Whether it’s a royal wedding or a royal scandal, there’s no denying that the world is fascinated by the world of kings and queens. Much before Indian royals squabbled over pieces of land atop which iconic monuments stand, they created extraordinary legends around them with their eccentric choices and lavish lifestyles. It has been recorded that before British rule in India, Indian royals were amongst the richest people in the world.
The riches and the fact that they were royals and nobody could actually stand up to them to critique their excesses allowed them to indulge themselves and partake in behaviour that would seem bizarre to us non-royals. Here are five facts about the excesses of royal families of India that will leave your head spinning…
The last Nizam of Hyderabad and his very extraordinary paperweight
This story might seem too outrageous to be true but the tale of Mir Usman Ali Khan using the Jacob diamond as a paperweight on his desk is very real. Turns out, the diamond was sold to his father Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, who was known to be the most pleasure-loving king of the time. When he heard of the Jacob diamond, one of the largest diamonds in the world, he wanted it for his own collection. But when the seller presented the diamond to the king, he was furious as it was much smaller than the model he was shown at the time of the sale. The long drawn-out trial to decide whether fraud was committed or not left the king embarrassed and angry, so much so that he covered the diamond in the cloth he used to clean his pen’s nibs and shoved it into a shoe to be hidden forever. His son, however, decided to take out the diamond and use it as a paperweight to honour his father’s legacy. To give you some context, the Jacob diamond is apparently the size of an ostrich’s egg and happens to be the fifth-largest diamond in the world, weighing about 185 carats. In comparison, the contentious Kohinoor diamond is 105.6 carats.
The Maharaja of Junagadh and his 800 pampered dogs
The eccentric Maharaja of #Junagadh, Muhammad Mahabat Khan III (1900-1959) owned over 800 #dogs, each with its own room, a telephone and an attendant. It is believed that he invited Lord Irwin to the marriage of his favorite pet Roshanara, but the viceroy understandably refused. pic.twitter.com/c6UbBFHALL— LiveHistoryIndia (@LiveHIndia) May 2, 2018
If you thought you loved dogs, then think again. Muhammad Mahabat Khan III, the Maharaja of Junagadh, was so fond of dogs that he owned 800 of them. Each dog, reportedly, had its own room, with a personal attendant and a separate telephone line. If you’re suddenly questioning your life choices, there’s more. The dogs were taken to a special English vet whenever they fell ill and in case one died, a day of state mourning was declared. It has also been recorded that once two of his dogs mated, leading the king to throw them a lavish wedding ceremony for which he even invited the Viceroy and spent up to INR 20 Lakhs.
The Maharaja of Alwar and his fleet of Rolls Royce garbage disposal cars
You remember how in Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts goes back to the snooty saleswoman who refused to take her seriously because of her cheap attire and tells her that she’s made a “huge mistake. Huge!” after she purchases nearly the entire store with Richard Gere? A similar, but even bizarre, incident occurred years before the movie was even released with real-life royalty Maharaja Jai Singh of Alwar, Rajasthan. The king, apparently, strolled into a Rolls Royce showroom in Mayfair, London, only to be dismissed rudely by the staff. The miffed king then ordered all six cars in the showroom, only to donate them to the municipality of Alwar to sweep the streets and collect garbage. Later, Rolls Royce apologised to the king and promised to send him six more cars, placating the king and leading him to recall all the luxury garbage cars from the town.
The Maharaja of Jaipur and his sterling silver companions
Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II had to go on a trip to London to attend the coronation of Edward VII, as you do. But the devout Hindu king didn’t think the English water was good enough for him, especially to perform religious duties, so he decided to commission craftsmen to create two large vessels for him to carry the Ganga Jal with him. Since he was a king, these were no ordinary jars. These jars were made of sterling silver by two silversmiths who melted 14,000 silver coins for their construction. Each of the two urns stands 1.6m tall and weighs 345 kgs, with a capacity of 4,000L. Guinness Book of World Records recognises these as the largest single objects constructed using silver.
The Maharani of Cooch Behar and her diamond-studded Ferragamos
Indra Devi, the Maharani of Cooch Behar and the former princess of Baroda state, was very keen on fashion, especially international designers. She is also credited for popularising chiffon saris as a trend in India. One of her passions was collecting shoes and her favourite designer was Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo. The queen had commissioned the designer to create 100 pairs of shoes for her, according to Ferragamo. In his biography, the designer notes that the queen wanted one of the shoes to be studded with diamonds and pearls from her own collection.