Friday, 9 October 2009

Memories of maharajas

If you’re in London this weekend and looking for something worthwhile to do, you might find it difficult to choose between the gazillions of things on offer. However, if you can get in, I’d recommend the new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum: Maharaja - The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts.

Maharaja means ‘great king’ - and the curiosities on display certainly show the wealth, power, and cultural influence of this stylish, princely ruling class – as well as their observance of ‘rajadharma’: the duties and behaviour appropriate to a king. Apparently, the vision of a king in all his splendour is believed to be auspicious – there's even a term, 'darshan', the propitious act of seeing and being seen by a superior being.

Some of the highlights on display include a procession scene that includes a life-sized elephant, complete with ornamental chair … plus the elephant sports its own ultra-dangly stylish silver earring. Another centerpiece is an original Rolls Royce 'Phantom I' car that is stunningly huge, with magnificent sweeping lines – a veritable style icon, and suitably fit for a maharaja.

There is also the gloriously glittering patiala necklace, a ceremonial piece that was re-set by Cartier for the Maharaja Bupindha Singh and would have even Mr Graff drooling. There are several quite extraordinary saris belonging to maharanis (maharajas' wives), including one in divine satin with spider-like coral sequin detail - bang on trend, though almost a century old … And there's a fabulous Art-Deco mirrored men’s Cartier dressing table set that’s to die for. The vintage fans with peacock feathers and exquisitely enamelled handles are awesome. By the way, the peacock is the national bird and is thought to provide a watchful eye over the people of India.

The exhibition covers the life of the maharajas during a period from the end of Moghul rule in the early 18th century up to the partition of India in 1947. There is plenty of evidence of the generous patronage provided by the maharajas, including some curiously contemporary modernist pieces of furniture by Eckart Muthesius, the architect of the most recent palace, commissioned by the Maharaja of Indore in 1930 – along with portraits by the French artist, Bernard Boutet de Monvel.

Although their cultural heritage and traditions are still appreciated to this day, due to escalating costs and dwindling incomes, most of the Indian princes have sold off their assets, transformed their palaces into hotels, or even opened their own museums.

We’re not suggesting that you attempt to follow in their footsteps, but, if on visiting the V&A, you acquire something of a fondness for elephants and jewels, we’re sure you’ll like this rather charming and totally unique Indian silver lucky elephant charm necklace with semi-precious stones that’s available at ShopCurious.

Do you?

1 comment:

Chinky said... from India :]