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The Personal Seals & Silver Ink Box of the Maharajas of Panchakot

North-West India
late 19th - early 20th century

heights of seals: 9.8cm-10.8cm, lengths of seal faces: 8.5cm-9.9cm; height of box: 8.6cm, length: 12.8cm, width: 10.2cm; weight of heaviest seal: 614g; combined weight of set: 2,885g (2.885kg)

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This impressive set of four large, heavy seals and a ink pad box, all in solid, high-grade silver provides a glimpse into the lives of India’s princely families when their magnificence and excess was at its apex.

Each seal is written in a local variant of Nastaliq Persian within floral borders, and each is engraved with the name and title of the Maharaja of Panchakot. Two have dates: 1309 hijra (1891) and 1325 hijra (1907). Most of the titles and names are recognisable but appear interspersed with what is probably Bengali syntax. The principal seal (‘seal 1’) reads:

Panchkoth DHY PTY /

Maharaja-dhiraj Sari Sari /

Shankari Parshad Singh Deo /

Garha D Ghwnaty Ganj

The first line refers to the Maharaja’s domain; the second gives his formal title; the third his personal name; and the last appears to be a place name. The remaining three seals are variants of this one.

In terms of the form of the seals, three of the four seals have solid-cast handles and are very heavy in the hand. Each of the three has a small Mughal-like floral emblem chased onto its shoulder thereby allowing the user to identity the seals apart without having to upturn them.

A silver box which contains the ink pad accompanies the seals The box is very much in the style of a Mughal pandan. The lid is beautifully repoussed and chased (see the detailed images below).

No similar set seems to have been published.

India was a patchwork of over 650 princely states and fiefdoms, ruled over by families whose heads held titles such as maharaja and raja.

The Maharaja of Panchakot (also known as Panchet) was one such ruler. The family was Hindu and its subjects largely Muslim. The district of Panchakot was in the district of Manbhun, which is now incorporated into the district of Purulia in the state of West Bengal. Panchakot was the wealthiest of the zemindaris (estates) in the region. By local custom, the first two brothers of a zemindar were entitled to hold part of the land in the estate during their elder brother’s lifetime. This may explain why Panchakot is not the only place named on the seals and why the names of several maharajas or rulers is given.

The Panchakot family was related by marriage to many of India’s other princely families. Around the turn of the twentieth century, a daughter of the Maharaja of Panchakot was married to the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj and two sons had married daughters of the Raja of Sonepur.

A zemindar of Panchakot is recorded as having served under Shah Jahan as a commander of horse and as having paid tribute. It is likely that the Singh Deo family are his descendants.

Seal 1: Translation

Panchkoth DHY PTY /

Maharaja-dhiraj Sari Sari /

Shankari Parshad Singh Deo /

Garha D Ghwnaty Ganj

Seal 2: Translation

Maharaja /

Sari Sari Kalyani Prashad /

Singh Deo Bahadur /

Panchkoth da Raj

Seal 3: Translation

Sari Sari Guru-sahay /

Maharaj-dhiraj Sari Sari Joti Parshad Singh Deo Bahadur Rahdani /

Chaklah (district) Panchkoth sana (year) 1309 Bangla

Seal 4: Translation

Sari Sari Guru-sahay /

Sari Sari … Maharaja Kalyani 6? /

Parshad Singh Deo Bahadur RJRHA / …? Chakla Panchkoth sana 1327 (or perhaps 1325) sal /

Bangla

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