INDIA'S NATIONAL TREASURE UP FOR SALE
One has read about flying carpets in the tales of the Arabian Nights. Now a carpet, a national treasure at that, has literally flown. This is the 145-year old Pearl Carpet of Baroda, a designated national treasure of India. It is slated to be put up for sale in an exhibition titled 'Masters' in Dubai along with works of other masters like Van Gogh and Picasso.
Sir George Birdwood who wrote an elegy in praise of this carpet in 1879 was told that it cost Rs.10 million at that time. Recent estimates place the value of the Pearl Carpet at US$ 60 million. What is so special about this carpet? The answer is-- both its intrinsic value as well as its tumultuous history.
The Pearl Carpet measures 5ft 7 1/4 inches x 8ft 7 1/8 inches. It is adorned with 2520 rose-cut diamonds of 1 to 5 carats each, more than 1.4 million pearls, entwined with flowers whose centres and petals are set up over 1000 cabochon rubies and nearly 600 emeralds. Elements of the refined design are further worked in thin English glass beads with gold settings.
Now for its chequered history-- In the early 1860s, Maharaja Khande Rao of Baroda desired to offer a priceless pearl carpet at the shrine of the Prophet in Medina. He wanted it to be just like the pearl carpet over Mumtaz Mahal's tomb at the Taj Mahal in Agra. Being a Hindu ruler, why he wanted to make this offering to the Prophet's shrine in Medina, an Islamic shrine is not clear. The Pearl Carpet was crafted in 1865.The idea of a Hindu king gifting such an expensive item to an Islamic shrine did not go down well with Khande Rao's courtiers, who prevailed upon him to retain the Pearl Carpet as a State treasure. It was brought out for public viewing for the first time in 1903 at the Qudsia Gardens in Delhi. Historians say, it remained in India till the early 1940s.
Later, Sita Devi, the second wife of Maharaja Pratapsinh Gaikwad(one of the successors of Maharaja Khande Rao) took the Pearl Carpet to her residence in Europe. She divorced Pratapsinh Gaikwad but retained possession of the Pearl
Carpet. It was kept in a bank vault in Geneva. Sita Devi died in the early 1980s and it is not known how the carpet reached its current owners, a royal family in West Asia. It surfaced in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It was here that the Pearl Carpet was recognised as a national treasure of India.
It is stated by the organisers of the Masters exhibition in Dubai that the Pearl Carpet is the centre of attraction and there are already two suitors who have quoted fabulous amounts for it.