The palaces of maharajas were filled with the finest works of art and luxury goods, made in palace workshops or commissioned by the court. Patronizing local craftsmen and artists helped the king fulfill his rajadharma—the duties and behaviors appropriate to a monarch.
Take a look some of the gorgeous jewelry, clothing, and other royal regalia of India’s rulers!
City of Lahore, circa 1820
Wood, resin, gold
This gold throne attests to the legendary magnificence of Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh’s court. The distinctive base is composed of two tiers of lotus petals (Hindu symbols of purity and creation), while the octagonal shape is based on Mughal furniture styles.
The British victory over the Sikhs in the years following the death of Ranjit Singh was a triumphal event. This throne and other Sikh treasures were taken to London as symbols of British supremacy over the powerful Indian ruler.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2518(IS)
Gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphire, pearl
This spectacular turban ornament comprises a feather-shaped upper part, worn vertically, and a headpiece worn horizontally.
Traditionally at the north Indian Mughal court, only the ruler was entitled to wear a turban ornament. But by the 1700s such ornaments were given as symbols of royal favor to select noblemen, a convention that spread throughout the royal courts of India.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, IS.3&A-1982
Platinum, diamonds, yellow zirconias, white zirconias,
topazes, synthetic rubies, smoky quartz citrine
This remarkable necklace was made for Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala for his own use and was part of a larger commission to Cartier for creating new pieces from the family’s jewelry collection.
The original necklace had 2,930 diamonds and weighed almost 1,000 carats. Its centerpiece was the famous De Beers diamond, a pale yellow diamond weighing about 235 carats.
Nick Welsh, Cartier Collection, © Cartier
Painted wood, ivory
Music was an important part of palace life, and rulers were often major patrons of this art form. Classical music in India owes its survival to this royal support, with many courts developing their own distinctive regional style.
This stringed instrument, called a tamburi, comes from Gwalior, a region whose rich musical tradition survives even today.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, IM.238-1922
Jade, rubies, emeralds, gold, silver
Mughal emperors occasionally made gifts of splendid articles from the court workshops as a mark of favor. Such gifts were greatly prized by regional rulers.
This magnificent wine flask probably came from the treasury of Murshidabad, an important former Mughal state. It once belonged to Robert Clive, who helped establish British power in the region of Bengal in northeastern India.
© Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar
Silk brocade with gold thread
Draped, unstitched garments have always been an integral part of dress for both men and women in India.
The sari was the most important such garment worn by women. It varied considerably in both construction and style of wear depending on region, fashion, and social and marital status. Saris typically have one elaborately decorated end, to be draped over the shoulder, that is sometimes different from the remainder of the garment.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, IS.181-1960
Robes of this kind were fashionable male attire at Indian courts. Made from fine, undyed cotton that represented purity and refinement, the ensemble was completed with closely fitted cotton trousers (paijama), and a decorative sash at the waist.
Rulers and court officials wear these garments in several paintings throughout the exhibition.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 05643(IS)