Tinted car windows are not a hype of the 21st century, they were already used since the 11th century for the purdah, which means the seclusion of women. Purdah found its way thru India by the conquest of the Islam. The Royal Muslim as well as Hindu Maharanis lived quite unseen. Outside of their zenana (secluded women’s apartments) they were moved around in different kinds of vehicles like palanquins and (animal dawn) carriages, that were shuttered with heavy curtains. And of course later also cars with blinded windows… that we still use today! Traveling in purdah wasn’t very easy… To get into a car you needed a chaukat (a kind of long cloth frame with wheels held by wooden frames), which was pushed to the car. So the ladies were in fact also transported to the car in seclusion. For shopping the purdah women received a true VIP treatment as the stores were actually closed for all other people! If there was a servant while traveling, there was only one and he had to be very discreet. Looking the purdah ladies in the eyes was a NO go!
Before smoked glass windows were introduced the cars, covered with heavy curtains and plates were not as comfortable during hot Indian summers as you can imagine. The iron shutters fitted at the windows were already a better alternative than the heavy curtains that were tied to the roof and looked like a kind of tent-cover. Some cars had battery-operated fans to prevent ‘cooking’ the Maharanis. Of course purdah cars also had a partition, that separated the chauffeur and accompanying ADC from the Royal ladies. This is recounted on CHB in the article about the ‘Brooke Swan Car’. Several coachbuilders created some fine purdah cars. One of the most outstanding was the one made by Windovers of London in the 1920s. The 20HP RR was sold through the Bombay office of Rolls-Royce Ltd. The aluminum bodied car belonged to Maharani Rajendra Kaurji of Bharatpur. This special car was able to function as a all-weather limousine, a cabriolet as well as a sedan de ville and of course with dark tinted glass.
Dresser and Garle of Regent Street, London made a special purdah car in 1913. The 14HP Peugeot with Dressgarl body was fitted with specially fabricated blinds (which are still used) to enable the secluded passengers to get a glimpse of the outside world, of course unseen as it wasn’t possible to look into the car from outside. Even more of a spectacular purdah car was a 1922 Napier crafted at Poona with a body shaped like a guitar, made for the Nizam of Hyderabad. When the Nizam sat at the base of the ‘guitar’ he was able to see his harem of women.On occasion coachbuilders had to deal with specific requirements of the female Royals. For example an ‘anonymous’ ; ) Maharani who loved her ciggies and her evening cocktail. She could not smoke or drink in the zenana (apartments where the secluded women of the family lived), but her car was the road going heaven of sin… So her personal purdah Rolls with smoked-glass windows was equipped with a large cocktail cabinet!
Then a catchy 11-seater 40HP purdah Lanchester limousine that the Maharaja of Rewa ordered in 1924 for his Maharani. A truly luxurious vehicle with all features included, like dark-tinted glass (without a doubt), speaking tube, electrically operated fan in the double-roof, mahogany locker with silver picnic outfit, a direction indicator resembling a ship’s telegraph and a red Morocco-leather attaché case with writing materials, to name some.
Not all states in India wielded the purdah, or at least not as strict as other states. Some liberal states were quite progressive, like Gondal, where some women drove cars themselves.
As cars became more and more indispensable, they were used for quite different purposes. For instance wedding ceremonies, when cars were richly decorated with flower plaids. That is a subject for an article in itself! Later this year I plan to come back on the subject of the ‘Cars of the Maharajas’ and then this subject will definitely be covered.
Today I happened to drive by a store in Rotterdam (the Walhalla of the tinted glass cars) where they sell electrically powered child-cars and let that just be something that I learned about today as well! Those garden-cars, as they were called in India, were very popular with the little Indian Princes as well as Princesses in zenanas!
The Lanchester Company specially fabricated a petrol operated baby model for Jamsahib Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar’s daughter. Digvijaysinhji made a statement and set the trend for other rulers like the Maharajas of Alwar and Cooch Behar who also purchased such a baby car. Maharaja Tukojirao Holkar III of Indore even bought a couple of little American cars known as the ‘red bugs’ for each of his four daughters. However many of the Royal baby cars were bought from electrical toy car companies with specially fabricated Rolls-Royce, Buick or Cadillac bodies.
To come back on that store in Rotterdam, which is called RideCars, I just found a very pleasant surprise in-between the Lambo’s and Ferrari’s that
they sell… A Mercedes-Benz 300S! Great job RideCars! : ) I want one, even though I am 23…
Tomorrow the last ‘Maharaja’ article for now will be about shikar with a bit of a bitter taste, but enough marvelous cars to talk about!
Written by Rosemarijn Atalante Veenenbos
Credits: The Automobiles of the Maharajas by Sharada Dwivedi and Manvendra Singh Barwani