Military skills remained central to the concept and practice of kingship for all Indian rulers, whether Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh. In ancient Indian text, rulers belonged to the warrior social group, whose primary duty was to fight and protect their subjects in order to maintain internal and external security in the kingdom.
Take a look at a few of the weapons that maharajas used both in battle and for ceremonial purposes in order to proclaim their status.
Steel, gold, diamonds, emeralds, rubies
This sword, richly encrusted with gemstones and engraved with the symbol of the royal umbrella, probably belonged to the maharaja of the Maratha kingdom of Indore.
One of the most important kingdoms of the Maratha confederacy, Indore long resisted British supremacy. Eventually, at the end of the third and last Anglo-Maratha war in 1817, British forces defeated Indore’s young ruler and captured the state treasury.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, IS.24&A-1888
Steel, enamel, gold, velvet
Ceremonial weapons, such as this enameled sword, were important parts of royal adornment. Essential attributes of kingship, swords, daggers, and shields reflected the ruler’s role as protector of his people and upholder of righteousness.
Richly embellished weapons were often given as gifts, as marks of favor, and in recognition of status. Some of the weapons within the exhibition were given by Indian rulers to officials of the English East India Company.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 110-1852
Layers of hemp, velvet, gilded brass, silk
This suit of armor would have been worn by a noble-born warrior of the Rajput kingdom of Mewar in northwestern India. The back features a sunburst, a symbol of those Rajput clans who claim descent from the sun.
The armor is made in a technique unique to Mewar, in which layers of textiles are fastened together with gilded brass rivets. Very few examples of such armor have survived.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, IS.1:1, 2-1902
Tipu Sultan was one of the most formidable opponents of the British in India. The English East India Company fought four wars against him, finally defeating and killing him in 1799 at the Battle of Seringapatam.
Objects such as this helmet, reputed to have come from his court, acquired enormous political and cultural significance as symbols of British might and victory. The helmet was once part of the collection of the English East India Company’s museum.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 3491(IS)
City of Srirangapatnam (Seringapatam), 1796–1797
Walnut, silver, steel, gold
Much of Tipu Sultan’s military success lay in his innovative use of both Indian and European technology. He commissioned flintlock pistols, introduced to his court by French mercenaries in his employ.
These weapons bear distinctive personal symbols: tiger masks, composed of letters in the Arabic script that read “The Lion of God Is Triumphant,” and flowers with petals resembling tiger stripes.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, IS.55, 56-2005