Maharaja – The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India – review

book review maharajaThames and Hudson are famed for their high-quality books and this is another fine example of the style of book we have come to expect. It’s large format, full colour and stunning but more than that, it’s an archive of a disappearing world.

India is a confident country with high expectations. It is growing and finally taking its rightful place in the world arena. It has international respect for its advances in technology and the sciences but it also takes pride in its history and culture. Its colourful past continues to fascinate the rest of the world but much of that past is still living, active and well regarded.

Maharajas no longer exist in name but they still exist in fact. They continue to be amazingly wealthy and enjoy lifestyles that the majority of the world can only wonder at. They might not any longer have exotic titles but the opulence of old lingers on.

Maharaja – The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India is a sumptuous volume which looks at the descendants of the maharajas. They lost their states in 1947 and had their titles abolished in 1971 but in many ways it’s business as usual. They live in stunning palaces with amazing treasures and employ legions of servants. I can hear socialist teeth grinding at the vision, but just consider awhile. India is not a welfare state. People need jobs. India’s craftsmen are celebrated for their skill and artistry and their very existence today in modern India is in no small measure due to the patronage of the previous maharajas and the present almost-maharajas.

Sumio Uchiyama is best known in Japan as a portrait photographer of movie stars. This Maharaja project has allowed him to travel the length of India searching for the remains of the famed princes who still follow their traditional way of life. Whilst this book contains much more than just portraits it’s evident that the photographer has an amazingly good eye for that genre.

The author, Andrew Robinson, has penned more than fifteen books including a biography of Satyajit Ray, the Indian filmmaker responsible for Pather Panchali, a film which won numerous awards at film festivals world-wide, and of Rabindranath Tagore, a poet, novelist, musician, and playwright who won the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature. Maharaja – The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India has allowed him to put context to the subject.

This is another from the Thames and Hudson stable which will be sought after by those of us who love India in all her colourful and exotic guises. The images are beautiful, thoughtful and evocative. Would that TV documentary-makers consider taking such a reasoned and positive view of this magnificent country.

Maharaja – The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India
Author: Andrew Robinson
Published by: Thames and Hudson
Price: £14.95
ISBN 978-0-500-28822-1


Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018