The Bhuj palaces
In Bhuj we visited a pair of palaces. Both were badly hit in the earthquake; the devastation still very obvious, lots of architectural rubble lying where it fell and large cracks across various buildings. Some of the renovation has only started in the last couple of years.
The Prag Mahal is newest palace and an Italianate wonder; really quite bizarre for India. It had suffered with serious-looking cracks in the clock tower, up which we were surprisingly encouraged to climb. The darbar hall was closed for work.
The interiors were in extreme decay; I’m surprised they wanted visitors. Most of the plaster had fallen off the ceilings, pigeons sat on what remained of chandeliers, and the taxidermy had decayed into grotesque shapes. Various humdrum belongings and bits of furniture were on display along with polo equipment, relics from famous Edwardian Indian cricketers and pictures of the Maharani sitting in various expensive sports cars.
The older palace next door is the Aina Mahal. Again it looked fairly devastated but the museum inside was intact and showed off the extreme wealth of the family. The last Maharaja was a friend of Mountbatten, so there were series of letters between them. And there were pictures of viceroy Lord Curzon coming to visit the palace.
An incredible embroidered dado panel stretched round an entire room. There was an inlaid ivory and teak door with a letter addressed to the V&A in 1969 explaining why they wouldn’t lend it. Lots of interesting glass portrait paintings; the idea brought back from China and developed here. But no sign of the ceremonial solid gold fish used in parades; the guard said it was upstairs and not on display.
The antique collector
Kim’s cold is getting worse so we skipped the Bhuj museum but were offered as chance to visit Mr Wazir,a collector of old textiles. We turned at on his front door and he seemed unfazed by this visit. He already had some relatives visiting from Mumbai.
His collection consisted of a vast pile of fabrics stored on shelving either side of the front door. He and his sons picked up examples, and set them down on the carpet in front of us while we nibbled on nut brittle. He showed 3-4 of each type: torans, cradle cloths, appliqué, quilts, wall hangings; mainly but not entirely from the region.
Old generally meant 20-30 years, but there were much older pieces. He was pessimistic about the future of these handicrafts. Despite initiatives to support artisans he said that modern producers were driven by what would sell. In the past dowry pieces were much more about competing and led to far more innovation in the designs.
He wasn’t sourcing directly himself any more; the examples from Sindh in Pakistan came from a long chain of agents. There were also some interesting pieces from Bangladesh. He had been to London 20 years ago and visited the V&A about 16 times over a few weeks. He’d visited various overseas exhibitions; he mentioned the world’s largest folk art event in Santa Fe. Whittling our selection down, they all turned out to be geometric. We spent the best part of £200.