Manu PillaiApr 7, 2022
India’s Maharajahs in the Age of Ravi Varma
It can be easy to think of the recent history of India—especially for those who aren’t from there—as a straight line, from the Mughal Empire, through the British Empire, to independent India.
That, of course, is hugely simplistic, missing the mess of competing polities, interests, and people that made up Indian history over the last few centuries.
Manu Pillai’s False Allies: India’s Maharajahs in the Age of Ravi Varma (Juggernaut, 2021), looks at a few of these political actors: the Maharajas of India, who led the “princely states”. Not quite sovereign entities, not quite directly-ruled colonies. Pillai portrays the stories of a few of these princes and princesses through the life of famed Indian artist Ravi Varma as he travels around India in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
In this interview, Manu and I talk about the princely states, the Maharajas, and why Manu chose Ravi Varma to tell the stories of the Indian princes.
Manu S Pillai is the author of the award-winning The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore (HarperCollins India: 2015), Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji (Juggernaut: 2018), and The Courtesan, the Mahatma & the Italian Brahmin: Tales from Indian History (Context: 2019).
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.