Travels in India, Vol I – Jean Baptiste Tavernier

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C H A P T E R V I I I Concerning the preparations which are made for the festival of the Great Mogul, when he is solemnly weighed every year. Of the splendour of his thrones and the magnificence of his Court.

AFTER finishing all my business with the Emperor, as I have related in the finest Book (1),  when I went to take leave of His Majesty on the first of November 1665, he told me he was unwilling that I should depart without having witnessed his fête, which was then at hand, and that afterwards  he would give orders that all his jewels should be shown to me. (2)

I accepted, as in duty bound, the honour he conferred on me ; and thus I was a spectator of this grand festival, which commenced on the fourth of November and lasted five days. It is on the anniversary of the Emperor’s birthday that they are in the habit of weighing him, (3) and if he should weigh more than in the preceding year, the rejoicing is so much the greater. When he has been weighed, he seats himself on the richest of the thrones, of which I shall speak presently, and then all the nobility of the kingdom come to salute him and offer presents.

(1) See p. 112.
(2) See p. 314.
(3) Aurangzeb evaded the custom of distributing his weight in money, and did not have tokens coined, like his predecessors, to celebrate the occasion of his coronation. Sir T. Roe describes in rather contemptuous terms the scramble for thin pieces of silver, made to resemble different fruits. The Mogul, Jahângïr, presented to him a basin full of them ; but while he held them in his cloak the nobles snatched most of them from him. He estimates that the amount distributed did not exceed £100 in value (ed. Foster, i. 252, ii. 411 f.). Terry, his chaplain, also describes the scene ( Voyage, ed. London 1777, p. 376 ; Bernier, 270; Ovington, 178 f.). For Akbar’s practice see Àïn-i-Akbarï, i. 266 f. ; Hindu Râjâs adopted the practice (Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, vii. 202 ff.). For further references to the custom see J. Fryer, New Account of East India and Persia, Hakluyt Society, i. 206 ; iii. 194 ; Ja’far Sharif, Islam in India, 191. Sivaji having been weighed against gold, the amount of which was distributed to Brâhmans, obtained a high rank among Rajputs, from whom the Brâhmans tried to prove his descent (Grant Duff, Hist. Mahrattas, ed. 1921, i. 207).

The ladies of the court also send gifts «and he receives others from the Governors of Provinces and other exalted personages. In diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls, gold and silver, as well as rich carpets, brocades of gold and silver, and other stuffs, elephants, camels, and horses, the Emperor receives in presents on this day to the value of more than 30,000,000 livres. (1)

Preparations for this festival which lasts five days commence on the 7th of September, about two months before the event ; and the reader should remember the description which I have given of the palace of Jahânâbâd in the sixth chapter of Book I. (2) The first thing done is to cover in two large courts of the palace from the middle of each up to the hall, which is open on three sides.

The awnings covering this great space are of red velvet embroidered with gold, and so heavy that the poles which are erected to support them are of the size of a ship’s mast, and some of them are 35 to 40 feet in height ; there are thirty-eight for the tent of the first court, and those near the hall are covered with plates of gold of the thickness of a ducat. The others are covered with silver of the same thickness, and the cords which” sustain these poles are of cotton of different colours, some of them of the thickness of a good cable.

The first court is, as I have elsewhere said, surrounded by porticoes with small rooms connected with them, and here it is that the Omrahs stay while they are on guard. For it should be remarked that one of the Omrahs mounts guard every week. (3)

He disposes, both in the court as also about the Emperor’s palace or tent when he is in the field, the cavalry under his command, and many elephants. During this week the Omrah on guard receives his food from the Emperor’s kitchen, and when he sees from afar the food which is being brought to him, he makes three obeisances in succession, which consist in placing the hand three times on the ground, and as often on the head, (4) at the same time praying to God to preserve the Emperor’s health, and that He will give him long life , and power to vanquish his enemies.

(1)  30,000,000 livres, at Is. 6d. to the livre = £2,250,000.
(2) See p. 79.
(3) Sir T. Roe, i. 172 ; Bernier, 214..
(4 ) The Taslïm {Âïn-i-Akbari, i. 158 ; Bernier, 214)

All these Omrahs, who are the nobility Of the kingdom and Princes of the blood royal, regard it as a great honour to guard the Emperor; and when mounting or leaving guard, they don their best clothes ; their horses, elephants, and camels are also richly clad, and some of the camels carry a swivel-gun with a man seated behind to fire it.

The least of these Omrahs commands 2,000 horse, but, when a Prince of the blood royal is on guard, he commands up to 6,000. (1).  It should be stated that the Great Mogul has seven magnificent thrones, one wholly covered with diamonds, the others with rubies, emeralds, or pearls. (2)

The principal throne, which is placed in the hall of the first court, resembles in form and size our camp beds ; that is to say, it is about 6 feet long and 4 wide. Upon the four feet, which are very massive, and from 20 to 25 inches high, are fixed the four bars which support the base of the throne, and upon these bars are ranged twelve columns, which sustain the canopy on three sides, that which faces the court being open.

Both the feet and the bars, which are more than 18 inches long, are covered with gold inlaid and enriched with numerous diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. In the middle of each bar there is a large balass ruby (3), cut en cabuchon, with four emeralds round it, forming a square cross.

(1) Bernier, 212. (2)  Ibid., 269.
(3) Balet in the original, for balass, &c. Ball has elsewhere referred to this word as being probably derived from Balakhshàn, a form of the name Badakhshàn (see Economic Geology of India, 430). Yule (Hobson Jobson, 52, and Marco Polo, i. 149,152, ii. 298) however, establishes this view beyond question of doubt by quotations from Ibn Batuta, iii. 59, 394, Barbosa, &c. The stones from this locality, which is on the banks of the Shignàn, a tributary of the Oxus, are not, however, rubies, but spinels ; at the same time it would appear that according to some authorities the term balass has been transferred to true rubies of a particular shade of colour—hence a considerable degree of confusion has arisen in this branch of the nomenclature of precious stones. After Ibn Batuta’s testimony, derivations from Baluchistan and Baluchin—an old name for Pegu ? —need perhaps only be mentioned in order to be dismissed ; but with reference to the latter, Chardin, Voyages, tome iv, p. 70, Amsterdam ed. of 1711, says :—’ On l’appelle aussi Balacchani, Pierre de Balacchan, qui est le Pegou, d’où je juge qu’est venu le nom de Balays qu’on donne aux Rubis couleur de rose.’

Next in succession, from one side to the other along the length of the bars