Howdah

Howdah

Silver, iron, wood, velvet and mirror glass
India
About 1840
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.1-2008
The Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection on load to the V&A

The word ‘howdah’ is an Anglo-Indian term for the seat used for riding an elephant. Symbols of status in the princely court, howdahs were used for hunting, in battle and for ceremonial processions. The profuse detailing of this howdah recalls the opulence manifested in the princely courts after Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877. The Indian rajas, formerly heads of independent Indian states, became vassals of the British Empire. Prevented from exercising any real power, they could only demonstrate their strength through lavish displays of pomp and ceremony. Their impressive appearance at the official British governmental functions ironically lent greater authority to the British control of India.

This object is inscribed 'Maharawal Shri Nand Singh Ji' followed by an illegible word, though it may refer to the place the ruler comes from, as is common in Rajput inscriptions of the type. Following that is a series of numbers, inscribed at a different time or by different hands, possibly referring to the object's weight.