Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875-6
The Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh.
December 15, 2017 – April 22, 2018.
In October 1875, the Prince of Wales set off on a four-month tour of the Indian Subcontinent, visiting over 21 localities, which today encompass India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal. The exhibition Splendours of the Subcontinent at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh tells the story of this grand tour through some of the finest Indian treasures from the Royal Collection that were presented to the Prince during his visit.
They created a sensation when they went on display in the grand hall of the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art in 1879, bringing the riches of the Indian subcontinent to Victorian Scotland.
Today when we have commemorated India @ 70 for the last several months these magnificent treasures continue to enthral on their return visit. This will be the first time they have been seen in Scotland for 140 years!
These spectacular items, jewellery and plate, swords, perfume holders, a sirpech which is a turban ornament made of three large emeralds and bordered with diamonds, a gold plate which took four years to make… all these priceless pieces were given to the then Prince of Wales ‘Bertie’ on his four-month tour of the subcontinent in 1875 as part of the traditional exchange of gifts and preceding the declaration of his mother Queen Victoria being declared Empress of India.
Regarded as some of the finest works of Indian design and craftsmanship from the Royal Collection, the gifts were displayed countrywide between 1876 and 1883. By the end of 1883 the gifts had been seen by more than two and a half million people in Britain alone.
The turban ornament or sirpech was one of the first gifts that the Prince of Wales received; it was presented by Sajjan Singh the Maharana of Udaipur. The glorious emeralds sing out at the viewer. The current Custodian of Udaipur Mewar is the 76th – Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar and his royal house has been in a continuing line since AD734!
The Prince received a necklace from the Maharaja of Gwalior on behalf of his mother Queen Victoria. She chose to have it refashioned once it reached England.
On a personal note one of the descendants of that very maharaja is currently the Chief Minister of Rajasthan State, Vasundara Raje (a princess of Gwalior) and she and her son hosted me at their Raj Niwas Palace in 2008 in the very rooms the then Maharaja of Dholpur had built to receive the great monarch’s son HRH Prince of Wales. Raj Niwas palace has vast rooms and bedrooms with dressing rooms and wonderful ensuite bathrooms…. Yes, indeed complete with showers, WCs, bidets that were all decked out in the most splendid tiling which had been ordered from Jackfield in Shropshire, England, which was once the centre of the tile industry and part of the British Industrial Revolution. In February 2008 we had been invited to spend two nights at Dholpur. We were shown into a vast bedroom that, with its wonderful tiling, gave the impression one was sleeping at the bottom of a vast Victorian swimming pool; there was a large dressing room and then the bathroom. I have included the photos to give some idea! Today the Palace at Dholpur is now a museum so we were some of the last to live in its splendour!
In the Exhibition, there is a perfume holder presented by the then Maharaja of Jaipur, and today the young maharaja has recently come of age. Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur is the current holder of the distinguished Jodhpur Marwar title. There is a painting of his ancestor Jashwant Singh being invested with the honour the Star of India by the Prince of Wales on 1 January 1876. He too is a great custodian of his inheritance in modern Jodhpur Marwar in Rajasthan. A most beautiful double half hunter watch presented by the Maharaja of Patiala to the Prince has his own portrait on the ornamentation. His heir, and my own great grandfather, were good friends and my great grandfather built the heir two mansions at Patiala in the Punjab, and his own private railway!
From southern India there is a magnificent gold service presented by the Maharaja of Mysore – it is truly stunning; the current holder of that title is a fine young man who recently married a Dungarpur princess from Rajasthan and they have just become very proud parents of a baby son.
India continues to have a wealth of riches one can view in palaces and forts and citadels and private city museums, as well as the national museums in the larger cities and towns. The people of Great Britain must have been enthralled with these treasures and the Prince of Wales ensured that they were well exhibited upon his return, thus in true royal fashion, stimulating the start of much business and a fashion in all things Indian. The trip encompassed 7,600 miles by land and 2,300 miles by sea and he met with 90 rulers. There were some other activities like tiger hunting (shikar) and I believe he even shot an elephant – it was considered a truly regal kingly sport – but thankfully, in India today no longer is that sort of deplorable trophy hunting allowed. Wildlife Conservation is of vital importance.
This exhibition opened on the 15 December and continues till 22nd April 2018; it is superb, and I most sincerely urge one and all in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Perth, and the Scottish Borders to make a day of it for a visit. Visit the interior of the historic Palace of Holyroodhouse, enjoy this stunning splendour, and then have some fine refreshment in the elegant restaurant café alongside. Oh yes, and there is a shop which has much to entice one to buy. We have just been in the company of our older grandsons and they were entranced.
Aline Dobbie is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on India. Born in India to Scottish parents she spent the first 16 years of her life in the sub-continent. An acclaimed travel writer, Aline is the author of a celebrated trilogy of books on India, including The Peacock’s Call – www.thepeacockscall.co.uk