chapter  5
16 Pages

Colonial architecture, international exhibitions and official patronage of the Indian artisan: The case of a gateway from Gwalior in the Victoria and Albert Museum

This meant collecting and guaranteeing the sources of enough revenue to run the administration, to do the minimum necessary to oil the wheels to maintain an army that had the military muscle to protect Britain's wider economic interests. To raise funds the British had to fall back on revenue, the standby of all previous rulers of India, and to be successful the settlements had to be modelled along lines approved by influential sectors of society. As time went on even those involved in the administration of India in London realised that the secret of successful government was to keep taxation low, cultivate policies of salutary neglect, stick scrupulously to strict neutrality in regional matters, keep administration cheap and the British element in it small. As the decades passed and more finance was needed, new ways of winning collaboration were sought, while imperial strategy also entailed a policy of non-interference in a good third of India, the princely states. Accorded a secure place within Britain's empire, the princes, carefully ranked and ordered, and watched over by political agents posted at their courts, exercised power by courtesy of their British overlords, in a relationship of mutual dependence. Neither benevolent paternalists, nor blatant oppressors, the British, it can be argued, ruled India only in a formal sense, creating the illusion of power by means of drama and pageant, colouring their optimistic pronouncements with a wash of fiction. As the century wore on and communications improved, the British found many occasions for the display of the romanticised pageantry that had become an important part of the imperial self-image, and the princes played a key part in this drama. Whether at court in London, at Osborne House or at durbars in India, the princes had to appear in traditional Indian royal dress and frequently outdid the most extravagant expectations. Yet their states were also expected to be exemplars of the changes that the British hoped to introduce into India. Torn between these conflicting demands, the princes sustained their roles as traditional Hindu or Muslim rulers, maintained the trappings of feudal court life and made religious endowments, but also adopted the external habits of a Westernised life-style. They modernised their states and set up the institutions of new India - schools, colleges, hospitals, courts, charitable and learned societies. Encouraged by the British, and as part of their own internal battle for symbolic precedence, they also built new palaces. Sir Lepel Griffin, agent to the Governor General of Central India, writing in The Pioneer newspaper in 1887, expressed one official view. For those princes

whose minds have been enlightened by English training, the old, and it may be, picturesque designs of native palaces are odious. They cannot breathe in the confined rooms and narrow passages which were good enough for their fathers. They demand large well-ventilated rooms, light and air, wide staircases and imposing halls. Such conveniences find no place in the conventional designs of native architecture.