Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Mughals Imperial Connoisseurs

KALGI (turban ornament) Mughal 18th century Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London (IS 02569) Indian expertise in carving gems is evident in this jade turban ornament. In addition to the jade, which is carved in low relief on the back, the centre and each petal of the rosette and the leaves are set with finely carved gems. April, 1526 Zahir Ad-Din Muhammad Babur had just vanquished Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat. Almost immediately he dispatched his son Humayun to take possession of the treasures at Agra with specific instructions to seek and acquire a famous diamond believed to weigh 8 mishqals. The Treasury was pillaged, the officials questioned, but the diamond could not be found. Faced with dire consequences, a servant finally pointed towards the royal zenana. When Humayun entered the women's quarters, the female members of bra him Lodi's family were weeping, so he assured them their honour would be safe in his hands and that he would treat them according to their high station. It was then that Ibrahim Lodi's mother went silently into a room and emerged with a gold box, which, with trembling hands, she handed to the young prince. Humayun opened the box and took out the diamond. According to legend, it was the Kohinoor the Mughal tryst with the jewels of India had begun. 

Every subsequent generation of Mughal emperors augmented the treasury by appropriating the wealth of the Indian states through dauntless military conquests. Less than a century later, the Mughal gem coffers had swelled to such an extent that chroniclers were often compelled to give up a futile attempt at numbers and resort to weights in their accounts. William Hawkins' list of Jahangir's treasury of unmounted stones recorded circa 1611 reads: "Inprimis, Of Diamantes L1/2. Bauman, these be rough, of all sorts and sizes, great and small: but no lesse then 2.1/2. Caratts. The Bauman is fifty five pound waight, which maketh eightie two pounds 1/2. weight English. Of Ballace Rubies little and great, good and bad, there are single two thousand pieces. Of Pearle of all sorts, there are twelve Battmans. Of Rubies of all sorts there are two Battmans. Of Emeraudes of all sorts five Battmans.

Keeping in mind that the battman was an old Turkish weight equivalent to 55 English pounds, in modern terms the above list would read  diamonds: 37.5 kilos, or 187,500 carats; pearls: 300 kilos, or 1.5 million carats; rubies: 50 kilos, or 250,000 carats; emeralds: 125kilos,that is, 625,000 carats.

In addition, the imperial treasury included items as diverse as one thousand saddles of gold and silver, over two thousand swords and blades with scabbards and hilts embellished with h precious gems; thrones in silver and gold, drinking cups carved entirely from balas rubies and emeralds; over two thousand jewelled brooches for the hair, and an infinite number of chains of pearls, diamonds, rubies and emeralds, the total quantity known only to the Keeper of the Treasury. 

What further amazes is that quality was never sacrificed to numbers. Hawkins categorically states that no diamond less than two and a half caratts was officially included in the royal treasury. Imperial decree stated that the emperor was to have the first refusal on all transactions in gemstones above five carats. In spite of the predominantly surreptitious methods employed in the gem trade where deals were conducted in private, and at considerable personal risk the emperor's eyes and ears rarely missed the opportunity of a great acquisition. 

Jahangir's favourite jeweller Hiranand had a narrow escape when the Emperor came to know that he had acquired a large diamond of 3 mettegals and had not offered it to the king. Guessing the reason for the peremptory summons to court the shrewd Bania preempted imperial wrath by reminding Jahangir of an earlier promise to visit his home. Now, said the wily jeweller was the appropriate time since he had a faire Present to bestow upon his Majestic.

 BAZU BAND (armlet-reverse) Jaipur 19 century Private collection the rectangular central piece is flanked by trefoils attached at an angle, facilitating comfort to the wearer. The scrolling foliage pattern enamelled in opaque white and translucent red on the reverse resembles a miniature carpet.
In addition to the imperial decree that stipulated that the king had to be offered the best of the mined gems, agents for the emperor had standing orders to buy good stones when they came on the market in the principal gem centres. There are many references to gems acquired in Goa and Gujarat in the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri; traders seeking concessions offered the best imported gems and jewels to the king; gifts were sent by foreign potentates to the emperor; and vast amounts were presented by subjects as annual tributes and as expressions of loyalty.

Mughal India in the 17th century was a focal point of international trade and commerce. European powers vied with each other to gain an economic and a political foothold in the country by ingratiating themselves with the emperor. Ambassadors, traders, gem dealers and the simply curious swarmed to India. Sir Thomas Roe, for example, was sent by King James to the court of Jahangir in 1614 to negotiate trading facilities and permission to establish factories. Though India was one of the principal suppliers of diamonds and other fine gemstones to the world, there was a ready market for gems in the Mughal courts and the English and Portuguese, principal protagonists in the war of gems, never lost an opportunity to outdo one another. Francis Fettiplace, one of the Agra factors of the East India Company, making recommendations to his principals, in a letter dated 1616, advised Fair pearls, ballace rubies, and emeralds of extraordinary great sizes would vend here to the King in infinite quantities. 

The imperial coffers were further augmented with the obligatory nazrana gifts offered to the ruler and his family for the honour of royal audience. Nobles and vassals seized upon the custom of nazrana as a perfect opportunity to express their loyalties and seek royal favour.

They vied with each other in the size and value of the peshkash, almost always gems, gem studded items and gold. Such court customs could be taken to blatant extremes. In a display of favour towards his eldest son Parviz, Jahangir issued a decree (firman) that anyone desirous of intimating his attachment to the Emperor should make a present of some value. Subsequent to the decree the nazrana in gold, jewels, horses and elephants gifted by loyal subjects to Shahzada Parviz amounted to the value of two hundred lakhs of rupees.

SPINEL NECKLACE Spinel beads: Mughal; early 17th century L: 38.5 CIT1 Christies Images The eleven spinet beads together weigh  Spinets were favoured by the Mughal emperors, who wore them uncut as polished beads. Three beads are engraved with the names of Akbar Jahangir and Shah Jahan.
Loyalties to a Mughal emperor were best substantiated in the currency of gems and precious metals. Returning from the ports of Cambay and Surat, Muqarrab Khan placed before Jahangir jewels and jewelled things, and vessels of gold and silver 8 which along with items as diverse as Arab horses and Abyssinian slaves, took two and a half months to lay before his majesty. Jahangir's royal reaction: "most of them were pleasing to me. Adil Khan the ruler of Bijapur, made tributary payments to the emperor Shah Jahan of gems and jewelled ornaments, gold and silver objects and elephants caparisoned with silver trappings valued at forty lakhs of rupees. Panju a zamindar of Khandesh, hard pressed by the royal forces, saw his safety in gracefully presenting to Jahangir the diamond mine in his possession. Pleased that the stones from it were superior in kind and beauty to all other kinds of diamonds, and much esteemed by jewellers, the emperor appointed a superintendent to manage the mine. 

A peculiar Mughal decree allowing the state to appropriate the jewels and riches of a nobleman once he died further swelled the royal coffers, while simultaneously weakening the power base of ambitious courtiers. Even the women of the harem were not exempt from this rule, the king seizing, as Manucci informs us, all the wealth of the defunct. Such norms prevailed even during the golden period of Akbar's rule. Father Monserrate, a Jesuit priest at his court, records that the emperor derived much revenue from the hoarded fortunes of the great nobles, which by law and custom all came to the king on their owner's death. A frugal and sparing monarch, not above personally supervising large sums for disbursement to the army, Akbar's treasury in just gold and silver coins was estimated by De Laet at the equivalent of nearly two hundred million rupees.

Akbar's personal tastes, judging from illustrated manuscripts, veered towards elegant simplicity. Dramatically different, his son Jahangir's jewelled magnificence never failed to awe. The emperor's indulgent opulence frequently surfaces in Sir Thomas Roe's reminiscences of his Mughal tenure. The mesmeric grandeur of a ruler whose entourage 'included attendants carrying maces of gold set with jewels, horse furniture studded with gems, a gold plated palanquin with fringes of pearls a foot deep and a border of rubies and emeralds, and a gold foot stool set with precious stones was repeatedly recorded in the minutest of details by the diplomat, who maintained detailed accounts of his travels in India and his visits to the Mughal courts.

Awaiting the arrival of Jahangir in the royal gardens, on the occasion of his 47th birthday 167 in September 1617, Roe was quite unprepared for the opulence of the vision which

appeared The king walked in clothed, or rather loden, with diamonds, rubies, pearles, and other precious vanities, so great, so glorious: his sword, target, throne to rest on correspondent; his head, necke, breast, armes, above the elbowes, at the wrists, his fingers every one with at least two or three rings, fettered with chaines, or dyalled diamonds, rubies as great as walnuts (some greater), and pearles such as mine eyes were amazed at. Awestruck, the ambassador acknowledged, In jewels he is the treasury of the world. 

DAGGER Mughal; C. 1620 L: 35.6 cm The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift 11984.3321 One of the earliest extant examples of Mughal goldsmithing, the dagger, thumb ring (plate 166) and spoon (plate 167) are all undoubtedly from the imperial workshops of Akbar and Jahangir. The chased and engraved gold hilt of this straight bladed dagger is inlaid with rubies, emeralds and green glass. Jahangir perceived himself as the centre of the world Sand flamboyantly portrayed his bejewelled image throughout the realm. Jacques de Couttre, a Flemish jewel merchant, on a visit to the Mughal court in 1619, struck by the large quantity of jewels worn by the emperor, was convinced that the wealth of the Mughals was much more than the combined wealth of ill the monarchs of Europe. Jahangir was heavily bejewelled and covered with so many gems "from all parts of the world that he looked like an idol. Such inestimable wealth that represented just one day's jewelled splendour was generally not repeated all year round.

Even at its most austere, the magnificence of the Mughal court was awesome. Emperor Aurangzeb was famed for his zealous, almost fanatical aversion to ostentation. However, he was not averse to wearing the emblems of his power and glory. Escorted to the forty pillared hall of audience (Diwan-i-Kbas) to pay his respects to Aurangzeb, Francois Bernier, the French physician wrote: "Never did I witness a more extraordinary scene. The King appeared seated upon his throne, at the end of the great hall, the Am Khas, in the most magnificent attire. His vest was of white and delicately flowered satin, with silk and gold embroidery attic finest textures. The turban, of gold cloth had an aigrette whose base was composed of diamonds of an extraordinary size and value, besides an Oriental Topaz, which may

Be pronounced unparalleled, exhibiting a lustre like the sun. A necklace of immense pearls, suspended from his neck, reached to the stomach .The throne Bernier was referring to was Shah Jahan's famous jewelled peacock throne (Takht-i-Taus). Defining imperial status yet further, were six more thrones covered, according to Tavernier, "with diamonds, the others with rubies, emeralds, or pearls." The traveller deliberately refrains from further details "not forgetting that one may become disgusted with the most beautiful things when they are too often before the eyes. 

BAZUBAND (armlet) Mughal; 17 century Christies Images the single spinet flanked by baroque pearls weighs 79.55 carats and is inscribed 'Shah Jahangir bin Akbar Shah, 7010 AN' (1601 A.D.). Portraits of Mughal emperors often depict them wearing such elegantly simple jewels. Uncut and devoid of a complex gold setting, large gems were highly prized. They were inscribed to establish ownership and were handed down from generation to generation. Dynastic love of display aside, Mughal splendour was not the result of mere desire to acquire. There was shrewd common sense behind imperial pomp. Politically expedient, such displays of enormous wealth were effective expressions of empire. Thus, ceremonies such as weighing the emperor against gold, precious gems and other expensive articles from the treasury on his solar and lunar birthdays were conducted with great solemnities lavish court conventions of this type concluded with the generous distribution of small artificial fruits made of gold and silver among courtiers. Overwhelming Mughal munificence reiterated the material power and might of the empire. Gifts such as Shah Jahan's humble offering to Medina of an amber candlestick weighing 700 tolas covered with a network of gold, ornamented on all sides with incised floral designs and studded with various gems including a rare diamond of a hundred ratis (the total categorically stated in the Shah Nama as costing two and a half lakh rupees) were as much expressions of material strength as spiritual piety. Announcing the message of Mughal might beyond the boundaries of the empire were diplomatic presentations, like the one to the Qaisar of Rum consisting of a dagger and girdle studded with diamonds and rubies and a necklace of pearls worth one lakh of rupees.

Sound economics was the principal factor that underlay the insatiable passion of the Mughal emperors for precious gemstones. Concentrated wealth, loose gems were easily transported and enchased on long expeditions. Such wealth was used to pay an army stationed hundreds of miles from the capital, to bribe traitorous courtiers of neighboring kingdoms and to buy loyalty. Much of Emperor Aurangzeb's interminable military forays into the Deccan were financed by the accumulated wealth of his forefathers. In the 1530s, during his years of exile from Ddhi, Humayun, it is said, exchanged many a precious gem from a small pouch he carried, in return for political asylum. The monarch was accorded a warm welcome in Persia on presentation of 250 Badakshan rubies and the renowned Babur diamond weighing six and a half mishqals to Shah Tahmasp.

To facilitate administration of the vast treasures that accrued and for maintenance of records, the colossal Imperial Treasury was divided into a Treasury of Precious Stones, a Treasury of Goldware and a Treasury of Inlaid Jewellery. Under Shah Jahan, there were no fewer than seven treasure forts located throughout the Mughal realm, at Delhi, Gwalior, Mewar, Ranthambor, Lahore, Asirgarh and Agra. However, long years of futile warfare, anarchy in the provinces, the rising power of the Marathas and the political manoeuvrings of foreign powers led to a gradual loss of control. Large amounts from the treasury had been squandered on war. By the 18th century Mughal India was in shambles and the Mughal Empire bankrupt.

Ironically, no account of the empire adequately conveys its unimaginable wealth as the chilling record of its plunder by the Persian invader Nadir Shah in 1739. Palace, treasury and city were stripped bare ruthlessly by the marauding troops. A hundred labourers  it is said, were occupied for fifteen days in melting down and casting into ingots the gold and silver which was not already in the form of coins in order to facilitate transport. Two ingots pierced together through the middle and tied together with a heavy cord constituted one camel load; five thousand chests were filled

PENDANT Emerald: Mughal, 17th century H: 3.8 cm W: 3.7 cm Private collection The Mughals had a passion for large Colombian emeralds. This emerald, carved with a motif of flowering plants, weighs over 700 carats. The emerald and the cabuchon ruby have been reset by a French firm of jewellers in the early 1920s in a typically European design.
With gold rupees and eight thousand with silver rupees There were also an inconceivable number of other chests filled with diamonds, pearls and other jewels."26 In an Attempt to quantify the booty plundered from the Imperial Treasury, Sir James Frazer compiled a list Jewels from the Emperor and Omrahs (Nobles) valued at Utencils and handles of weapons set with jewels, with the Peacock Throne and nine other thrones set with precious stones Money coined in Gold and Silver rupees Gold and silver plate which were melted down and coined Fine clothes and rich stuff of all kind Household furniture, and other valuable Commodities Warlike weapons like canons etc. Total A.D 1739 27 in modern terms, seven billion, three hundred and ninety two million pounds sterling the greatest plunder in history.

Hallmarks of Artistry

EMPEROR JAHANGIR WEIGHS PRINCE KHURRAM (later Shah Jahan) from a manuscript of the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri Mughal c.1610-1615 Opaque watercolour on paper Miniature: 28.4 cm x 12.8 cm 0 Trustees of the British Museum, London (1948.10-9069) The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri records:  in this year. Which was the commencement of my son Khurram's sixteenth lunar year  I gave an order that they should weigh him according to the prescribed rule, against gold, silver, and other metals
As committed aesthetes, Mughal emperors consciously channeled some of the enormous wealth of the empire for the encouragement of the arts. Akbar took a keen interest in the organization of the court ateliers (karkhanas) personally inspecting much of their output, rejecting that which did not meet with his standards of perfection. Jahangir and especially Shah Jahan assumed the role of artistic directors; every item crafted for royal use or under royal commission had to meet the exacting standards of their keen and discerning eye.

The artist craftsmen of the Mughal court formed a part of the inner coterie of the royal household. They travelled along with the emperor on his numerous campaigns and accompanied him on his hunts and pleasure trips to various parts of the country. While the painter was prevailed upon to record details of life and images that caught the emperor's fancy, the jeweller .sought to recreate, in metal and enamel, visions of the heavenly landscapes and beautiful flora that enthralled his patron. Craftsmen were invited from the four corners of the empire and from other countries including Iran, Turkey, Venice and England to execute orders in the imperial workshops. Ralph Fitch, the English merchant who travelled the width of the empire all the way up to Bengal between 1583 and 1591, records leaving his ship companion William Leades the Jeweller in service with the King Zelabdim Echebar in Fatepore, who did entertayne him verie well and gave him an House and five Slaves an Horse and every day sixe S.S. (shillings) in money. 
An astute connoisseur, Shah Jahan's expertise in gems matched his love for them. A love that manifested itself early in his life His father Jahangir once desired a pair to a recently acquired pearl. The 22 year old Shah Jahan, then still Prince Khurram’s, recalled seeing a similar one in an old turban ornament that had belonged to his grandfather Akbar. Retrieved from the Treasury, the pearl was found to be a perfect 

PENDANT (front and reverse) Mughal; 18" century H: 3.7 cm W: 3 CM  Trustees of the British Museum, London (0A+14178) The continuity of 16' century jewel setting is manifest in this piece; the bird is rendered in relief, with rubies and green glass sot mosaic-like into chased depressions, the gold in between engraved with flowers and foliage. The reverse is enamelled in red and green on a white ground.
match not differing in weight even by a trifle, so much so that the jewellers were astonished at the matter. It agreed in value, shape, lustre, and brilliance; one might say they had been shed from the same mould. 

Age did not dim the passion. Manucci, the Venetian, records that Shah Jahan's love for gems, bordering on the obsessive, surpassed all his vices Aurangzeb's audacious request to borrow some of Shah Jahan personal jewels for his coronation as he did not envision his imprisoned father having much use for them, so enraged the dethroned emperor that according to Tavernier for some days he was like a madman, and he even nearly died. In the excess of his passion he frequently called for a pestle and mortar, saying that he would pound up all his precious stones and pearls, so that Aurangzeb might never possess them.3 More than in any other period of Indian history, under Shah Jahan's patronage, there was an affiliation in design between the grandest architectural monument and the smallest decorative object reflecting his passionate love for fine gems and keen eye for design. Motifs were borrowed freely from one medium to another, with adaptations in size and scale. Lapis lazuli, carnelian, mother of pearl, and nephrite jade, pietradura'd into the flawless white marble walls of the Taj Mahal, gave rise to the popular description of the mausoleum as a jewel box built by titans and finished by jewellers'. After a visit to the monument, Helen Blavatsky wrote: "Every leaf, every petal is a separate emerald, amethyst, pearl or topaz; at times you can count as many as a hundred of them for one single bunch of flowers, and there are hundreds of such bunches all over the panels and perforated marble screens.

THUMB RING Mughal; c.1625 H: 3 7 CM Dam: 3 CM Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London (IM 207-1920) Set with rubies and emeralds individually cut to design requirement, the inside of the ring is enamelled in opaque white blue pale green and black, illustrating European design influence a break from the traditional Mughal palette of vibrant greens reds and blues. Amongst the great variety of decorative arts, a distinct style of jewellery produced in the karkhanas combined Mughal finesse with a legendary love of the sumptuous. Minakari, or enamelling, a unique combination of gems, enamel pigments and precious metals, became a quintessential symbol of the Mughal vision of 'Paradise on Earth'. Conforming to Islamic precepts, this Paradise was a celestial garden with all manner of trees, a riot of flowers and colours of every imaginable hue (178). The motifs consisted primarily of flowers, plants, scrolling vines and animal forms. Though an established craft, enamelling had not come into its own in the early Mughal period. It was Shah Jahan's aesthetic vision that transformed enamelling into a sophisticated art form which embellished a range of items from jewellery to imperial thrones. Borrowing from his two major passions, architecture and fine gems, Shah Jahan took the motifs from one and colours from the other, to inspire an art form which thereafter was completely identified with Mughal aesthetics.

CEREMONIAL SPOON Mughal; late 16°-early 17° century L: 18.6 cm Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London (IM 173-1910) a masterpiece reflecting the virtuosity of the imperial goldsmiths, this finely engraved gold spoon is set with rubies, emeralds and diamonds.The technique of enamelling was not indigenous to the subcontinent. The exact date of its entry into India cannot be pinpointed and has been long debated. There are no references to enamelling in the early Indian texts. Based on its similarity to the technique of glazed tiling, a visible feature of Sultanate architecture, art historians surmise that it was probably introduced to India around the 131th century. Through the Punjab, in those days the gateway to India on the land routes, enamelling spread to the rest of India. The first known reference to enamelling is in the 10 century annals of Akbar's reign in Abul Fazl's cryptic description in the AiniAkbari the Minakar or enameller works on cups, flagons, rings and other articles with gold and silver. He polishes his delicate enamels separately on various colours, sets them in their suitable place and puts them to fire. This is done several times. 

PANCH LADA (five-strand necklace) North India late w century Private collection a classical necklace of five rows of small enamelled floral units with a diamond clasp In a Deccani portrait dating to 1585-90, Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur wears a strikingly similar necklace. The somewhat casual nature of Abut Fazl's description has encouraged art historians to conjecture that the technique was by then well established in the repertoire of the Indian craftsman's decorative skills, even though it was not as old as some of the others, such as granulation (charmkari), known to Indian goldsmiths since the early Mauryan period. Moreover, the minakar's compensation for every tola of gold he worked on was a mere dam, two thirds of a rupee, a fraction of what other specialist craftsmen were paid. It is more than likely that, in a court as committed to the encouragement of all art forms as Akbar's, the sheer novelty value of a new artistic skill would have undoubtedly commanded a far higher remuneration. 

The Shah Nama makes repeated references to enamelled objects. These objects were highly-prized, and were clearly intended for the privileged few. Particularly pleased with a recent display of valour by his son Aurangzeb, imperial largesse to the young prince on his  15th birthday as recorded in the Shah Nama included two Qibchaq horses, one with a jewelled saddle, the other with an enamelled one.34 Swords and shields with enamelled appurtenances were also singular marks of honour. The imperial annal also records the emperor's first ascension on an enamelled throne constructed in the course of nine months for the sum of five lakhs of rupees whereupon the attendant courtiers joyously proclaimed their congratulations and benedictions. 

DASTI (bracelet) Hyderabad; late 18' century L: 19 Cm C. L. Bharany Collection, New Delhi A diamond bracelet weighing no less than 180 grams; the reverse is finely enamelled with green on gold.
However, if any single instance confirms the excellence of and demands for the art of enamelling in Shah Jahan's time, it is the royal librarian's record of a golden screen. This magnificent object with enamelled inscriptions and cupolas was specially crafted to place around the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, the emperor's beloved queen on her second death anniversary. Lifestyles in the Mughal courts as well as in the personal lives of the emperors encouraged the decorative arts. Court ateliers now fashioned accoutrements, which, in addition to being purely functional reflected Mughal aesthetics and flamboyance.

Jahangir, in the Tuzuk-i-jahangiri, refers to the skilled craftsmen who fashioned his swords as ustads according them the same high esteem as that conferred on his favourite artistes. Particularly struck by the beauty of one sword hilt he records in his memoirs: Of all the gems of great price that are in the treasury I consider it the most precious. On Thursday I girded it auspiciously and with joy round my waist, and the masters who in their completion had exercised great skill and taken great pains were rewarded Ustad Puran with the gift of an elephant a dress of honour, and a golden bracelet for the wrist.

HASLI (rigid neck collar) North India IT century Private collection Mughal aesthetics ranged from excessive opulence to classical simplicity. This hash, set with white sapphires (pukhraj) is cleverly wrought with geometric repeats tapering towards the end in the form of the traditional rigid collar necklaces.
If and when Muslim religious injunction to 'be not guilty of excess' occasioned minor pangs of conscience, they were probably stilled with the comforting justification that items like turban ornaments jewelled swords and gem studded saddles were really symbols of state. As for objects like the eight chains, each containing 400 beads of "rich pearl, ballace rubyes, diamonds, rubyes, emeralds, lignum aloes, eshem (jade) and coral which Jahangir turned over daily during his prayers in the early hours of dawn  they simply helped a monarch keep count on his establish a rosary befitting his status.
SWORD HILT North India; 19° century Courtesy of the Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (IS 24-1888) The sword is surmounted with a gold hilt kundan-set with diamonds, cabuchon rubies, emeralds and carved emeralds a tiger head embellishes the curved handle. Jewelled objects such as pen and ink stands also figured in court conventions as symbols of rank and were awarded to courtiers appointed to important posts. Receipt of a bejewelled turban ornament (kalgi) and the robe of honour (khilat) signalled singular royal favour. Judging from the frequency with which these are mentioned in the Shah Nama, these kalgis (191) were especially popular during the reign of Shah Jahan as expressions of imperial approval.

For all its Arabian night splendour the fabled treasury of the world' was not just about jewels and precious metals. State inventories included an astonishing number of elegant vessels of porcelain and coloured glass, textiles of the finest quality and libraries of important books and manuscripts. If the glory of princes is reflected, as the saying goes, in their buildings their libraries and their jewels, the Mughal left history in no doubt about their stature. 


The most famous jewelled object in history Shah Jahan's Takht-i-Taus was the crowning example of an emperor's passion for gems and a dynastic love of display. In 1628, in the first year of his accession, Shah Jahan ordered the fabrication of a jewelled throne using the vast quantities of gems in the treasury. It took seven years and one lakhs tolas ( 1,150 kilos) of gold to complete this unique monarchial seat, immortalized in history as the Peacock Throne.

HOOKAH BASE North India, 19th century Spink and Sons, London Mughal aesthetics elevated the common hubble-bubble to a jewelled work of art this piece is kundan-set with gems on enamelled gold.
Abdul Hamid Lahori, the court historian, describes its splendour in the Badshah Nama. Three jewelled steps led up to the Emperor's seat, surrounded on eleven sides with jewelled planks serving as railings. Of these, the most splendid panel was the middle one on which the Emperor rested his arm while reclining. It cost 10 lakhs of rupees, its central ruby alone being worth one lakhs. This ruby had been presented by Shah Abbas I, the Persian King to Jahangir. Besides Lahori's eyewitness accounts of the throne,
Those of Francois Bernier, the French physician at Aurangzeb's court, and of the gem dealer and traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, are extensive and detailed. 


Both viewed the throne on different 190 occasions. Bernier, during a visit to the court of Aurangzeb in 1662, viewed it from a distance Tavernier, who saw it in November 1665 on Aurangzeb's birthday, describes it as resembling in form and size one of our camp beds; that is to say it is about 6 feet long and 4 feet wide. A singularly prosaic use of simile! About the lavish use of gems on the throne he says The feet and the bars are covered with gold inlayed and enriched with numerous diamonds, rubies and emeralds. A large balas ruby cut encabucho with four table-cut emeralds around it formed a cross in the middle of each bar. Similar crosses were set at regular intervals along the length of these bars. The jeweller-merchant even managed to count the larger rubies on the throne. There are about 108, all cabuchons, the least of which weighs 100 carats, but there are some which weigh apparently 200 and more. As for the emeralds, there are plenty of good colours, but they have many flaws; the largest may weigh about 60 carats and the least 30 carats. I counted about 116; thus there are more emeralds than rubies.

KANTHA (necklace) Private collection A double string of polished emerald beads assembled over a period of time, totally weighing approximately 1000 carats.
Diamonds filled the empty spaces between the coloured stones. Twelve columns around the base supported a canopy, the underside of which was gem studded. Perched above this was the kit motif of the throne, a peacock with elevated tail made of blue sapphires and other coloured stones the body of gold inlaid with precious stones having a large ruby in front of the breast whence hangs a pear-shaped pearl of 50 carats or thereabouts. The rows of beautiful and excellent quality pearls, each weighing between six and ten carats were, in Tavernier's estimation, the richest feature of the throne. The Frenchman also describes a jewel consisting of a diamond of about to 90 carats weight with rubies and emeralds round it,"45 so hung as to be in full view of the emperor when he sat himself upon it. 

Eyewitness accounts differ with regard to details. Illustrated Manuscripts from the period are also subject to artistic rendition, making it harder for historians to draw accurate conclusions. Posterity will never ascertain whether two peacocks decorated the canopy or one. Were there twelve pillars or eleven six massive feet supporting them or four But all accounts unanimously declare this imperial seat as the most magnificent ever made or imagined.

Some of the conflicts would ease if it is borne in mind that the throne was a composite of different parts. Its frame jewelled panels and pillars were dismantled and stored, reassembled only for important state occasions such as the anniversary of the royal coronation. It can therefore be conjectured that apart from the throne's basic structure, some of the decorative appendages such as the peacocks and bouquets above the canopy would have been assembled in different ways for different occasions. The search for historical accuracy sometimes ignores this element of variability.

EMPEROR BAHADUR SHAH II Mughal. dated May-June 1838 Opaque watercolour on paper 30 8 cm x 36.8 cm Courtesy of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Loan from private collection 'Exalted King of Kings, Emperor and Son of Emperor, Sultan and Son of Sultan, Possessed of Glories and Victories are some of the titles inscribed on this portrait of Bahadur Shah the last Mughal emperor, flanked by his two sons. By this time the renowned imperial treasury was empty and the emperor devoid of power. His plumed gold crown was bought by Queen Victoria for 500 pounds after the Mutiny of 1857.
Who designed this legendary masterpiece Bernier gives the honours to a Frenchman named La Grange, who made his fortune at the Mughal court after having defrauded several European princes with false gems. This is believed to be a reference to Austin of Bordeaux, French jeweller-merchant in Shah Jahan's court. However it is highly unlikely, as the historian Abdul Aziz points out with irrefutable logic, that the Emperor would entrust the design of a throne studded with the single largest collection of important gems in history to someone whose expertise lay in the area of synthetic stones. Lahori's account of the throne frequently mentions Bebadal Khan However, as superintendent of the department of goldsmiths, he probably only supervised the construction of the throne.

The most likely contender is the emperor Shah Jahan himself. An extremely learned man, Shah Milan was familiar with the literature and philosophy of the world; "works on moral and history containing an account of prophet and saints and events of the old kings and adventures of the past rulers were read out to him every night47 It could well be that Shah Jabal), inspired by these accounts used the large. Quantities of gemstones in his
Treasury to recreate the famous throne of Solomon, prophet king and ideal ruler of Islamic thinking.

SARPECH (turban ornament) North India; 18" century H: 15 cm L: 27 CM Courtesy Sotheby's this majestic gold, diamond, emerald and ruby sarpech, with polychrome enamel on the reverse, once belonged to the Maharajas of Patiala. The pivoting birds on either side of the central plume are carved from emeralds
According to legend, Solomon's throne was made of ivory and set with topaz and pearls, chrysolite and other gems; around the ' 92 throne were arranged four golden trees, with branches studded with red topaz and green emerald; two golden peacocks, and two golden eagles, surmounted the trees opposite each other." "In Islamic mythology, the peacock was the original guardian of the Gates of Paradise and it ate the devil, who then, inside the bird, entered Paradise and schemed the fall of Adam and Eve. In Persian mythology, two peacocks facing each other on either side of the Tree of Life symbolize man's dual nature of good and evil. 

There are references to Shah Jahan's detailed instructions during the construction of the throne; his expertise in gems and architectural design is well-documented. In view of this it is more than probable that Shah Jahan himself gave the broad outlines to the design. The Peacock Throne was ultimately an expression of his own vision and taste.

EMPEROR SHAH JAHAN ON THE PEACOCK THRONE Page born a Badshah Nama manuscript Mughal; dated 5th January 1640 Opaque watercolour and gold on paper 36.9 cm x 24.6 cm San Diego Museum of Art, Edwin Binney ill Collection Artists renderings of the Peacock Throne are all that we have to rely on to visualize the most famous imperial seat in history.
Finally seven long years after the first jewel was selected for it, on the 20th of March 1635, at the New Year's feast celebrating his eighth year of ascension, Shah Jahan climbed three jewelled steps and sat for the first time on the Peacock Throne. It was precisely one century and four years later that Shah Jahan's descendant, Muhammad Shah, in an ultimate gesture of subjugation, personally handed over this icon of Mughal wealth and artistry to the Persian conqueror Nadir Shah. History's most famous imperial seat was unceremoniously reduced merely to its value in metal and gems and clubbed with other articles from the royal treasury. 

At The throne's history thereafter is more conjecture than fact. What is known is that it was dismantled soon after Nadir Shah's death, and pieces of this legendary seat were probably divided among marauding rebels who barely understood its material value, were indifferent to its aesthetic content, and totally unconcerned with its historic worth. And yet, the legend remains; perhaps in prophetic fulfillment of Bebadal Khan's verse recited the first time the Emperor ascended his be jewelled seat

That which was your throne majestic as heaven was the ornament of your justice over the world, Thou wilt last as long as God exists, for substance is ever accompanied by its Shadow.

Writer- Usha R Bala Krishnan & Meera Sushil Kumar

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