Books are an essential part of my life- mysteries, comics, romance, fantasy, horror, thrillers, religious, conspiracies, detective, science fiction, mysteries, you name them! Besides giving us a lot of information, books transport us to a parallel world, transcending us from the mundanity of existence to an ethereal universe. Recently I started borrowing books related to art more than before from my library and so I thought why not review (not exactly a review but sharing a few points which caught my attention) some books that I found useful in my art journey and hence, this space “Book Corner”. I am so glad that I could get a few quality books on Indian art, architecture and sculptures from here!!!
The first book that I am going to introduce to you is called The Maharajas (meaning the great kings or rulers). It is a beautiful book with an equally lovely cover- a maroon coloured one with an old world feel and elegant look- with intricate golden patterns and a silver Ganesha statue in the centre (as you can see in the photo here). As the book is about the glorious Maharajas and their opulence that prevailed once and still continue to do so, the cover itself is no less glorious!
The book has been written by the seven time Emmy award winning author, editor and American historian Geoffrey C Ward, and is packed with vibrant photographs exuding charm and grace taken by Seth Joel. It was published by Stonehenge in the year 1983. Grandeur is the word that comes to our mind when we hear the term Maharaja or Maharani (great queen).We imagine a hoard of treasures, fineries, exquisite jewellery and a vast trove of sculptures & paintings strewn across great temples and palaces.
Each chapter highlights a few of the prominent princes during the British rule in India out of the 700 princely states which were present during that time. The first chapter is dedicated to the history and customs of the Rajputs who were celebrated patrons of art and architecture- be them paintings, sculptures, jewellery or palaces. The chapters outline the then fabric of the Indian society and situations that prevailed, invaders who coveted India’s natural resources and great wealth; brutal conquerors who were later integrated into the existing folds of the Indian life, like the Bactrians, the Scythians, the Mughals, and the British who later had to go go back to their country. The Indian subcontinent has seen the rise and fall of many different cultures and rulers within herself. All these influences are reflected on the art and architecture of several places. The princes and kings commissioned portraits of themselves as well as sprawling palatial buildings for them and their consorts. Often these buildings bore the influence of the foreign art and architecture.
The Rajputs being the Kshatriyas or the military caste, prized their weaponry as much as they did their jewels and fineries. A photograph shows a leather shield painted in lacquers showing the scenes of hunting – one of their favourite pastimes, painted in such miniature lines and curves (look below). Details on such things as these nefarious weapons of warfare are themselves so intricate and gorgeous. The gold inlays, the immaculate polishing, the vibrant colours and the jewel encrustations fill us with an inexplicable awe, just by looking at the photographs. Just imagine the pride and the twinkle in the eyes the rulers had when they held them in their hands!! Or even the satisfaction the artisans had when they finished a piece of meticulous craftsmanship!
The Benares rulers were no less flamboyant than the Rajputs in their lavish lives. They too spent their wealth creating wonders. Each page of this wonderful book is covered with incidents in history about both the magnanimous and ruthless kings and their treasures. But not all kings were wise enough in their use of money; many of them squandered their wealth on erratic whims and fancies, as outlined by the author. This book is a virtual treasure chest showcasing portraits and personal belongings of the rulers, all studded with gems and jewels in the form of photographs.
Similarly the other rulers like those of Baroda and Mysore were also ostentatious in terms of the wealth and the commissioned articles of luxury. The Wadiyars of Mysore who are still a continuing royal family (sans the old positions) in India, boast of a number of artifacts dedicated to the Goddess Chamunda who is the presiding deity and protector of Mysore. What a sight it would have been to witness the procession of the Goddess during the Navaratri festival when all would be clad in their best jewels and the whole city would wear a festive look to catch a glimpse of the Goddess in all Her glory!!!?
‘The Maharajas’ will be a prized possession to those who love both the art and history of India equally. This is not a mere book comprising of papers and letters rather a trip through the riches and enormous wealth which once ran through the veins of the subcontinent with well laid out and close up lavish photos. A tribute to the glorious past- remnants of a withered past! Hope you all liked this discussion here and my views on this book.
Hope you liked this post. This is my first attempt at reviewing a book! Keep watching out for this space under BOOK CORNER in the menu for more posts on art books.
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