Maharajah – The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts
Victoria and Albert Museum (10 October 2009- 17 January 2010)
Price: £11 (£6 for students)
We all enjoy a bit of Indian culture, whether it’s the food, clothing or jewellery, India has certainly made a great impact on multicultural Britain. So in celebration of this, the Victoria and Albert Museum has opened a new exhibition, showcasing the rich history of some of India’s iconic rulers.
The term Maharajah (meaning ‘great kings’) conjures up images of excess and exuberance, and by showcasing elaborate life size replicas of elephants, horses and Rolls-Royce’s the exhibition is certainly true to form.
On entering the exhibition you are met by a life size image of Amar Singh II, one of the many maharajahs who ruled over India in the late 18th Century. This imposing image is mounted on a golden wall and acts as a preview of the grandeur that is yet to come.
The exhibition is spread over five rooms beginning from the early 18th century -during the decline of the Mughal empire- and ending with India’s independence from the British rule in 1947.
Each artefact is ordained by jewels and bright fabrics from each district of the country. Even presumably simple everyday items are shown as extraordinary; hair combs are gold plated, rugs embroidered with pearls and even ruby set shoes (Jimmy Choo eat your heart out).
Attention to detail is clearly prominent as each painting is a credit to precision. The procession of Raja Ram Singh II of Kota, c1850 is a strong lively image that transports the viewer into the moment, from the rings around the elephants trunk to the individual expression of the crowd’s faces, every detail has been captured to perfection.
The tour doesn’t just provide the audience with grand visual images but also gives you food for thought as you venture into the political and social climate of each Maharajah’s rein.
Besides the religious influences of Hinduism and Islam, you can also see a strong influence of ‘British India’ creeping into their developing lifestyles, from education to dress, subtle changes start to take place. It is here that we see the effects of western style and status on Indian rule. Alongside the artwork, short videos and music add to the atmosphere of each time period and demonstrate the change from east to west.
The exhibition leaves the visitor with a lasting impression and a desire to know more. The images are a classic depiction of a by-gone era and with tickets at just £6 for students it is definitely worth a look, even if it’s just for the gift shop where you can take home a mini Maharajah.
Scroll- placed at the beginning of the exhibition- this amazingly intricate scroll (painted between 1825-1830) shows the Maharajah of Mysore at the head of a religious procession which is littered with decorated elephants, statues of Hindu deities and fireworks.
Life size elephant- possibly one of the most impressive features to the exhibition- the life size model is adorned in colour covers and jewels.
Beaded rug- this circular rug was made entirely of beads and pearls.
Patiala necklace- a grand necklace designed by Cartier for the Maharajah of Patiala in 1928 on his birthday. It includes no less than 2,930 diamonds weighing almost 1,000 carats.
Gift shop- includes replicas of some of the jewellery pieces as well as paisley totes and note books. Traditional Maharajah dolls were a popular choice priced between £15-25.