Vadodara: The world's costliest rug, the Pearl Carpet, commissioned by the erstwhile Maharaja of Baroda, Khander Rao Gaekwad, was expected to fetch more than $5 million at an auction in Doha, on Thursday.
In an exclusive interview with DNA, Jeetendra Singh Gaekwad, the great grandnephew of Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad who was adopted by the Gaekwad family, gave an account of the carpet's intriguing history.
Khander Rao had apparently intended to offer the carpet at Prophet Mohammed's mausoleum in Medina. Even in the princely era, artefacts such as the Pearl Carpet were considered to be investments. Jeetendra Singh said that Khander Rao's decision to make an offering of the carpet was governed by his desire to prevent it from being stolen during wars. Singh said that even in the chaos of conflict, nobody dared to touch anything that had any religious significance.
"Khander Rao was fond of grand architecture," Singh said. "He also had a keen interest in the arts and in high culture. The Pearl Carpet of Baroda exemplifies that passion."
Singh said that Khander Rao wanted Indian artisans to learn the craft that had been perfected by their Persian peers, as that would have opened profitable opportunities for them in India.
As for the Pearl Carpet, it flew between several owners before landing at Sotheby's. Sita Devi, who became the second wife of another maharaja of Baroda, late Sir Pratap Singh Gaekwad, took the carpet with her to southern Europe after her divorce from Sir Pratap. It is believed that after her death, the carpet first became the property of a Parsi man and then of an Arab sheikh. The carpet is said to have changed hands a few more times.
"After Independence, the government never tried keenly enough to bring the carpet home," Singh said. "Heavy import duties levied on such objects could have deterred those who wanted to restore the carpet to India."
Singh said that the current government should reclaim the carpet. "It should be displayed at the Baroda museum because it has an emotional value for the city," he said.
According to sources apprised of the royal family's affairs, Mumbai-based Sangram Singh Gaekwad, the grandson of maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad, was keen to get the carpet back to the country. But apparently his enthusiasm was not shared by other royals.