Friday, March 29, 2019

Treasures of a Desert Kingdom

March 2019 - Toronto ON

We went to the ROM, Royal Ontario Museum to view the Treasure of a Desert Kingdom this week.

Treasures of a Desert Kingdom features masterpieces drawn from the collection of the former royal family, most of which are on display outside their palace setting for the very first time. While the stunning objects highlight India’s multifaceted past, they reveal a lasting cosmopolitan culture that was sustained by a delicate balance between local and external influences, and tradition and modernity.

The Royal family of Marwar-Jodhpur is one of the longest continuous lines of royalty in the world. The objects shown are part of a vast collection that has been kept intact through the centuries and many generations. Drawn from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and the private collections of the royal family of Jodhpur, this exhibition features family treasures that are, for the first time, seen beyond the palace walls.

The layout of the exhibition is thematic – balancing a deep historical content with the pure aesthetic pleasure of experiencing art and heritage. Themes of the exhibition include the power of art as a tool of diplomacy, the strong role of women in the royal court, ideas exchanged through arts and culture and the family’s continued role in preservation through the Mehrangarh Museum Trust.

This was one of the most gorgeous exhibits I have seen.

A palanquin is a covered vehicle without wheels that requires at least four strong people to carry it. Long ago, queens in India were commonly carried around everywhere on palanquins.


Another name for a palanquin is a litter. The palanquins that ancient Indian and Chinese royalty used for long trips were often large enough for sleeping and dining in, and were carried by dozens of people. The English palanquin was adopted from the Portuguese palanquim, which in turn can be traced back to the Sanskrit palyanka, meaning "bed or couch."

Lavish objects used in religious ceremonies are spotted throughout the exhibition. The Cradle for Krishna, is used to celebrate the festival of Janamastami – the birth of Krisha. The gilded piece with mirrors is adorned with peacocks, elephant heads, mythical creatures and the family’s coat of arms was used for personal worship by the Royal family.

Scholars also speculate that is how a large Mughal tent came to Jodhpur. Erected in its full magnificence, it is a red and gold pavilion of cloth, miraculously preserved – or at least partially preserved. The canopy and the back are the real deal, dating to the 17th century; the sides and arched partitions are seamlessly integrated reproductions. Daggers and swords, bracelets and brooches, these hard objects can be maintained for centuries, but clothing and draperies fade and rot: the Mughal tent, the oldest example in existence, is the largest of several rare pieces of textile that are a highlight of the exhibition..

Augmented reality brings the surviving Mughal tents to life and showcases historical scenes with figures of the royal court.


The zenana was an area in the palace dedicated to the women of the courts. Contrary to colonial perceptions of the zenana as a place of seclusion, it was full of activity where women engaged in worship, art, music, games and other festivities.

Zenana literally meaning "of the women" or "pertaining to women," contextually refers to the part of a house belonging to a Hindu or Muslim family in the Indian subcontinent which is reserved for the women of the household. The Zenana are the inner apartments of a house in which the women of the family live. The outer apartments for guests and men are called the Mardana.

Rather than being the prison-like space of licentious activity popularized by European imagination, the zenana functioned as the domain of female members of the household, ranging from wives to concubines to widows, unmarried sisters and cousins, and even further distant relations which were considered dependent kin.

Physically, the zenana of the Mughal court consisted of exceptionally luxurious conditions, particularly for princesses and women associated to high-ranking figures. Because of the extreme restrictions placed on access to the women's quarters, very few reliable accounts of their description are available. Still, modern scholars evaluating court records and travelogues contemporary with the Mughal period detail the women's lodgings as offering courtyards, ponds, fountains and gardens.

Mughal women had a great deal of personal liberty, were sophisticated patrons of literature, art and architecture, owned property, ran businesses, drank alcohol and smoked hookahs.


Chaupar/chopad is a cross and circle board game very similar to pachisi, played in India. It is believed that both games were created around the 4th century. The board is made of wool or cloth, with wooden pawns and six cowry shells to be used to determine each player's move, although others distinguish chaupur from pachisi by the use of three four-sided long dice.

There are many versions of the game. Parcheesi, Sorry!, and Ludo are among the many Westernized commercial versions of the game. A similar game called Parchís is popular in Spain and northern Morocco. Parqués is its Colombian variant. The Jeu des petits chevaux (Game of Little Horses) is played in France, and Mensch ärgere Dich nicht is a popular German variant.



Jewels and priceless riches are also on display including a Spice Box for Betel Nut(Suparidaan). Chewing the Betel Nut mixture (paan) had a ceremonial preparation. It was presented in a decorative tray and was considered a ritual that was taken after the meal as a “digestive aid and a sensory enhancing treat,” as described in the exhibition.

My favourite, a gold foot scrubber.

The Rathores (clan of Rajputs meaning “sons of kings”) family lineage dates back to the 8th century. The rulers considered the protection of their kingdom and subjects their primary social responsibility. Within this exhibition are portraits of many rulers dating from the 13th to the mid-20th century. Worth taking a closer look as the style of each ruler’s portrait reflects the painting style of his lifetime. 


Weapons displays.

Wedding Procession: The Journey of a Royal Bride 

The final stop spans an entire wall of the exhibition space. It features objects from a ceremonial wedding procession. Wedding processions have long been part of royal rituals to mark rites of passage and to allow people to participate in the celebration. In Jodhpur, royal wedding processions combined spectacle and splendour with kingly prestige and authority. In this procession, the bride is carried in a covered palanquin and brought to her new home by the Rathore groom, who would be seated on the elephant under the parasol. A large entourage comprising of nobles, attendants, and musicians would accompany the couple. Wedding processions were the ultimate symbol of strategic alliance and transcultural interaction. In journeying to Jodhpur, the bride crossed the distance between kingdoms and brought elements of her home’s religion, culture, language and traditions with her.   Elements include silk flags, brass standards, pipes and drums, sunshades and parasols. The horses are draped with red velvet, and decorated with elaborate jewellery and gilded silver accessories.


And then there is the remarkable Rolls-Royce Phantom. It is a huge thing, a hulking mass of aluminum that has been burnished rather than painted. Commissioned for the ladies of the court, it includes tinted glass windows to offer the occupants privacy – and metal screens so they could remain protected while riding in an open car. As a teaser of sorts for the main exhibition, the ROM has put the Phantom out in the museum’s lobby so any passerby can pop in from Bloor Street and take a look. 

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