Birthday Bounty

The Aga Khan III, being weighed against diamonds on his birthday in 1946.

I was reading this morning about the ancient Indian kings who had themselves weighed on a pair of giant golden scales on their birthdays. They sat down cross-legged on one side of the scales, and on the other side courtiers piled up enough gems, gold and wonders to put things into balance, with the resulting bounty doled out to the poor. What a way to celebrate! You see, I’m thinking about my own birthday, which happens this week, but I don’t really need anything. In the holiday spirit, I might give a dollar per pound to instead of getting myself a gift. (Obsessed with microloaning!)

Sir Sultan Muhamad Shah, Aga Khan III, kept the birthday tradition going until the middle of the last century in India. I love this photo of Sir Sultan being weighed in front of a stadium full of onlookers in Mumbai in 1946. The packets making up his weight are full of diamonds, donations which he converted to cash in order to fund charitable endeavors across Asia and Africa. The public marveled that Sir Sultan seemed to get significantly heavier and more portly with each significant birthday, moving from the golden jubilee (1937), to his diamond jubilee (1946) and his platinum jubilee (1954).