It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a big India buff. So when I was heading to San Francisco a few weeks ago and looking for new things to do, my friend and former T+L colleague Aarti clued me in to an exhibition at the Asian Art Museum that she knew I wouldn’t want to miss. It must have been fate, because “Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts” had opened just days before my arrival.
Spanning three centuries and more than 200 objects, “Maharaja” encompasses paintings, weaponry, jewels, furniture, and costumes from princely states across South Asia, telling a sumptuous history of almost unfathomable wealth and opulence. Some of my favorite items included Cartier’s jaw-dropping Patiala necklace (which contained a staggering 2,930 carats of diamonds at one point—prospective suitors, take note), jewel-encrusted daggers and turban pins, and an ornate elephant throne, but the highlight for me was an exquisite pink Hyderabadi bridal khada dupatta. My parents are originally from Hyderabad, and the elaborate formal outfit is a staple in my closet (I think I have six in different colors), so seeing this exquisitely preserved antique version draped on a mannequin gave me goosebumps. While it's not worn quite the way it's displayed, it’s every bit as over-the-top and unwieldy as it seems—of course, the princess who wore it must have had plenty of attendants to help her manage. I’m hardly as fortunate.
But while the exhibition’s array of regal artifacts would have been enough to lure me in, I also wound up picking the perfect night to drop by—that evening happened to coincide with the museum’s interactive Matcha event, featuring Indian food tastings, music, and even a demonstration by Top Chef Master Floyd Cardoz. What was that I said before about fate?
“Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts” consists of pieces on loan from London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and runs through April 8, 2012, so that gives you plenty of time to book your flight to check it out. And if you’re already in the Bay Area, well, what are you waiting for?
Sarah Khan is a copy editor at Travel + Leisure. You can follow her on Twitter @BySarahKhan.