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(Maharaja Khanderao, 8th Gaekwad and ruler of Baroda; image courtesy of Dulcey Heller)
Shrimant Maharaja Sir Khanderao II Gaekwad, Sena Khas Khel Shamsher Bahadur belonged to the Gaekwad Dynasty that ruled Baroda between the early 18th century and mid-20th century. Maharaja Khanderao’s reign lasted for a period of 14 years from the time he ascended the throne (1856) at the demise of his predecessor and brother Maharaja Ganpatrao Gaekwad until his (Maharaja Khanderao’s) death in 1870. He was considered one of the most illustrious connoisseurs and collectors of jewels during the 19th century and has made a rather sizeable contribution to (what were considered a part of) the Crown Jewels of Baroda (before they were sold or auctioned off much later for various reasons).
In the 1960s Maharaja Khanderao made a decision to offer an exquisite carpet made of precious material and studded with gemstones as a gift to the Shrine of the Holy Prophet in Medina. It is said he planned to have four such carpets made and these were to cover the Holy Prophet’s grave, much like the ones covering the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal in Agra.
(Details of the Embroidery on the Baroda Pearl Carpet; image courtesy of Oddity Central)
This extravagant carpet is approximately 5ft. 8in. by 8ft. 8in. in dimension. It is covered with an elaborate floral motif embroidered design that consists of three large yet beautiful diamond filled rosettes and 32 smaller rosettes. An approximated 2.2 million pearls and beads have been used in this densely embroidered carpet. The smaller gems that cover the embroidered area are natural Basra pearls and beads on a foundation of silk and fine deer hide.
The total estimated weight of the Basra pearls is about 30,000 carats. The gemstones worked into the embroidery consists of approximately 2,500 table cut and rose cut diamonds, approximately 350-400 carats. These jewels are all set in silver topped gold or possibly blackened gold; the floral motifs have foil backed rubies, emeralds and sapphires stones.
Maharaja Khanderao went about commissioning this carpet by 1965 and it is said to have taken a long time in the making. Unfortunately, the Maharaja passed away before it could be delivered. His successors chose to keep the carpet and add it to the collection of crown jewels in the possession of the Gaekwads of Baroda instead of adhering to the late Maharaja’s wishes of sending it to Medina.
(The carpet on display at the Ritz-Carlton in Doha, Qatar; image by Karim Jaafar, Getty Images)
The carpet was exhibited in the Lakshmi Vilas Palace of Baroda after which it was photographed and written about in 1908 in a publication by George Frederick Kunz called The Book of the Pearls. It is said to have been recovered from the Sita Devi collection in a vault in Geneva during the 1980s. There were rumours of it having being sold to an Arab Prince after that for a cool $31 million.
The Baroda Pearl Carpet was eventually sold for $5.5 million at an auction by Sotheby’s in Doha, Qatar. The extravagant carpet was auctioned off in 2009 to an anonymous bidder on the telephone, setting a new record for a carpet sold at an auction.