One gift item that literally got a king his kingdom back was a silver throne. As part of his efforts to get his state back, Charmaraja Wodeyar X presented a miniature silver throne of the famous gold throne of Mysore to Viceroy Lord Lytton. It worked, and he got Mysore back in 1881 after being with the British for a good 50 years. But it was not always the kingdom that kings got from the British. The British mostly used to give a copy of the Bible and English dictionaries in return to the expensive gifts they collected from the Indian kings.
Around 1865, the Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad of Baroda commissioned a canopy estimated to have cost Rs 60 lakh. The Maharaja wanted to send the canopy to the tomb of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) in Mecca. According to the curators, the act was meant to show the ruler's respect to his Muslim subject. How and when it reached London could be another story!
There were huge portraits of two very handsome and smart princes who could give our present day models and actors a run for their money. Nawab Sadiq Mohammed Abbasi IV of Bahawalpur (never heard of him before) and Yashwant Rao Holkar II of Indore occupied a good place at the exhibition. I actually heard two women mention the 'Maharaja (Yashwant Rao Holkar II) looks so smart and confident'. The Nawab (pic above), with his handlebar moustache, long hair and piercing eyes was the cynosure of all eyes.
The high taste of our Maharajas can be a cause of heartburn to the current lot of page 3 socialites and fashionistas. Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda had got a leather tea case designed by none other than Louis Vuitton. Bhupinder Singh of Patiala had a dressing table set done by Cartier. A belt buckle said to have belonged to Shahjahan was given by Bhupinder Singh to Cartier in 1925 for a makeover. The beautiful piece was reset with diamonds by Cartier and the exclusive set was worn by Bhupinder Singh's son Yadavendra in 1938. Bhupinder Singh is also credited with giving Cartier their biggest ever commission from a single client. This was for a project that lasted three years and resulted in the beautiful Patiala Necklace (pic below).
India's rulers provided a huge market for exclusive high-end jewellery designers. Most of them had a personal rapport with them. The famous cricketer and Maharaja of Nawanagar, Ranjitsingh's friendship with Jacques Cartier is legendary. Cartier is reputed to have supplied some of the best diamonds to Ranjitsingh to satiate his appetite for good stones. Apart from an eye for the loose balls on the cricket field, he used to be always on the lookout for the best and rarest of the diamonds.
Also kept were saris worn by the leading ladies of the Nizam of Hyderabad. We all know about his wealth and how he was once famously described as the richest man in the world. So thankfully there was not much of him. A Raja Ravi Varma painting of Maharani Chimnabai, the second wife of Sayajirao III of Baroda attracted good number of onlookers. I guess more because of the painter than the subject.
There was a photograph of Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner, who I learned, was the first Indian to be made a general in the British Army. He was also a signatory to the historic Treaty of Versailles (yes you read it right). He is shown, with his hands folded, being weighed in valuables. Sadly, there wasn't much detail about what happened to the valuables.
There were some rare and interesting videos shown in the exhibition. Visitors relished the golden jubilee celebration of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala and the marriage of Man Singh II on wide screen projectors. Also shown were clips of Mahatma Gandhi's visit to England and the making of Umaid Bhavan.
Close to the exit of the exhibition was kept a Phantom I Rolls Royce. It was ordered by Maharaj Kumar Bhupal Singh of Mewar. I wished I could step into it and go back to the world of Maharajas and Nawabs.