Indian royalty
October 18, 2008 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Until 1947/48, the complex political map of India (by which I mean pre-Independence India, including Pakistan and Bangladesh) included over 650 quasi-independent Indian Princely States. Indian royalty: In hats, turbans and, more turbans, sometimes colorful, often decorated with amazing gems ("It is believed that the entire collection of Pearls in the Nizam's collective collection could fill up an Olympic size swimming pool.") like emeralds, diamonds (large diamonds), pearls, sapphires. Usually with beards and moustaches, on a throne. Princesses. Reflections of a Princess (audio and video). Queen mothers (in animation). The Royal Houses Of Punjab. The Maharaja of Patiala had 365 wives. In satins and brocade, with swords. Owners of stylish cars, like a 1937 Delahaye Type 135 Figoni & Felashi, bottled water, extraordinary interior design, lavish architecture, in their many palaces, from a place to watch cockfights to special palaces to keep their harem.

It should be pointed out that the habitual terminology of "Princely States" is significantly flawed. These states were not ruled by "princes," but rather by "kings," some of whom enjoyed a truly ancient heritage of political power. From Hemant Bhardwaj's blog. He sells coins of the realms.

A king (raja) and queen (rani).

Photographs of Indian Royalty from the Lafayette Studios.

In his lifetime Lala Deen Dayal must have taken many thousands of portraits; only a small part of both his records and his splendid work in this area have survived. Previously.

Video, Maharaja Mysteries with some interesting glimpses into the royal life in Western India, Rajasthan.

Many of the palace hotels are in Rajasthan, which means land of kings: Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, Mysore Palace, Maharaja of Jaipur, Rambagh Palace, Maharaja of Khajurao's palace ruins, Devi Garh in Udaipur, Taj Lake Palace.

A few palaces in South India: Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Princely States Genealogy (many with photographs of contemporary royalty)

Glossary from the marvelous site, Genealogical Gleanings: ROYAL AND NOBLE LINEAGES
Welcome to the website devoted to Royalty and nobility in countries outside of Europe.

Map of India comparing 1765 and 1805 in terms of British, Hindu and Muslim territories. Then in 1909 showing the British Raj areas in pink. Map of the Indian Princely States around 1947 (in Spanish), before Independence from the British Raj in 1947, when India became the world's largest democracy.
posted by nickyskye (19 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
An Imperial post - thanks.
posted by Phanx at 12:59 PM on October 18, 2008

Fantastic. Thank you.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:10 PM on October 18, 2008

This guy wins the award for most epic beard of all time, hands down. You needn't even try, you'll never grow a beard that epic.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:46 PM on October 18, 2008

yeh post bahut achcha hai, nickyskyeji!

anybody interested in this topic might want to keep an eye out for this great little book, full of colourful stories about the often eccentric maharajas. one of my favourite bits was all this oneupmanship between them about how many guns the british would use to salute them - the 21 gun salute being the highest prestige. from memory, the grand poobah of junagadh (one of my favourite places in india, by the way) was a particular wacko - all gold-plated rolls royces and greyhounds.

sometimes these rulers were such big fish in tiny ponds, some princely states being no larger than a handkerchief. this came out in Midnight's Children, where there was a character called the Rani of Kutch Naheen - "the queen of fuck all", probably also a wordplay on the Rann of Kutch, an area of utterly useless land in Gujarat that gets inundated with salty water for part of the year, and for the rest of the year doesn't see much more than the occasional passing gypsy caravan (photos of the Rann of Kutch here).
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:04 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

This guy wins the award for most epic beard of all time, hands down.

aw, he was the ruler of Bundi. *sigh*
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:07 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by caddis at 3:20 PM on October 18, 2008

oooh! junagadh has another little quirk of its own: three-wheeler enfields, dressed up in a manner that would be the envy of the flashiest mod. what's not to love about this? /derail
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:28 PM on October 18, 2008

When I first subscribed to Granta I was a little dissappointed when I recieved this issue, which I figured was just going to be a lot of tripe from expats in India.

I think it read it three times in a row cover to cover, and it turned me on to many sides of a a culture I realize now I knew little about.

Well worth the .50 it might cost you in a used book store.
posted by timsteil at 4:20 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Doubleplusgood! Thanks, nickyskye!
posted by spacewrench at 4:53 PM on October 18, 2008

A couple of footnotes for those of you who watched the Maharaja Mysteries video:

1) There's a little more information about this mysterious death here, though the investigation seems to have gone nowhere.

2) Prince Shivraj Singh, shown in the video riding his polo pony, had a polo accident in 2005 which resulted in a coma. He now can walk only with some assistance.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:53 PM on October 18, 2008

A stellar post, nickyskye, what an effort - thank you. Just peeked at the turbans so far, but look forward to spending time digging through your great collection of links - as well as some of the in-thread links posted.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:15 PM on October 18, 2008

Like the guy said, wow!
posted by Artw at 10:58 PM on October 18, 2008

Compliments on some awesome linkage as usual, nickyskye. :-)

They loved them turbans back in the day, right until Independence. You see this, amusingly enough, even in Hollywood movies from the 1950's; in most United-Nations-like scene, they'd sneak in a few actors with brown makeup and a Chacha Chaudary-isque turban (as opposed to the Sikh pagdi or the Rumi Topi). It's interesting to note that, while all the three types I've identified here were originally religious in nature, by the time India became independent, they became less of a religious identifier, and more of a geographic identifier. An achkan-and-Rumi-topi-wearing gentleman, then, could certainly be Muslim, but, as this book I have on my desk right now notes, sophisticated men in Hyderabad from all religions definitely wore Rumi-topis.

Turbans worn by successive Rawals from Bissau provide yet another interesting study; note how less ornate the turban had become as the years progressed. In fact, the turban worn by the current guy, the 11th Rawal, seems outright plebian, much like Chacha Chaudary's that I linked to earlier.

I have pictures of my great-great grandfather and his dad wearing them turbans; at least two of them are up somewhere on the net, won't link them here. :-) They weren't royalty though, merely royalty-linked; some minor officers in a now forgotten samsthaanam.

Lovely palaces still remain, in Delhi and Hyderabad. (Turn down the volume though; contemporary urban India can be quite noisy)

Some royalty trace their family history to 16th-century France.

Then there's the bizarre tale of the Kumar of Bhawal; a colonial-era whoddunnit with legal, philosophical and divine ramifications.
posted by the cydonian at 7:45 AM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

And oh, LOOOOVE those maps! Wanted some base material for a maps-related project; this is great stuff. :-D
posted by the cydonian at 7:46 AM on October 19, 2008

What a great comment the cydonian. When you write a long (for you) comment, like the one above, it's always packed with gems, which is appropriate for the topic. Thanks for the fascinating links.

I think for the Westerners it might be handy to have a glossary:
a topi is a cap
an achkan (or sherwani) is the very long jacket-like tunic men wear in India, buttoned up the front.

Nice to be able to add "Chacha Chaudary" as a descriptor to my vocabulary for a classic turban with a crest of fabric coming out the side, compared with the Sikh pagdi, which is crisply pleated and wrapped differently. (We could probably do with a turban FPP, so that Americans, who have had to deal with the ignorant derogatory, racist insult "towel-head" since 9/11, might actually know more about the elegant turban.)

I didn't realize the Fez is called a Rumi topi in South India (having just Wikipediaed it, I realize it was worn in South India as a Muslim solidarity thing with the Ottoman Empire).

Had to google samsthaanam. Does it mean in the sense you wrote it, photographs (images)?

Before I go off to read the links to the "bizarre tale" I have to say that in putting this post together, whenever I came across a link to add, there were almost always amazingly strange tangents, unusual stories connected with this Indian royal personage or that.

Your "Some royalty trace their family history to 16th-century France" link is just such an example. "Bourbon on the rocks" indeed.

This is a strange generation in India, right after Independence. There are still royals alive who were born before this massive political and social change took place in '47. I've met Indian royals who told me they grew up never setting their bare feet on the ground (slippers were put on as they dangled their feet out of bed in the morning by a servant), never having put on their own clothes, so taken care were they by entire villages of feudal servants. They didn't know how to work, to budget, to plan an ordinary life, some had never even touched money. And when the royals were dethroned after Independence, it was hard for the feudal villages too, who had been in the employ of the royals.

There are still the children and grandchildren of the royals in India, who inherited a knowledge of the lifestyle that once was, as well as a sense that they should behave nobly, for the family reputation. Or are still looked on as aristocrats. This must be hard for them, especially if all they are impoverished. I know the Maharaja of Kajuraho eked out the last days of his life happily but in poverty.

Amazing that India, in the transition from 650 different kingdoms, held up and became a successful democracy in 1947, a powerful one, in spite of so many horrendous obstacles.
A few of the obstacles:
*being surrounded by enemies (like Pakistan, supported in buying armaments by/from the USA),

*having China come in and take a large chunk of Ladakh in 1962 (presumably revenge for India having given refuge to the Dalai Lama and 100,00 Tibetan refugees in 1959 when China invaded Tibet),

*the various language/cultural/religious differences within India.

It's been hard enough for America to hold together as a democracy with 3 times less the population and 3 times more the geographic space. India truly is awesome.
posted by nickyskye at 10:53 AM on October 19, 2008

There are still the children and grandchildren of the royals in India, who inherited a knowledge of the lifestyle that once was, as well as a sense that they should behave nobly, for the family reputation. Or are still looked on as aristocrats.

The owner of the guesthouse I'd stay in in Udaipur belonged to the family who would traditionally provide the wetnurses for the Rajkumar (prince). The story was that it was their ancestor who smuggled the heir to the throne out of Chittorgarh when the people committed Jauhar (the men donning saffron clothes & riding out of the fort on one final suicide mission; the women & children would light a massive pyre & watch to see if the saffron soldiers would somehow prevail, and when it was clear they'd been defeated, the women & children would immolate themselves, rather than be captured, in probably the most extreme show of Rajput pride).

That prince was the one who decided that Chittor didn't have the best karma, having been through that process three times already, and with the help of a saddhu, settled upon the site of present-day Udaipur for the capital of the Mewar kingdom. Surrounded by hills inhabited by Bhil tribals (who have the agility in the hills like mountain goats) Mewar never again fell to an enemy, not even the Raj.

Where was I going with this? Oh, the tradition of wetnursing also included the privilege that when a male in my guesthouse owner's family gets married, he is loaned the Maharana's own ceremonial jacket to wear for the day. I attended a nephew's wedding, where the fancy jacket made its appearance.

(the Maharana of Udaipur apparently remains the 'spiritual' king of his lands, even without an official title. generates money from tourism - the Lake Palace Hotel, for example - and spends it on charities & institutions preserving the Mewar & Rajput culture)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:11 PM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wait, I got that story wrong. The wetnurse at Chittor offered up her own infant son when the enemy demanded the prince. The son was slaughtered, but this allowed the true heir to be smuggled to safety.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:33 PM on October 19, 2008

What a terrific post—even by your high standards. I've long been fascinated by Princely India, and this gives me lots to chew on. Thanks, nickyskye!
posted by languagehat at 4:24 PM on October 19, 2008

Had to google samsthaanam. Does it mean in the sense you wrote it, photographs (images)?

Oh, oops; apologies! Sometimes slip into Ind-glish kinda unconsciously (although again, to be fair, even Northies would stumble on this one). Samsthaanam comes from Sanskrit for framework or system, but I used the word here to mean 'feudal establishment',a sort of a short-hand to include both a zamindari (a feudal fiefdom) and an actual kingdom.

I've met Indian royals who told me they grew up never setting their bare feet on the ground (slippers were put on as they dangled their feet out of bed in the morning by a servant)

Certain schools famously had students who were carried into classes by their aayah's (that's 'nanny' in Ind-glish, from a Portuguese root I've never managed to quite understand) and placed in their seats. This was way into seventh class, so just before puberty.

Oh, the stories are endless. :-)
posted by the cydonian at 3:39 AM on October 22, 2008

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