Lockdown portraits documenting feminine energy - The Daily Guardian
Connect with us

Royally Speaking

Lockdown portraits documenting feminine energy

Urvashi Singh Khimsar

Published

on

When the national lockdown to battle Covid-19 was announced, I was pursuing my photography diploma in Delhi. I wouldn’t complain about the extent to which the pandemic derailed my life, because I am aware of most other people having it far worse for themselves.

On the contrary, my privilege enabled me to sit amidst the cozy confines of my ancestral home in Khimsar for most of the summer. Unlike my fellow students, who jostled for creative assignment submissions in limited urban setups, I worked around my fashion photography module with a plethora of picturesque locations and sporting family members that made for highly suave models. In hindsight, my photographic knowhow seems to have documented only a tiny fragment of their full potential. That said, this rare circumstantial opportunity formed a turning point for me.

With a grateful heart, I proudly present my humble collection of lockdown portraits that I directed and executed under the guidance of my mentor, Arpit Tyagi. The overriding theme across this body of work is a tribute to Shakti— the feminine energy that resides within each one of us. A vital source of our in- tuition, empathy, strength and resilience, the feminine energy finds traditional resemblances to the Earth as the sole provider of life.

The current pandemic has provided a juncture of intense existentialist questioning for humankind over the role we play as terrestrial beings. Our skewed equation with our ecosphere has been rightly perceived by many as a deliberate flaw that precedes us. Whether or not it will outlive us is a question that leaves itself open to individual and communal choice.

These musings have since long dominated my sensibility and hence, I discerned the need to artistically document the feminine energy through a series of portraits. I consider it to be my personal bid to my viewership to re- examine a fundamental part of their spiritual mechanism and channelise that towards healing and nurturing the very source of their existence.

The author is a writer, blogger and Editor-in-Chief of Rajputana Collective.

The Daily Guardian is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@thedailyguardian) and stay updated with the latest headlines.

For the latest news Download The Daily Guardian App.

Royally Speaking

When two French Bulldogs tango

Published

on

Dominating the fray of recent pooch-trending breeds is the stout, bat-eared, bow-legged and irresistibly cute French Bulldog. Its recent invasion over social media, clothing retail and pop art culture makes the Frenchie hard to miss. A nation that once underwent the Pug revolution (thanks to Hutch and then Vodafone) now dotes over this miniature bulldog variant in an ever-increasing fan following. Its pied, fawn, black, white and brindle members are winning hearts across urban India’s dog-loving cohort; and present-day Rajputana makes no delay in partaking in this canine vogue. The houses of Jammu and Kashmir (Pablo & Missy), Bikaner (Coco), Mayurbhanj (Sir Arthur), Asadi (Popeye) and Khimsar (Tsarina & Cleopatra) are but a few examples.

So what is the hype all about? Quite a lot, actually. 

The French Bulldog was first conceived in 19th century England as a miniature variant of the classic bulldog. Over time, these unmissable four-legged oddities were seen accompanying English lace makers from Nottingham to France, which might explain their present-day monicker. Playful yet sedate and just as charming as they are stubborn, French Bulldogs readily adapt to any atmosphere that is merciful to their brachycephalic, or “flat-faced” respiratory constraints and non-existent swimming skills.

Their restful nature and minimal exercise needs make them an instant hit in urban cityscapes. But lo and behold, before their preference for the couch spells low maintenance, their owners will assuredly be brought to test when it comes to house training. Unlike its intuitive contemporaries such as famous retrievers and mastiffs, the Frenchie takes its own time to embrace your house rules. And when their goofiness renders you with comical relief and frustration in equal measure, it is nearly impossible to imagine the Frenchie’s past reputation as an excellent ratter. After all, it was a French ratter that the English Toy Bulldog crossed with to produce this illustrious lineage. 

I, for one, am the proud mother of two French Bulldogs, Tsarina and Cleopatra who, in the short span of four months have braved the Himalayan winter, my sister’s wedding and many a travels by my side. Owing to their sensitive modes of respiration, I was initially hesitant to take them along with me to tend to Manali’s busy winter tourist season. However, I was reassured by a breeding expert, who emphasized on the vast difference between the subdued pug and our bat-eyed Napoleons. And sure enough, he was right. Although Tsarina’s upbringing by my brother in Western Rajasthan made her slightly reluctant to the cold, Cleo was a natural through and through. She developed a special fascination for the snow and would rummage in sun-kissed patches of white all afternoon-long. 

To my absolute horror, I once saw Cleo strutting around with a tiny tail hanging from her mouth, only to discover minutes later that she had lived up to her familial reputation and caught a rat! On another occasion, her irresistible confidence made her glide over a frozen embankment of water. It was all fun and games until the icy layer cracked and in fell Cleo. Never outside a human sphere of vision, our ice princess was promptly rescued, dunked into a bucket of warm water and blowdried ahead of a sumptuous meal. The scrambled egg yolks, cow’s milk and carom seeds seem to have erased the recent trauma from Cleo’s memory, for the sunny windowpane upon which she dined placed her icy plunge into a dark corner that she’s too blissed out to revisit. In fact, her pirate-like goggled eyes spot one adventure after the other. Even in my family’s Delhi apartment, she takes on some novel leaps onto the bed, sofa (and once, the waste commode almost!), delighting me while making my germaphobe mother shake her head in despair. 

All this while, Tsarina enjoys the warmth of the radiator and cuddles up on any soft blanket that comes her way. The older of the two, she often attempts to establish her seniority over Cleo, but still has a long way to go before she is fully heard and adhered to by the smaller ball of fur. 

What seems to be equally amusing is where all a pet can push his/her human in the process of dog parenting. On days when Cleo and Tsarina are more reluctant to finish their mid-day papaya snack, my friend generously sprinkles her Pringles as a bribe that has never failed to work. There are also times when Tsarina simply refuses to take a walk, and in our utmost respect for a mind of her own, we find it’s best to let her be. In her truest individuality, she comes around after taking her time, and never expresses herself without fully meaning it. Cleo and Tsarina’s ingenuity, their comforting presence and the sheer generosity of their heart teach me a thing or two every day; and amidst digitalising times of overrated consumerism, I am reminded of the ultimate luxuries that lie in life’s simpler pleasures, not the least being a daily return from work to two odd, bat-eared creatures that I dearly call my family.

Continue Reading

Royally Speaking

Royal music festivals to look forward to in 2021

Anshu Khanna

Published

on

Royal palaces and havelis have been an abode to both fine art and the performing arts. Right from Mian Tansen to Bismillah Khan to Bulleh Shah, musicians, poets and Sufi saints have filled their interiors with their resonating voices. Till date, this tradition of patronage is being kept alive by some royals and nobles of India who host hugely successful annual music festivals on their premises, inviting aficionados of the arts.

However, in the year of the pandemic this tradition was side tracked or taken online. The Sunday Guardian takes a look at the best of music festivals held within royal addresses, with the hope of attending them again in this year of new beginnings, with the sense of safety brought by the vaccines.

To begin with, it was heartening to see Magnetic Fields add another festival IP to their stupendously successful lineup. Steered by the Alsisar family, Magnetic Fields Nomads 2021 was announced to be held in Nahargarh, Ranthambore from 19-21 March and got booked within hours of the announcement. A three-day 400 attendees-capacity event, Nomads will provide unique culinary experiences under the ‘The Chef’s Table” banner, pool parties, garden picnics and jungle safaris. 

“Magnetic Fields Nomads is a new project that we have been dreaming of over the last few years,” says the team behind the festival. “Our focus this year is on championing and supporting local excellence in food, culture and music as we cautiously celebrate the encouraging signs of revival in India.”

The original festival, Magnetic Fields, which the family will give a slip this year, is where the world’s most famous and most underground performers share a stage. All boundaries melt into fluid sections and communities merge into one society under the influence of so much love. Among the best music festivals in Rajasthan, it is famous for secret parties in what used to be dungeons without dragons. 

Other royals who are brewing their programmes for this year also need to be saluted for doing their part in keeping the legacy of rooted music alive, year after year. One such event is the Rajasthan International Folk Festival, which classical and folk music lovers wait for. With the majestic Mehrangarh Fort as its backdrop, the festival presents local, folk talents over three resoundingly melodious days. The festival is much respected and has seen the birth of iconic artists like Mame Khan and Kutle Khan.

Then there is the ‘family-oriented’ Taalbelia Festival, held in the iconic Mandawa Haveli, which aptly showcases the Shekhawati region and its culture. Located in the heart of Rajasthan, Mandawa town plays host to Taalbelia, a four-day-long multi-format festival, which seeks to highlight a wide range of music genres that usually don’t find a spot in the current crop of festivals. Four days, three stages and more than 30 acts feature a combination of music, arts and crafts, along with adventure, royal hospitality and gastronomic experiences unique to the belt.

Meanwhile in the distant land of Awadh, in the heart of Qaiser Bagh, the Raja of Kotwara, Muzaffar Ali, and his wife, Meera, present the Wajid Ali Shah festival that relives the era of the emperor who turned his state of Awadh into a mystical world of music, art and dance.  The festival begins at Wajid Ali Shah’s mazhar and goes through the many havelis of Qaisar Bagh to relive the Talukdari era of Awadh. The Alis, known for their festival Jahan E Khusrau, are now getting set to plan the 2021 edition of this acclaimed Sufi music festival. “We were indeed lucky to host it in 2020, just a few days before the lockdown, and this year, when all will be vaccinated and lovers of music will feel at peace and safe, we will announce the 2021 edition,” said the organisers. Once again Arab ke Serai will resonate with sufiana kalam, the dance of the dervishes and a salute to the many Sufi saints born on our rich soil.

Continue Reading

Royally Speaking

USHERING IN SPRING WITH ATELIER SHIKAARBAGH’S SARIS

Mayankraj Singh’s Atelier Shikaarbagh is welcoming the change in seasons with a collection that brings together the lightness of spring and the legacy of Rajput design.

Anshu Khanna

Published

on

The legacy of heritage design comes naturally to those with Rajput roots: Young men and women who have seen the zenana up close, a congregation of noble ladies who got together within the confines of a well shielded room, offering a private audience to the many master craftsmen who brought along divine objects for the Maharani’s audience. These women of great beauty, immense poise and evolved tastes sat previewing the finest necklaces, silver accessories, saris and poshaks—their gossamer chiffon saris held tightly over their well-coiffured hair, each sari a piece of art, some lace-infused and others subtle and floral with tiny sequins and slender thread work adding a bit of glitz to the understated look.

One such couturier of noble lineage is Mayankraj Singh, the creator of Shikaarbagh, a heritage label that is greatly patronized by feisty and beautiful women from Maratha and Rajput families. His in-depth understanding of restoration, recreation and revival is helping him become the preferred one for saris in chiffon, lace and organza. Each of his pieces is accessorised with coats, capes and shawls, and the entire look, curated from the past, is often a veritable remake of cameos of the past.

Mayankraaj Singh, self-trained in design, is from an aristocratic family residing in Kota, which is also home to his Atelier Shikaarbagh. The brand name is inspired by a very intricate form of weave and embroidery patronised by the royals, which captures scenes from erstwhile hunts with rich gold threads woven through silk or embroidered onto chiffon.

It was in 2012 that this student of costuming and history got into heritage couture. With a Masters in the History of Arts from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara, Mayankraaj is presently pursuing his PhD in “The Evolution of Rajput Royal Costumes”. He has also personally recorded the “Oral History of Costume Traditions” as a written thesis through extensive travel and research. All these studies have not just honed his sensibilities towards heritage and design but also helped him understand his roots better, equipping him with a beautiful blueprint for the future. 

The essence of each sari by Shikaarbagh is steeped in heritage craft and design narratives which have stood the test of time, especially his collection for spring 2021 which he traces to the famed first visit of Queen Elizabeth to independent India in the winter of 1961. During the reception held at the City Palace, Jaipur, the Queen had complimented a lady for the sari she had been wearing. The sari had been made by Sir Norman Hartnell, the Queen’s couturier, and the lady was Rani Urmila Raje, an eternal muse for both Mayankraaj and his brand, Atelier Shikaarbagh.

Primavera—named for the season of spring and its new beginnings—hopes to serve as a paradigm shift from the current art of sari ideation and design. This summer, Atelier Shikaarbagh will also present a range of evening and wedding gowns, day dresses and over layers, recalling the glamour of the 1950s and 1960s, an era when detailed construction and tasteful embellishment were celebrated for the sheer joy of their gifts to personal styling.

Delicate pink, ivory, navy, black, metallic silver and gold as well as ruby red and emerald green will present a symphony of the English and Indian love for refined colour palettes. The collection will be soft and feminine, with diaphanous organzas and crisp georgette sarees paired with sharp blouses and jackets, flowy gowns with illusion necks, and ‘couture-technique’ skirts in shikaargah brocades, specially woven for this collection.

Primavera also features a first-of-its kind Indian lace. The hand-guided Cornely embroidery blends the ‘primavera’ and shikaargah aesthetic, shown in the depiction of a royal springtime hunt.

The sarees have been styled with timelessly decadent outerwear pieces, like capes, jackets, and boleros, in soft taffetas, gajji silks and velvets. The end-to-end design process, from creating the patterns and motifs to meticulously perfecting the silhouettes, has taken two years to complete.

Continue Reading

Royally Speaking

THE STUNNING ART OF MARATHAS WE HARDLY KNOW ABOUT

Anshu Khanna

Published

on

Amongst all the princely rulers of India, the Marathas were known for their bravado on the battlefield. Be it the battle cry of Chhatrapati Shivaji or the war intrigues of Bajirao, little is ever spoken of the rich heritage of Maratha culture. Its contribution to the creation of the most exquisite cotton weaves of Maheshwar and Chanderi. It’s almost Origami-like rendering of the headgear, each family creating its own form and shape of the pugri. The billowy and regal Angarkha worn by the Maharajas and stitched for them in the most luscious of cottons and the sheer beauty of the stunning Navasari immortalised by legendary Maharanis like Tarabai (Shivaji Maharaj’s mother) and Ahilyabai Holkar.

But little known for many is the stunning wall art of the Marathas, which emerged from the interaction of these rulers with their Mughal and Rajput counterparts and their own development of a taste for fine arts.

The Rajasthan style was then in fashion in wall paintings, book-illustrations and miniatures. The Peshwas, therefore, turned to Rajasthan and invited the famous painter Bhojraj from the Jaipur Darbar to delineate paintings in their palace, Shaniwar Wada (Palace) in Pune. These paintings indicate the influence of Rajasthani style. The Deccani style, which is equally important, is found in the paintings of Belbag at Pune. The indigenous Maratha style free from any foreign influence is found in a few specimens produced from the wall paintings from the wada of Jairam Swami of Vadgaon. These fragments have been preserved in the Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum at Satara.

Painting the walls of a house, palace or a temple with auspicious symbols or pictures of deities is an ancient Indian custom and was in vogue till recently. Perhaps, it is still practised as a religious custom in some areas.

The tradition of wall painting in the Maratha country goes back to the frescoes of Ajanta and Ellora. But the peculiarity of the Ajanta paintings bears no relationship with the Maratha style. The method of painting the ceiling existing in the caves of Ellora was carried to the caves at Junnar and seems to have been imitated on the ceiling of the temple at Maheshwar, at Menavali.

The intrigues of the court were not merely political in nature, they were cultural too. Manuscripts in Maharashtra which were devoid of any illustration were now being worked on by artists from Rajasthan. Miniatures in the Rajput and Pahari style were being created with religious motifs and symbolism.

Continue Reading

Royally Speaking

TEA IN THE TIMES OF DALGONA

Published

on

Living in a post-pandemic world has come with its own set of realisations, not the least being a fairer acknowledgement of our country’s tourist destinations. Locations that are easily accessible by road lend travel bugs a no brainer solution to satiate their growing wanderlust, to which I am no exception. After seeing through what has gone down in history as Manali’s most lucrative winter for hoteliers, I decided it was time for me to take a little vacation of my own. An eminent tea estate of Palampur had held on to my attention ever since I met its charming owners at a Delhi-based travel event back in 2018, and made its way right to the very top of my travel bucket list. 

Contrary to my intention of embarking upon the smooth and straightforward highway from Manali via Mandi to Palampur, an unsuspecting fork on the road led me to a three hour-long detour that I wouldn’t have regretted to the very least, had it not been for my slightly car-sick best friend and a rear vehicular suspension that collapsed. The rest of us, including my two French bulldogs braved the bumpy trails to feast our eyes with scenic views of the Dhauladhars and some beautiful villages nestled amidst them. It was as if those cottages and their inhabitants had sprung out of a fairytale, and this suspicion shall remain with me for a while longer. Two dead ends and a couple of retractions hence, we finally arrived at north India’s tea capital for a late afternoon meal, famished and relieved. 

The village roads of Panchrukhi, just seven kilometres from downtown Palampur led us to the quaint wooden gates of the Lodge at Wah. A seven roomed tea estate lodging hosted by the Prakash family adjoins Palampur’s largest tea estate, which the Prakashs have tended to since 1953. An evening walk through the 500 acres-large Wah tea estate revealed its majoritarian cultivation of green and black orthodox tea leaves alongside the family’s smaller farming initiatives of lemongrass, wheat and chamomile cultivations. Most of their produce caters to the tea drinkers of Kolkata, the very city where Wah’s Mr. Prakash senior was born and raised. Our jovial guide concluded his tour at the estate’s sunset point, where a picnic set awaited us with some homemade cake and freshly brewed tea from Wah. By now, my road-sick friend had quite literally turned over a new leaf.

Speaking of leaves, the history of Kangra’s rich tea tradition bears roots in the mid-nineteenth century, when the British opted to plant a hybridised species of Chinese tea in the area. Camellia Sinensis as it is better known, thrived in the Kangra soil in full glory while simultaneously failing elsewhere. Because this variant produced a pale brew, it couldn’t adapt as per India’s staple CTC (crushed, turned, curled) tea variants. Nevertheless, the distinct flavour and colour emanated from Kangra’s tea produce accord it a genre in its own right amidst India’s ever-bustling tea industry. 

But unlike the Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri tea varieties, Kangra tea’s meteoric rise was interrupted by a devastating earthquake that reduced the district to rubble in the fated year of 1905. Thousands of fatalities, accompanied by the collapsing of tea factories convinced the British that it was time to bid this district farewell. Their mass exodus left behind a tiny handful of tea estate owners, who could hardly turn the tides in Kangra’s favour. However, the twenty-first century has heralded an upswing for Kangra tea, with the Controller-General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks affixing its own Geographical Indication tag in 2005. Thereafter in 2012, the Union Ministry laid foundations for a regional office of the Tea Board of India in Palampur. 

Apart from the Wah tea estate, the Mann tea estate, which is more famously known as The Dharamsala Tea Company are known to host factory tours and lodgings in a bid to reclaim Kangra’s tea tourism. The Palampar Cooperative Tea Factory too joins this feat, and the district’s better accessibility by road and air make its chances amongst domestic and international travel markets rather promising. Moreover, the neighbouring premises of Dharamsala, McLeodganj, Dharamkot, Triund, Baijnath and Bir Billing, amongst other tourist attractions help infuse Kangra with an all-rounder profile, thus rendering it a class apart from the rest. 

In other words, with the sole exception of its brew tone, Kangra is anything but pale. And the best part about it is that whether it’s the adrenaline junkie at Bir’s paragliding point, the spiritual wanderer around Dalai Lama’s little Lhasa, the bookish foodie at Illiterati, a Shaivite trekker or a pottery enthusiast at Andretta, what they can all be certain of enjoying amidst the arresting Dhauladhars, is an authentic, subtle and hot cup of Kangra tea in the times of Dalgona and all its hype.

Continue Reading

Royally Speaking

THE SUAVE RAJPUTS OF PALITANA

From Maharaja Saheb Shri Bahadursinhji, widely known for his impeccable administrative skills, to his hotelier grandson, Ketan, the heirs of the Gohil dynasty of Palitana have an extraordinary legacy to boast of.

Anshu Khanna

Published

on

It was at the coronation of the Thakur of Rajkot Mandata Sinhji that I first met Ketan, a suave young Mumbaiker running a brewery called Brewbot in Mumbai with taprooms in Bandra and Andheri. His goatee, stylish achkan and well-tied saafa, giving away his Rajput roots. On chatting with him, one discovers that this Kathiawari Rajput, a Cordon Bleu Gohil, was the present Thakur Saheb of Palitana, a state known as the abode of Jain temples, its stunning landscape and the beautiful Hawa Mahal.

A rare photo of the royals of Palitana.Prince Shivendra Sinh Gohil of Palitana.Ketan and Nisha with their sons, Veer and Arjun.Shiv and Sonia.Prince Shiv with his friend, Jane Buckingham, in London.Rajmata Palitana Sonia Devi with Rajmata Jaipur Padmini Devi

Sonia Sahni.

Son of the most-suave prince of Palitana, Shivendra Sinh Gohil, Ketan is also the son of celebrated actress Sonia Sahni, best known as the stunner who played the mother in Bobby. Sonia is the Rajmata of Palitana and was Shiv’s much loved second wife. “My parents were what you would call today the ‘Page Three’ of Mumbai. My dad, living on Altamount Road, would drive out in the various vintage cars that were a part of the Palitana legacy, and my mother was much loved in the Mumbai, then Bombay, circles.” 

“He was already a married man and had a son too. But he had been separated from his wife for some time before we met. We fell in love, I moved in with him, we lived together for two years before we got married. I kept working even after marriage. Shiv only said, ‘If you can manage both the house and your career, then go ahead’. He wanted me to be happy at any cost. He made my life very beautiful. He loved travelling and so did I, and that was one more thing we had in common. He took me on a cruise. We had one of the happiest marriages. When my son was born, I decided to give up acting. I wanted to look after him,” Sonia had shared in an interview in 1993. 

“My mother and we relocated to Goa during the pandemic and are thrilled to be living under the same roof. Mumbai is so fast-paced and distant. But here in this villa, mom is enjoying herself with her grandkids and us,” shares Ketan. Adds Sonia, smiling, “This for me is like heaven. I have lived and loved both the worlds of films and the princely Gujarat. My husband treated me like a queen and today I love being a granny.”

Palitana was a princely state in India during the British Raj until 1948. The centre was the city of Palitana. The last ruler of the state received a privy purse of Rs 180,000 during the state’s accession to independent India on 15 February 1948. It was one of the major states in Saurashtra, where there were many smaller states. It used to be a native state of India in the Kathiawar Agency of the Bombay Presidency. Its rulers enjoyed a nine-gun salute. It is best known for the Palitana temple shrine, a veritable Mecca for Jains residing across the globe. Palitana temples reside on a hill “donated to a Jain monk by my ancestor.” “He would see him meditating on top of the hill and was moved by his shraddha,” says Ketan.

“During the reign of my grandfather, the late H.H. Maharaja Saheb Shri Bahadursinhji Mansinhji of Palitana, the princely state of Palitana was widely considered to be a training school for learning administration skills for princes of the erstwhile princely states of Saurashtra. Many princes were sent to Palitana after their academic learning to learn administrative skills directly from H.H. Bahadursinhji himself for becoming the future rulers of their states. As the late H.H. Maharaja Saheb Shri Bahadursinhji was widely known for his pure and impeccable administrative skills. He made sure he passed on the knowledge to younger generations,” Ketan says.

Ketan, a hotelier trained in Switzerland and a consultant behind many running restaurants in Mumbai, recalls, “Spending many carefree days as a child in the family home, the Hawa Mahal, life was in three compartments—Mayo College, Palitana and South Bombay.” 

After the passing of his father, the family had to face litigation galore. “A Rajput is known for the litigation his family gets into,” laughs Ketan. The Mahal was finally sold to Mandhata Sinh of Rajkot and since then the original Thakurs of Palitana have been living in the oasis called Goa. 

Ketan is looking at reviving his restaurant business now as a home delivery service. “The brewery continues. We were the ones to bring in the culture of draught beer to Mumbai and I wish to continue that legacy.” 

Meanwhile Nisha, his wife, an acclaimed hair stylist, now conducts private sessions with her loyalists in Goa who, “fly down specially to get their hair cut by her and also enjoy a bit of Goa.” It is indeed Life 2.0 for this princely family.

Continue Reading

Trending