Decorative antiques from India are as varied as the people who’ve called the subcontinent home. That’s because Indian objects include Hindu, Islamic, and Colonial sensibilities, to name but a very few. Pre-Mughal-era miniature paintings from Malwa have little in common with gold-threaded Zardozi embroidery or the chased ewers and playing card cases made by Madras silversmiths for British earls and dukes, yet all are distinctly Indian.

Some of the most sought Indian antiques were produced during the centuries when maharajas ruled, from roughly the early 18th century, when the collapse of the Mughal empire allowed smaller kingdoms and the English East India Company to remake the political landscape, to the mid-20th century, when the British were forced to finally quit India.

Most Indian antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries are museum pieces. Foremost among these is the howdah, which was designed to carry the maharaja, his rani, and their immediate entourage atop his preferred means of transportation, an elephant. Howdahs usually had wooden frames, but you can barely see them for all the embossed silver and brocade-trimmed velvet that typified these portable thrones. The howdah itself rested on a jhool, which was usually made of velvet and richly embroidered with thread spun from gold.

The jewelry worn by maharajas and members of their courts were heavy with enormous, uncut gemstones. Diamonds, sapphires, and rubies were the rule in rings, bracelets, necklaces, and turban ornaments. Gemstones also studded the surfaces of untold numbers of functional objects, from hukkas (water pipes), writing implements, and game pieces to the scabbards and hilts of swords. Shorter blades such as kukris and gurkhas, some made of Damascus steel, were often engraved with images of flora and fauna. In the past, most of these weapons were made for ceremonial purposes. Today, contemporary artisans produce them as works of art.

The most elaborate jewels were those worn by the women of the court, especially the rani. Necklaces strained under the weight of emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, while gold hair ornaments shimmered in the Indian sun. In addition to earrings, women wore ear-size ornaments as well as wide, enameled, gold anklets and armbands, which, of course, were covered with jewels.

Wood has remained a favorite traditional material of Indian craftsmen. Boxes made of sandalwood and shisham, or Indian rosewood, give artisans a chance to show off a type of marquetry called sadeli, which mimics the appearance of inlay—bone, silver, and even gems are common accents. Inside these boxes, tight-fitting drawers and compartments create almost sacred spaces for game pieces, pens, and sewing tools such as thimbles.

In the late 19th century, mica paintings depicting street scenes and deities were produced for tourists. In the 20th century, as lithography became more widespread in Indian, lur...

Some of the most striking Indian graphics were the advertising images created for matchboxes and fireworks packaging. Subjects for matchboxes ranged from fetching females known as sudari to ganesh, whose human body boasts an extra pair of arms and the head of an elephant. Other animals found on matchboxes include pouncing tigers, flying horses, and snapping crocodiles. More serene are images of lotus flowers, swans, and peacocks, and palaces, including the Mughal monument, the Taj Mahal.

In recent years, advertising calendars and Bollywood movie posters have also risen in popularity. In both cases, the imagery tends to position Indian consumers and actors alike as modern and sophisticated, but with an exotic, almost mythical past.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

“Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj” was the title of a 2008 exhibition at Columbia University’s Mi… [read review or visit site]

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

Gotheborg.com

Gotheborg.com

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Nice 18th Century Indo Persian Sword With Silver Decorations And Makers Mark19th Century Antique Anglo Indian Vizagapatam Sandlewood Sewing Box Tray MirrorExcellent Antique Indo Persian Islamic Solid Silver Cigarette Case Kashmir C1890Old Antique Arab Islamic Shield Dhal Indo-persian Armour Indian Sword Axe SikhVintage Indian Kantha Quilted Embroidery - Primitive Birds Folk Art - Cot QuiltAntique Anglo Indian Deeply Carved + Sadeli Inlaid Card Case -part Of CollectionSigned Old Antique Nepalese Kukri Gurkha Knife Indo-persian Dagger Sword Axe2 Old Antique Brass Shield Dhal Indo-persian Armour Indian Sword Axe Hindu SikhRare Early 19th Century Anglo Indian Sandalwood BoxStunning Antique Anglo Indian Mysore Carved Dieties Jewellery Box Antique Arab Islamic Brass Afghan Powder Flask Gunpowder Horn Indo-persian Good 19th Century Carved Hardwood Vase Stand - Indian / Burmese / Chinese19c Indian Bronze Krishna VenugopalaAntique 19thc Indian Miniatures Painted On Bone In Carved Wooden FrameAntique Anglo Indian Carved Wood + Sadeli Inlaid Card Case - Part Of CollectionAntique Anglo Indian Faux Bone + Sadeli Inlaid Card Case - Part Of CollectionAntique Indo Persian Tinned-copper Wine Bowl Islamic 18th C Safavid? Arabic VaseAntique Indian Tulvar Sword With Wide Blade For Navy Naval OfficerIndia Hindu Copper Repoussee Puja Ablution Ritual Water Vessel Vase Jar Nr YqzAntique Old Afghan Khyber Axe Tabarzin Indo Persian Sword/knife/tulwar/shamshirCarved Wood Swat Afghan Hindu-kush Tribal Spice Box Kitchen Container YqzBoxed Set Of 6 Antique Anglo Indian Solid Silver Napkin RingsVery Decorative Old Enamel Persian Tobacco Pipe - Very Rare - Indian ? - L@@kAntique Anglo Indian Sandalwood BoxIndia Hindu Copper Repoussee Puja Ablution Ritual Water Ewer Kendi Vase YqzVintage Indi Indian Silver Filigree Mandala Hindu Symbol Necklace PendantAmazing Rare And Large Antique Bronze Tibetan Chinese Buddha Hindu God Statue19c Indian Bronze Virabadhra Plaque (shiva)Chinese Hanging Scroll "india Ink Bamboo" @k307Antique Gold Inlaid Damascene Steel Persian Indian Beggars Bowl Kashkul 9"Antique Indian Handmade Patterned Copper Tea Pot / Water / Milk Jug J54Antique Turkish Ottoman Indo Persian Dagger Knife 934=large Sandstone Fig Of Yakshi Circa 900-1200 A.d Beautiful Antique Indo Persian Islamic Solid Silver Chalice; Kutch C1890 Antique Silver Indian Or Kashmir Cup Tribal Art Hand HammeredAntique Old Syrian Qama/kindjal Sword./dagger Look Nice N Shamshir/indo PersianAntique Kirpan Sikh Knife From Amritsar Indo-persian Dagger Bowie Tulwar KatarStunning Antique Anglo Indian Mysore Carved Dietie Sandal Wood Card TrayAntique Indian Bronze & Silver Jain Swami Mahaveer Buddha Statue Sanskrit Signed19c Afghan Pesh-kabz / Choora / Khyber KnifeOld Vintage Indian Moghul Papier Mache Face Mask Theatrical Theatre Hand PaintedVery Old Brass - Bronze Asian God - Possibly Indian - RareCurious Very Old Antique Folding Knife Indo-persian Hindu God Jack Pen Knife Antique Anglo Indian Solid Sheesham Wood Inlayed Brass Mirror Nice ConditionIndia 1900s Mughal Style Miniature Raja Portrait Indian Raj Government Stamp YqzBronze Horse On Wheels Indian Temple Toy Antique Jali Free Shipping Martin ArtOld Indian Bronze FigureLarge Old Bone Inlay Jewelry Box From IndiaIndian Coin Silver Mug Diety & Cobra Handle P Orr & SonsFine Old Indian Sterling Silver Ganesh Elephant Buddha Hindu Murti Statue SignedAntique Islamic Mughal Indo Persian 18th C Iron Coffee PotAntique Indian Polychrome Painted Toy Wooden Bird On Wheels 7" TallFine Old Thai Buddhist Holy Water Vessel Hindu Kalasha Pot Screw Lid Jar SignedAntique Unusual Indo Perisan Powder Flask Patina Islamic N Sword/shamshir/daggerBeautiful Indian Bronze Or Brass KrishnaAntique India Brass Lord Radha Figure Door Handel 19th Century Antique Kashmir Hand Painted Card Case Indo PersianQuality Indian Carved Figure Of Goddess Playing Sitar C1900A Suite Of 5 19th C Indian Miniature PaintingsLovly Lord/god Ganesh Ganesha Ganapati Statue India