Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Circumstances and Conditions of Beauty...

Maharini Sita Devi of Baroda

In 1943, Maharaja Pratapsingh Gaekwar made headlines by marrying Sita Devi, his second wife. Western media referred to her as the India equivalent of Wallis Simpson. ( pictured below)

Sita Devi met Maharaja Pratap Singh Gaekwar of Baroda, at the Madras horse races in 1943...The Maharaja was, at that time, considered the eight richest man in world. It was also reported he was the second richest Indian prince. The Maharaja was mesmerized by Sita Devi.
Devi went on to become one of the most flamboyant maharanis of all time, known for her passion for fine Indian Jewelry and the Maharaja being madly in love with her, quite literally, cast his pearls before her - the Baroda pearls.

The legendary Baroda pearls is one of the most important Natural Pearl necklace strands, (originally seven strands) in the world and was among the Baroda treasury that dated back to Mughal times.

Sita Devi received the Famous Collection of jewelry and objects from the Baroda treasury which included the extraordinary textile, the famous bejeweled Pearl carpet of Baroda, circa 1865-70, originally commissioned as a gift for the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad (auctioned by Sothbey's in Doha, March 2009).

( pearl carpet of baroda pictured below)


(excerpt from ''Made for Maharajahs: A Design Diary of Princely India" by Amin Jaffer, a curator with the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum.)

''Right from the time of Akbar in the 16th Century, Indians were fascinated with European luxury goods. For instance, the much-acclaimed practice of enamelling came from Europe, the technique of stone inlaying, ordinary glass blowing, gun blowing. Not just the kings and queens of the 19th and early 20th centuries, but even the courtiers wanted European mirrors, shoes, apparel and all the accessories. They would undertake long trips with a big entourage to London. They would take their cooks along because some of them still observed caste distinctions. Some even carried the Ganga waters. But I would take the trip of the princesses as a mark of women's emancipation. They were well received in Europe, and some of them like Sita Devi were better dressed than their foreign counterparts. It must have been a shock for many Europeans too to find Indian women coming out of purdah, mixing with men and moving around freely."

......There was no feeling of guilt among the royalty. They would hire a foreign agent, art connoisseurs to help them make the purchase. There was awareness of foreign art, not just indulgence but appreciation.."

Incidentally, reveals Kapoor, "Fashion comes around. Some of the royal women were big commissioners of works of art. In fact, a maharani even ordered cigarette holders under a pseudo name."

But were they never hit by pangs when they saw the struggle for freedom? Admits Jaffer, "Some of them did see a contradiction between emerging polity and their culture. Many of them relinquished symbols of imperialism."

In 1994 the pearl carpet and other gems were found in a Geneva vault. It was sold to an Arab prince for $31 million.

Sita Devi divorced the Maharajah in 1956, likely attributed to his alcoholism, drug addiction.....The Maharani suffered a tragic event in 1985, Princie's life ended one night when after his 40th birthday, he committed suicide. Sita Devi herself died four years later , February 15, 1989 in Paris, France.