My earliest memories of the Rath Yatra take me back to childhood, when I watched the live telecast on Doordarshan each year, tucked cosily between my grandparents. The magnanimity of the chariot festival never ceased to amaze my curious little mind even after repeated views every twelve months. This annual tradition ended once I joined boarding school, but my interest in the festival renewed during my senior years when Kumari Divyajyoti Debi, the eldest daughter of Gajpati Maharaj Dibyasingha Deb of Puri joined my class. The two of us became good friends, and each time Divyajyoti shared some fascinating trivia about the Rath Yatra, I would tell her how keen I was to attend the festival at least once in my lifetime. Little did I know that I will land up getting married in Odisha one day, and the chariot festival will become an integral part of my life forever.
While the Rath Yatra of Puri is known all over the world, the festival is also celebrated in several other princely states across Odisha with equal gusto and gaiety. The construction of chariots begins on the auspicious day of ‘Akshaya Tritiya’ for the annual sojourn of the holy trinity. “Lord Jagannath›s chariot is called Nandighosa, the chariot of Lord Balabhadra is called Taladhwaja and that of Goddess Subhadra is called Dwarpadalana,” shares Raja Rajendra Chandra Deb of Talcher. “Even though most of the measurements are done traditionally using hand and finger lengths, it is fascinating to observe the design and dimensions of the chariots that always remain consistent.”
It is interesting to note how the royal families of Talcher and Dhenkanal share a centuries-old connection with the chariots of Puri. Historian Hermann Kulke has mentioned in the Art and Archaeological Research Papers (London – Volume XVI) how “the iron, necessary for the construction of the chariots was procured from the feudatory Rajas of Dhenkanal and Talcher in 1744, and a royal order was issued to the temple officers of Puri to send mahaprasada to both the Rajas for generously supplying the iron ore for the chariots.”
The festivities leading up to the Rath Yatra begin on ‘Devasnana Poornima’ when Lord Jagannath is unable to bear the heat of the scorching summer and steps out with his siblings for a bath. Explaining this ritual, Raja Tribikram Chandra Deb of Baramba says, “The deities are brought out with a lot of pomp and show to the ‘Snana Mandap’ and bathed with a hundred and eight pots of cold water. After this royal bath ceremony, the trinity falls ill and quarantines themselves away from the public view for a fortnight.” This period is known as the ‘Anasara’. Once the deities recover from illness, fresh eyes are painted on the idols during ‘Netra Utsav’, marking the beginning of the Rath Yatra.
The most significant ritual associated with the first day of the Yatra is the ‘Chhera Pahara’, where the Rajas act as attendants of the Lord and sweep the Rath. Throwing light upon this ritual, Raja Braj Keshari Deb of Aul says, “The sweeping ceremony reflects the idea of equalisation. Under the lordship of Jagannath Mahaprabhu, there is no distinction between a powerful sovereign and a humble devotee. Hence, the ruler becomes the sevak for one day in a year.” A unique feature about the Jagannath idol at Aul is that it is made of a single piece of muguni stone unlike the idols everywhere else which are made of wood, cloth and resin.
While all three idols reside in the temple in most princely states including Puri, Dhenkanal holds a unique distinction where the idol of Lord Balbhadra resides permanently in the palace. Yuvrani Meenal Jhala Singh Deo shares, “Lord Balbhadra’s idol proceeds for the Rath Yatra from the palace premises with incredible festive fervour, and he is later joined by Lord Jagannath’s idol en-route to the Rath. Hundreds of devotees pull the ropes of the chariots making it an inspiring display of enthusiasm and devotion.” The chariot journey is completed by reaching the Gundicha Temple, considered to be the home of the trinity’s maternal aunt.”
Lord Jagannath is dressed in the form of the revered nine avatars like Narsimha, Vamana, Parshuram, and Rama during his stay at the Gundicha Temple. Raja Jayant Mardaraj of Nilgiri narrates an interesting ritual from this phase: “It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi gets upset with her husband Lord Jagannath for having left her behind and comes looking for him at his aunt’s place. This day is known as ‘Hera Panchami’, where hera signifies to look for. Goddess Lakshmi requests the Lord to return to their abode and he gives his consent in the form of a garland. On this day, the Lord is dressed in the Lakshmi Narayan avatar to celebrate his conjugal bliss with his consort.”
After residing at the Gundicha Temple for a week, the trinity begins their return journey known as the ‘Bahuda Yatra’. Explaining the culmination ceremony, Yuvraj Vijayendra Chandra Deb of Talcher says, “Once the deities arrive at their temple, they continue to remain in the chariot for a day and don the ‘Suna Bhesha’, where they are dressed in elaborate gold fineries. Considered to be their most opulent avatar, this stunning spectacle draws pouring crowds of devotees. The deities finally enter the temple the next day amidst mystical chanting of mantras and reverberating sounds of conch shells, ending the Rath Yatra on a high note.”
The Rath Yatra is one of the first non-Vedic festivals devised with the idea to unite different communities irrespective of their caste, creed or social strata. From finding mention in ancient scriptures like the Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, Skanda Purana, and Kapila Samhita, to becoming an important celebration across the globe in places like London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Toronto, Nairobi, Melbourne, and New York, the Rath Yatra has established its footprints across the sand of time.
As for me, Lord Jaganath has always appealed to my spiritual senses since childhood because of his human-like attributes. He plays with his siblings Lord Balbhadra and Devi Subhadra, falls sick after bathing in cold water, argues with his spouse Goddess Lakshmi over trivial issues, and most of all, his bodily imperfection is what makes him so realistic and approachable. He is God, of course, but more than that, he is like a friend, invoking a sakha-bhaav or devotion through the emotion of friendship.
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(DIS)UNITY IN DIVERSITY?
As an Indian, I have held immense pride in my nation’s diversity of regions, topographies, languages, cuisines, traditional attires and religions to name but a few. This diversity’s gruesome heads to surface every now and then, but the utopian in me seeks solace in India’s symbiotic retention of parallel worlds, realities and truths. Of holding both, apples and oranges, chalk and cheese in one marvellous subcontinental platter. Where progressive and fascist political agendas relay side by side, India’s ever-continuing power of dissent seems threatening to more and more citizens and netizens.
For the sake of individual thought and liberty, I hope for socially constructive dissent to prevail above and beyond the shackles of threat that it faces. But after shedding a naive vestige of my perceptions, I also understand that dissent and threat are impersonated and conducted by us, the very people who constitute India and the world at large.
Whereby there was a time in India a few decades ago where differences in political ideologies could very well hold a civilised conversation, today they host an economy of squealing prime time debates. Whereby there was a time when diverse religious identities co-inhabited unassuming neighbourhoods, today many of them lie ghettoised. Some in hushed tones, and the others more boldly so. After years of observing this organised chaos, Mark Tully once remarked that in India, we don’t cast our vote but rather, vote our caste. Having being born and brought up in a family with ample political participation, my pragmatism knows that contesting the caste-based or religious-based vote banks, especially in less urbanised parts of India is asking for too much. But how do our identity markers find ways of pervading so rudimentarily?
Soft ethnocentrism and territorial attitudes vis-a-vis us fellow Indians would make many like myself concede to the otherwise casual remark touting Indians to be amongst the most racist and discriminatory people in the world. In my backing of this argument, I am not even factoring in the post-colonial shambles of racism or counter racism yet. If we take a minute to consider the alienating extent of the oblivion that percolates south of the Vindhyas, and the resentment it triggers in return for the butter chicken-eating, noisy north Indians, many more such tropes from our personal experiences begin to jostle in.
In my own case, I’ve grown up in a multi-cultural family that constitutes a mix of Rajasthani, Gujarati, Himachali, Kashmiri and Bundelkhandi influences. Thanks to the privilege of the resultant cultural exposure, my worldview isn’t as geographically confined. But on the downside, this very advantage makes ethnic myopias seem more acute to bear. As a full-time resident and hotelier of Manali, I have become habituated to being asked about my story from Rajasthan to here. Which is perfectly alright, until the unsuspecting ‘local’ asks whether or not I am a ‘local’ myself. Given that I am a registered voter of Himachal Pradesh, I am told that I don’t look or seem like a local. How is one expected to bargain that? I remember my Nepalese classmates from Mayo putting their experiences into one poignant phrase, that after 9 years of being in an Indian boarding school, they were too Indian to count as Nepali, and still too Nepali to count amongst Indians. Indian diaspora is sure to relate to the same transnational alienation that they still might feel, no matter how many more bridges globalisation physically erects. But for most of us even at home, intra-national alienation is as real as it gets.
The average commuter is expected to notice the overwhelming discrimination accorded to drivers bearing number plates from ‘outside states’. Never mind the state number plate defaulters, it’s the outsider who is more likely to be harassed over the very same trivialities. Should a person belonging to a different state express their keen interest and/or genuine knowledge in my own, I forsake curiosity for my ego and am so easily threatened. Is being an Indian not enough? This might be a more reasonable question before I can begin fancying the idea of questioning whether being human will ever be enough.
One takeaway looks my way. The very diversity that united us seems to create divides. The question is the same as the answer. We embody the difference, the similarity, the unity and the diversity.
It makes us kind just as it makes us cruel. The only variable there is, and the only one that matters right now, is which of the two ends we choose.
A WOMAN AHEAD OF HER TIMES
Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari was a divine soul who believed in helping people around her in whatever small or big form she could. Because she believed helping a person in need is equivalent to worshipping God.
Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari was the fourth daughter of Late Raja Jaganath Singhji of Daulatpur and his wife Rani Saheba Hiteshindra Kumari who belonged to Patiala Royal family daughter of Raja Ranbir Singhji of Patiala.
Being born in the times of purdah she had a vision that was quite different than her brothers and sisters. She was a woman filled with daring, never scared of speaking the truth and alone managed to do a lot of things that nobody ever imagined.
Her father late Rajasaheb Jaganath Singhji was addicted to alcohol and she was very close to her father she didn’t go to boarding school like her other siblings who got educated in Doons, Welhams, MGD girls school and Mayoor School Ajmer. Rather she stayed back with her parents in Bhopal and looked after them and their properties. Though her mother was from Patiala they had a lot of financial support also at times from Patiala.
But once her mother passed away things changed and situations worsened. Her father being addicted to alcohol had sold their palace and all the agricultural land of Daulatpur to his cousin brother Laxman Singhji in 1958.
Once when Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari had gone to Daulatpur to pay condolence to Rajputohit of Daulatpur jagir she requested Laxman Singhji to let her worship ‘Gadi Madi Mata’ their diety the Kuldevi that’s when Laxman Singhji misbehaved with her and she decided to pay the debts of her father and take back the entire property. She did manage to but it back from her uncle Laxman Singhji not only that but she also bought a plot from the villager and gave it to Laxman Singhji along with the money.
After that along with her father and her younger sister Srimati Mohini Inder Kumari married in Jamnagar family now stayed sometimes in Daulatpur and sometimes in Bhopal. She had set up a small business for women empowerment in Daulatpur village where they used to make small toys made of wood as Daulatpur being on the periphery of Kheoni Sanctuary had a lot of teak and bamboo wood once in abundance. And she also used to get the zardozi work done in the small town of Sehore and sell these products in fairs which were held in cities like Bhopal. She used to travel on horseback, and a lot more adventures she did being unmarried and when the society was orthodox and people believed in purdah in spite of Daulatpur being jagir of Bhopal state. She broke the stereotypes.
Later in January 1963, she got married to Maharaj Saheb Madhusudan Sinhji of Danta Bhawangadh one of the princely states of Gujarat, Maharaj Saheb Madhusudan Sinhji was the second son of Late Maharana Sir Bhawani Sinhji and Late Maharanisa Anand Kunwar Ba of Danta Bhawangadh.
In Danta too she tried to set up a small business like dairy farming, making of pickles and papad but unfortunately the luck didn’t support her and she was unsuccessful in it. Along with that as she had to look after Daulatpur too as well as her father and her younger sister who was unmarried then, she helped her younger sister in getting married and looked after her father who used to stay in Daulatpur. Unfortunately, her father late Raja Saheb Jaganath Singhji got infected by the deadly disease of Cancer and Jagjit Inder Kumari also went into financial crisis and she also got infected with high diabetes as well she lost her elder son as she could not take care of him as he was an immature born child. Her spirits went low and hence she had to send her father to Bhopal to live with her brother Bharat Inder Singhji and then in his last days Raja Jaganath Singhji was sent to Kalapeepal at his cousin brothers house where his cousins and his nephews took care of him and he took his last breath and due to heavy rains, his cremation was also done in Kalapeepal and not in Daulatpur.
After her father’s demise and being a diabetic patient she could not look after her properties in Daulatpur hence everything she had in Daulatpur she willed it to her younger daughter Rajkumari Gitanjali Devi.
As long as she lived in Daulatpur and also in Danta she worked for a lot of people especially the villagers. She wasn’t a graduate but she had quite a good knowledge of ayurvedic medicines as she was fond of reading she had learned a lot. Today she lives in the heart of the people of Daulatpur for whom she often went out of the way and worked.
After marriage, the younger daughter for almost nearly 10 years with her husband Mr. Dharamsingh Karmyal stayed in Daulatpur and practiced agriculture but for their kids better education and future, their sold the agricultural land moved to Gujarat and somehow due to some misunderstandings today the fortress of Daulatpur has become a government entity—which is a big question mark as no one knows how and why it happened.
Later on 6 June 1996 after a long battle with diabetes, she took her last breath in a hospital in Palanpur. And being bahu of Danta she was cremated in the Royal Crematorium of Danta which is in Gangwa village a jagir of Danta.
Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari had three children. Two daughters namely Rajkumari Hemangni Devi married to Menghani and Rajkumari Gitanjali Devi married to Mr. Dharamsingh Karmyal. One son Rajkumar Harshvardhan Sinhji married to Kunwarani Vrindakumari of Gorad Jagir.
That was she the Legend Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari in my eyes she was definitely a hero. She never let anyone leave her house empty stomach. She was always fond of cooking and hosting people over food. She also helped lots of people for getting jobs and helped the people by providing medical facilities if they could not afford them. She used to provide food to those people living in nearby areas and couldn’t afford it.
She was a divine soul who believed in helping people around her in whatever small or big form she could. Because she believed helping a person in need is equivalent to worshiping God.
Hence in her fond memories and remembrance, I Khyati Singh granddaughter of Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari has started a foundation ‘Food for cause’ for old people suffering from Alzheimer who are seen on public places like railway stations and bus stations where we provide them food with the help of local tea stalls who provide us the information about these kinds of people.
Currently, we have started our first batch at Aburoad railway station. Also, we would like if anyone wants to join us can always get in touch with us on our Instagram handle @khyatisingh784. Slowly and gradually our mission will also be to provide education to the students who cannot afford fees for their school. This year we have enrolled only one student, but we look forward to many more.
EIGHT ROYALS TO WATCH OUT FOR IN 2022
The thrill stays same as the world advances into 2022, and the year ahead offers plenty of opportunities to people to make a mark in their various fields.
2022 though begun on a fearful note remains another year, another hope. We list for you eight incredible royals, young and promising who will make the year a success story in their journey towards perfection.
PRINCESS DIYA KUMARI OF JAIPUR:
A custodian of Jaipur’s rich cultural heritage, the torchbearer for girl’s rights in Rajasthan, a member of parliament who won with a thumping majority from Rajsamand, a strong voice for BJP in Rajasthan and a philanthropist who, through her, NGO PDKF has empowered hundreds of women in Rajsamand and Sawai Madhopur, Diya Kumari is emerging as a leader to watch out for. The torchbearer for the role royals can play in present-day politics.
HH MAHARANI RADHIKARAJE OF GAEKWAD:
The palace is alive once again: with the sound of music, the patronage of craft and the promise of philanthropy. The Laxmi Vilas Palace at Baroda has become an oasis of craft and culture under the patronage of its Maharani Radhika Raje. Possibly the strongest voice in craft revival today, Radhika is as vocal in saving our animals as she is committed to the cause of women empowerment. Through the pandemic, she worked hard to support those truly marginalised like the LGBTQ community of Gujarat. May she continue to play her role of the protagonist to perfection.
PRINCESS MRIGANKA KUMARI OF PRATAPGARH:
Tucked away in rural regions of Avadh, Pratapgarh is finding itself in the midst of refined living with its Princess Mriganka Kumari presenting to the world an amazing array of honey, ghee, pickles and salts that are produced under her stunningly curated label Pratapgarh Collective. Following 100 percent natural processes, this farm-to-table story is cultivated by women of the village who now stand tall on their independent feet and has found their way to the dining table of film stars, leading influencers and connoisseurs of true taste.
PRINCESS VAISHNAVI KUMARI OF KISHANGARH:
Legacy is for most royals to keep, but turning it into a mystical fable is Princess Vaishnavi Kumari of Kishangarh. Heir to the legacy of miniature art personified by Kishangarh’s Radha, Vaishnavi, a SOAS graduate is all set to present before the world her creative oeuvres with art this year. We wish her all the best. Known for its pichwais, its Kamdhenu cow and its valorous, playful Krishna, this art form under Vaishnavi has adapted a more pop approach. Deeply inspired by Pakistan’s reigning pop art, she hopes to add this element to Kishangarh miniatures.
YUVRAAJ VIKRAMADITYA SINGH OF J&K:
Home to his family Karan Mahal is now a beacon of heritage luxury for the world to see. The Yuvraaj of Jammu & Kashmir paves the way for inherited homes to turn into cordon bleu luxury homes that also houses nostalgia and memorabilia in many ways. Karan Mahal, all of seven keys sits on the saddle between two hills—one of them the Shankaracharya peak—of the Zabarwan mountain range. Nearly 60 acres of orchards and woods surround it. With Covid driving the world towards terrains more serene, and Kashmir opening up, this heritage hotel promises to be the toast of 2022.
JEMA AKSHITA BHANJDEO OF MAYURBHANJ:
The title of a princess who cares sits best on her able shoulders. Akshita Bhanjdeo has made it to many glossy covers as not just a perfect host in her majestic Mayurbhanj home, now a heritage property. But also as someone who has emerged a strong voice in the world of sustainable and slow fashion. The project Karkhana chronicles taking the grass-root craft to Haute, stylish levels.
HH MAHARANI PRIYARAJE SCINDIA OF GWALIOR:
Born into the Gaekwad legacy of Baroda and married to the dynamic aviation minister of India, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Priyaraje is an educationist, a culture protagonist, and a heritage promoter who is quietly working towards bringing world-class experiences to her land of Madhya Pradesh. A strong believer in promoting experiential tourism, she is all set to emerge as a strong voice in this realm.
MAHARAJA CHAITANYA RAJ OF JAISALMER:
Last year changed his life forever placing this young lad all of 24 into the seat of power after his father passed away. Chaitanya Raj Bhati’s swearing-in was covered extensively by the media. Now at the helm of his family’s varied businesses he is also getting set to promote the life of his people in Jaisalmer. The Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls being one of his most commendable contributions as a young Maharaja.
A project initiated by the international non-profit organisation CITTA, and operated by its India’s arm, it is located near the village of Kanoi, Jaisalmer. Donated by Chaitanya Raj Singh it has his total attention. Best of luck to the young Maharaja who is trying to fit into his inherited throne.
RAJASTHAN’S GOLDEN MARKSWOMEN
Rajputana’s archaic association with warrior-ship has translated during less feudal eras into renowned sportsmanship in the fields of equestrian sports and marksmanship amongst others. Late H.H. Maharaja Karni Singhji of Bikaner made India’s mark in the world of shooting, a legacy that his daughter, H.H. Baijilal Rajshree Kumari inherited and proved to be a trailblazer indeed. In more recent times, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s Olympic and Apurvi Chandela’s Commonwealth medals brought immense pride to the nation. While male expedience in sports generalised as masculine is expectingly lauded, increasing participation of women in these disciplines is reclaiming the sphere altogether. Moreover, the oft-forgotten martial expedience of Rajput women is revived every time a woman shooter narrows down on her target and fires her weapon.
With Bihar’s Shreyasi Singh clinching two golds at the recent national championship in Patiala, Rajasthan’s women double trap shooting team ruled the winning podium, winning their state gold with their cumulative scores. Thus, it can be said without doubt that this year’s double trap shooting season truly belonged to Rajputana’s various daughters. With Shreyasi’s forthcoming feature on the horizon, Rajputana Collective proudly celebrates the victories of champions Himangini Rathore Hooja and Anushka Singh Bhati. Members of Rajasthan’s trapshooting team that emerged victorious this year, both Himangini and Anushka share their journeys as trap shooters – how it all started, their highs and lows, and insights into India’s shooting world.
Bearing her ancestral roots in erstwhile Bikaner’s Ghantel thikana, Himangini Rathore Hooja reminisces growing up to the glorious tales of late H.H. Karni Singhji. She was blessed with the streak of her maternal grandmother (Nanisa), who made her mark by winning small bore competitions in Uttar Pradesh’s Tala estate as early as the ’60s. Despite that, it wasn’t until after Himangini’s marriage that she took to shooting clay pigeons. “My husband enjoyed clay shooting and encouraged me to visit the shotgun range with him at Jaipur. I fired my first shot in 2011, but I only took up shooting in 2015”, she says.
Subsequently, her younger teammate, Anushka Singh Bhati elaborates on her beginnings. “My papa got me into shooting, as he was a national-level shooter in the 1980s and wanted to introduce his children to the sport as well. When we were young, he’d take us to the range. Initially, I started with pistol but then got into trap as it was an outdoor sport and I liked that. Initially, I was quite hesitant but my parents and brother Janmejay motivated me. I smashed my first clay bird in trap, it was my first ever target with a little bit of beginner’s luck.”
Himangini’s recently acquired all-India ranking of 4th in double trap accords a convincing validity to her statement, and she is truly walking the talk. In similar conjunction, Anushka’s impressive qualification into India’s top 15 in women’s trap and double trap events supplicates this community-centric conviction. Moreover, she is the only woman shooter from Rajasthan to have qualified An athlete endorsed by Khelo India, Anushka won Rajasthan its first-ever gold medal in the senior trap mixed team event with Manavaditya Singh Rathore.
While sharing their rise in shooting glory, both Himangini and Anushka pay their worse days at the range their due. “I definitely have a lot of low days where I feel unhappy with myself when I am not able to invest mentally in the game to the extent that I feel I should be”, Himangini adds. Anushka too shares a day in the recent nationals when she was left distraught by her unexpected performance. These shooting blues are a feeling that every practicing shooter or even sportsman can relate to. But success comes to the stubborn hearted, and evidently so. Within two years of shooting, in the 2017 nationals, Himangini had made her way into the trap finals match. On a similar feat, Anushka too scored her lucky 25/25 in her second nationals’ participation.
The need to bolster India’s infrastructure for shotgun shooting though is one that both concur with. “I don’t think that the current infrastructure is sufficient for the growing talent in shotgun shooting. To begin with, there is a shortage of ranges all over India. Other than that, the licensing procedure for weapons is a very complicated procedure and offers little support”, Anushka comments. Adding to that, Himangini says, “Trap shooting is an expensive sport. Availability of firearms and ammunition is a tremendous problem when one is just starting off with clay shooting. Also, while both- the union and state governments provide financial support, the actual disbursement of funds could be made more prompt. In my case, the Rajasthan Rifle Association has been extremely supportive through the years, and I feel the support of local, district and state associations will help the growth of national talent.”
The adverse impacts of Covid-19 on the sport of trap shooting is another aspect that is difficult for shooters worldwide to sideline. “We didn’t get to practice much in the past two years due to Covid and not many matches were held. This led to a lack of mental preparation that affected my performance in the last nationals”, Anushka elaborates. Himangini holds a relatively more optimistic approach. Although factors relating to the pandemic and personal safety do divert one’s mind with additional elements apart from shooting while in a competition, she credits the open-aired nature of the sport as a crucial safeguard. “At the ranges in Jaipur, all shooters were extremely considerate and careful regarding Covid norms”, she adds.
When asked about their favourite marksmen, Anushka idolises Michael Diamond and had the good fortune of meeting him during his visit to the Rajasthan OASES Range. Himangini mentions Slovak Shooter Zuzana Štefečeková as her shooting inspiration and praises her for her performance at the Tokyo Olympics. In the 2019 nationals, the duo was a part of the teams that had won Rajasthan silvers in trap and double trap. That marked a special year for being their first silver victory, and 2021 made them bring home the gold.
SUSHI DONE THE AR(T)ISAN WAY!
The Arisan Food Factory needs little or no introduction for the culinary legacies that it has recently unfurled in the Pink City. From DOJO, its pilot cloud kitchen broke Jaipur’s sushi barrier to Olio, its recent Mediterranean fare, the young chain of restaurants has truly taken Jaipur’s foodies by storm. Its latest label, Manchaha, celebrates the regional delicacies of India with a fusion twist of its own. After all, the novel ideas of truffle mushroom galauti and Balchao paneer tikka are as impossible to resist as are the bhootjolokia chicken wings. After months of anticipation, Rajputana Collective finally converses with the mastermind behind it all. Aridaman Singh Rathore or Ari, as he is more fondly known, opens up about his inspirational journey as one of Jaipur’s most notable entrepreneurs. We brace ourselves as we are taken through how it all started, the big leap thereafter and where it is all headed now.
Aridaman Singh Rathore.
Shrimp Tempura Roll by DOJO
Avocado Tempura Roll by DOJO.
Residents of Jaipur could well agree that a little over four years from today, a devoted lover of sushi would have to drive some 270 kilometres one way to the national capital to savour their favourite nigiri and hosomaki rolls. A close second alternative lay at the Japanese industrial area in Neemrana, again around a 150 kilometres drive from Jaipur and clearly not for the faint-hearted. Aridaman Singh Rathore was one such hardcore sushi fan, who would jump at any excuse to drive to Delhi because it meant gorging on a plate full of spicy tuna and dynamite rolls. When it came to dim sums too, Jaipur’s scanty options made for a rather bleak scenario. For most of Pink City, an outing to a bigger metropolitan almost always included at least one Pan-Asian dine-out.
All this was about to change in 2018 when Aridaman’s unparalleled love for sushi and pan-Asian led him to venture into the vast world of culinary enterprises. This bold and daring venture of his amounted to the birth of the Arisan Food Factory and its first cloud kitchen which Aridaman named DOJO. As Jaipur’s first standalone sushi home delivery service, Aridaman’sendeavour was twofold. One, to provide a product at par with the metro alternatives of sushi; and two, to remove the snob value that is often attached to sushi.
His vision of opting for the delivery module hoped to encourage people to try this increasingly popular Japanese delicacy in the comfort of their homes. Notwithstanding the authentic flavours that DOJO was successful in attaching from its very first sushi order, its nomenclature, along with that of its parent company is worth a brief glimpse. As Aridaman explains, “I admire Japanese culture a lot, and that is one of the reasons that pushed me to give the Japanese cuisine a try. My subsequent love for sushi and all things Japanese (even my favourite movie is the Last Samurai) prompted me to call my venture Arisan. It’s Ari, what my friends call me, with a Japanese twist. DOJO, on the other hand, is a Japanese word denoting a place for immersive learning and meditation, traditionally in the field of martial arts. I named my sushi brand DOJO because I think cooking is very meditative and one needs great concentration, especially while making sushi, because everything about it is an art, and so precise.”
From its very inception, DOJO devised ways to combat challenges that were as creative as its nomenclature. Aridaman reminisces over days when he had to source the most basic ingredients such as edamame and sushi-grade salmon from Delhi. He even ensured the retention of his first sushi chef by housing him in his personal guest room.
“I remember during peak hours, I did deliveries on my own as there was no Swiggy Genie back then. My driver doubled up as the cashier in the first few months and subsequently, he became DOJO’s first manager. As orders started pouring in, my wife Devyani took over their coordination. Many friends would be surprised when they called to order and heard Devyani on the other end of the line. In fact, she even took onto the purchase and sales completely, thus allowing me to focus solely on the food and quality control”, Aridaman adds.
After a power-packed yet organic start, Aridaman, Devyani and their team took their first leap as restauranteurs in mid-2019 and leased space in Narain Niwas Palace Hotel’s shopping courtyard. It was Jaipur’s first micro-restaurant, as Aridaman calls it, with only 12 seats and a keen focus on sushi and dim sum. The soon-approaching pandemic caused a huge blow to the culinary market as well and imposed numerous limitations on the growth that was in store for this new venture. Just then, Aridaman’s uncle and owner of Narain Niwas Palace Hotel, Thakur Man Singhji and his son Pratap made the kind offer of collaborating their iconic restro-bar, Shikaarbagh with DOJO. There was no looking back after this for Arisan Food Factory.
Now housed in one of Pink City’s hottest dining spots, DOJO at Shikaarbagh, has grown from strength to strength since, and is continuously enhancing both, its menu and products side by side. Speaking of which, Aridaman says, “We are happy to share that this partnership is over a year old and Pratap and I are working towards taking Jaipur’s pan-Asian food scene to a higher level in 2022, with the addition of many new recipes and exotic items that have us busy in the kitchen right now.”
With the upcoming possibility of an intimate dining space or a dessert studio, Aridaman pays his tribute to the love and support that he got from his clients, and to the recognition received for the risks that he took. “Much to our amazement, what started out as a small passion project took on a life of its own. DOJO has gained a huge client base very quickly. Our clients almost became a part of the business by encouraging us and cheering us on throughout. Many special requests found a place on our menu. We were very open to customisation and special requests, especially for children. Trying out new dishes and concepts every now and then is our mantra for innovation”, he concludes.
We send much praise down DOJO’s way not only for the remarkable feat that its team has achieved in terms of putting Jaipur on India’s sushi map, but for also growing into an exemplar of family-run food enterprises that are giving larger corporates a run for their money, and for the right reasons.
With Arisan Food Factory spreading its wings over other culinary fares, Jaipur has much to brace for and behold, and to be very, very proud of. Amongst other things, Pink City has one less reason to dash off to Delhi!
ROYALTY BEHIND THE LENS
Cecil Beaton, a British fashion, portrait and war photographer, captured some of the most treasured portraits of the Indian Maharanis and Maharajas, including Maharani Gayatri Devi, Princess Karam, and Princess Dürrüsehvar
Posing for portraiture is an integral part of royal life. Globally those born of blue blood are known to pose before celebrated portrait artists and photographers. Indeed portraits in various hues of sepia remain the most prized possessions of inheritors of royal legacy. Period books, walls of museums, lived in palaces are full of memorable ‘Kodak’ moments.
Princess Dürrüsehvar Sultan of Berar.The Prime Minister of Manipur in 1944.Gayatri Devi.
Princess Karam of Kapurthala.
The imagery of a young Lilibet with her Prince at her coronation, at a holiday in Sandringham House or on an imperial visit overseas are part of the globe’s collective memory. Interestingly, many of those photographs were captured by Cecil Beaton, a British fashion, portrait and war photographer, painter, and interior designer, as well as an Oscar-winning stage designer for films and the theatre.
Beatonwas born into the family of wealthy timber merchants. While growing up he was gifted a Kodak 3A Camera by his nanny who began teaching him the basics of photography and developing film.
Beatonwas would often get his sisters and mother to sit for him. When he was sufficiently proficient, he would send the photos off to London society magazines, often writing under a pen name and “recommending” the work of Beaton.
Interestingly, some of the most treasured of portraits of the Indian Maharanis and Maharajas too form part of his photographic repertoire. The most famed of them being that of Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur who can safely be called one of his favourite muses. The princess of Cooch Behar was the third wife of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur. Like her mother Indira Raje, who was the princess of Baroda, Gayatri Devi immortalised the imagery of the chiffon clad, pearl adorned Indian Maharani while capturing her in many frames was Beaton.
The other of the photographer’s favourite muse was Princess Karam or Sita Devi of Kapurthala, daughter of Raja Uday Raj Singh of Kashipur. She married Karamjit Singh, the younger son of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala. Sita Devi was one of the most iconic of Indian Queens who was written in society columns constantly. She was a muse for several photographers from Cecil Beaton to Man Ray. Her preferred couturier was Mainbocher who designed the wedding dress for Wallis Simpson’s nuptials with the Duke of Windsor. Sita Devi wore chiffon saris and fur coats designed by Mainbocher.
When she was 19 years old, Vogue Magazine anointed her the latest “secular goddess”. Three years later, Look named her one of the five best-dressed women on Earth. The couturier Elsa Schiaparelli was so dazzled by Sita Devi that the gowns of the designer’s 1935 collection were constructed like Indian saris. In early 1939, at Lady Mendl’s tea in honour of the Hollywood dietitian Dr Gayelord Hauser, Sita Devi was listed among the twelve most glamorous women in the world. She was the grandmother of contemporary jewellery designer Kanwar Shri Hanut Singh
Dürrüsehvar Sultan, married to Nizam Azam Jah of Hyderabad, was possibly one of Beaton’s most intriguing of frames. Born at the Camlica Palace in an era when the Caliphate was passing through its last phase, she married Azam Jah at a fairy tale wedding in Nice and lived an equally illustrious life thereafter.
While these three gutsy Indian queens immortalise Beaton’s work in India, he also allowed his camera to capture Indian performing artists like Ram Gopal, politicians, and its people.
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