Maharaja: The opening night

Maharajas review Maharaja: a tour of the V&A's autumn blockbuster exhibition with the help of the Maharajas and guests who came to the opening night party, including Anna Jackson, curator of the exhibition.


Interviewer: Anna Jackson, you're the curator of 'Maharaja', I wonder if you could tell us just a little bit about the show?

Anna Jackson: This is the first exhibition ever to explore the remarkable culture of India's kings and we look at the incredible objects that were created for them, from 1700 to independence in 1947. Really for the first time, we've borrowed objects from the present day maharajas - we felt we couldn't really do a show like this without engaging them in the subject. And actually they've been incredibly enthusiastic and supportive. We just had to convince them that their objects would be safe - not just physically safe, but intellectually safe - that we had something interesting and meaningful to say about the objects and the heritage and the culture of the maharajas.

Interviewer: Does it bring back memories for you of a different era?

Princess Yasmien Abassi of Bahawalpur: Yes, it does. I was lucky enough to have grown up at a time when everything was still very much intact. It's now unfortunately disappeared. But throne rooms, crystal furniture, old portraits, chandeliers and durbar halls are all familiar playgrounds. As a child I remember running through all these old palaces. We had a lot of freedom and a lot of fun. So yes, it does bring back memories.

Interviewer: You have very kindly lent quite a lot of the objects that are in the show, do you have a personal favourite, one that means a lot to you?

Shri Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur: Well, difficult to say which one particular object is closest to my heart, but the paintings that have been picked and brought over here are absolutely masterpieces. They have great historical relevance.

Interviewer: The Rolls Royce that features in the exhibition, that at one time did belong to your family, is that right?

Shri Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur: Yes, I think that Rolls Royce is a beautiful car. When I first came to England in 1966, it was one of my first assignments - my father wanted to ... he didn't have any use for it because we had some others, but I truly feel that it's a great and beautifully restored - after it was brought over here it was beautifully restored and I think that would be one of my favourite items on display here - undoubtedly.

Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur: I am particularly fond of the model of the fort because the fort of Jodhpur - the Mehrangarh Fort is the repository of our museum.

Interviewer: I was much taken by the palanquin - was that used in your memory?

Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur: I have seen them being used because to go up to the fort is quite a steep thing. The ladies used to be carried up.

Interviewer: Gwalior has contributed quite a few objects to the exhibition, do you have a favourite?

Bindu Manchanda: I think I love those little shoes, the rhinestone shoes of Maharani Chinkuraje ... they're my personal favourite.

Interviewer: Why's that?

Bindu Manchanda: I think they're whimsical, you know, there's something in them, to wear those shoes. She was very tiny, only about 4 feet high and those tiny shoes were made specially for her in Paris or wherever. It just gives me a kind of inkling of how they lived and how they dressed and how they behaved and the whole lifestyle.

Interviewer: What's impressed you?

Nigel Coates: Rubies used in a way to make the bodies explicit. So there are these little attendants of Siva, I guess, with a ruby for each bottom and a ruby for each breast, which I thought was pretty good. And the gold filigree is all the underwear and the straps on the body - such kind of brilliant craftsmanship - really amazing.

Interviewer: What's your impressions of the show?

Nalin Surie: It's magnificent, but for me what's more important is that this tradition, this art, this culture, this heritage, it still lives. You can find paintings like this, you can find artefacts like this in an average household in India and the tradition continues. That's what's so important that in spite of our becoming a more modern country, the traditions continue. There are new patrons for the arts, for culture. We are very happy to bring this to the ... before the British public and we hope that they get a good idea of what we were and where we're headed.

Interviewer: What was your favourite thing?

Erin O'Connor: Do you know, I covet a pair of earrings that I saw on an elephant, no less. I mean how opulent is that? Drop chandelier earrings for an elephant to wear. I was quite taken with those. In fact if I tried to put them on myself it'd be like wearing two very shiny expensive lampshades, like ... standing lamps.

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