Howdah

Howdah (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India)

Polychrome Ivory with brass fittings
Thalassery, Kerala, 18th century CE

Howdah is a seat for riding on the back of an elephant or camel accommodating two or more people. In the past, elephants with howdahs were used as a mode of transport by wealthy people, as well as in hunting or warfare. Elaborately decorated howdahs were a symbol of wealth and were made of silver, and gold sheets studded with semi-precious stones, and elaborately carved wood. The howdah displayed here is made of ivory and intricately painted with floral creepers, animals, and bird designs. Such ivory howdahs are very rare and may have been made for royalty.

The scroll displayed in the background depicts a royal procession of Maharao (ruler) of Kutch on the occasion of Naga Panchami, the fifth day of the bright half of the lunar month of Shravana (August-September) when snakes are worshipped. The king is proceeding to the temple of the lord of snakes. The elephant with a howdah has a royal banner on it.

(This photo was taken at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai, Maharashtra).