The Viceroy at Patiala

First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 22 March 1884


Kipling to Edith Macdonald, 4 April 1884

Lord Ripon, the Viceroy of India from 1880 to 1884, paid a state visit to the Maharajah of Patiala on the occasion of the opening of the Mohindar College in Patiala. The Maharajah, still a minor, was the titular head of the most important of the Sikh states of the Punjab, under British protection since 1809 and lying on the plains of the Eastern Punjab some two hundred miles from Lahore. The Mohindar College had been officially founded on the occasion of another viceregal visit, by Lord Northbrook in 1875, to encourage education in a state notably backward in that respect among the Punjab states. The Maharajah after whom the college was named had died in 1876, however, and progress had not been rapid thereafter.
The things that Kipling found furnishing the palace in such profusion had been standing undisturbed in the eight years since the late Maharajah’s death. This article is the third of four that Kipling wrote from Patiala; the others cover the Viceroy’s arrival, the ceremony of opening the college, and the durbar that followed. [T.P.]

The Article

Patiala, March 20

This morning, at six o’clock, Lord Ripon and Staff went shooting to Bunnarhair, some six miles away. The party returned about noon, having killed plenty of hare and teetur; a black buck was also sighted, but escaped. Lady Ripon did not accompany the party, and spent the greater part of the day in the Moti Bagh Gardens. At present, and until the evening, there is nothing going on in the Viceregal camp. Tonight, as I have already telegraphed, Lord Ripon returns the young Maharajah’s visit and holds a kind of Durbar in the palace. Preparations for the Durbar are being made now, and the large hall in which it will take place is worthy of description.

Imagine a room seventy yards long and thirty yards wide literally crammed with chandeliers and crystal fountains of white, red, and green glass; throw in acres of mirrors, scores of alabaster statues, Persian rugs, a gold kincob carpet five yards square, and two massive silver-gilt chairs-of-state, and it is possible to obtain some faint idea of the Durbar Chamber. Three of the big glass chandeliers alone are said to have cost two-and-a-half lakhs of rupees. They stand thirty feet high and hold about two thousand lights each. But it would need the pen of Walt Whitman, the inspired auctioneer of the universe, to describe half the wonders of that glittering room. In the daytime, with the vivid sunlight streaming in upon thousands of rainbow-coloured glass drops, and sheets of gold embroidery, it seemed as unreal as Alladin’s Cave. What it will be tonight, when the myriads of candles are lit, and the floor is gay with native dresses, may be imagined.

Patiala Palace is an enormous white building, in the middle of the city. This morning I explored as much as was open to European visitors. The first object of interest, as the guide¬books say, is the Patiala State Museum, and the way in which the museum was formed was as follows. When Mohindra Singh, the present Maharajah’s father, died, he owed various Calcutta tradespeople close upon nine lakhs of rupess, and had, during his life, dealt with them to three or four times that extent in cash. (Those who are interested in the affairs of this state may remember how the shop-keepers of Calcutta flocked to Patiala as soon as the news of the Maharajah’s death reached them, and clamoured for payment in the Moti Bagh: the Council of Regency, of course, satisfied all claims.)

The Maharajah’s method of procedure was peculiar and expensive. Walking into a shop, he would take ‘all on that side the counter’, or all in the shop, as his royal fancy moved him, and, after his decease, his purchases formed the Patiala Museum. One room is called the armoury, and contains the gold-mounted swords given to the Maharajah by the Prince of Wales and Lord Lytton. In racks round the room are hundreds of double-barrelled fowling- pieces of the best make, and on a long table down the centre lie hundreds of gun cases that have never even been opened. Rook rifles, military sniders, gold-mounted Remington repeating rifles, breech-loading pistols, silver mounted revolvers, stick guns, and many other varieties of lethal weapons may be seen here in scores or dozens, just as they were bought, mixed up with Brown-besses, obsolete breech-loading rifles of a pattern twenty years old, and naval carbines. At present they are neglected and dusty, but I am told that, when the young Maharajah comes to power, they will all pass to him. Happy young Maharajah!

In another room are the State howdahs and palanquins and the silver carriage, which, I learn, was made entirely in the Patiala State. The cushions are purple velvet and gold, the whip ivory and silver gilt, and the body of the carriage silver gilt; everything being in perfect keeping, except a square of tawdry Brussels carpet at the bottom of the carriage.

Ascending many stairs we come to another department of the Museum. When His Highness bought any thing he did it wholesale, and everything is repeated many times over. I counted a hundred and fifty penknives, twenty or thirty nailbrushes of various patterns, and then gave it up as a hopeless task. At the risk of being tedious I will give a list of a few of the more prominent features of the department. Bolts, nuts, and screws in assorted cases, sheets of lead; wire network, zinc and tin, ten or twenty of each; albums in Russia leather, malachite, ivory, mother-of-pearl, silver, onyx and agate, piled anywhere and anyhow; dressing bags in scores; liqueur stands, riding whips, sausage-machines, champagne-tweezers, candle-sticks, and chimney- piece ornaments more than I could count; pictures of all kinds, piled face to the wall; twenty-seven brass parrot cages, and fourteen courier bags; an assortment of cigar and card-cases in tortoiseshell and gold; several telescopes and binoculars, dozens of glove cases in agate and onyx; then musical boxes as big as small organs, stereoscopes, patent medicines, patent inks, and a flock of India-rubber decoy ducks, flattened and dusty, butcher’s scales, spring balances, and Bramah locks and child¬ren’s toys, all of the newest and most expensive kinds. This is not a tenth part of the contents of that room, and it was a little depressing to see how everything was gradually being spoilt with neglect.

As I was leaving, an official asked me if I would care to see His Highness’s dressing cases. I had seen nearly a hundred, and explained that it was all very grand, but a trifle monotonous. Then the official told me that the dressing cases he referred to had cost half-a-lakh each, and I changed my mind. Each case stood four feet high and was mounted in solid silver with the Maharajah’s monograph ‘M.S.S.’ in silver half-a-foot long, on the outside. Inside was a complete service for dressing, dining, and writing, surgical instruments, and cheroot cases, all in silver with the Maharajah’s monogram in blue and white enamel on each article. A complete set of plate in silver, and a whole stand of liqueur bottles made up the contents, which numbered over two hundred and fifty articles, all embedded in purple velvet. When I say that the toilet service was silver, I would be understood in the most literal sense. Every bottle and case was of solid silver throughout. Unfortunately the Maharajah died before the dressing-cases reached him from England — for which he is a good deal to be pitied.

They must be worth every rupee of the hundred thousand spent on them, and, however much I might write about them, I should fail to give any idea of their appearance. It would be worth while to visit Patiala to see those dressing-cases alone. In common with all the other things, they are sadly neglected, and one is so warped that the lock is hampered and will not open.

Further exploration of the Palace led to some curious discoveries. I had been close upon two hours in the building, and was only on the outskirts of it. Ten minutes’ wandering across huge silent squares, baking in the sunlight, and through innumerable dark passages, brought me out to. a second and smaller edition of the wonders I had left behind. More chandeliers, more statues and knicknacks, but all of a much older date, and covered with the dust of years. Two or three natives, who looked as if they had grown grey in the guarding of these treasures, salaamed wearily as I entered, and were good enough to leave me alone. Beyond these aged servitors not a soul was visible, though, all round the square, (it was the third I had entered) I could hear steps and the sounds of far off voices, and, now and then, the noise of suppressed laughter.
Here, too, were more albums, bound in blue velvet, but dusty and frayed at the edges, and holding photographs of Indian worthies long since dead or retired. None of them bore a later date than twenty years ago, and I discovered portraits of the Princess Beatrice in short dress and crinoline, the Prince of Wales, a young man with all his hair on: Lord Lawrence and his brother seated at a table, directing the affairs of our Province; General Chamberlain and the Strachey brothers; Lord Napier of Magdala, youthful and gay of appearance; Sir Donald Macleod; Sir George Grey and his Council, in the days when that gentleman was Lieutenant-Governor of Calcutta; all the heroes of the Mutiny and the capture of Delhi, and, lastly, the immortal Patti, a young and graceful prima donna with a huge chignon. Besides these, there were photos of regiments in India long ago, notably the Black Watch, the 90th Regiment, now the Scottish Rifles, and the 73rd Highlanders. One of the most interesting photos was a representative of a picnic under the walls of Jumrood twenty years back. The belle of the station wore a big crinoline, dressed her hair strangely, and all the lovely ‘spins’ of that period looked out of the soiled page like a collection of long-buried ghosts. It is more than possible that the only remembrance of that picnic remains shut up in the walls of the Patiala Palace — not often to be disturbed. Behind the album stood the grandfather of all the sewing-machines in the world — bobbinless, rusty and paralyzed — adding not a little to the strangeness of the scene. Knicknacks from the Exhibition of 1861, a large steel engraving of the Queen’s marriage, coffee-coloured anti-maccassers, and the gruesome woolwork in which our ancestors so delighted, all helped out the idea that I had suddenly stepped out of the life of today, and had gone back a quarter of a century at least.
When I left the dusty, faded purchases of the late Maharajah, I wandered, through more passages, into an assembly of grey¬beards seated in one of the most charming looking-glass rooms I had ever seen. Gold leaf and coloured glass, in a strong sunlight, are apt to be garish and overbold in colouring; but time had toned down this small chamber till it looked like a very opal. Persian rugs were spread on the floor, and on these rugs sat five aged men in spotless white, doubtless discussing State affairs among themselves. As soon as they recognized the presence of a Sahib among them, they rose en masse, and, with the greatest gravity, proceeded to ‘shoo’ me out of their presence as one might ‘shoo’ a strayed fowl. It seems that I had trespassed too close to the ladies, and as none of the five elders understood English, they had adopted this course in order to let me understand that it was as well to withdraw. I took the hint, and managed to rejoin modem civilisation in the shape of the barouche kindly placed at my service by the authorities in the great outer square. There appeared to be no end to the Palace, whose white walls go half across the city, and, in the old times, it must have seen many strange sights. All noises are stifled or dulled by the masses of brick and masonry, and any deed of violence committed in one of the thousand winding passages would run but little risk of being detected.

The elephant fight here has been postponed till tomorrow; one elephant only being must at present. It is to take place on the maidan outside the city, and promises to be a big thing of its kind.