Lord Curzon's 1903 Delhi Durbar and the rumours of King Solomon's throne that never came true
The British viceroy, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, had found King Solomon’s throne, carried to India by the jinn after the great king’s death, and he planned to give audience on it at the opening of the Delhi Durbar on 1 January 1903. The rumour had begun in the bazaars of Calcutta, and was reported with the byline of Sir Edwin Arnold in the London Telegraph and New York Times of 21 December 1902. The name of Solomon and his influence over the jinn and evil spirits was well known in India. The news had symbolic significance too, as virtue was associated with Solomon’s throne. The throne’s discovery had “the greatest significance", the press reported.
Meanwhile, Curzon planned the programme of the 1903 Delhi Durbar, comprising a fortnight of festivities. A tented city rose on the deserted plain of Coronation Park. A light railway was installed to bring crowds of spectators to the venue. To give the place a city’s semblance, a post office with its own stamp, and telephone and telegraphic facilities were provided. Stores at the venue sold goods and commemorative medals of the durbar. There was a hospital and a court, and the necessities of sanitation and drainage had been arranged. With their specially designed uniforms, even the police force looked different.
The Delhi Durbar’s opening ceremony was to be followed by a variety of spectacular events, dinner parties, balls, military reviews, music bands and exhibitions. It was an occasion to celebrate the succession of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra as emperor and empress of India. Curzon hoped the king would attend and augment his honour. He was disappointed upon learning that the king had instead sent his brother, the duke of Connaught, to represent him.
On the opening day of the durbar, all eyes awaited the arrival of Lord and Lady Curzon. No doubt many searched the sky, where the kites and eagles circled, for any signs of Solomon’s throne descending, with the viceroy seated on it.
Finally, the heralds and trumpeters sounded their notes and amid welcoming cries, the viceroy’s arrival was announced. People saw Curzon enter the ground atop a dark swaying mass draped in a gold-worked cloth. The viceroy and vicereine rode in a high seat, inlaid with gold and silver. Footmen bearing silver staves, and turned out in scarlet and gold livery, walked fore and aft. Those who had come to view Solomon’s throne, however, were disappointed when they recognized the viceroy’s mount as the grand-tusker Lakshman Prasad, the tallest elephant in India.
Curzon was followed by the duke and duchess of Connaught and the 70 ruling chiefs of India in a procession of elephants stretching a quarter of a mile. The cortege passed in front of 150 elephants, who saluted by trumpeting and throwing their trunks in the air as the canons thundered royal salutes. It was a magnificent spectacle, the like of which had never been seen before or since.
Solomon’s throne, however, was not seen at the durbar. It was never again mentioned, and it remains unclear how the rumours of its discovery by Curzon first started. Were the rumours a marketing gimmick to make people come and watch the Delhi Durbar? What if the mention of a specific throne and the press around it were meant as a hoax by Curzon? In that event, Curzon himself could have been the source of the rumours.
Shortly before Curzon’s death, in 1924, Henry Rider Haggard, author of King Solomon’s Mines, visited Egypt. The first thing he did upon returning to England was to meet Curzon for lunch, presenting him with a pharaonic ring bearing the cartouche of the pharaoh Amenophis III, which he had bought for Curzon in Egypt. Perhaps Curzon had an obsession with ancient monarchs that was known to, and indulged by, his friends.
During his 1901 tour of Burma, Curzon had seen the thirty-four-and-a-half-foot-high Lion Throne, gilded with pure gold, and adorned with intricate carvings. Made from yamanay wood cut from unblemished trees, growing on untainted ground far from cemeteries, and carved by tools of gold and silver, the Lion Throne may have represented an object for Curzon that could be passed off as an ancient relic. Did Curzon think of bringing the Lion Throne to Delhi to consolidate his authority beyond his status as the viceroy? Did he think, in a reckless moment, that it might help his public career upon return to England? Did something happen to stop Curzon in his plans, or was it merely a case of better sense prevailing?
The story of Curzon and Solomon’s throne is reminiscent of the frame story in the Indian classic Singhasan Battisi, in which Raja Bhoj discovers King Bikramjit’s throne but is kept from ascending it by the 32 apsaras of the throne. With all its unanswered questions, it is a story waiting to be told.
Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached at www.mafarooqi.com and on Twitter at @microMAF.
This monthly column explores the curious world of the myths and folk tales of South Asia.
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