Museum Treasure: The golden throne of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

The Victoria and Albert Museum (or the V&A) in London has a fantastic collection of artifacts from India, that includes textiles, jewellery, paintings, weapons, etc. While many of these have been purchased by the V&A, some of the exhibits have been acquired during annexation of the princely states of pre-independent India by the British. One such exhibit is the Golden Throne of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, which was acquired as State property in 1849 on the annexation of Punjab.

The golden throne of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Ranjit Singh (1780–1839) was the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, also known as Punjab, Sikh Raj or Sarkar Khalsa. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court was considered to be amongst the most magnificent in India.

The golden throne is made of wood and covered with sheets of engraved gold. It was crafted by  Hafez Muhammad Multani, a goldsmith. The throne has an octagonal base and has lotuses engraved on it. Though the Maharaja preferred to sit on the cross-legged floor or on a chair, he would use the golden throne on State occasions or when he wanted to impress foreign visitors.

I have my theory as to why the Maharaja did not use the throne too often—it looked distinctly uncomfortable. In spite of the velvet/silk cushions that the throne’s seat must have had, it would not have given enough space for even a moderately well-built man like the Maharaja to sit on the throne for long without considerable discomfort.

What do you think? Would the Maharaja have been comfortable in it?

The Museum Treasure Series is all about artifacts found in museums with an interesting history and story attached to them. You can read more from this series here.

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24 thoughts on “Museum Treasure: The golden throne of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

  1. Now, that is a novel theory, but one I can agree with :D He would have preferred the ground anytime, I guess. :) Love this series, but I have already told you that an n number times, haven’t I?

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    • Going by the comments received it is quite evident that everyone agrees that it would have made for a very uncomfortable throne !

      And yes, you have told me that you love this series before. But I love to hear you say this again and again :-D

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  2. It is also important to note that we actually have a work of art, which has the name of the creator! Usually such artefacts including miniatures as well had no signatures for a long time. And yes, it does look very uncomfortable!

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    • And that is a very important point that you have made. In a country where the creators of such works of art have gone unsung and unacknowledged, this is a rare one indeed ! Thank you bringing raising this point !

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    • Yes, that is what I have read too. The Maharaja preferred to sit cross-legged on the floor or on a chair. But even when this throne was used on State occassions, it must have been uncomfortable indeed.

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  3. Could it be that the throne was crafted for Baby Ranjit Singh? At least they have preserved it till date and importantly, it is a government property. Had it remained in our country after we attained Nirvana in 1947, the gold would have been scrapped and the value whisked away to some offshore bank account.

    Bole so nihal, sat shri akal!

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    • The throne was made between 1820 to 1830, which means that the Maharaja was already 40. So there goes your theory of the throne being made for the Baby Maharaja ! As for the fate of the throne if it had remained in India, no comments ;-)

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  4. There’s hardly any room to place his Highness’ royal bottom plus they have pillows on there. I’m sure he didn’t want to sit on it.

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  5. I don’t remember seeing this one – must have missed it. I agree about the discomfort of sitting or sleeping on pukka gold or silver chairs and beds. Even the silver bed in Mysore palace had looked very uncomfortable to me :)

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  6. It’s a waste of money if you have to use a pillow to sit on it. Would prefer something more comfortable. I have the same opinion about the famous Takth-e-Tavus or the peacock throne. Always wondered how they delivered justice sitting on those odd seats under their bums…..

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    • Waste of money or not, confortable or uncomfortable such things get made, used and then displayed in museums for people like us to admire, comment, wonder, blog and discuss about :-)

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  7. That’s weird! I’ve visited V&A twice and I don’t even remember this throne! Perhaps I didn’t even realise it was a throne. To answer the question, I suppose a throne was mustn’t be used as a chair or an armchair. It was made to impress people but not to have dinner or to have a rest, wasn’t it?
    By the way, do you know Tipu’s Tiger? The story of this toy is fun! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipu's_Tiger

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    • Delighted to see you here, Marilay. Thank you so much for stoppping by and commenting. Maybe you didn’t see the throne as it may have travelled elsewhere as part of a larger exhibition !

      It is in the South Asia section along with a host of jewellery from India and Islamic art from the middle East. That room is a real treasure trove :-)

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    • Grand it may be, but comfortable? I seriously doubt it. :-D

      Don’t know how I missed out on replying to your comment, Deb. Maybe old age, maybe the recent bout of illness which saw me not touch the comp for about 3 days, maybe chronic forgetfulness that I suffer from, maybe the fact that I rely to comments from the WP dashboard and not the post… Whatever the reason, I’m really sorry that I did not respond to your comment.

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    • Well, actually it is not very high. A little higher than a normal chair, perhaps. It is the shape and is so uncomfortable. As for the use of gold, the royalty are like that only :-)

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