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Himachali Dhaam: Elaborate table spreads & divine communion

Urvashi Singh Khimsar



After spending the better part of the lockdown dreaming of the hills, my impending journey to my Himalayan home brought me a huge sigh of relief. It was time to pay my annual homage to my most beloved place on this earth, and even though the hoteliers’ world had suffered a washout, adapting to the new normal seems like the only way out. With more masks and sanitization kits than my personal luggage, I was all set to interrupt the humdrum that Covid-19 had wrapped around Manali. No sooner had I set foot into my tiny little sanctuary, I executed some arduous safety protocols against the ensuing pandemic.

 Three days later, the alpine smell wafts out of the deodars and spring water brooks bustle amidst apple orchards. Misty mountains peak through every once in a while, revealing their velvety grass. Like every year, Manali prepares to shed its viridescent lustre by reaching the pinnacle of foliage. Just when you think green can’t get any greener, it does, and I find myself falling with the hills all over again, one season at a time.

But unlike the rest of the world, the yellowing of leaves doesn’t brace the Himalayan populace for a gloomy fall. Quite the contrary actually! Here, autumn summons festivity in Himachal’s most coveted occasion of Dussehra. Ram’s triumph over Ravan, and more importantly, our own triumphs against our inner demons, are greeted by pomp and indulgence. One of the most symbolic expressions of joyous celebrations such as these is the ‘Pahaari Dhaam’, or the great Himalayan communal feast.

Nearly 1,300 years ago, a king in Himachal Pradesh was so enamoured by the Kashmiri Wazwan that he ordered his cooks to prepare a vegetarian variant of their own. The botis — a Brahmin community that served as the royal chefs, gradually devised a ‘saatvik’ menu (devoid of any onions or garlic), that relied entirely on locally-available ingredients such as lentils, pulses, dairy, mustard and ground spices. This gamut of delicacies came to be collectively known as the Dhaam and came to be served exclusively in temples as ‘prasaad’ (divine offerings enjoyed by the devotees).

The sheer simplicity and precision that went into preparing the various Dhaam recipes required expertise in skill as well as their cooking equipment that catered uniquely to the climatic conditions and nutritional requirements implied therein. Although such culinary wisdom is a known feature in ancient Indian culture, traditional Dhaam preparations stand distinguished in two particular ways. One, they include no vegetables or meat. Two, each recipe is prepared in a narrowmouthed pot made of copper alloy, the ergonomics of which were ideal in maximizing the heat efficiency in cold Himalayan climates.

Over time, the popularity of the Dhaam surged across the state of Himachal Pradesh, deriving local adaptations and symbolic mentions in occasions such as wedding ceremonies, family gatherings as well as religious events. The more recent evolutions of the Pahaari Dhaam include a diverse range of ingredients that span well beyond the conventional restrictions of meat and vegetables. Today, the Himachali Dhaam stands as a notable cuisine in itself, bearing popular local variants from Chamba, Mandi, Kangra, Lahaul and Kullu, amongst others.

As a young debutant in Manali’s hospitality sector, I noticed the acute absence of Pahaari Dhaam cultures across its hotels and eating joints. Was this cultural shyness and hesitation, or did the long preparation time and exotic list of dhaam ingredients deter the cuisine’s feasibility? I continue to jostle with these musings without sighting a clear exit route. Nevertheless, I was sure about one thing, that a homage to the Himalayas would be incomplete without due credit to its culinary traditions. Thus, I incorporated a modern-day rendition of the Himachali Dhaam into my hotel’s dining as the Pahaari Dhaam at Urvashi’s Retreat.

In an elaborate, made to order menu, I have curated my personal favourites from a vast array of local delicacies. By integrating classical cooking techniques with modern-day technologically, my very own curation of the Dhaam experience can be customised as per vegetarian, non-vegetarian, omnivorous as well as Jain meal preferences. Moreover, its dynamic span makes it readily available to serve intimate gatherings as well as larger banquets or ceremonies.

Altering the dining format in order to ensure safety and sanitization in a post-pandemic world was easier than I expected. Since traditional dhaams are served over disposable ‘pattals’ to a seated audience by a designated fleet of hosts, all I had to do was increase the seating distance between my diners. In precarious times, a leisure-seeker finds much solace in their sensory indulgences and gastronomical comforts. Creamy siddus, pungent mustard and date gravies, crisp flatbreads and apple crumble panjeeris come to our existentialist rescue. In a world where the concepts of leisurely meal preparations and communal feasting undergo a steady decline, our Himachali Dhaam celebrates the simple pleasures of an unhurried life that are best realised on elaborate table spreads and divine communion.

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Royally Speaking

Digitalising antiquities with Abhinay Rathore

The scope and dedication of Soszynski’s work left Abhinay highly impressed and motivated him to make a similar effort with the backing of his designing and developing skills



It all started back in 2004. Professor L.S. Rathore, the then-Vice Chancellor of the Jodhpur National University was writing one of his upcoming books that required a family tree to be documented digitally. A fresh computer science graduate at the time, Abhinay Rathore was soon to embark upon his American dream for higher studies when he undertook the initiative to help the professor out.

During his initial research, the young man came across the Indian Princely States Website, an online documentation of princely genealogies being regulated by an Australian called Henry Soszynski.

The scope and dedication of Soszynski’s work left Abhinay highly impressed and motivated him to make a similar effort with the backing of his designing and developing skills. As a goodwill gesture to give back to his community, Abhinay undertook Soszynski’s primary vision and honed it with an impetus to go further, in the form of a deeper and more systemised inquiry into the collective past of the Rajputs. 8 years later, the now-software engineer was taking a walk alongside his wife somewhere in the United States when it occurred to him that it was time.

He registered the domain name of ‘Indian Rajputs’, which would soon become the largest repository of content related to Rajputs in the online world.

Rajputana Collective takes the privilege of featuring Abhinay’s story with ‘Indian Rajputs’, as well as the intent and motives of the enterprising software engineer that shaped the most commendable plan of content integration for the Rajput community since the times of Sir James Tod.

Millennials who have grown up in the urban confines to an Indian city or in a country far away from home. They have grown up hearing the elders of their family tell them scattered ancestral tales and stories of origin. They have a rough idea about their familial heritage, and would be perfectly comfortable in their complacency of it. But what if they were the curious kind? What if they wanted to know more about where they came from? Well, not just from a singularity called India, but where they actually came from. Let’s imagine one of the family’s better historians stepping forth to help the curious millennials out. At best, they could manage digging out some old pictures, memoirs and drawing out a family tree.

The questions still remained- how did we get here? What brings us all together?

Couple this with the frustration of a reader, history enthusiast or scholar for being unable to lay his/her hands on a concise account of India’s Rajput community. If one wishes to steer clear of the clouded stereotypes, unificatory narratives of historical generalisation simply don’t suffice, neither do cinematic narratives.

A well-meaning officer from the East India Company had once produced his documentation of the histories and genealogies of Rajput communities across considerable lengths and breadths of the country. However, never in the past had anyone from within the Rajput community attempted a documentation effort at the scale and scope such as Abhinay’s via ‘Indian Rajputs’.

He introduces his experience as a digital curator by saying, “until now, most of the valuable information has been documented in old books, ancient journals and pictures hanging in royal palaces around India which is the greatest Rajput testament, unexplored and under-appreciated. When I started the website, I never thought I would stumble upon a treasure trove of historical information and pictures all contributed by Rajputs from around the world, which glorifies the numerous contributions that we have made for our people and our country”.

As its sole developer and designer, Abhinay has spent six long years in constructing and maintaining ‘Indian Rajputs’ as a highly interactive and user-friendly database in the best interest of his community. Today, the website attracts around three thousand visitors on a daily basis; and is supported by thousands of contributors from around the globe. Abhinay’s digital prowess and dedication have enabled him to successfully execute a one stop shop for the curious millennial, his historically-inclined relative as well as the under-saturated reader.

Abhinay elaborates on his purpose vis-a-vis ‘Indian Rajputs’ by placing a strong emphasis on the ever-expanding scope of information that requires effective coverage while bearing in mind its user-friendliness and accessibility.

More importantly, despite the demanding nature of an extensive venture such as his, Abhinay ensures its utmost sanctity with a committed adherence to purely philanthropic motives. “I have no financial gains from the website through online ads or subscriptions because I could never weigh this information with money on the other side of the scale. If our future generations get to learn our great culture and heritage through this website and try to help others, I would consider it my biggest reward” he says.

As a part of his professional work experience, Abhinay has interacted with some of the world’s most impactful social networking platforms in the world. At present, he operates as the Front-End Software Engineer for Facebook and directs ‘Indian Rajputs’ in his free time. Invariably, the technical insights gained by him at work are bound to enrich his website with an added sophistication.

These very insights better equip him with a foresight to predict possible foresights, information trends and important considerations to bear in mind while further cultivating his digital platform. “I’ve learned a lot about the rapid growth of online social networks and how to harness their energy in a positive way. We are living in a hyper-growth of digital age where information and data flow are growing at an unprecedented pace and it’s important to make sure e’re at the right juncture to digitalise and deliver relevant information”, he says.

Abhinay’s experiential advantage has sensitised him to stay cautious of the possible threats and limitations of such a project. Amongst the multitudinous loopholes of digital logistics and ethical dilemmas, he points out the importance of maintaining authentic content as well as optimum security considerations. He discusses the challenges accompanying issues of information verifiability as well as user authenticity, and justifies calculated decision of refraining from automating the website in order to maintain content quality on ‘Indian Rajputs’.

Within the six years of its inception, ‘Indian Rajputs’ has made an impressive outreach to the Rajput community worldwide, not just in collaborating varied informational content but in also providing an important networking platform. Abhinay has played a promising role in creating a prospective point of multilateral reference for the Rajput community and continues to further develop his digital annals. In the near future, he envisions an expansion of ‘Indian Rajputs’ from its present database on genealogy to a global directory and an online networking forum to help foster greater online networking for Rajputs across geographical diversities. He hopes for these optimisations to further enhance cultural ties as well as professional liaisons between community persons.

In his concluding remarks, Abhinay reiterates his motives of further nurturing ‘Indian Rajputs’ in order to provide meaningful values to his community without compromising the integrity of the platform. “I always wanted all the buried information to come out on a digital platform and I know I’ve only been able to capture a tiny percentage of it. But by God’s grace and the continued love and support of the community, we will be able to immortalise it for our future generations”, he supplements, says Abhinay.

We salute his generosity and dedication, and wish him a bright journey ahead. May ‘Indian Rajputs’ continue to gain greater eminence and success.

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The Maharani of Baroda decided to bring back the heritage of Garba to the majestic Lakshmi Vilas Palace, launching Palace Heritage Garba in 2019.

Anshu Khanna



Garba and Gujarat are inter-twined with each other as intimately as hand to glove and Dandiya to the Raas. A lyrical, sublime form of dance, Garba lights up every nook and cranny of the city of Baroda, what with streets filling up with women and men dressed in their ceremonial best hopping from one garba pandal to the other.

This was till the gracious and beautiful HH Maharani Radhika Raje Gaekwad of Baroda, a textile exponent, a craft conservationist and herself a lover of the dance form, decided to bring back the heritage of Garba to the majestic Lakshmi Vilas Palace, launching Palace Heritage Garba in 2019 under the umbrella of Chimnabai Stree Udyogalaya, a not for profit women empowerment and skilling initiative started by her predecessor Maharani Chimnabai the II in 1914. Instantly the entire Baroda converged to the sprawling lawns of the palace where the best of voices drummed up the mood for revelers to dance in neat circles and ring in the spirit of Navratri.

HH Rajmata Shubhangini Raje Gaekwad of Baroda
The shrine

Princess Narayani of Baroda

HH Maharani Radhika Raje Gaekwad of Baroda

Lakshmi Vilas Palace

Garba emulates life as rows of concentric circles depict the circle of life representing every stage of life from birth to rebirth. In the center of these circles is the an earthen lamp placed in front of Goddess Durga’s picture as a way of honoring the fight that took place between her and the demon king in mythological times.

The year 2020 brought in a silence and din to the festivities as the entire universe went inwards to fight a new demon of Covid. The palace too fell silent before the ides of a pandemic ridden time.

2021 however saw a very brave maharani rustle up her own inner Devi to bring back the Gaekwad’s patronage to Garba, this time in a more controlled and subdued manner, turning the festival into a fund raiser for the Udyogalaya that offers vocational training to women. “The Gaekwads, though Marathas have historically patronized the dance form of Garba. We came to rule Baroda in the 1720s and instantly embraced the culture of the city,” Shares, Radhika Raje, admitting that, “I personally love Garba and find it the most spectacular moment that brings the city alive.”

Mughals ruled Gujarat in the 17th Century. During the reign of the emperor Muhammad Shah (1719-1748), the struggle between Mughals and Marathas was at its peak, it was heightened with frequent battles and incursions. The glorious history of the Gaekwads began when Maratha General Pilaji Rao attacked Mughals and conquered Songadh near southern border of Gujarat. He intensified his rule in southern Gujarat.

Damaji Rao, his son and successor defeated the Mughal armies and finally conquered Baroda in 1721. Pilaji Rao became Maharaja of Baroda and founder of the Gaekwad dynasty of the Maratha Empire. Mughal rule came to an end in the year 1732 in Gujarat and glorious Gaekwad rule began.

Maharaja Ganpat Rao Gaekwad ruled Baroda state from 1847-1856 and it was during his golden rule that the description of Baroda state was beautifully narrated by an unknown poet in the form of Garbawali. Adds Radhika, “There is also a book titled Maharaja Sayaji Rao Garbawali that lists some of the most beautiful songs of Garba.”

Whilst scale and numbers were an obvious deterrent this year, Radhika, her husband, Maharaja Samarjit Sinh and her mother in law the Rajmata Shubhangini Raje ji got together to recreate the finest Garba festival within the palace compounds itself. Shares Radhika, “Though we were allowed 400 guests we kept the numbers to 250 guests. We opened up our lawns, lighting up the entire palace with diyas and lanterns. A shrine was created within an arch of the palace from where in the past the men would mount an elephant. At the heart of the shrine was placed a painting of the Goddess by the Late Maharaja Ranjit Sinh Gaekwadji, my father in law who was a reputed artist.”

Traditional music rendered by famed troupes of Amreli, Bharuch and Ratlam filled the majestic portals of the palace as beautiful women in their chaniya choli and men in their angarkhas danced away. A foodie Radhika ensured the tradition of jalebis and fafda on Dusshera andice-lollies, live dhokla counters, and khandvi on each day were served. “For us keeping the tradition alive in its most unaltered form is crucial. I personally select the music, ensuring that only the original, folk songs are sung by these folk artists.”

Lakshmi Vilas Palace, a marvel of Indo- Sarcenic Architecture is reputed to have been the largest private dwelling built, four times the size of Buckingham Palace. It remains the residence of the royal family, who continue to be held in high esteem by the residents of Baroda. The Palace compound is of over 500 acres and houses a number of buildings, particularly Moti Bagh Palace and the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum building. In the 1930s Maharaja Pratapsinh created a golf course for use by his European guests.

Today his grandson Samarjit Sinh, a former Ranji trophy cricket player, has renovated the course and opened it to the public.

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The Amba Vilas Palace is the focus of all the activities and in fact, its spectacular illumination is yet another highlight not to be missed



The Dasara festival at Mysore is renowned throughout the country for its flamboyance and pageantry. The annual 10-day-long celebrations are conducted with great pomp and show that culminate in the much-awaited grand procession which marks the finale of the festivities. The Amba Vilas Palace is the focus of all the activities and in fact, its spectacular illumination is yet another highlight not to be missed. Incidentally approx. 97,000 light bulbs are used for the purpose of this mega illumination. There are also numerous other traditional rituals and ceremonies that take place within the Palace precincts, these are not open for the public so as a photographer when I got the opportunity and privilege to document these proceedings I was but naturally rather overwhelmed. The year was 2012 and the Dasara Celebrations were presided over by the late Maharaja Srikantadatta Narsimharaja Wadiyar, the 26th head of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore.

The Mysore Palace or the Amba Vilas Palace, the official residence of the Mysore Royal family certainly takes your breath away. Constructed in the Indo – Saracenic style, this splendid edifice was designed by British architect Henry Irwin who has taken elements from Hindu, Islamic, Rajput, Mughal and Gothic styles of architecture and fused them brilliantly to create this incredible and magnificent structure. Here within the precincts, I was witness to numerous rituals, ceremonies, and pujas including the Ashwa and the Gaja puja (worship of the Horse and the Elephant) the Shastra Pujan – worshipping the Arms and weapons, the elaborate Royal Durbar, and even an annual wrestling competition all of which were presided over by the Maharaja, regally dressed in ceremonial attire, traditional headgear and jewellery.

The Royal Durbar held at the ostentatious Darbar hall was an unforgettable experience; the Maharaja at the auspicious hour ascended the seven steps leading to the dazzling 900-pound gold throne that had been previously assembled as per religious protocol at the pre-ordained hour. The priceless gems and diamond-studded Golden throne or the Ratna Simhasana bearing the Royal Mysore Crest is the legacy and seat of power of the former Rulers of Mysore and is now used only during the Dasara celebrations each year. The Royal Dasara Darbar is a privilege for only those who are invited to partake in this special ceremony. The traditional manner in which the entire proceedings are conducted successfully conjures up images from a glorious bygone era of the Mysore Royals. The private ceremony however is now merely symbolic and a social commitment between the former ruler and his courtiers, the nobility and members of the Royal household who come to pay their tributes and respects on the occasion of Dasara.

Besides the Durbar Hall, the Kalyana Mantap or the Marriage Pavilion is yet another of the many stunning venues within the Palace. Primarily used for conducting wedding ceremonies and important rituals, this imposing, octagonal-shaped structure boasts of a strikingly beautiful, multicoloured, Belgian stained glass ceiling which is supported by handsomely crafted cast-iron pillars from Glasgow.

Maharaja Shrikantadatta Narsimharaja breathed his last on 10th December 2013. He was succeeded by his nephew Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja who was anointed as the 27th head of the Royal House of Mysore. The 28-year-old Boston educated Maharaja continues to uphold all the Royal traditions and functions befitting the erstwhile and former Kingdom of Mysore.

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Royally Speaking


Many young royal scions indulge in music and classical dance, training their wards into performing artists and turning them into veritable child prodigies

Anshu Khanna



The Maratha families are known not just for their penchant for the fine arts but also their legacy of performing arts. The dance form of Bharat natyam is traced to the Maratha courts of Thanjavur. The states of Gwalior and Indore being home to the famed Gwalior and Indore gharana. While the former boasts of maestros like P.V. Paluskar and Veena Sahasrabuddhe, the latter has fuelled the talent of many with its slow-tempo and leisurely raga development.

(L-R) Kaushalya Reddy, Riddhima Saurabh Chadha with Dr (s) Raja Radha Reddy

(L-R) Artist Elanchezhiyan Pichaikannu, Kaushalya Reddy, Riddhima Saurabh Chadha with Dr(s) Raja Radha Reddy and Anu Bajaj

Their love for living with the arts starts young. Even today many young royal scions indulge in music and classical dance, training their wards into performing artists and turning them into veritable child prodigies.

One such family is that of Shraddha Nikam, daughter of a noble family of Kolhapur who is not just a spectacular designer but also a trained chef. The Nikams are Nikumb Rajputs who trace their lineage to Lord Rama. Shraddha, a maestro in tapestry art and a truly talented designer takes bigger pride in the training she has had her truly talented daughter Riddhima Saurabh Chadha partake from none other than Guruji Raja and Guruma Radha Reddy. A love for music and the dance directing her to teach her little daughter Riddhima, in the intricate dance form of Kuchipudi

All of ten and already training in classical English vocals and piano, Riddhima revels in Kuchipudi that she learns at Natya Tarangini. She recently danced before a select audience, in the presence of her gurus for the opening of the art show by Art Positive curated by Anu Bajaj titled: Beyond the Myth.” 

An exhibition explore the sculptors of acclaimed artist Elanchezhiyan Pichaikannu presenting a wide series of the resemblance of cow, bull, yogi and sacred trees  inspired by the Indus valley civilization motifs. Especially Lord Shiva and his favourite Nandi bull. And what better way to salute Shiva and his faithful Nandi then with a performance of Kuchipudi in the gracious presence of Raja Reddy who across the world is referred to as dark Shiva.

Kuchipudi, like other classical dance forms in India, traces its roots to the Sanskrit Natya Shastra, a foundational treatise on the performing arts. The text, states Natalia Lidova, describes the theory of Tandava dance, the theory of rasa, of bhava, expression, gestures, acting techniques, basic steps, standing postures – all of which are part of Indian classical dances.

The dance-drama tradition in Andhra Pradesh is of ancient origins, and the region is mentioned in the Natya Shastra. Bharata Muni credits a graceful movement to Andhra region and discusses it as Kaishikivritti. The pre-2nd century CE text calls one raga as Andhri, that is from Andhra.

According to Manohar Varadpande, the Kuchipudi dance emerged in the late 13th century, when Ganga rulers from Kalinga were patrons of performance arts based on the 12th-century Sanskrit scholar Jayadev particularly the Gita Govinda. This royal sponsorship, states Varadpande, encouraged many poets and dance-drama troupes to adopt Radha-Krishna themes into the then prevailing versions of classical Kuchipudi. These were regionally called Vaishnava Bhagavatulu.

Brought back to its past glory by the dance gurus, Dr. Raja and Radha Reddy and Kaushalya Reddy, the dance form of Kuchipudi finds its presence in many a historic royal homes. As Shraddha puts it, “Our families were the custodians of living cultures and performing arts. I am so glad that not just us in our forties but also many of our little ones are interested in keeping the legacy of art alive.”

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What is so unique about The Cobalt Company, is that Tarini has developed the rare technique of combining the film technique of sun printing or cyanotype with calligraphic sketches to develop fabric prints



Amidst the creative cityscape of Jodhpur that has long since bustled with design hallmarks, former NIFT graduate and 36-year-old Tarini Singh’s design label, The Cobalt Company stands out as its latest retail affair. Unlike the majoritarian success stories of rebranding and repackaging some long-existing market potentials, Tarini’s initiative takes the colour blue and deploys it to paint innovation in multiple forms. The multi-professional designer combines photographic art with jewelry and accessories to craft her very own fashion and lifestyle line.

What is so unique about The Cobalt Company, as its name suggests, is that Tarini has developed the rare technique of combining the film technique of sun printing or cyanotype with calligraphic sketches to develop fabric prints. What had been invented in 1842 as a film development technique using light sensitivity with sunlight to produce photographic prints and paper soon became the world’s solution to simple and low-cost photocopying. Colloquially referred to as ‘blueprint’ for its original purpose of making architectural blueprints and photograms, cyanotype forms the chief orbit at The Cobalt Company.

Using its lesser-known wonders, Tarini has begun to produce a distinct clothing range on the one hand, and an eye-catching photographic portfolio on the other. For example, she has used this creative medium to develop original photographs of Jodhpur and other architectural or landscape images that she captured during her travels. She also devises cyanotype fabric products such as bags and scarves that are printed using real leaves and flowers.

Tarini provides a brief introduction to her inception as a designer. “I started The Cobalt Company because I wanted to create a brand that is eponymous with my hometown Jodhpur. I studied accessory design in college and pursued my master’s in leather bags and shoe design. So most of my career post-college revolved around working with accessories. Over the years my design language has evolved to be quite simplistic with a focus on futuristic forms, as is evident in my design catalogs”, she says. Apart from being trained to design professionally, Tarini later opted to hone her keen photographic interest into a formal skill. “I always had a keen interest in analog photography and carried a film camera with me at all times. I got the chance to do a short course in analog photography at Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University, which is where I learned the process of sun printing or cyanotype. It was when I developed my first cyanotype and saw the possibility of developing photographs in blue and white that I knew that I had to explore it further. The particular beauty of this art form is the number of ways in which it can be tweaked so as to get vastly different results!”, she adds.

She combines digitally printed photographs and cyanotype to mix digital and manual double exposure to create a series that Tarini calls Rigid/Fluid. The unmoving properties of her photographic compositions, such as buildings and landscapes comprise the rigid, whereas their dominating botanical skies in cyanotype form the fluid. This particular technique is The Cobalt Company’s signature invention, and Tarini is also beginning to delve into the world of portraiture using this very combination.

While this novel series, as well as the art of printmaking, keep Tarini heavily preoccupied, she hasn’t given up on her foundational grasp of accessory design. This is illuminated in her fine collection of bags, particularly the Martingale bag, a convertible shoulder tote and backpack, and the Saddle weekender, which she has infused with a durable design and versatile strap. These are open to retail and e-commerce via premium fashion websites such as Ogaan, ConsciousCollective.com, and 6degree.

“My objective is to experiment”, Tarini states, a conviction put across so succinctly that one is compelled to ponder over whether they’ll perceive the vast spectrum of colors without halting at blue a little longer. The Cobalt Company, for one, makes it difficult to resist cobalt as blue’s trendiest and most eclectic hue, and one that just got its very own address!

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Alka Rani Singh, from the Pratapgarh Royal family is a true blue evolved soul who is constantly immersed in recreating the gentle aura of her Avadh.

Anshu Khanna



‘As little girls we were told that Avadhinafasat and nazakat was personified by the gentle whiff of the ittar that was better perceived by the nose of the one standing before you more than the one who dabbed it gently on her pulse point. It was seen as a mood elevator, a relaxant and a calmer.”

Alka Rani Singh, from the Pratapgarh Royal family is a true blue evolved soul who is constantly immersed in recreating the gentle aura of her Avadh. Be it through the hand painted saris that she creates, gently layering a gossamer chiffon with splashes of organic colours or the revival of the long forgotten craft of weaving tissue gold saris that are one thread silk and one thread gold.

She has, however found her niche, her inner calling in the role of a beauty evangelist who, with missionary zeal, is recreating every forgotten beauty ritual that she saw her grand mother and mother perform each day. The Princess of Pratapgarh married to a family of bureaucrats, Alka grew up in the sleepy town of Pratapgarh that her family were the talukdaars of. Where their badihaveli co existed with the sprawling farms, the village folks and the many performing artists who mastered crafts of the heart and the hand.

It was whilst growing up that she learnt from her maternal grand mother and mother, who was married into Vijaypur, close to Mirzapur in Avadh, how a gentle princess were to keep her eyes lined with kohl, her hair fragrant with the whiff of lubaan and her skin porcelain like with ubtan. “I was so enchanted with the way the women of the house would spend a full day extracting natural kajal over a clay lamp, kneading it in pure cow’s ghee and infusing the wick with lots of herbs before it was gently filled into a kajaldaani.” Alka creates the same kajal, made following the ancient practice, simply rolling this organic kajal on a convenient roll on stick.

Ittars too are close to her heart and she presents them in hand blown glass miniature bottles that are worn around the neck. She shares, “Every Princely family in Avadh had its own famed fragrance. Pratapgarh was known for roohkhas (concentrated) and roohmogra. These ittars basically were not distilled in sandalwood oil and so strong that one dot rubbed on your pulse point did the trick.”

Alka revived this tradition of ittar making, also commissioning a family of blown glass artist to make her the bottles. “There is a family in Agra that used to make tiny animals out of hand blown glass. They hand crafted my bottles with such joy.”

Alka’s ittars “Ease your nerves and tackles your anxiety. The pocket sizedbottles help you to keep dabbing. They are a replica of the bottles our mothers got made in silver and gold. Many even embellished with precious stones.”

The royals of Avadh believed that skin must be served with the same delicate food that you consume: The refined herbs, the organic oils. It is with this vision that she has recreated her shahiubtanfor the hair that is made from dry fruits, wild haldi, ashwagandha and other edible ingredients. “My ubtan is a traditional recipe made from 32 convenient ingredients. The 33 added by me is pure gold dust which I get from and ISO certified lab.”

The purist in her also launched a comb nadcrafted from neem that is bacteria and fungus free. “Combing the hair is a ritual that helps rush blood to your scalp. The plastic bristles of the brish simply adds friction to the hair. My comb has rounded, wooden teeth that literally massage the scalp.” Add to that her lubaan, a ritual of running a incense stick under your hair. The lubaanstick is fileld with goodness of googal and ashwagandha and when placed under the long tresses adds a fragrance and body to the hair.

“We are all getting close to our roots then why not return to beauty rituals that are linked to the earth?”

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