Maharanis: Women of Royal India

Although Indian royalty have in the past formed the subject of several exhibitions and publications, the emphasis of these have always been centred around the figure of the male ruler, or the Maharaja. As a counterpoint to these narratives, this exhibition focuses on the Maharanis and other royal women of erstwhile Princely India.

Chronicling the historical representation of royal women in India for over half a century, and through it, tracing the changing tropes of photographic portraiture, Maharanis: Royal Women of India includes images from the archives of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), esteemed royal collections from across the subcontinent and other institutional and private collections both in India and abroad such as the Victoria & Albert Museum and National Portrait Gallery in London, and the Amar Mahal Museum & Library in Jammu.

Royal portraiture in the context of India has had a long tradition, with miniature artists capturing the splendour and spectacle of court life in earlier centuries. With the advent of photography in the 19th century however, painted portraits were steadily supplanted by the photograph with its claims of truthful accuracy and unprecedented visual exactitude. Early photographic portraits often showed rulers in complete regalia, sometimes accompanied by their children, wives or attendants, but as technology and social mores changed with time, the palace (including the zenana) began to open up and experiment with various modes, poses, and forms of photography.

Functioning as documented history, the photographs in this exhibition point us towards the ways in which these women circumvented and reinvented the traditional, or embraced and reinvented the modern. Serving as windows into a time of great political and social change, they allow us to map the transforming modalities and conditions of the princely class, and its complex relationship with colonialism and the British Empire. Understanding the socio-historical significance of these photographs, thus, this exhibition approaches these women — alluring figures who sported chiffon sarees and exquisite jewellery, featured in Vogue lists and were touted as fashion icons — as voices from the past that history, and we, have seldom paid attention to.

In conjunction with this exhibition, Tasveer is also delighted to announce a new book project that will be produced by the leading Indian publishing house for books on Indian art and culture, Mapin Publishing. This heavily illustrated book will include not only photographs from the exhibition, but also additional material sourced during its research stages. Reproducing over 90 photographs, some of them for the very first time, this volume will be the first significant photographic publication of its kind. It will also feature an introduction by Abhishek Poddar & Nathaniel Gaskell, and four original texts authored by Pramod Kumar, Martand Singh, Amin Jaffer and Shilpa Vijayakrishnan, that provide the reader with wider contexts within which to view these photographs.

Exhibition Schedule


01 October - 14 October 2021

The Harrington Street Arts Centre
8 Ho Chi Minh Sarini 
Harrington Mansions 2nd Floor
Flat no.5 & 25B
Kolkata 700071 
Monday to Saturday 12.00 pm - 7.00 pm


07 November - 20 November 2021

Industry Manor, 3rd Floor
Appasaheb Marathe Marg
Prabhadevi, Mumbai 400025
Monday to Saturday 11.00 am - 7.00 pm

New Delhi

06 December - 20 December 2021

Sanskriti Museums
Mehrauli Gurgaon Road, 
New Delhi – 110047
Tuesday to Sunday 10.00 am - 5.00 pm


19 February - 21 March 2022

24 Gangadhar Chetty Road
Bangalore - 560042
Monday to Sunday 10:30am - 8:15pm



15 April - 24 April 2022

National Institute of Design, PG Campus
GH-0, Extension Road, near Infocity
Gandhinagar 382007
Daily 4:00 pm - 8:00 pm 



29 September - 20 December 2021

Exhibition by appointment:
Maison Frison - Victor Horta

37 Rue Lebeau
1000 Brussels
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