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    

C1890, Fine Quality Antique 19thc Indian Kutch Solid Silver Embossed Goblet CupExquisite Antique Islamic Lucknow Kutch Indian Silver Tray Salver Hunt Scene370gBeautifully Carved Antique 19th C Anglo Indian Mysore Sandalwood Box Not ChineseFine Quality C1880 Solid Silver Anglo Indian Raj Era Snuff Tobacco Box Antique Small Miniature Antique 17th/18th Century Indian Bronze KrishnaRare 18th-19th C. Persian Or Indian Silver Hilt Shamshir Sword Wootz DamascusRare Antique Nyishi N.e. India Arunachai Pradesh Woven Tribal Hat Naga NagalandC1860, Large Antique 19thc Indian Cast And Engraved Bronze Horse Statue FigurineAntique Indian Bronze / Brass Potpourri Bowl , GarudaAntique Metal Medallion Coin Shiva Natraj Hindu Safavid Isfahan Sch Miniature Indo Persian Album Page Wine Party Golden Boat YqzBulk Chinese Thai Indian Necklaces Pendants Bangle Inc Enamel Stone Set Bi DiscIndian Sterling Tea Set C1890 Elephant Handle & SpoutIndian Sterling Covered Bowl C. Krishniah Chetty, Bangalore Antique Sarod Indo-persian Musical Instrument Afghan Rubab Indian Sitar Antique Carved Wood Temple Fragment From IndiaChinese India Shakyamuni Buddha Seat Lotus Brass StatueFantastic Antique Indian Bronze Hindu Jain Shrine, Mandorla, 17/18th C.Indian Silver Pitcher Askos Jug C1890 SignedAntique/vintage Bronze 4 Arms Hindu Buddha Statue 9"hAntique Persian? Indian ? Silver Match CaseOld Crusted Silve Copper Hand Carved ”india Geneisha“ Statue (象鼻神)Indian Antique Blue Enamel Jewelry Box19th Century Antique Hand-carved Wood India Pakistan Spice BoxIndian Elephant Lord God Ganesha Brass Statue Sitting Posture Figurine NrLord Ganesha Hindu God Elephant Thai Amulet Pendant Lucky Rich D25God Chatukham Rammathep Powerful Thai Hindu Amulet Talisman Life Protect LuckyBeautiful Lord Ganesh Ganesha God Success Statue Ohm Hindu Thai Amulet Pendant Old Tibet Tibetan Buddhism Iron Bronze Four Hands India Buddha Mother Lock Key VSitting Lord Shiva Hindu God Amulet Brass Statue Figurine NbeLord Ganesha Hindu God Elephant Thai Amulet Pendant Lucky Rich DbiLord Ganesha Hindu God Elephant Thai Amulet Pendant Lucky Rich DczKali Hindu God Pendant Amulet Sacred Protect Lucky DcaLord Ganesha Hindu God Of Success Brass Statue PendantLord Ganesha Hindu God Elephant Thai Amulet Pendant Lucky RichNice Carved Hardwood Book Slide Possibly IndianAntique Hindu Indian Antique Round Papier Mache Lidded Box Antique Tibetan, Nepalese, Indian Buddha, Two Piece, Qing Dynasty, Provenance.Lord Ganesha Hindu God Elephant Thai Amulet Pendant Lucky Rich NczLord Ganesha Hindu God Elephant Thai Amulet Pendant Lucky Rich DcaLord Ganesha Hindu God Of Success Brass Statue PendantLord Ganesha Hindu God Of Success Brass Statue PendantAntique India Top Very High Aged Ancient Bronze Tantric Ritual Body StampsLord Ganesha Hindu God Multi Hand Thai Amulet Brass Statue DbeLord Ganesha Hindu God Elephant Thai Amulet Pendant Lucky Rich DbiKali Hindu God Pendant Amulet Sacred Protect Lucky DzaLord Ganesha Hindu God Of Success Brass Statue Pendant DzaTrimurti Hindu God Of Love Thai Amulet Brass Statue NbfLord Ganesha Hindu God Elephant Thai Amulet Pendant Lucky Rich DzaLord Ganesha Hindu God Of Success Brass Statue Pendant DczThai Amulet Lord Brahma Hindu God Brass Statue Sacred LuckyLord Ganesha Sitting Hindu God Thai Amulet Brass Statue Lucky Rich DbeThai Amulet Lord Brahma Hindu God Brass Statue Sacred Lucky DbeLord Ganesha Hindu God Of Success Brass Statue Pendant DbhLord Ganesha Hindu God Of Success Brass Statue Pendant DbiExquisite Workmanship Chinese Old Jade Carved Hindu Lotus Seedpod Pendant Oo10 ,Chinese Ancient India Shakyamuni Buddha Seat Lotus Brass StatueIndia Mahayana Buddhism Brass Vajrayogini Vajravarahi Naro Khechari BuddhaCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Tibet Silver India Elephant Wealth God StatueOld Crusted Silve Copper Hand Carved, ”india Geneisha“ Statue