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Phillips, David E., Emblems of the Indian States, The Flag Heritage Foundation Monograph and Translation Series Publication No. 2, Flag Heritage Foundation, Winchester Massachusetts 2011.

63 pages, 175 B&W images, 7 colour images, table of contents, no index, $US14.95 + shipping.

The inside cover of this monograph features VC Prinsep’s eight metre long artwork The Imperial Assemblage at Delhi, painted in 1877 and first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1880.

'The Imperial Assemblage at Delhi', VC Prinsep 1877

‘The Imperial Assemblage at Delhi’, VC Prinsep 1877

Anyone familiar with Tom Roberts’ 1903 five metre painting Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth (or Marcus Beilby’s less well known 1993 Opening of Parliament House by Her Majesty) will be familiar with the style: a large crowd of important persons, each individually identifiable, cluster around and gaze up at a royal or vice-regal presence proclaiming the birth of a new institution of state. In the Australian examples, the crowd is composed of soberly-attired elected politicians while the Duke of York & Cornwall (Roberts) or The Queen (Beilby) are resplendent in vivid colour against a low-lit background. Prinsep’s painting, by contrast, features a crowd of princes and nobles richly attired and adorned with heraldic banners while the viceroy, Lord Lytton, is a gloomy silhouette shaded from the strong sunlight. The similarities illustrate the shared imperial history between India, Australia and Britain. The contrast between occidental politicians and oriental princes, however, speaks of the great differences that co-existed under the umbrella of Empire. For the heraldist, the contrast between the heraldically-deprived politicians and the heraldically-endowed princes provides a window to this little-known chapter in our heraldic history.

The author, David Phillips, sets out his aims on page 28: firstly, to help those encountering Indian state emblems to understand what they are seeing, and secondly to promote further research. It is important for the reader to understand this first aim. ‘Indian States’ is a generic term used to describe all those entities formerly under some degree of British suzerainty, but not directly ruled by the British between 1858 and 1947, in what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. The larger ‘princely states’, as they were often known at the time, included Hyderabad, Rajputana, Baluchistan and Kashmir. Phillips estimates there were between 500 and 700 such states with various degrees of autonomy, with most using some sort of state emblem to denote official documents, properties and functions. All of these states were swept away after 1947, and their rulers were deprived of any remaining official status in 1971, although many retain dynastic traditions and the use of dynastic emblems. The monograph does not cover the official emblems used by the British states and official entities within them such as municipalities, or the post-independence state emblems (each worth a monograph in their own right).

Map, "Political Map of the Indian Empire, 1893" from Constable's Hand Atlas of India, London: Archibald Constable and Sons, 1893. Uploaded by Fowler&fowler «Talk» 23:20, 13 February 2009 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Map, “Political Map of the Indian Empire, 1893” from Constable’s Hand Atlas of India, London: Archibald Constable and Sons, 1893 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Phillips takes a taxonomic approach to bring some order to this vast and seemingly chaotic array of state emblems, reminiscent of the use of ordinaries and sub-ordinaries to identify unknown arms. Rather than using ordinaries such as chevron or pale, he uses four basic categories of British style, Indian style, Islamic style and Mixed style, with between two and five sub-categories in each, and with this system he categorizes just under 300 state emblems. The fact that this leaves around 300 or more state emblems to be identified and categorized emphasizes Phillips’ second aim of promoting further research.

Phillips notes several times that there is no scholarly research on Indian state emblems, but cites several useful studies of state medals and stamps, and a French-language study of the flags and arms of the British states. His most productive source is a website of state fiscal stamps and papers maintained by a Prague collector, as well as visits to Mumbai in 2008 where he sourced further examples. The role of fiscal or revenue stamps is important because they were issued by a relatively large number of states and, as official issues, they exhibit relatively high quality production values making them easier to ‘read’. The absence of any central heraldic authority for the Indian states further emphasizes their importance. This is the usual sort of commentary expected in a pioneering work, and Phillips’ notes will help future researchers to better scope their work and explore new ground.

The taxonomy developed by Phillips helps both the author and the reader develop an overview of State emblems, and it is useful to briefly note the characteristics of each.

About 40% of the emblems take the form of a British-style coat of arms. Such arms were well known in British India through the use of the East India Company Arms and the Royal Arms, such as on coins, the City of London Arms and the arms of individual armigers serving in important administrative and commercial positions. Phillips notes (page 8) “…the debased style of the mid-19th century” heraldic arts, especially the use of ‘gas bracket’ compartments, that is reflected in later developments. The key event for transmitting British-style heraldry in India was the Proclamation Durbar, formally the Imperial Assemblage, held in Delhi on 1st January 1877 to formally proclaim the new Indian Empire with Queen Victoria as Empress.

Banner of the Maharajah of Udaipur, norther India, presented by the Viceroy to the Maharajah at the Imperial Assemblage in 1877

Banner of the Maharajah of Udaipur, norther India, presented by the Viceroy to the Maharajah at the Imperial Assemblage in 1877

At the durbar (Hindi for ‘court’) the viceroy presented to 63 of the most important Indian princes a silk banner bearing a coat of arms. This was in imitation of a Mughal practice of presenting a sumptuous robe (or khilat) touched by the Emperor. Acceptance of the banner and coat of arms, as with acceptance of a khilat, was a symbolic act of submission by each prince to the new Empress. David Cannadine in his 2001 book Ornamentalism: How the British saw their Empire, describes the way in which this ceremony in particular was used to both imply a continuity between the old Mughal empire and the new British empire as a natural successor of the latter to the former, and to establish a personal bond between the Queen-Empress and each prince.

State of Gaurihar, central India, British-style, with the crossed swords and parasol traditional symbols of Hindu royalty.

State of Gaurihar, central India, British-style, with the crossed swords and parasol traditional symbols of Hindu royalty.

Robert Taylor, an English-born “amateur heraldist” and Bengal Civil Servant, designed all the durbar arms. The Princely Armory, published in Calcutta in 1877, illustrated each of the arms with a blazon. Taylor apparently used a standard template of shield (heater style), supporters, helmet, crest, motto scroll and gas-bracket compartment which he personalized by adding charges, colours and so on. Phillips provides good critical commentary of Taylor’s designs, noting again the “very debased form” of heraldic design at this time (pages 10-11). The problem with the ‘debased’ designs lay not so much at the durbar itself, but because “…they proved extremely influential in forming the shape and style of Indian state emblems.” They became the models of arms adopted by other princes and states, and “In this way the gas-bracket and the floating-blob helmet with wing-like mantling became a common characteristic of Indian state emblems.” The durbar arms, and many of their imitators, remained in use until 1947 and many still survive as personal or dynastic arms. Three actually still survive as emblems of the modern Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka and Sikkim (see here and here )

‘Indian-style’ is a term used by Phillips to label 37% of the emblems whose composition is clearly not reminiscent of British heraldry or regimental devices. He has several sub-categories here, with emblems based on objects such as weapons (the most numerous), badges, princely regalia and architectural features of princely palaces such as oriel windows; based on animals, notably the bull, horse, elephant, lion and tiger, as well as the turtle, peacock, double-headed eagle, and fish (a survival of the Mughal Order of the Fish symbols); Hindu deities, notably Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of overcoming obstacles, and Hanuman, Rama’s companion with a monkey face and tail and guardian of boundaries (and probably best known to Australians from the Japanese ‘Monkey’ television series). Other deities, alone or in complex tableaux, were also used; Sun or Moon symbols, with the sun often depicted in a manner known in European heraldry as a ‘sun in his splendour’, and moons usually shown in a crescent form and often representing certain Rajput dynasties; and Inscriptions, in three main forms of monograms, based upon Victorian interlaced Latin letters such as the Royal cypher, tughras or cyphers using Arabic script that were also a form of monogram used by the Mughal emperors, and the Om, a Vedic syllable and sacred glyph in Hindu tradition. Emblems using a tughra, or a crescent moon and star, illustrate the Islamic style category, and could perhaps be considered as Mixed style emblems although Phillips reserves this category for ‘mixes’ of British and Hindu styles. These mixed styles usually have an identifiably heraldic form, especially a shield (often round) and supporters, and often feature other charges around rather than on the shield, reminiscent of some Irish heraldry. The more ‘Indian’ styles may be without a shield, but retain supports and other ornaments, with the gas bracket often retained but drawn in ornamental forms more reminiscent of a compartment.

State of Shahpura, northern India, Mixed or Deity type with supporters (two Hanumans), crest (sun), compartment (modified gas bracket) and motto scroll, but no shield.

State of Shahpura, northern India, Mixed or Deity type with supporters (two Hanumans), crest (sun), compartment (modified gas bracket) and motto scroll, but no shield.

Phillips is keen to state several times that his categories are not rigid, and it is not always easy to assign a particular emblem to one category or another. As an example, several emblems show inscriptions in stylized Arabic script that form an object such as a shield (heater-style) or a crown (British style). The problem here is not the author’s taxonomical approach but the proliferation of emblem designs during a narrow historical period when heraldic authority and design standards were, as he says, debased. However, as this is a pioneering work in the field not too much emphasis needs to be placed on ‘correct’ categorization at this stage. Further research will help to clarify these issues.

State of Karnal, northern India, Islamic style - note the Arabic inscription forms a shield shape (heater style)

State of Karnal, northern India, Islamic style – note the Arabic inscription forms a shield shape (heater style)

The conclusion sets out three main areas for further research. Firstly, a compilation from primary sources of all the official state emblems is needed. Secondly, a better understanding of design sources and intentions is needed, such as for example the use of Hindu artefacts, or any instructions given to Robert Taylor. Thirdly, more knowledge of the state symbolisms that preceded the British is needed – there is virtually nothing available at least in English-language. Phillips says this “…will be hard work, but it is a nearly virgin field…” and ends with his “…hope that other scholars will dig deeper than I have been able to do.” This concludes the first 30 pages of the monograph, with the next 33 pages being a catalogue or survey of illustrations of emblems referred to in the text.

I found this monograph fascinating, and it seemed that at least one new question came into my mind with every page. The evolution of the much maligned gas bracket in the mixed styles suggests interesting possibilities for designing compartments using geometric or naturalistic patterns rather then the usual grassy hillock. The Arabic script written to form shapes such as shields and crowns suggests possibilities for developing new calligraphic charges. It would be useful to know more about Robert Taylor, and whether the College of Arms or the Lyon Court was involved. The College at least seemed to have a role in the heraldry the British states, having arms assigned to Bombay in 1877. It would be interesting to research the archives of the College (and Lyon) on this point. Does the choice by republican India of a representation of the Ashoka column as the national emblem in 1950 reflect, among other factors, a reaction to the extent of ‘debased’ heraldry in India, an unanticipated consequence of 1877? Interestingly, although an example of anti-heraldry, the national emblem is now frequently used in a heraldic manner as the crest on contemporary state and government agency emblems.

As with any new area of research, the question of “why does this matter?” will arise. I think Phillips’ work, and his monograph, do matter because:

– It emphasizes the significance of properly constituted and exercised heraldic authority for maintaining high standards of heraldic design, orderly management of uses of and succession to heraldic devices, and keeping the official record of ‘arms lawfully borne’.

– It extends the ‘field of knowledge’ for Australian heraldists by inviting us to explore and extend our knowledge of heraldry in Asia beyond that of Japan, especially to our near-neighbours in South East Asia.

– It suggests design ideas for new arms for prospective new armigers with Indian connections such as new citizens, corporations, and Raj descendants (such as me).

– The ‘Mixed type’ suggests a visual richness that can come from using traditional rules of heraldic design with charges, shield shapes and ornaments from non-British cultures (Canadian practices already provide inspiration in this regard for creating a more distinctively Australian heraldic art form).

– It could place the development of Australian heraldry within a bigger imperial context than just London or Edinburgh.

– It can allow us to reflect upon Australian history outside of a nationalist paradigm.

– Indian heraldry of the pre-colonial, colonial and republican periods has intrinsic historical and aesthetic interest, and deserves to be better known and appreciated by heraldists everywhere, including in Australia.

State of Mayurbhanj, east coast of India, Mixed style, with shield replaced by a stylised lotus blossom, crest (parasol) and supporters (peacocks), gas bracket compartment and motto scroll

State of Mayurbhanj, east coast of India, Mixed style, with shield replaced by a stylised lotus blossom, crest (parasol) and supporters (peacocks), gas bracket compartment and motto scroll

The monograph implicitly invites Australian readers to recall the Indian references occasionally found in Australian heraldry, such as the personal arms impaled by William Broughton, first and only Anglican Bishop of Australia with the Arms of his diocese (perhaps derived from the flag used by the East India Company of red and white horizontal stripes with a St George’s cross on a white canton), and the personal arms assigned to two governors general with Indian connections, Lord Casey in 1961 (with sinister supporter of ‘an Asian worker habited in a white coat and dhoti, all proper’) and especially to Viscount Slim in 1960? (with in the crest a peacock in its pride, proper, and for the sinister supporter a ‘Gurkha rifleman in North West Frontier dress’, proper). No doubt there are other examples given the close colonial links between India and Australia, the movement of Imperial servants around the empire (such as Sir William Denison who, after serving as Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, then of New South Wales and Norfolk Island, became Governor of Madras), and the front line that connected India and Australia across the north-east Indian Ocean and separated them from the Japanese-occupied territories during the Pacific War.

The author, David Phillips, has provided us for the first time with a printed catalogue of the rise (and fall) of British, or probably more correctly English, inspired heraldry amongst the princely classes and states of the Raj. His catalogue is incomplete, but nonetheless fascinating and points to a field waiting for ardent researchers.

I recommend this book for any heraldist with an interest in the development of specifically Indian heraldic forms, in the heraldic history of the Empire, and in the potential for creating new heraldic art forms that could enrich the development of a specifically and distinctively Australian heraldry, especially one that would provide some new points of contact (or perhaps reinstate some old ones) with one of our rising Indian Ocean neighbours in the 21st century.

Originally published in Heraldry News, No. 58, November 2011, pages 18-25. All images from Emblems of the Indian States unless otherwise acknowledged.

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