Sunday, October 29, 2006

MAHARAJAS: Glorious Parisites??

Glorious Parasites is the headline in a Time article reflecting the lavishes and the insane extravagences of an era gone by.

Before India became independent from the British in 1947, India consisted of more than 600 princely states, many of them ruled by the Maharajas or the great kings.

The world's richest man in 1937 was His Exalted Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad, a princely state. TIME featured him on its cover that year, estimating his fortune at $1.4 billion, including "$150,000,000 in jewels [and] $250,000,000 in gold bars."

During the period of the Indian struggle for freedom in 1939, Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's future Prime Minister, lamented that most of the princely states were "sinks of reaction and incompetence."

After independence in 1947, the first act of its new leaders was to demand that the maharajas hand in their crowns. While many princes withered away into poverty, a few adapted to democracy, refashioning themselves as politicians and diplomats.

Others, such as the enterprising Kings of Rajasthan, converted their palaces into magnificent five-star hotels and turned themselves into successful businessmen. But as The Unforgettable Maharajas shows, India's royals will be best remembered for their pomp—and pomposity.

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