modelled their armies along British lines and took commanding ranks within them.
In the late 19th century, Indian rulers increasing chose to have their portraits painted in the western manner – in oil on canvas and using European conventions of realism. Here, the Nawab of Bahawalpur is wearing an elaborate coat with western-style buttons and braiding.
Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner fought for the British first in China during the Boxer Rebellion and then in the First World War. The first Indian to be made a general in the British Army, he represented the country in the Imperial War Cabinet and War Council and was a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles.
Travel and hunting expeditions required specialised luggage, for which the princes turned to leading European firms. This leather case, which contains all the necessary accoutrements for making tea, was made by Louis Vuitton for Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s ‘reverso’ watches were created specifically for wearing on the polo field in India. The face can be flipped over to protect the mechanism during play, revealing the decorated reverse. The watch on the left was created for Maharaja Man Singh II of Jaipur for distribution to his favourite officers and bears the emblem of his elite Sawai Man Guards. That on the right bears an image of the Hindu deity Rama, although it was known as the ‘Krishna’ watch.
In 1925, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala asked Cartier to re-set some of his jewels. Taking three years to complete, this remains the biggest commission the Parisian firm has ever received from a single client. The numerous pieces combined Indian elements with European style and technique. The most spectacular were two ceremonial diamond necklaces, this one of 2930 gems, the other of flat-cut stones.
This impressive suite of jewellery was designed by Jacques Arpels for Sita Devi, the second wife of Maharaja Pratapsinh Gaekwad of Baroda. She provided the remarkable set of carved and cabochon emeralds from the Baroda treasury. The symmetry of the necklace and earrings is testament both to the skill of the jeweller and the quality of the stones.
In princely India cars were the ultimate symbols of modernity and indicators of status. This Phantom I, built to an extremely comprehensive set of specifications, was commissioned by Maharaj Kumar Bhupal Singh of Mewar. The state had a fleet of such cars, and it was patronage on this scale that was central to the success of firms such as Rolls Royce.
Even highly westernised royal women continued to dress predominantly in the Indian style. Many were leaders of fashion, commissioning saris from French couturiers and from the finest workshops in India. This garment was made for Princess Niloufer Khanum, wife of Prince Muazzam Jah, the second son of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
Large vanity cases (minaudières) were much in vogue in the 1930s and ’40s. Used instead of handbags, they were generally fitted with everything a lady of fashion might require in the evening: powder compact, cigarette case, scent bottle, lipstick case, comb and mirror. This example, made for an Indian maharani, is decorated with rubies and diamonds. It still has its original interior fittings and suede carrying case.
Indian rulers adapted to the new British imperial regime, just as they had to that of the Mughals. Politically emasculated, they were recognised only as ‘princes’ or ‘native chiefs and rulers’, rather than ‘kings’. Yet, they continued to maintain order within their states, tax their subjects, allocate revenue and patronise cultural activities in a way that fused traditional rajadharma (royal duty) with western models of governance.
Outside princely India, the maharajas were often viewed as exotic beings who epitomised India’s role as the jewel in Britain’s imperial crown. The princes found themselves in an almost impossible position. They were obliged to live within traditional boundaries and appear as the stereotypical ‘maharaja’ when required, but educated by English tutors, they were also encouraged to think along western lines and behave as English gentlemen. Some refused to countenance these conflicting demands, but most accepted the dominant British model of modernity.
भारतीय शासक, नए अंग्रेजी शाही हुकूमत के अनुरूप बन गए| बिल्कुल वैसे, जैसे उन्होंने मुगलों को अपनाया था| राजनीतिक रूप से शक्तिहीन, उन्हें ‘राजा’ की जगह अब केवल ‘रजवाड़े’ या ‘देशी प्रधान अथवा शासक’ के रूप में पहचाना जाता था| फिर भी, अपने राष्ट्र के भीतर वे अपनी व्यवस्था बनाए रखते थे| अपनी प्रजा से कर लेते थे, महसूली नियत करते थे एवं सांस्कृतिक क्रियाओं को प्रश्रय देते थे| इसके माध्यम से वे पारंपरिक राजधर्म (शाही धर्म) को शासन के पश्चिपी मॉडल के साथ जोड़ते थे|
शाही भारत के बाहर, महाराजाओं को विदेशज प्राणी के रूप में देखा जाता था| वे ब्रिटेन के शाही राजमुकुट में भारत के एक रत्न होने की भूमिका का प्रतीक थे| रजवाड़ों ने अपने आप को प्रायः एक असंभव अवस्था में पाया| वे पारंपरिक सीमाओं के भीतर रहने के लिए बाध्य थे| परंतु, जब आवश्यकता हो तो उनको एक पारंपरिक ‘महाराजा’ की तरह पेश आना पड़ता था| साथ ही, अंग्रेजी शिक्षक उनको पढ़ाते थे| उनको प्रोत्साहित किया जाता था कि वे पश्चिमी विचार धारा के अनुसार सोचें एवं एक अंग्रेज सज्जन की तरह व्यवहार करें| कुछ ने इन परस्पर-विरोधी मांगों का प्रतिपालन करने से मना कर दिया| यद्यपि, अधिकांश ने आधुनिकता के इस प्रधान अंग्रेजी नमूने को स्वीकार कर लिया|