Malleable yet harder than gold, silver has been an integral part of Indian royal families. Currency coins, ornaments, utensils, mirrors, furniture — this shining metal has adorned palatial quarters for centuries.
Other than adding lustre to the royal ambiance, the art and craft of silver also speaks volumes of shared influences in silversmithy. For those interested in tracing a silver trail now have a golden opportunity to watch exquisite exhibits belonging to the royal family of Udaipur.
Arvind Singh Mewar, chairman and managing trustee of Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation (MMCF), has recently opened the family’s silver treasure for public viewing at the City Palace. Claimed to be world’s first silver museum, the “Splendour of Silver” offers a peep into the family heirlooms dating back to 743 AD.
The museum housed at Amar Mahal, located at the entrance of the Zenana Mahal, has a wide range of silver exhibits ranging from royal transport, worship accessories and utensils for everyday use.
The unique items selected for display in the seven-roomed 7,100 sq ft museum highlight as to why silver has immense value for its limitless forms, scope for technical perfection and varied use. Many of the silver artefacts displayed like the gulabposh (rose water sprinklers) and the surahis (decanters) have a Mughal influence — reflecting the longstanding links between the House of Mewar and the Mughals.
Most of the other silver pieces have a touch of indigenous artisan techniques of Mewar, including items of pierced work and cladding where silver sheets are used to cover the contours of wooden objects.
Some of the exhibits are the Silver Buggy, a Taam Jam, Ram Rewari (portable shrine for deities) and the magnificent elephant howdah used for mounting elephants in religious, state and military processions. These items underscore the robust nature of silver.
The custom-made silver buggy is special since it was a surprise gift to the queen mother from her parents — the Bikaner royals — at the time of her wedding. The carriage was made by Frederic Selby and Co. Ltd. Birmingham in 1939 but the silver craftsmanship is local. Of all the exhibits, this is the largest item on display. With its solid silver chassis, wheels and spokes as well as detailed intricate work (a ballerina mid-pirouette on the door), it is sure to instantly attract the visitor’s eyes.
To match with her grandma’s wedding gift is a sample of latest silver craft — the silver-pillared wedding mandap of Princess Padmaja. It was made specially for the occasion two years ago; it has silver chowkis, four sets of seven silver pots, hawan kund and other puja accessories.
The visitors can spot the obvious difference in the craftsmanship of olden times and the modern exhibits, though designed in traditional style. The modernisation and renovation of the Zenana Mahal could be possible with financial assistance received from the Union Ministry of Culture, deputy secretary of MMCF-administration, Bhupinder Singh Auwa, says.
A simpler aesthetic dictates the design of the items used in the daily prayer rituals at the Shree Eklingnath ji temple complex, the principal deity of Mewar royals. A combination of cold mechanical assemblage systems like flanging, riveting, screwing and the common casting processes of heat, including soldering, have been used in these items.
It is a “live” museum in the sense that many silver items would still be in use today.
Incidentally, the Amar Mahal, where the museum is housed, is said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Though the beauty of the Taj with its sparkling fine quality of marble is no match to the local marble used in this building, the craftsmanship is simply superb.
It has taken MMCF three years to restore the original grandeur of Amar Mahal to make it a suitable abode for the silver museum.