The Maharaja Visits San Francisco: The Splendor of India’s Ancient Royal Courts

The Asian Art Museum is hosting a special exhibit through April 8 featuring the grandeur that was the Maharaja period of ancient India.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to be transported back into time to see first hand India’s ancient royal courts by visiting the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The Asian Art Museum is hosting a special exhibit through April 8 featuring the grandeur that was the Maharaja period of ancient India.

The exhibit features paintings of the royal families, outfits from the 1900s, jeweled ornaments dating back to 1750, drawings of the court life of Jagat Sing II, Opaqe water colors on gold paper of Chand Bibi with her ladies, instruments and tea sets to name a few.  

Most crowded were the decadent jewelry displays showcasing wealth of the civilization. One in particular was the necklace from 1928 especially made by Cartier Paris for Sir Bhupindra Singh, Maharaja of Patiala. This five layered connected necklace was embellished with platinum, diamonds, yellow zirconia, white zirconia, topazes, synthetic rubies and smoky quartz – recreated with some substitute stones in 2002. 

From Amar Singh I of Mewar to Maharao Ram Singh II of Kota, and many more, elaborate processions have been depicted and deconstructed to understand the norms of the era.

The Examiner stated that the Maharaja exhibit is “one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world.”

The museums catalogue stated: This catalogue investigates the various roles of the rajas during their sovereign rule over their kingdom, to their subjugation under the British and the eventual creation of various princely states. Under the British the rajas were shown off in Europe as exotic symbols of splendor and essentially became the jewel in the queen's crown. But the relationship was more complicated than master and servant; as the rajas were exposed to European culture it helped transform and modernize their own kingdoms back in India.

The exhibit’s outside, decorated with colorful, cartoonesq illustrations, was designed by Sanjay Patel, a Pixar animator and storyboard artist. Patel is also known for authoring the book, The Little Book of Hindu Deities, Ramayana -- Divine Loophole, and, The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities.

Patel stated that when museum officials first approached him he was ecstatic. Patel recalls thinking, “‘all of this sounded exciting and amorphous. It was as if the museum was collectively saying. 'our building needs to standout from the faceless gray buildings that are its neighbors. Can you help us?'”

Patel had a special featured gallery "Deities, Demons, and Dudes with 'Staches" which has been immensely popular.

According to The Examiner, The exhibit came together over a number of years with the combined efforts of an international team of curators. The idea was conceived back in 2008 and has now finally come alive and is hugely successful. The exhibit spans the entire ground floor of the museum complete with children’s activities, and performance shows in the main hall.

Asian Art Museum has something for everyone. Collections range from the Persian world which includes Western Asia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; a separate collection on  South Asian collection including art from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka featuring temple sculptures, wood carvings and paintings.; and Southeast Asian exhibit with ceramics and textiles from Thailand, Burma, Laos, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.  

"Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts" continues through April 8, 2012, at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin (at McAllister) , S.F. Admission is $5-$17.