Monday 7 October 2013

The many Thrones of India

Well, Mysore has been in the news for the last few days and much has been written and televised about the golden throne of  the Wodeyars.
An invaluable artifact, which according to legend goes back to the times of the Pandavas, the origin of the throne is shrouded in mystery.
What many do not know is that today, the golden throne is the most magnificent piece of its kind in India. There is no other throne that even comes remotely near it in terms of heritage, myth, legend or even beauty.
Of course, here we are only taking about thrones in India and not those which have been lost forever or destroyed such as the priceless Peacock throne of the Mughals and the golden throne of Tipu Sultan.
So let us take a look at some of the thrones of India.
The Peacock Throne of the Mughals was commissioned by Emperor Shahjahan and it has been described by scores of travelers and visitors to the Mughal Empire as the most magnificent throne of its time.
History tells us that the Peacock Throne was carried away by Nadir Shah after he sacked and looted Delhi in 1739.
Nadir Shah massacred the entire population of Delhi and took away the entire wealth of the Mughals, including the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor diamond to Iran.
The throne was destroyed by assassins who murdered Nadir Shah. Today, there is no remnant of this throne but a replica made by Indian craftsmen exists in the Topkapi palace in Istanbul, Turkey.
This is also a Mughal style throne and it was also supposedly carted away by Nadir Shah, who gifted it to the Ottoman Emperor. This throne too is believed to be only a small part of the Delhi loot of Nadir Shah.  
The throne is on public display and it is in the form of a high-edged table with four legs. The cushion is decorated with pearls and a gold braid.
The Kohinoor, we know, is with the British monarch.
Apart from these two thrones, contemporary texts and accounts say that the Mughals had at least nine other thrones and almost all of them were in the red fort in Delhi and at the fort in Agra. There was also a throne in the fort at Lahore.
Nine of these thrones, including the Peacock Throne, were taken away by Nadir Shah.  
After Nadir Shah left India, a weakened Mughal Empire shrunk considerably in area and extent. The power they once wielded was almost gone. This is best represented by the throne they sat on. The throne was a crude replica of the peacock throne and it was almost entirely made of silver.
The last Mughal Emperor to sit on this throne was Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1857. The British broke it up and carted it away to their homeland after the first war of Indian Independence.
The British also plundered the Red fort and took away rubies, diamonds, gold, silver, jade and all jewels and artifacts that they could lay their hands on.
The 20th century Pahlavi dynasty in Iran also called their ceremonial seat “the Peacock Throne,” though this throne has no relation to the original peacock throne.
Another throne that was Indian and held a lot of sentiment was the gold throne of Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler. This throne was made by the goldsmith Hafez Muhammad Multani sometime between  1820 to 1830.
It was made of wood and resin core and then carefully covered with sheets of engraved gold. The base is two tiered and it is crafted with lotus, a symbol of Hindu purity. The throne today is an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Incidentally, the octagonal shape of the throne is based on courtly furniture of the Mughals. Since Ranjit Singh was renowned for his simplicity and dislike of ceremony, he rarely sat on this throne, preferring to sit cross-legged on carpets.
The throne was taken by the British in 1849 on the annexation of Punjab, after the second Anglo-Sikh war.
A throne that the British willfully broke up was the throne with the tiger motif that belonged to Tipu Sultan of Mysore. When Tipu died in Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799, the British troops looted his treasury, mint, palace and broke down the throne. Today, only a few tiger motifs-three of the eight that were crafted on the throne-and the gold Huma bird which was perched on the umbrella on the throne has survived. The rest have been lost.
Similarly, it is believed that the Vijayanagar Empire had several thrones. Most of them appear to have been destroyed or broken apart when the Muslim states of the Deccan wantonly destroyed Hampi or Vijayanagar after the battle of Talikota in 1565.
The golden throne of Mysore was one of the many thrones that the Vijayanagar Emperors sat on. It was unearthed from a secret pit in Peunkonda by one of the founders of the Vijayanagar empire, Harihara, in 1348.
The then Rajguru of  Vijayanagar, Vidyaranya, helped Harihara excavate the throne. The throne was at Anegundi when the Muslim armies marched into Vijayanagar in 1565. It then was transported to Srirangapatna and from there it came into the possession of the Wodeyars.     
This throne, the Bhavishya Purana says, originally belonged to Indra, the King of Gods. Inbdra gave it to Vikramaditya, the second son of  King Gandharvasena of Ujjaini who belonged to the Paramar dynasty.
The Bhavishya Purana also portrays Vikramaditya as the first great Hindu King among the ten great kings. He received the throne from Indra as he settled a dispute between Rambha and Urvasi. In his judgment, Urvasi's dance was superior to Rambha's because Rambha lost confidence and her garland flowers became pale as she worried about victory while dancing.
The throne then passed into the hands of Bhoja Raja and later to the Guptas and finally into the hands of the King of Kampili, Kampiliraja.
 Kampili was a tiny kingdom on the banks of the Tungabhadra river in present day Karnataka state during the 13th century. The founder of the kingdom was a Hoysala commander, Singeya Nayaka-III (1280 - 1300) who declared himself independent and created a small chiefdom. He was succeeded by his son Kampiliraja who buried the throne at Penukonda when he was forced to take on Muhammad Bin Tughlaq in 1327.
The throne remained buried in Penukonda till Vidyaranya directed Harihara to excavate it.
Another throne of the Vijayanagar can be seen on festive occasion when the idol of Virupaksha is taken in a procession. Historians believe that the Vijayanagar Emperors gave the throne to the temple in 1565 just before or soon after their defeat in Talikota, which is a small town in Bijapur district.
We have descriptions of the thrones of the Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas, Chalukyas and even Kadambas but none of them exist. There is also no evidence of the throne of the Adil Shahs and the Bahamani Emperors.
However, we can still see some of the most unique thrones in India.  
The Salar Jung museum in Hyderabad today has a golden wooden throne used by the Nizam during the last silver jubilee celebration.
The Chowmahalla Palace or Chowmahallat (four Palaces), is also a palace of the Nizam of Hyderabad. It was the seat of the Asaf Jah dynasty and was the official residence of the Nizams of Hyderabad while they ruled their state.
The palace is even today held in high esteem by the residents of Hyderabad, as it was the seat of the Asaf Jahs. The grand pillared Durbar Hall has a pure marble platform on which the Takht-e-Nishan or the royal seat was laid. Here the Nizams held their durbar and other religious and symbolic ceremonies.
Another unique throne is in the Junagadh fort in Bikaner. It has the sandalwood throne. There is also a throne set on a swing. The silver throne of Jaisalmer is an added attraction of the city of Jaisalmer.
Similarly, the City palace at Jaipur housed the golden throne in the Diwan-E-Aam (Sabha Niwas) or the Hall of Public Audience.
The Golden throne, called as Takth-e-Rawal, was the seat of the Maharaja during public audience. It was mounted on an elephant or carried by palanquin bearers during the Maharajas’ visit outside the palace.
Indian royals have always set great store by the thrones that they sat on.
Today, we can guess what royalty was lie when we see the Durbar hall in the Red fort in Delhi and Agra, the Amba Vilas in the main palace in Mysore, the durbar room of the Marathas in Thanjavur palace, the durbar hall of the Lakshmi Vilas, Jai Vilas palaces and the many palaces in Rajasthan and Gujarat.  

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