Travels in India, Vol I – Jean Baptiste Tavernier


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 there are similar crosses, arranged so that in one the ruby is in the middle of four emeralds, and in another the emerald is in the middle and four balass. rubies surround it. The emeralds are table-cut, and the intervals between the rubies and emeralds are covered with diamonds, the largest of which do not exceed 10 to 12 carats in weight, all showy stones, but very flat.

There are also in some parts pearls set in gold, and upon one of the longer sides of the throne there are four steps to ascend it. Of the three cushions or pillows which are upon the throne, that which is placed behind the Emperor’s back is large and round like one of our bolsters, and the two others placed at his sides are flat.

Moreover, a sword, a mace, a round shield, a bow and quiver with arrows, are suspended from this throne, and all these weapons, as also the cushions and steps, both of this throne and of the other six, are covered over with stones which match those with which each of the thrones respectively is enriched. (1)

I counted the large balass rubies on the great throne, and there are about 108, all cabuchons, the least of which weighs 100 carats, (2) but there are some which weigh apparently 200 and more. As for the emeralds, (3) there are plenty of good colour, – but they have many flaws ; the largest may weigh 60 carats, and the least 30 carats. I counted about 116 ; thus there are more emeralds than rubies.

The underside of the canopy is covered with diamonds and pearls, with a fringe of pearls all round, and above the canopy, which is a quadrangular-shaped dome, there is a peacock with elevated tail made of blue sapphires and other coloured stones, the body of gold inlaid with precious stones, having a large ruby in front of the breast, whence hangs a pear-shaped pearl of 50 carats or thereabouts, and of a somewhat yellow water. On both sides of the peacock there is a large bouquet of the same height as the bird, consisting of many kinds of flowers made of gold inlaid with precious stones.

(1) V. p. 80 above.
(2) Rubies of good quality weighing 100 carats would be worth more than diamonds of equal weight, but it is probable that these were not
perfect in every respect. See Linschoten, ii. 151 ff.
(3) For the source whence the emeralds were obtained, see bk. ii, ch. xix, in vol. ii. 81 f.

On the side of the throne opposite the court there is a jewel consisting of a diamond of from 80 to 90 carats weight, with rubies and emeralds round it, and when the Emperor is seated he has this jewel in full view. But in my opinion the most costly point about this magnificent throne is that the twelve columns supporting the canopy are surrounded with beautiful rows of pearls, which are round and of fine water, and weigh from 6 to 10 carats each.

At 4 feet distance from the throne two umbrellas are fixed, on either side, the sticks of which for 7 or 8 feet in height are covered with diamonds, rubies, and pearls. These umbrellas are of red velvet, and embroidered and fringed all round with pearls. This is what I have been able to observe regarding this famous throne, commenced by Tamerlane and completed by Shâhjahân ; and those who keep the accounts of the King’s jewels, and of the cost of this great work, have assured me that it amounts to 107,000 lakhs of rupees, (1) which amountto 160,500,000 livres of our money.

(1) There is certainly some mistake here ; the figure should stand at 107,000,000, namely, 1070 lakhs, which at two-thirds of the rupee to the livre would be equal to 160,500,000 livres, or £12,037,500, the rupee being 2s. 3d., and the livre 1s. 6d. Thévenot says that the throne was reported to be worth 20,000,000 in ‘gold’ (mohurs Î), but he adds that a true estimate could only be arrived at by a careful examination of the precious stones with which it was adorned (Voyages, Paris éd., 1684, p. 123). Bernier says 4 crores of rupees, or about 60,000,000 Trench livres, say £4,500,000 (Travels in the Mogul Empire, 268). Elsewhere (p. 223) he fixes the value at 3 crores. A recent estimate of the value of this throne as it stands in the Shâh’s palace at Teheran at present is 13,000,000 dollars, say £2,600,000 (S. G. W. Benjamin, Persia, 73). More is now known about the Peacock Throne than when the first edition of this work was prepared. Lord Curzon, who inspected it at Teheran, writes : ‘ The Takht-i-Taous [Peacock Throne] is not an Indian work at all. It was constructed by Mohammed Husein Khan, Sadr [High Priest, if that term may be used of Musalmâns] of Ispahan, for Fath Ah Shah [1793-1847] when the latter married an Ispahani young lady, whose popular sobriquet, for some unexplained reason, was Taous Khanum, or the Peacock Lady. The King is further said to have been so much delighted with the throne that it was made a remarkably prominent feature in the ceremonies that commonly ensue upon marriage. . . .

The original Peacock Throne of Nadir Shah (i. e. the survivor of the two facsimiles) was discovered in a broken-down and piecemeal condition by Agha Mohammed Shah [Âghâ Muhammad KhânQâjâr, 1785-97] who extracted it, with many of the conqueror’s jewels, by brutal torture from his blind grandson Shah Rukh at Meshed, and then had the recovered portions of it made up into the throne of modern shape and style, which now stands in the palace at Teheran. … In this chair, therefore are to be found the sole surviving remnants of the Great Mogul’s Peacock Throne ‘ (Persia, i. 321 f.). See for an account of the present so called Peacock Throne, ibid., i. 317 fl., with an illustration, p. 319 ; and for the duplicates of it made by Nadir Shah, ibid., i. 320 f. In 1919 a rumour spread that the Great Mogul’s Peacock Throne was at Constantinople, and might be purchased from the Turks and sent to Delhi. Lord Curzon, in a letter to The Times, 10th September 1919, repeated the above facts, adding that when the Turks attacked the Persians, two years before the murder of Nadir Shah, they suffered a crushing defeat, and could not have gained possession of this trophy. It is impossible to reconcile the accounts of the cost of the throne. An account of the throne based on Indian contemporary authorities will be found in Jadunath Sarkar, Studies in Mughal India, 18 ff.