Good Reading : October 2004
42 goodreading coffee table One of the great anachronisms of the twentieth century was undoubtedly the Maharajas of India. In a country where millions lived in the most appalling poverty, their enormous wealth was shocking.Yet those very poverty-stricken people believed that the Maharajas had a divine right to rule. Some Maharajas were enlightened rulers, others profligate charmers, some heroes and some cowards, but they were seldom nonentities and all carried an unmistakeable air of majesty – as the photographs in The Unforgettable Maharajas attest. This fascinating photographic collection covering the period 1800 to 1950 was created by Pramod Kapoor, a compulsive collector of photographs, who often found the best images in old trunks lying forgotten in the dusty attics or damp basements of palaces. Many needed restoration, and in fact some van- ished after their true value was known. ‘The biggest challenge, however,’ writes Kapoor, ‘was to coax fading memories to remember names and places.’ The photographs reveal a way of life that is the stuff of legends: exquisitely jewelled costumes, sumptuous palaces, private armies, fleets of Rolls Royces. The Unforgettable Maharajas provides a rare glimpse into a world the likes of which will never be seen again. born to rule Indian princes were taught how to ride almost before they could walk. Sardul Singh of Bikaner, is taught how to sit ele- gantly by a palace groom. To win the favour of the British Viceroys the Maharajas took up the lavish exercise known as a Shikar which primarily means a hunt. The British encouraged Shikar believing it provided an outlet for the aggressive impulses of Indian royalty. Despite the number of men and materials pressed into this Alwar hunt, the day’s catch is only a tiger and a few heads of deer. The wedding procession of a Rajput prince. The royal groom is seated on the ceremonial howdah atop a richly caparisoned elephant.