A resident of the quiet city of Kota, the elegant shawl creator, Madhulika Hada is a Hada Rajput who is silently creating a storm with her stunningly beautiful shawls in cashmere. Each piece is a canvas for her signature style of stunning hand embroidery and bead work. One of the most acclaimed of Chauhan branches, the Hadas belong to the Agnikula and two of the prominent Rajasthan states of Bundi and Kota were ruled by them. Madhulika, married into a small noble family of Koela, is a woman of immense creativity with a deep understanding of the craft of embellishment.
She is supported unanimously by both her children, daughter Aishwarya Singh, married to Aditya Singh, son of former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh. When not posing as ex-CM’s daughter-in-law, pursuing his many charity programmes, Aishwarya happily poses in her mother’s shawls. As her filmmaker son who, besides shooting for Yash Raj Films also shoots his elegant mother and beautiful wife draped in these heirloom quality shawls.
Madhulika’s work on cashmere is nothing short of museum quality. She looks at pictures of past portraitures and selects motifs typical of Kashmiri embroidery form. The paisley, the jaal, the bootas and the medallion designs. She then reproduces them using a variety of decorative embroidery techniques, including zardozi, aari, tepchi, resham do taar, etc. She enhances her cashmere in vibrant hues using gold threads, pearls, beads and resham. Each piece a stunner and a veritable hand me down for generations to come.
“While the designs come to me as visions from a collective memory, the design bastions belong to the rich history of hand crafting that all of us Rajputs have had the good luck to experience up close,” she says.
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Bikaner House: Reclaiming its lost glory
The restoration of the Bikaner House is commendable and must be looked up to as a model for the rest of the heritage buildings in Lutyens’ Delhi.
For most of us who grew up in Lutyens’ Delhi, the erstwhile palaces of Princely India merely became synonyms for sarkari offices. I spent two lovely years in Curzon Road (or Kasturba Gandhi Marg, as it is known today) and recall these buildings as everyday symbols of a young girl’s college life. Taking the bus to college, walking across the Rashtrapati Bhavan each morning, trudging to play badminton in the External Affairs hostel, one never realised that many a dilapidated edifice around us were actually home to the erstwhile Maharajas.
Patiala House was where you got your documents notarized, Hyderabad House was at the end of the road, Bikaner House was where you caught a bus to go to Jaipur and Alwar House was where a friend worked for the Human Rights Commision. Hence, it was a real delight to receive a souvenir copy of the Bikaner House from the gracious management of this cultural centre and browse through the marvel of an elegant home which had been restored to near-original glory.
Founded by the visionary ruler HH Maharaja Ganga Singh, historically known for his ambitious Ganga Canal work, Bikaner House was designed by British architect Blomefield and has played host to the who’s who of British and Indian nobility. On several occasions during the 1930s and 40s, the Council of Indian Princes held deliberation as guests of the Bikaner family. HH Ganga Singhji personally played host to King George the Vth, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, while his father HH Sadul Singhji often had his dear friend Lord Mountbatten drop in for a game of badminton with his pretty wife, Lady Edwina.
Restored today by the Government of Rajasthan and turned into one of the city’s most gracious cultural venues, Bikaner House must hold the torch for other royal homes to be restored to their past regalia.
ADHIRAJ SINGH DEVRA: SHOOTING TO THUNDER
Contrary to most children his age, Adhiraj Singh Devra was intrigued by his ancestral guns and weapons to an extent that made him wanted to speed up his growth to an age that would permit him to further interact with these marvels. As a young boy, his introduction to the sport of shooting began as a result of the educational curriculum directed specifically by his father. Based on the Vedic tenets of one’s illumination on shaastras (religious precepts) and shastras (arms), the unique teaching method fuelled Adhiraj’s inborn curiosity vis-a-vis the latter. When he turned 13, he was taken to the shooting range by his father and registered into the Samvit Shooting Sansthan, a training academy after which, it didn’t take him long to turn into a professional shooter.
Throughout his undulating career as a young shooter and now as a budding trainer, Adhiraj has held the late Maharaja Dr Karni Singhji of Bikaner as his idol. After all, it was Maharaja Dr Karni Singhji who inspired Adhiraj’ family to pursue the sport of shooting as a matter of which a passion for shooting began to be cultivated before percolating down to him at a young age.
In the eight years that have followed Adhiraj’s first day at the range, he has won several national as well as state-level awards in the category of air pistol shooting. Yet, there is no sporting journey that lacks its own set of hurdles, and Adhiraj briefly illustrates the biggest challenge that he has faced as a shooter thus far.
It was 2013 and the budding professional was in top form, with a selection into the Youth Olympic Games that were to be held in Nanjing, China in the following year. In what he perceives to be a personal vendetta by a poorly-spirited competitor, Adhiraj suffered a tragic motorbike accident and sustained multiple attempts to injure his dominant arm. This horrific incident proved to be not just physically damaging, but also morally devastating for Adhiraj, with his self-esteem at an all-time low. Nanjing was obviously out of the question and his shooting career had attained an overnight standstill.
Over the next two years, Adhiraj willed his way back to recovery with some intensive therapy and rehabilitation efforts for his hand. He also spent this time to regain his focus and improve on his shooting technique. In a summarisation of this trying phase, Adhiraj emerges stronger as a true sportsman would. In his words, “with this life-changing experience, I reminisce on how it made me stronger. I was not altered in my determination to again become the best. I see life as a gift, and am grateful for the challenge as it made me a gentleman and true sportsperson.”
Once he had made his dashing re-entry into the world of shooting, nothing could stop Adhiraj now. Not only had he resumed his exhaustive list of awards and accolades, but had also taken to teaching the sport to other amateurs and aspirants.
Taking this crucial experience in his stride, Adhiraj became more aware of the psychological imperatives of the sport.
In December 2017, Adhiraj introduced to Ahmedabad the city’s first professional shooting academy called the ‘Thunderbolt Shooting Academy’. Through this initiative, Adhiraj alternates the training of professional shooters with the promotion of the sport as a recreational activity. More specifically, he has opened his doors to walk-ins who are looking to try their hand at shooting with the added guidance of professionals and veterans, hence making the sport more accessible to the layperson.
“My aim is to share the hidden attributes of shooting as a sport and getting more youth to know the sport while providing the best possible training through professionally-run institutes and quality equipment. Ultimately, I’d like to contribute to a greater number of players at national and international levels,” Adhiraj concludes.
TAPESTRY TALES OF ROYAL SPLENDOUR
Shradha Akka Nikam is a tapestry artist, fashion designer, costume restorer, royal furnishing creator and an art aficionado who can magically bring any surface alive.
Tapestry art has always been integral to the handcraft legacy of princely India. A congregation of rare embroideries, these tapestries were traditionally used for costume enhancement of the royals and for creating large chattars, wall hangings and tents for the palace. Tales of love’s enchantment, an ode to the rich flora and fauna that marked the palace gardens, imagery of Gods and Goddesses and linear, architectural lines. Rendered in beads, gold threads, a generous use of vintage techniques, these tapestries have inspired generations of Indians.
Cut to today and the world of tapestry design is in the hands of a maverick genius, a designer who belongs to Kolhapure and today is treating many Maratha royals to her divine designs. Shradha Akka Nikam is a tapestry artist, fashion designer, costume restorer, royal furnishing creator and an art aficionado who can magically bring any surface alive. “While the techniques applied are purist, their interpretation is young, happy and different. Why should the bride weight herself down with paisleys and flowers that she does not identify with in her real life?”
Shradha uses the ancient hand techniques of zardoz, dabka, beadwork and Parsi gara to create embroideries of rare chutzpah. Her bridal lehengas even featuring everyday loves of the bride like a mobile phone, a lipstick, a scissor, and a dresser all created out of the finest of embroideries. Her creations have the right fusion of beauty and fashion and a rich rendering of vintage charm.
I met her at her gorgeous home in New Delhi. I was invited to witness her stunning Ganesh puja. Full of very endearing touches, the puja culminated in the most scrumptiously rich puja food you can ever hope to devour on a Maratha table; Shradha had us stumped out of our food coma when she walked us to her basement where khaddis after khaddis of embroidery in progress left us numb with love.
Shradha Nikam’s ancestral roots lie in the Nikams who are descendants of Suryavanshi king Nikumbh and his successors Nikumbh Rajputs. Born and raised between Kolhapure and Mumbai and married to a brilliant art director, Saurabh Chaddha, Shradha keeps her roots in the Maratha world alive. Close to the Chhatrapati Shivaji’s ancestral family in Kolhapur, she has a great patron in Yuvrani Madhurima Raje Chhatrapati, as well as Her Highness Maharani Radhika Raje Gaekwad of Baroda. The latter also inviting her to re-upholster the ceremonial thrones in the Lakshmi Vilas Palace, Baroda. “The Maratha royals are fiercely proud of their lineage, their rituals and their style of traditional dressing. When icons like these endorse my design I do feel truly humbled.”
Shradha possesses a talent in creating a unique fusion of fine textures, vibrant colours, cutting-edge silhouettes and bold, life-like embroideries: All in tune with the contemporary styling of the modern era enhanced by evergreen old-world charm. A fusion that created ripples in the fashion industry, Nikam launched her own label through a mega-fashion show model. Today, the city that booms with fashion witnesses her set up that creates delightful surprises as she closely works with her team to bring out the most exquisite embroidery designs that brides fall in love with.
Creating chiffon saris with her vintage borders in luscious colours, she also does immense drama with her blouses that sometimes make a bigger statement than the solid-coloured sari itself. Shradha’s bridal ensembles work on the interplay of fit and volume, her signature lehenga sometimes featuring her famed 90 kalis, all rendered in the most beautiful and textural raw silk. But the most stunning of all is when she handpicks the finest chintz prints and florals in soft muslins creating tiny pinafores for her beautiful daughters. Or when she fills her room with the most endearing upholstery in stark white embroidered tapestry.
DIFFERENT HUES OF HOLI CELEBRATIONS IN BRIJBHOOMI
The undisputed festival of colours that heralds spring and harvest, Holi is celebrated year after year throughout the country in the utmost spirit of love and effervescence. Bearing its name after Holika, the mythological significance of this festival traces back to the popular legend of Hiranyakashyapa, who envied his son’s powerful devotion towards Lord Vishnu and felt his godly self-image threatened by the same. Hiranyakashyapa’s sister Holika incidentally had a boon to remain unscathed by fire and hence, when she schemed with her brother to enter a blazing pyre with his son Prahlad on her lap, what followed was beyond her palpable imagination. No sooner was Holika reduced to ashes than Prahlad came out of the fire, completely unharmed. The miraculous outcome of a deliberately sinister conspiracy highlights Lord Vishnu’s divine intervention wherein he had protected Prahlad against all odds of nature while Holika paid for using her supernatural immunity with ill-intention. When seen thematically, the story of Holika illustrates the inevitable victory of good over evil; and the eternal protection of devotees by God.
Although this legend suffices to explain the Holika Dahan ritual (a communal incarceration of funeral pyres symbolic of Holika and all evil that is destroyed and purged under the supreme victory of the good), very few partakers of Holi are versed with the story that brought the game of colour smearing into being, a custom that is central to Holi celebrations in India.
In this Festive Recap issue, Rajputana Collective highlights Holi as it is celebrated in Brijbhoomi, or the mythical birthplace of Radha and Krishna formed by the geographical conglomeration of Mathura, Vrindavan, Barsana and Nandgaon in Uttar Pradesh. Known for its unparalleled celebration of Holi festivities, Brijbhoomi places all its regional counterparts to shame for the sheer magnitude and iconicity in which it rejoices the spirit of Holi. If a U.P.-ite is asked about the nature of Holi celebrations in their hometown, chances are that his/her reply will be: “U.P. mein Holi nahi kheli toh kya kheli?” Which translates into, “you haven’t played Holi until and unless it was in U.P.!” Join Rajputana Collective as it uncovers the mythical significance and symbolism of Holi in the lands where the festival is believed to have originated.
When her beloved son Krishna complained about the injustice done to him by mother nature that made his skin so dark, Yashodha pacified him by suggesting that he coloured his beloved Radha’s fair complexion with smears of gulaal to make it look like his own. Accompanied by his friends, the mischievous Krishna then proceeded to Radha’s residing village of Barsana to lovingly smear her and the other gopis with gulaal or powder made of turmeric and flower extracts. In a playful retort, the damsels of Barsana gave Krishna and his allies a memorable beating with sticks (laths).
As the enigmatic and playful duo of Radha-Krishna became divinely etched into the religious consciousness of the nation, this customary charade finds annual resonance in Brijbhoomi. Home to the only temple to be solely-dedicated to Radha, Barsana embraces its iconic custom of lathmar Holi with much fervour year after year. From days in advance, mother-in-laws of Barsana indulge in their daughter-in-laws with rich food in order to prepare their strength for the exciting battle of sticks and shields that ensues during this festive period. On the day of the festival, women from the Barsana village indulge in what is known as lathmar Holi with their male counterparts hailing from Krishna’s village of Nandgaon by playfully beating them with laths. The men in turn, defend themselves from the heavy stick pelting with the help of shields while singing songs to provoke this playful incentive by the ladies. The very next day, the direction of this offensive is returned. Now, the men of Barsana repeat this playful act with the women of Nandgaon and are similarly hurled at with laths.
An electric array of colours is splashed at one another while songs are sung in the native Brajbhasha. Bhaang-laced thandaais intoxicate this exuberant play of colours while sweetmeats like gujiyas and melodious folk songs engulf the air. Through this communal celebration of fun, fellowship and love, Brijbhoomi’s heart throbs in technicolour as it commemorates its celestial couple: Radhe Krishna.
If Radha’s birthplace hails the annual festival of colours with so much revelry, it is but natural that Krishna’s hometown would strive to live up to the spirit. The townships of Mathura and Vrindavan come alive during Holi in a fashion that is, at best fantasised by remaining parts of the country. As Mathura entertains its holi procession from Vishram ghat to the Holi gate, Vrindavan’s 19th century Baanke Bihari temple pre-celebrates Holi on the day of ekadashi with what is famously referred to as phoolon wali Holi. This is a renowned celebration of Holi wherein colourful gulaal is substituted with flowers. The 15-20-minute-long event comprises of thick showers of flower petals being showered down on devotees by the temple’s priests. The epicentre of Brijbhoomi’s Holi festivities the Baanke Bihari temple opens its gates on the day of Holi such that devotees can ecstatically exchange colours with the temple-residing idol of Lord Krishna. The mesmerising sprays of different colours is truly a sight worth beholding. The Iskon Temple, Prem Mandir and Pagal Baba temples of the area show similar avidness and zeal. What’s more, just three years ago, the widow community of Vrindavan celebrated their first Holi, streaking their perennial white drapes with unapologetic tints of liberation, a proud moment of ceremonial freedom and social progress.
Speaking of colours, it is worth noting that every hue used in the amusement of Holi carries with it a symbolic meaning of its own. For example, as red represents love and fertility, green does spring and new beginnings. Blue carries itself forward as the colour of Lord Krishna and yellow, the colour of unity and felicity. In smearing colour on one another’s faces, people exchange emotional hues irrespective of one another’s age, class, caste, creed, gender or status. Old enmities or ruptures are forgotten on this day as everyone rejoices the all-encompassing goodwill. With everyone’s faces being coloured, interpersonal boundaries come to be blurred even if it is just for this one day, which complicates the habitual distinction that the society draws between the rich and the poor, the twice borns and the others. As the spirit of Holi calls for everyone to drop their guards and inhibitions, a popular slogan that floods Indian streets and village lanes is, “bura naa maano, Holi hai!”, which can be translated into “don’t get offended, it’s Holi after all!” Be it an utterance by the child aiming water balloons on passing cars or the young girl colouring her in law’s cheeks, these mischievous acts are perceived a mile’s distance away from nuisance, for if there is one day to bring alive the Radhas and Krishnas in each one of us, and to let them dance, sing, play and love, it’s this.
MAHARAJA ERA AND ITS RICH ARTISTIC SPLENDOR
Through their opulent lifestyles and patronage to the arts, the erstwhile Maharajas set an aesthetic tone which is followed even today. An excerpt from ‘Profile of a Patron’, a collectible book published by Royal Fables, talks about the importance of art within the majestic princely palaces of India.
The loftiness of expansive forts, the impermeable columns in palaces that still hide within them stories of a distant past, the glimmer of luminescent chandeliers, jewels that cradled the soft bosoms of regal high-priestesses and the luxuries of custom-made four-wheeled beauties are just the tip of the iceberg that is the Maharaja story.
The erstwhile rulers of the princely states of India made new definitions in living escalated and extravagant lifestyles by the day. The Maharaja era has not just left deposits of amusing stories of a time gone by, but has bequeathed legacies upon us that today show windows to an Indian past which was luxurious, magnificent and incomparable!
Whatever the criticism of the decadent lifestyle of the Maharajas, none can deny that wittingly or unwittingly they created masterpieces in art and architecture, giving artists and art a unique place. So exclusive was the craftsmanship of those times that any attempt to copy has been largely unsuccessful, for the creations of yore cannot be matched or replicated. Contrary to criticism for their opulence, many erstwhile rulers laid emphasis on art, architecture and craft, supporting communities of artists and craftsmen with their continuous patronage.
Many kingdoms prospered with art, textiles and embroidery being encouraged within kingdoms and trade routes opened up giving merchants and artists new opportunities and accessibility.
Maharaja Umaid Singh of Jodhpur, a great patron of art and architecture, came up with the most ingenious idea of providing employment to locals in the middle of a famine. While Jodhpur was struggling with the monsoons failing consecutively, the Maharaja decided to build the Umaid Bhawan Palace, providing employment to over 3,000 local people. The building stands as the first palace built in Art Deco style in the 1920s.
While art and artists flourished, providing employment to locals, it is the personal interests of princely rulers in creating stupendous examples of material wealth that led to the making of some of the most beautiful palaces, forts, temples, paintings, costumes, chandeliers and jewels.
Not only were some of these Indian rulers encouraging and endorsing art in all forms within their kingdoms, they were also setting new standards internationally and employing fresh architects of creativity to quench their mammoth artistic desires, which often came hand-in-hand with a zealousness to possess the finest quality products ever made available for mankind. A good example of the erstwhile states sponsoring international artists is again Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan Palace. Polish artist Stefan Norblin was commissioned by the Jodhpurs to create murals and portraits of the family apart from interior-designing the palace.
Archibald Herman Muller, an artist of German origin, received the patronage of the royal houses of Bikaner, Nawanagar, Jaipur and Jodhpur. He painted prolifically in these states, having started in Bikaner in 1922 and then moving on to become a state-sponsored artist for Jodhpur where he eventually died in 1960. Some of his depictions of the Mahabharata and Ramayana show him as an artist of great skill who never compromised on quality.
In fact, his patrons encouraged him to retain his own belief in art rather than influencing his creativity by imposing what they wanted, as on an occasion the painter denied selling his work to a client who wanted him to make changes.
While Muller left lasting impressions in Bikaner, local artist Ruknuddin and later his son Shahadin produced the best miniature paintings under the patronage of the Bikaners. Similarly, in Jaipur, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II set up 36 karkhanas (departments) which catered to different aspects, including music, armory as well as literature (through the pothikhana karkhana or library).
Says Diya Kumari of Jaipur, “My father realised the importance of preserving whatever was left of the karkhanas. We had lost many of them over time and fortunately we have been able to display 10 of these left in the palace museum, all of which were revived by my father.”
Noted 19th century painter Raja Ravi Varma found patronage in Baroda where he lived for 14 years. The artist’s studio still remains in the Baroda palace. In fact, Sayajirao Gaekwad III was such a far-sighted man and a complete aesthete that when it came to promoting fine arts, he left no stone unturned. It helped that his wife, Maharani Chimna Bai I, a princess of Tanjore, had great knowledge of Bharatnatyam and brought a few Tanjore dancers to Baroda as part of her dowry.
The Tanjore dancers attained huge acclaim as performers in Baroda, which was gradually turning into a throbbing cultural centre, elevating art to a higher pedestal. From Ustad Moula Bux, Sayajirao’s court also produced gems like Ustad Inayat Khan and Ustad Faiyyaz Khan in music.
“Patronage of artists in state times had such a lasting impact that even now Baroda is considered the cultural capital of Gujarat. Generations of artists were supported and encouraged in Baroda and it still produces some of the best talent in art. I guess it stems from the fact that art has been around in every aspect of Baroda and people have grown up around it. Sculptor Felici made a dancing figure based on one of the Tanjore dancers who were not just looked upon as nautch girls but as performers of great repute,” says Radhika Raje, the daughter-in-law of the Baroda royal family who now looks after the palace museum and various family trusts.
Other acclaimed artists who enjoyed royal patronage in Baroda include Nandlal Bose and Phanindranath Bose.
Whether it was a piece of garment, quilt or even furniture – the emphasis in the princely times was on presenting bespoke pieces. Some fine examples of the Maharajas’ personal collections are still available with their families and the sheer luxury of artistry seen in even utilitarian tools is astonishing.
Take, for example, the Louis Vuitton luggage that many families commissioned with personal inscriptions on it. LV still prides itself over personal collections of the Kashmir royal family which was on display in their Delhi store sometime back. The Maharajas also carried the most ornate swords and weapons, many of which are showcased on ceremonial occasions even today.
Indian rulers were creating a new movement in hedonism that was stylized and unparalleled.
Even in fashion the trends set by the men and women of those times have been so amusingly niche that any attempt to replicate them may not elicit similar results, they were so eccentric and fascinatingly idiosyncratic. For instance, there was the Maharani of Cooch Behar, Indira Devi, a woman who was celebrated in the high societies of Paris and London as one of the most photographed faces. Indira Devi, a princess of Baroda, who later married the prince of Cooch Behar, became more conspicuous than she already was when she started carrying a pet turtle to evening soirees. Not only did it bewilder onlookers for the sheer choice of her evening companion, but the turtle dazzled them with its bejeweled shell comprising precious gemstones.
Whimsical as it appeared, the erstwhile royals were pushing the boundaries in art and fashion, forcing artists to think out of the box and were themselves creating trends that till date remain unrivalled.
The princely states were also making history on the world stage where the largest international commissions were made. The Patiala necklace made for Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala by Cartier remains a priceless piece of history till date. In 1925 when the Maharaja visited Cartier in Paris he came back after having placed an order for the world’s largest necklace consisting of 2,930 diamonds!
Even in architecture, the sheer luxury of size was setting new standards. The Gwalior palace which boasts of having the two largest chandeliers in the world has an interesting story. Two elephants were pulled up on a pulley to see if the ceiling could take the weight of those chandeliers. Similarly, Baroda’s Lakshmi Vilas Palace built in the Indo-Saracenic style by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III in 1890 had amenities such as elevators and intercoms in those days and till date, the residents of the palace claim, they have not had to change any plumbing! It remains the largest private residence ever built – the Buckingham Palace is only four times smaller in size compared to this wide-spread building which is now occupied by Sayajirao’s descendants.
The lifestyle of the Maharajas and their various passions have been documented through various exhibitions that have taken place globally. The pictures that appeared in studio La Fayette’s exhibition in the capital a few years ago portrayed the charismatic and opulent existence of the Maharajas reflecting how the Maharaja culture is an important aspect of history that shaped India’s future – especially in the fields of art, architecture, music and dance. Sepia-toned photos of regal Maharajas and Maharanis depicted imperial influences – they were amongst the first to commission portrait artists and later with the advent of photography they became avant-garde leaders in documenting their own lifestyles. From hunting scenes to coronations, the Maharajas enjoyed documenting their lives through photographs and paintings and inadvertently promoted both photography and painting as fine art.
Some noteworthy contributions were made by British photographer Dorothy Wilding and artists such as Alfred Jonniaux, whose portrait of Indira Devi in a white diaphanous saree remains amongst the most circulated photographs of that era. Among Indian artists, Raja Ravi Varma, who otherwise specialized in painting scenes from Indian mythology, made portraits of the entire royal family of Baroda.
The Maharajas indeed carefully looked into encouraging artistic idioms and their larger-than- life image of the heightened self, bedecked with ornaments and royal protocol, helped create fashion into an appreciated and admired art.
Their decadence, paradoxically, also encouraged the most luxurious presentations in their homes, surroundings and kitchens. The Maharaja lifestyle depicted esoteric tastes despite the obvious ostentation and each went ahead in outdoing the other in creating records of sorts.
It wasn’t competition that made princely rulers outdo the others. But in royal protocol much of it was based on idealized concepts of hospitality and generosity. Thrift was clearly a vice!
The Rampurs, known for their hospitality and lavish spreads, went out of their way to create unique feasts. For special occasions, they served pulao for which rice was carved out to resemble a pineapple before it was cooked.
The court culture added a flourish to entertainment which was carried out in the most beauteous surroundings. The need to spell their majesty in the most outstanding manner led to the creation of some of the finest durbar halls including those in Jaipur,
Jodhpur, Baroda, Mysore, Gwalior and Hyderabad still stand as intimidating witnesses to a glorious past. These were often accentuated by murals such as those depicting seasons, especially the monsoon, and clouds, that are common in the palaces of Rajasthan which received less rainfall. Each royal court had its own belief in patronizing royal art, craft and music. In fact, the great gharana system in music started from the courts of India, promoting generations of musicians. With the decline of princely India, musicians moved away from their former princely states to urban hubs, but carried the gharana tag which served as their distinct identity. Royal patronage produced some of India’s finest musicians such as Bismillah Khan who first found encouragement from the Maharaja of Darbhanga in Bihar where his maternal uncle played the shehnai.
The Nawab of Rampur, Raza Ali Khan, was such a lover of music that not only did he play the khartal himself, he invited musicians from all over India to his court and patronized the likes of Sitara Devi and Begum Akhtar. His granddaughter, Naghat Khan, says, “My grandfather was a pure lover of music. He did not just promote music as a ruler but was passionate and understood every aspect of it.”
The fall of the Mughals in the 18th century and the evolution of the princely states of India saw amongst many transitions, excesses, extravagances as well as the Maharaja’s whimsical journeys that today stand as a testament to royal patronage of art, architecture as well as music and dance.
The princely states took over from where the Mughals left. They helped in patronizing art and artists and gave it a new dimension under them as Mughal influences started diminishing.
The now famous miniature paintings of Rajasthan found a new lease of life under the new patronage of the Maharajas after the Mughal era declined. Princess Siddhi Kumari of Bikaner, who has been running the Prachina museum for the last 20 years, says, “Bikaner offered a very fluid environment for artists and with each successive ruler we saw art and architecture being encouraged and the streams evolved without any restrictions. The emphasis was on each form of artistic expression and not just a particular discipline.”
The Prachina museum has revived some old traditions with live demonstrations of art, as seen in European realism, all carried out by local artists. Today it supports fourth-generation craftsmen like Hanif Usta who work with camel hide, as well as carpenters who are skilled at making wooden carriages.
The opulence of princely India has faded with time. However, the rich stories still evoke a vibrant vision of an abundant and amusing bygone era. The past has turned into the present continuous as members of the erstwhile royal families are pitching a new place linking India’s vast art and craft traditions with the new world order.
KATHIWADAS ON TOP OF THEIR GAME
Design and philanthropy stalwarts for over thirty years and counting, the Kathiwadas embellish yet another jewel to their ever-growing legacy of creative innovation. Just when their unparalleled contributions to the fields of fashion, cricket and philanthropy leave all of us wonder-struck and gasping for breath, the House of Kathiwada pulls the next surprise that they had thus far hidden in its sleeve. This time around, it’s Circle 1434, a first-of-its-kind members community that renders all its contemporary lifestyle hotspots into the backdrop.
Jostling with the endless demands of an urban lifestyle, modern-day Indians wistfully long to unwind in a tranquil hideout that is too elusive to fathom. Oftentimes, productivity and exhaustion towards the mundane enter into a dead knot and imaginative freedom jostles in the quicksand of our situational limitations. A getaway to the hills is as distant for the overworked office goer as is the beach for a creative buff dwelling in densely urban weeds. The Kathiwadas make a breath-taking entry at the very centre of this paradox by formulating Circle 1434—an eclectic members community that is cocooned, not in exotic mountains, nor in pristine backwaters, but in the very heart of Maximum City! The family’s city bungalow in Worli has been breathed in with classic Kathiwada panache and refashioned as Kathiwada City House, the Neo-contemporary art deco mansion and heart of Circle 1434.
At the outset, one might ask what is particularly novel about an urban lifestyle club in times when Quorum, WeWork and Anti-Social form lead an entire trend of city-based congregations. To put it succinctly, Circle 1434 makes its departure from the very word Club and perches itself upon the Kathiwada’s signature curation of people, ideas and events. In sharp contrast to Mumbai’s pulsating club climate, this meditative sanctuary of inward nourishment offers each of its patrons tranquility that breeds creative thought and helps it flourish.
Comprising primarily of Mumbai’s elite pioneers of art, fashion, design, literature, food, culture and wellness, what sets Circle 1434 apart is the community’s overriding ethic of niche collaboration. “Should one be visiting Mumbai and lodging at say, the Four Seasons, they are far from being certain of bumping into a like-minded individual at breakfast. On the other hand, a guest at the Kathiwada City House is highly likely to come across acquaintances who offer a lifetime of friendship and collaborative potential. Moreover, there are brilliant minds out there whose creative energies are hindered by the mundanities of corporate life. I curated this space with the particular idea of offering these creative souls a peaceful sanctuary where they are able to hear themselves think and for their work to truly thrive,” says Sangita Kathiwada in an exclusive conversation with Rajputana Collective.
It was over three decades ago when she established Melange, a boutique outlet at Mumbai’s Altamount Road that forever changed the way we interacted with fashion. Then in 2015, Kathiwada and her bright-eyed son, Digvijay presented their iconically revisited ancestral dwelling by the Vindhyas to the world of hospitality. What served their forefathers as a hunting lodge in yesteryears underwent a painstaking restoration for eight long years under INTACH before metamorphosing into Kathiwada Raaj Mahal, a truly unique retreat in the thickets of Madhya Pradesh. Symbiotically working in tandem with its reinstated panache is the Kathiwada Foundation, the family’s philanthropic arm that reaches out to the region’s tribal communities and joins them in multiple causes of social development. In the same year, Digvijay and wife Swati also launched Sportqvest, a zero-waste manufacturer of activewear and customized sportswear.
2015 might have been their biggest year thus far, considering it was that February when Digvijay married his better half, Swati. In time, she too joined this tour de force and there has been no looking back for the Kathiwada trio. Their latest revelation comes in the form of Sava Goodness, an initiative that promotes mindful consumption and a sustainable lifestyle. As usual, Sangita Kathiwada leads by example and seizes the post-pandemic webspace to generate awareness via social media influence and online discussions with experts in the fields of zero waste management. Throughout these various initiatives, one can’t help but remain awe-struck by Sangita Kathiwada’s ever-inspiring spirit, and its pure manifestations in Kathiwada’s younger generation. And better still, that this legendary fashionista flies higher on her three-decade-long skyrocketing, and Digvijay and Swati’s duo has only just begun. Another era thus unfurls!
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