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Wealth of India’s rulers dazzles visitors

The Field Museum exhibit explores life of privileged maharajas

Published: Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO – India's rulers move into the spotlight at The Field Museum exhibit, "Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts."

Golden and opulent, more than 200 objects are on display from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. They include a throne, Indian turban jewels, an elephant's howday – or carriage – and sparkling weapons. These are the belongings of the privileged maharajas.

Having both religious and secular influence, the very act of seeing a "great king" gave blessings to those who witnessed his power during darshan. This required a richly-dressed maharaja to ride a decorated horse or elephant in a procession. He was accompanied by attendants carrying the symbols of his authority, such as staves, fans and a parasol.

The exhibit takes visitors through time from the 1700s to the 1940s. They will learn about the palaces maharajas called home and the changes in royal life over the years as the world twirled around them.

There's certainly no place like home when a person lives in a palace. These Indian homes contained many marvels including the finest of luxury goods and art. This fits in with the duty of a ruler to patronize those arts. The exhibition demonstrates this in the works of artists and craftsmen.

A treat is in store for museum patrons – a life-sized model of an elephant dressed to carry royalty. The clothing of the court also is on display, as are the lives of the rulers themselves.

Extra admission is charged to get in to this exhibition. One of the ways to do this is with the All Access Pass, which allows visitors to tour all areas of the museum, including special exhibits, such as Extreme Mammals. A 3D movie is part of the package.

Open through Sunday, Extreme Mammals takes visitors from the comfort of the wealthy and powerful to the wild outdoors of unusual animals. Whether large or small, extinct or still around, these mammals are explored from shared traits to survival adaptations. Highlights include the new mammal species museum scientists find each year.

Traits covered in the exhibit are teeth, brains, headgear (horns, tusks, antlers), hair and armor and tails. Even the way the mammals move is covered.

If time allows, branch out. Many other exhibits await an explorer with a day to spend at the museum.

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