Friday, 6 November 2009


I love this time of year. The dark nights, Bonfire Night, the proximity of Christmas. It all serves to kindle within me an overwhelming sense of festivitas. It makes me want to go out and quaff mulled wine with friends while looking at cultural stuff. And so today I went to see the Maharaja exhibition at the V&A.

It was a bit like the Three Emperors exhibition at the Royal Academy a while back - centred on royal figures and displays that could be put into three categories: paintings, clothing and bejewelled artefacts. I think the advertising for this exhibition made a big deal out of the opulence of the items (it may even have used the word bling). But once you've seen one diamond encrusted scimitar you've seen them all really and the items didn't do anything for me - despite all the precious metals and stones they were strangely bland. I didn't care for the tone of the commentary either - these items were intended to boost the prestige of the maharajas apparently - who'd have thought eh? And the suggestion that British regalia was dull in comparison. I think that's a bit off considering we've got museums full of royal geegaws stretching back to Sutton Hoo.

So far so bad. I was much more intrigued by the some of the clothing that had been preserved. One robe in particular was very impressive, though mainly I think because you had to wonder at the prodigious size of the prince who had worn it. It reminded me of looking at one of Henry VIII's suits of armour at the Tower of London.

The best part of the show was the paintings. Most of them were along the lines of the picture at the top there - scenes of processions with lots of elephants. Wandering into one of the galleries I saw my friend peering intently at one of these crowd scenes, "Looking for Wally?" I quipped. "No, the Englishman" he earnestly replied (he has a heavy, academic interest in the period). We found the Englishman at the front of the procession, drawn twice as big as everyone else. I couldn't find any better pictures on the internet but I did like the one I've used - most of all the women on the roofs. You can't see with this resolution but the lines of the drawing are incredibly fine. Like I was saying last post - I like bright colourful pictures with lots of detail.

A snippet from the exhibition's pages on the V & A's website: महाराजा शब्द, वस्तुतः ‘’महान राजा’, शान-शौकत एवं वैभव की छवि पेश करता है पगड़ी पहने हुए एक रत्नजड़ित राजा की छवि जिसके पास पूर्ण प्राधिकार और अपरिमित दौलत है वह व्यापक और उद्बोधक है परंतु वह भारत के सांस्कृतिक एवं राजनीतिक इतिहास में अपनी भूमिका को सही तरह से निभाने में असफल रहा महाराजा: द स्प्लेनडर ऑफ इनडियाज रॉयल कोर्ट्स, महाराजाओं की दुनिया और उनके विशेष बहुमूल्य संस्कृति का पुनः परीक्षण करती है इस प्रदर्शनी में 18वीं सदी के आरंभ

I'm not sure what the script is but whenever I see things like it (Arabic for instance) I wonder how English (or Roman) script looks to people who don't understand it. Does it look incredibly straight and rigid? Like runes do to me?

A final note of praise: the orange and almond sponge cake I had in the cafe afterwards was possibly the moistest, tastiest cake I've ever eaten.


  1. It seems like a wonderful cake. Sometimes, I am just overwhelmed by the taste. India seemed to be a place full of colors. We could need it in these dark times, and cakes, lots of wine and well.

  2. It was fantastic cake. The V & A is just about my favourite museum and the quality of the cakes is just the er..icing on the cake.

    I was reading Jenny's latest post earlier - the darkness at this time of year is a clearly a big deal up in Sweden. I've consulted the charts and you get about an hour less sunlight than I do right now, it's probably a bit colder too. I walked to pick up a curry tonight and loved the smell in the cold air - autumn and the bonfires and fireworks. The best of both worlds.