The silver urns (largest silver artifacts in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records) used by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh to carry water from the Ganges to England.
Hundred years ago, in 1902, the Maharaja of Jaipur carried two large silver urns (largest silver artifacts in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records) full of Ganges water to London, so that he, as one of the pillars of Hinduism, could avoid the penalties imposed by Hindu priests, for his crossing the ocean (Kalapani, as it is called). An atmosphere of old world theology surrounds this incident.
It happened thus. Few months after the demise of Queen Victoria in January, 1901, a select group of Indian maharajas received invitation from her successor, Edward VII, King-Emperor of India, to come to London and attend his coronation. While the chosen few were happy to be so invited, one of the most important of the invitees. His Highness, Maharaja Madho Singh of Jaipur, was in a dilemma. It was one of those periods, when the traditional Hindu community had not taken kindly to co-religionists cross the kalapani, as the oceans were called. The authoritative religious heads had decided, that the Hindu scriptures had banned its adherents traveling across seas and the Maharaja was not given any exemption. (It is important to note here that, even Mahatma Gandhi had faced a similar ban, after his return from London in the 1890s.
But flouting the invitation of his suzerain would have meant insolence and Madho Singh did not want to risk it. The worried ruler called a conclave of religious heads and after much discussion they decided that he could go to London for the coronation provided he traveled in a ship in which no beef had been cooked or served. They decided that he would go to London with idols of his family deity, everyday spread earth from Jaipur’s hallowed soil below the deities thrones and his bed to symbolise that they were on Indian soil. That he would take as his daily food, only the prasad I (religious food) that was offered to his family deity during the prayer sessions and would not drink any water other than Ganga jal (Ganges water) during the two months he was to be away.
Greatly relieved the Maharaja of Jaipur ordered his court officials, to ensure that all these conditions would be observed during his travel to and sojourn in Great Britain.
The silversmiths of Jaipur were asked to make three huge silver jars, that could hold each 9000 litres of water. Meanwhile, the Maharaja’s travel agents were asked to charter a ship, in which no beef had been ever served. Knowing the western world’s taste for beef, this was a tall order. Happily for the Maharaja, the agents were lucky to get the passenger ship Olympia, which had just been completed and had not yet done a voyage. The to and fro chartering of the ship (including a wait in the UK for a month) cost the Jaipur ruler, a princely sum of Rs 1.5 million Rs 450 million in today’s money value) an he was to be the sole passenger in the ship.
In the palace, the three silver jars, each weighing 357 kg were completed, by silversmiths Govind Narai and Mahadev. They measure 1.6 metres in height (nearly five feet and three inches) and have a circumference of 4.5 metres or 14 feet and 10 inches. Today, in 2002, the mere silver required for the urns would cost Rs 9 million. The Ganges water, piously stored in the jars was for the exclusive use of the ruler, and for preparing prasad for the family deity. As each jar could hold 9000 litres of water, the 27000 litres were supposed to be sufficient for the two months the Maharaja would be away from India.