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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

The excesses of the Maharajahs

History, with a false air of spectacle, takes place on one of the most extravagant stages of the last century. Hollywood? Bollywood? No, pre-war Europe, the blessed land of the Maharajahs and VIPs of the Cafe Society. More precisely, the Casino du Touquet in the 1920s: behind a gaming table took place "the most fabulously beautiful young Indian woman, holding the longest of the cigarette holders, dressed in a sparkling silk sari and bearing pearls, emeralds and rubies, ”says Evalyn Walsh McLean. Although this American had one of the most coveted diamonds in the world - the famous Crown Blue which once belonged to Louis XIV - nothing dazzled her as long as she looked at the Maharani Indira Devi: "She had a small living turtle, apparently his fetish, whose shell was encrusted with three bands of emeralds, diamonds and rubies, McLean described again. From time to time, the little beast went away, and it caught up with it. People were absolutely captivated. "Romanesque, megalomaniac, crazy about luxury ... like Indira Devi, the Indian princes never ceased to make headlines in the 20th centuryth century. Flashback.

Whether they bear the title of maharajah ("great king"), rajah, Chhatrapati, nawab, khan, or nizam according to their rank or their religion, these Indian monarchs were all immensely wealthy and outrageously idle. Since they recognized the suzerainty of London in 1858, they have only reigned indirectly, retaining only relative legislative and administrative autonomy. Numbering 562, and covering around two-fifths of the subcontinent, the Princely States were granted a British Resident- a direct representative of the governor - when they exceeded a specific size. Monitored as much as protected, the Indian sovereigns nevertheless demonstrated an unfailing loyalty to the Crown. A royal allegiance rewarded: covered with a thousand and one medals, greeted with cannon shots during official ceremonies, they were invited, in 1877, to the Durbar of Delhi - proclaiming Queen Victoria Empress of India -, then to the various jubilees of Her Majesty in London. This is how these epic heroes, once praised for their recklessness in combat, stopped fighting, abandoning weapons for cricket, polo and horse racing.

The trip to Europe became a must. Flanked by a series of servants crumbling under the Vuitton trunks, the maharajahs, suffering from Anglomania or acute Francophilia, came to taste Western pleasures with a ferocious appetite. Crazy about Paris, Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III of Baroda, at the origin of one of the most important museums of Indian and European art, wanted to buy Parc Monceau and all the hotels that bordered it. Jagatjit Singh, the very Francophile Maharajah of Kapurthala, married a young Andalusian dancer and had an avatar of the Palace of Versailles built at the foot of the Himalayas. Yeshwant Rao Holkar II, meanwhile, spent so much time in Paris, on the Côte d' Azur or in his castle in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, that the Resident of Indore State ends up suggesting to change the national anthem for One day, my prince will come … Read on magazine

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