Browsing online, I came across an exhibition over Indian royal jewellery at Victoria and Albert Museum. Digging deeper, it turned out that V&A is conducting an India season with India themed displays. On the moment, there are two paid ones – one over Indian Royal Jewellery from the collection of Al Thani of the Qatari royal family and the other one over Indian fabric. Costing was £14 for Jewellery Collection and £11 for the Fabric exhibition, with a combined ticket for both costing £20. 2-for-1 exists.
The usual route for such, a one-day pass over Network Rail Card, a train from Hayes and Harlington, changing at Paddington. While trying to search for a 2-for-1 brochure, I was forced to hear to an interesting discussion between Information Desk and a foreign tourist who is not at all happy that there is a complete shutdown in London on Christmas – after all, people go on tourist circuits to roam around and enjoy, not sit in hotel rooms!! Now, at the counter in the museum. The person sitting in the counter was clearly from a paper ticket generation and struggled a bit to issue tickets costing £20 for me.
The first one was the Indian Fabric exhibition. It was not that perfectly organized – neither on themes, not on timeline, but, on the whole, it was an interesting collection – a very interesting one. Starting with Indian designer makes, it picks up the pace dealing with almost everything, but with the major focus on single piece things – sarees, curtains, prayer mats and shawls, the likes. An over all look at it, this is more of a Muslim collection, may be because royal Hindu patrons uninfluenced by the trends of the Muslim world are hard to find. Spread across eight(?) rooms, this is a very huge one. The first room had enough samples to show the stretch of Indian imagination – Qalamkari, clothes made of gold and silver, various types of dyes, a small room covered with a wall hanging made in Kutch, a shawl with a map of Kashmir on it, a few samplings of Zari and Qalamqari and many such curios. The next one was a collection of religious items – a Muslim prayer mat, a Christian curtain or something like that, a Muslim sweatshirt used as an amulet(wonder who preserved that sweat-stained and partly discoloured shirt), a big temple curtain and a huge cloth embroidered with the story of Katamaraju and some others. The Chritstian curtain is a curious very curious one. It is commissioned by some Armenian trader in South India. The images are of Jesus on cross, the images sourced from Armenian scriptures, all done in a South Indian style, the result being a Christian god dressed in a Zorastrian way on cross with South Indian features. The temple curtain is of Vaishnavite origin, the hard work done is a very commendable job.
Next is a long corridor, with the end section being a channel filled with red strings set in black opening into a huge room. A few samplings, including a huge cloth with a floral pattern, possibly a tent flap from the inner tent of a Great Mughal Emperor, a few Jama, a huge cloth depicting Mahabharata, a few sarees and bedsheets/curtains and others of high class stuff. The highlight of the room was a tent of Tipu Sultan raised in full. After all, he is supposed to turn up somewhere or the other. There was a bed depicted in full and a large design pattern with a Muslim ensemble and a few Christian merchants at the bottom. This is supposed to be important because this was made in 17th Century, much before the Europeans spread their tentacles. Pass through to the next room to view some fabric almost 7000 years old, a few kerchiefs and some traditional dresses. Next two are collection of contemporary Indian and Indian embroidery like Chikankari, Chintz and Khadi, a section over Indian independence and British interest for highlighting their imperialism, modernwear like Lady Gaga’s sharkskin coat, a dress from the movie Devdas ending in another corridor, this time, with a large printed cloth on one side and the reverse of a Zari work. Next room, the last, again is a medley of items – designer and traditional.
Overall, this exhibition can be made much better by arranging it on an area by area basis, subdivided into timeframes. Lacking was the rich religious heritage, tribal wear and clothes, mainly from the Himalayan belt. But, all apart, it is a very good one, occupying the whole part of an hour and is worth a visit, if not for money, but for the quality time.
Jewellery, on a later day!!