India’s Maharaja era under British colonial rule conjures up vibrant imagery — extraordinary architecture, gilded interiors, exquisite garments, rare jewelry and unending opulence. It was a period of time unlike any other. The Unforgettable Maharajas: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography by E. Jaiwant Paul gives a window into this world. The visual journey through royal portraits, pastimes, tales and residences across the 19th and 20th centuries is, in fact, the largest assortment of royal pictures in any singular book. We’ve combed the pages and selected a few of our favorites below.
Above: Dussera is a time of festivity all over India. The Ramlila, a cycle play of stories from The Epic Ramayana, was performed by traveling bands of actors. Often there were command performances for the ladies of the Zenana. This photograph of a Ramlila group in Gwalior in the early years of the last century probably performed for the Maharaja’s family.
Above, L: Maharaja Prithvi Singh of Kishangarh, was born in 1837 and ruled from 1840-1880. Kishangarh, a Rajput State, is renowned for its exquisite collection of miniature paintings done in a typical style, developed by the court painters. R: Major General S. B. Gurdial Singh Harika, Chief of the General Staff of Patiala, who was also the last Prime Minister of the State. General Harika was a Jagirdar (the chief of a minor principality) and is credited with training the famous Patiala Cavalry Regiments. An accomplished horseman, it is said that the general knew every horse in the Patiala stables by name. He was awarded with the prestigious Order of British India (O.B.I.), 1st Class, and Indian Distinguished Services Medal (I.D.S.M.).
Above, L: Indian princes were taught how to ride almost before they could walk. Sardul Singh of Bikaner, like almost all princes of his time, is taught how to sit elegantly by a palace groom. Above, R: Maharaha Kishen Singh of Bharatpur. This picture was taken in 1901 when he was not yet three years old. He looks exceedingly grave as befits a maharaja. Above, far R: Kishen Singh of Bharatpur, astride a horse here, came to the throne in 1900, after his father was deposed. In 1918, he was vested with full powers by the viceroy. He died in 1929.
Left, Top Left: The Nabha Palace. Top Right: Ranjit Vilas Palace, Wankaner. Designed by Maharaj Amar Sinhji in a bold synthesis of styles with Gothic arches, a Dutch roof and Rajput balconies. The palace also boasts a European style clock tower. Bottom left: Jamnagar Palace. Also known as Nawanagar, or “The New City.” Jamangar was one of the larger states of Saurashtra. It has several palaces, which include: Darbargarh, parts of which go back to the sixteenth century. Bottom right: City Palace, Jaipur. Situated in the heart of the city, this huge complex was home to the rulers of Jaipur from the eighteenth century. The welcome sign written across the hillside was in honor of the visiting prince and princess of Wales. Right: The palladian facade of the imposing palace at Porbandar shows the impact that English stately homes had upon palace architecture in India. The formal gardens are laid out with fountains and statues and geometric flower beds.
Left, top: Jamnagar — the banquet hall of one of the palaces. Jamnagar was also called Nawanagar, or “The New City.” The city was founded in 1540. Left, bottom: The study or “den” of Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner. Pride of palace is given to a pair of tiger skins artistically arranged over themantelpiece. Right: The interior of Bashir Bagh Palace, Hyderabad, 1892.