Arts and Culture
Writing about medieval gifts, Cecily Hilsdale understands them as “a powerful mediating agent in social and sacred dynamics…” (2012). My paper presents a related characterization of gifts in the context of the Rajput court of Mewar, for the decades preceding Indian independence. Concentrating on silver objects in the collection of The City Palace Museum, Udaipur, it studies a group of works that are largely overlooked in the narratives of modern Indian art. Indian silver, when discussed, typically refers to objects created according to British tastes. But here, we have silver that was gifted to and by the Maharanas of Mewar, within a complex web of diplomatic, social, and religious exchange. Three categories of gifts will be analysed: the first is dowry, or gifts exchanged between Rajput families on the occasion of a marriage. A number of splendid silver objects, including a carriage and elaborate animal jewellery, became part of the Udaipur collection as a result. The second category is framed photographs gifted to the Maharanas by other royals in remembrance of visits or special occasions; I explore this as a continuation of the practice of exchanging painted portraits that was common among Rajput kings from the eighteenth century. The third category are gifts to the temple of Eklingnathji, the deity considered the actual ruler of Mewar. My discussion of objects will be supported by information drawn from the archival records of the Maharanas, and drawings and samples retained by their ancestral silversmiths, both of which are largely unpublished.