Postcard advertising the "Treasury of The World" exhibition.
The Mughals- one of the wealthiest and most powerful empires the world has ever known ruled the Indian subcontinents between the 16th and 19th centuries. By the late 16th century, India was estimated to control a quarter of the global economy. Many accounts of India's fabulous riches reached Europe through the letters and journals of its ambassadors, merchants, physicians and travellers. Such dazzling account stirred the hearts of covetous men who then travelled eastward to the land of the Great Mughals. It was this intrusive foreign presence that propelled the Mughal emperors to what the West described as theatrical displays of pomp and splendour.
Renowned for their lavish lifestyle, love of beauty and vast collection of precious objects, the Mughal emperors are ostentatious in their dresses and jewels. Sir Thomas Roe, then British Ambassador was so astounded by the opulence of the Mughal court that he wrote to Prince Charles (later King Charles I) in a letter dated 1616, describing the Mughal emperor Jahangir as the "Treasury of the World". Do you know it is the Mughals' association with enormous wealth and power that the word "mogul" was coined?
Many tales of extravagant debauchery in the imperial harem (or zenana) were often perpetuated by foreign courtiers in the Mughal courts. It is easy to understand that their imaginations were fuelled by the knowledge that the emperors kept around 250-300 wives and concubines. But as they were not allowed to venture into the emperor's private quarters , their sources of information came largely from the gossip of the bazaar and other courtiers.
Finger ring with rotating and bobbing bird. Nicola was relating about how her colleague who was handling the ring had watched in horror when the bird moved because he thought he had broken it.
Ladies of the Mughal court spent much time throughout the day beautifying themselves. They ornamented themselves lavishly, even adorning their toes with jewellery. The top of these toe rings are gem-set with rubies and gold, whilst the inside is intricately enamelled with motifs of four-petalled flowers.
It is true however that the ladies of the harem did live in relative luxury. Confined to life within the walls of their harems, their needs were provided for in every way. The ladies were given excellent education and had access to the best medical care in the kingdom.
Gold cup enamelled with motifs of grapes and poppies.It is likely that these cups would have been used to drink a mixture of wine and opium.
The Mughals adore perfumes and scented oils. The emperor Akbar (1542-1605) even established a perfumery department within his workshops which created concoctions using musk., ambergris, aloe wood and sandal paste to please the noses of the royal household. This miniature cosmetics bottle set with rubies emeralds and diamonds comes from North India, c1600-1633.
Sequestered within the inner sanctums of the palace, the ladies of the harem had many long hours to pass each day which they mostly spent beautifying themselves, sampling delicacies and indulging in intoxicants.
A gold archery ring enamelled with the image of a lady playing a flute , India, probably Hyderabad c.1700
The royal ladies, concubines and their female companions also enjoyed playing games to pass the time.Some of the popular games in the Mughal court were shatranj (chess), chandal mandal, chaupar and pachisi (variations of the modern board game ludo), ganjifa (cards) and ankh michali (blindman's bluff).
Armbands set with navaratna or nine auspicious stones. These are ruby, diamond, pearl, coral, zircon, sapphire, chrysoberyl (cat's eye), yellow topaz and emerald.18th-19th century.
However, the ladies of the harem were also artistically and intellectually adept. They were skillful designers of jewellery and clothes; composers of music and poetry (sometimes writing under the pen name "Makhfi" or concealed one); articulate in Qur'anic recitation and storytelling; and accomplished painters and dancers too.
They were economically and socially conscious too . Some of the cannier and wealthier ladies owned ships and dabbled in overseas trade to further supplement their income. Others put their time and wealth towards charity and building works.
Painting of Nur Jahan seated with Jahangir and their son Prince Khurram.
MY MAHARAJAH'S TREASURY
MY MAHARAJAH'S TREASURY