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Rare Maharaja Duleep Singh wardrobe in ‘Empress of India’ exhibition

The opulent wardrobe of Maharaja Duleep Singh is one of the highlights of a major exhibition showcasing Queen Victoria’s complex love affair with India at the Kensington Palace from Friday, marking the 200th anniversary of her birth.

world Updated: May 23, 2019 17:37 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Duleep Singh,Maharaja Duleep Singh wardrobe,Empress of India
After this meeting, she described Maharaja Duleep Singh in her journal as “16 & extremely handsome ... [he] has a pretty, graceful & dignified manner.(Photo: Historic Royal Palaces)

The opulent wardrobe of Maharaja Duleep Singh is one of the highlights of a major exhibition showcasing Queen Victoria’s complex love affair with India at the Kensington Palace from Friday, marking the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was the ‘Empress of India’. Titled ‘Victoria: Woman and Crown’, the exhibition hosted in her birthplace explores various facets of her life, with India as one of its central themes.

As the former ruler of the Sikh empire – deposed during the Anglo-Sikh Wars with the annexation of the Punjab - the young Duleep Singh was exiled in 1854 to Britain, where he was first introduced to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace.

After this meeting, she described him in her journal as “16 & extremely handsome ... [he] has a pretty, graceful & dignified manner. He was beautifully dressed & covered with diamonds”. For the first time, the exhibits include his wardrobe worn at the time.

Queen Victoria was godmother to Duleep Singh’s daughter Sophia, and offered his children accommodation at the Hampton Court Palace following his death. The exhibition includes a portrait of Duleep Singh commissioned by the queen.

Also in focus is the role played by her Indian servant Abdul Karim, on whom she bestowed the title of ‘Munshi’, who taught her to read and write Urdu. One of her diaries carefully inscribed in the language is one of the star items of the display, set alongside items showcasing Victoria’s relationship with her empire.

The exhibition also assesses her power and influence, and how she carefully curated her public image.

As the most famous woman in the world at the dawn of the photographic age, Victoria understood and consciously harnessed this new technology, using it both to project an image of imperial power across continents and document the minutia of family life.

Victoria’s long reign also saw the birth of four future kings. A poignant portrait of her with her son, grandson and great-grandson (the future Edward VII, George V and Edward VIII respectively) is on display.

Polly Putnam, exhibition curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said: “Although considered one of the most famous women in history, Queen Victoria’s personality, passions and politics remain little known”.

“To mark the 200th anniversary of her birth at Kensington Palace, this year we’ll be re-examining the life of this fascinating and contradictory monarch, whose cultural legacy and impact on world affairs are still felt to this day.”

First Published: May 23, 2019 17:31 IST