The word maharaja, which means “great king,” is rooted in the ancient concept of “king above kings” (in Sanskrit, maharajadhiraj). Although rulers were sometimes addressed as “maharaja,” this lofty title was rarely adopted formally until the nineteenth century.
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The rulers of India have for many centuries ridden in elaborate howdahs (thrones or covered pavilions on the backs of elephants) as they went into battle or on the hunt for antelope and tiger. Elephants have also carried rajas and emperors on state occasions, and, when richly decorated and caparisoned, elephants have been the highlight of many a ceremonial procession.