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Loyal royals: Pampered pooches of the Maharajas

Indian royals and their passion for the four-legged family members is no less than an illustrious affair. From regal grooming to opulent weddings, their canines live a life of luxury.

Urvashi Singh Khimsar

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Yuvrani Shivatmika Devi of Rajkot (photo credits: Safed Haathi) and Late Maharaja Sadul Singhji of Bikaner with his private tutor and staff person at Lallgarh Palace, Bikaner (photo credits: Princess Rajyashree Kumari of Bikaner).

Over the past hundred thousand years, our four-legged best friends have served mankind as its loyalist companions. Right from the ‘hunter-gatherer’ phase of our ancestors, pooches have evolved alongside humans, and are recorded amongst the first animal species that we domesticated. In colonial times, Britishers brought shiploads of diverse pedigreed breeds to the Indian shores to accompany them oceans away from their native soil. Their fancy was jointly imitated by the rajas, maharajas and the nawabs.

Soon enough, Kennel Clubs were established all over imperial India, including the respective kennel clubs of Hyderabad, Ootacamund, Mysore, Calcutta to name but a few. However, as India gained her independence, it was time for the Britishers and their beloved pooches to leave the country. At the time of leaving the country, many Englishmen were compelled to give them away for local adoption. Some even decided to euthanize their dogs, as they could not bear the idea of risking their pet’s abandonment once they departed.

The passion that the British rulers held for their four-legged family was by no means an alien concept amongst the Indian nobility. In her essay ‘Passion Royale for Pampering Pets’, Roshni Johar gives a fascinating account of the eccentricities involved in regal pet grooming. “The Maharaja of Junagadh owned 800 dogs, each with its own room, a telephone and a servant. A white-tiled hospital with a British vet, attended to their ailments. When a dog died, Chopin’s funeral march was played and a state mourning was declared.” To annoy the Raj whose airs and graces he resented,” the Maharaja of Junagadh had his liveried staff dress his dogs in formal evening suits, mount them on rickshaws and drive them on British summer capital Shimla’s fashionable Mall, writes Johar.

Similarly, Ann Morrow in her highly readable book “Highness, The Maharajas of India” writes that the women were infuriated, often feeling a dog’s breath on their pale powdered faces as the rickshaws jostled for space on the way to Cecil Hotel for a dance. “The Maharaja had a stormy meeting with the Viceroy and promised to keep his dogs locked away. He had to agree but waited until there was a ball at the Viceregal Lodge and ordered his servants to round up every crazed, lunatic pi dog in Simla. He set them loose in the grounds and was rewarded by the sound of horrified memsahibs shrieking like peacocks,” writes Ann. Taking this account into consideration, it is of no surprise that when the Maharaja migrated to Pakistan during the partition of 1947, he left behind many weeping wives so that his pampered canines could fly with him on his plane.

The regal association towards dogs was not contained within north India alone. The illustrious Paigarh family of Andhra Pradesh carries on their family tradition of dog-loving till date. Amongst them, the late Nawab Moin-Ud-Dowla Bahadur maintained a vast private zoo, filled with an entire plethora of dog breeds. It was particularly known for its hunting dogs. The late Maharaja of Charkhari’s wife was known to have eighty dogs, pedigreed and mongrels of all shapes and sizes. The erstwhile princess of Tripura, Maharani Jayati Devi lived with all her dogs in one compound and remembered the name of every dog she owned.

 Roshni Johar unveils yet another amusing account in her essay, “While some intensely loved them, others hated them with equal candour. The Maharaja of Junagadh, Nawab Sir Mahabet Khan Rasul Khan invited Lord Irwin to grace the occasion of marriage of Roshanara with Bobby. But the Viceroy refused, understandably so. After all, Roshanara was the Maharaja’s favourite pet dog, while Bobby, a royal golden retriever, belonged to the Nawab of Mangrol, and Lord Irwin was in no mood to indulge the eccentric Maharaja in this unprecedented and frivolous pastime. Films and photographs were taken of this widely world-reported unique three-day event, where no less than Rs. 22,000 were spent. A number of ruling royals and dignitaries attended the marriage. Shampooed, perfumed, bejewelled and decked in brocade, Roshanara was carried in a silver palanquin to the Durbar Hall. Earlier 250 dogs attired in brocade, a military band and a guard of honour had received the groom Bobby, bedecked in gold bracelets and necklace, at the railway station. This had been followed by a grand wedding feast. After this, dog weddings were much in vogue among rulers in North India. Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Jind and Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala celebrated the weddings of their dogs in a pompous manner.”

These baffling eccentricities aside, dogs today have sustained an intimate relationship with mankind and continue to remain the exemplars of loyalty in the mammal world. Amongst the contemporary Rajput community, one would find very few houses without the presence of the family pooch. Be it the Jodhpur fox terriers, Axle- the Ajairajpura Doberman, Zara- the Gamph Alsatian Zara, Rajkot’s harlequin great Dane- Fundi, or her Khimsar-based cousin Khaleesi, each one of them descended from a diverse culture of hound-domestication and dog-loving. As the most widespread and probably the oldest domesticated animal, the dog lives up to its title, ‘a man’s best friend’.

With inputs from Bhumendra Pal Singh of Awagarh.

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Royally Speaking

PALACE GARBA SET TO RETURN TO VADODARA

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PALACE GARBA set to RETURN TO VADODARA

Once again, it is time to dance for a cause as the enterprising Maharani Radhika Raje of Baroda and her team of Maratha women invite the denizens of Vadodara to Motibaug Cricket Club, which is all set to host the third edition of Palace Garba.
Founded to support the women’s empowerment initiatives of Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udyogalaya in Vadodara the Royal Garba is organised to raise the funding required for women’s social upliftment and entrepreneurship development.
Sold out already, it was flagged off with a performance by the LGBTQ community that Radhika supports.
Garba dancers can also look forward to dancing to the music created by iconic singers Ashita Limaye and Sachin Limaye in their soulful voices.
If Garba is the flavour of the season, dance on.

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THE CHEETAH MAN’s DREAM comes true

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THE CHEETAH MAN’s DREAM comes true

It took 74 years of dreaming, lobbying, fighting, and pleading by M. K. Ranjit Sinh Wankaner to finally see the Cheetah return to India. As a child, he dreamt of seeing the nimble-footed sprinter back on Indian soils. Cheetahs became extinct in India after Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya shot the last three surviving big cats in 1947. Yet this IAS officer of the 1961 batch of Madhya Pradesh cadre and one of the masterminds of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, listed them as endangered. Ever since, he has been lobbying for their return.
It was a very pleased 84-year old activist, ex-IAS officer, and scion of the Wankaner family who stood in the aisles as our Prime Minister released eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park. He had also worked in a sanctuary during his stint as a bureaucrat.
While drafting the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the former director of Wildlife Preservation included the cheetah as a protected species, even though it was extinct.
India’s first attempt to bring back the carnivore was in the early 70s. It was Ranjitsingh who spoke to Iran even then, but the negotiations stalled after the declaration of emergency in ‘75 and the deposition of the Shah of Iran in 1979.
Since then, Ranjitsinh and wildlife conservationist Divyabhanusinh Chavda have worked on the guidelines and policy to reintroduce cheetahs. And today, when their dream has come true, they cannot stop their smile.

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A REGAL CELEBRATION FOR THE BIG FAT INDIAN WEDDING CEREMONY

Anshu Khanna

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A REGAL CELEBRATION FOR THE BIG FAT INDIAN WEDDING ceremony

It was like a meeting of like-minded people. A coming together of an industry that remains invisible yet leads to a multi-million dollar industry of big fat Indian weddings. The WeddingSutra Influencer Awards 2022, brain child of industry evangilist Parthip Thyagarajan, saw the who’s who of the wedding industry enjoy a laid-back evening as leading luminaries gave away awards.
This uber-glam event, hosted jointly by Taj Mahal Palace and WeddingSutra, saw every element of a wedding come to life. Indulgently beautiful flowers, an uber-chic bar, photo op walls that bedazzled and cuisine that was exotic to say the least. The chefs at the Taj curated a delicious world cuisine that included Georgian delights, Lebanese, Mexican, Japanese, and other specials, not to mention the best of Indian food. The high point of the evening, however, was the understated Sima Aunty of India Matchmaking fame, taking to the stage and announcing, “Hi, I am Sima Taparia from Mumbai!” In a jiffy, the hall was in splits.
As a jury and a witness to this affair, I was simply taken aback with the sheer volume of creative outpourings that goes into making this such a spectacular industry. Weddings are a major business in India. According to a report by KPMG in 2017, the Indian wedding industry is estimated to be around $40–50 billion in size. Though the Covid scare put a stop to the large format wedding, Indians discovered the pleasure of celebrating the moment with their near and dear ones. “The scale of operations remained the same, only the guest list got trimmed, shares Parthip. It is estimated that the cost of an Indian wedding ranges between 500,000 and 50 million. An Indian is likely to spend one fifth of his total lifetime wealth on a wedding.

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THE FRENCH MONARCHY’S SWEET TOOTH

Desserts have always been patronised by the French monarchy, which nurtured many legendary chefs.

Anshu Khanna

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Last Saturday when famed French cafe Laduree launched in Gurugram, I got totally floored by their light as air macarons. A version of which is said to have been introduced in France during the decorative Renaissance era It was the French queen Catherine de’ Medici who brought her Italian pastry chef to her palace after marrying Henry II of France. A maestro at patisserie art, he introduced this meringue-based cookie to France in 1533. A sweet meringue-based confection, French macarons are made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond meal, and food colouring.

Sitting at the stunning Laduree Cafe Du The and biting into a splendid macaron, I was intrigued to trace the origin of macarons in France and how the French monarchy as well as the monastery played such an important role in making them an iconic dish. Another history nugget traces the macaron to two Carmelite nuns who sought asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution. They baked and sold the macaron cookies to pay for their housing. These nuns became known as the “Macaron Sisters”.

The art of French pastries started with the desire to have a sweet treat following a meal. Fruits and cheese were originally served after dinner, but to quench people’s lingering sweet cravings after a meal, the doors to the art of French pastries and confectioneries were opened. Thus the delectable, delicious, and dreamy world of cakes, pastries, candies, and classic French desserts was born. It was in the 1830s that macarons as we know them today came alive as two crisply whipped macarons sandwiched by jams, liqueurs, ganache, and spices. Originally called the “Gerbet” or the “Paris macaron,” this exotic version of the macaron was created by the legendary chef Pierre Desfontaines of the French patisserie Laduree.

It was not only in the 1930s that macarons began to be served two-by-two with the addition of jams, liqueurs, and spices. The macaron as it is known today, composed of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam, or ganache filling, was originally called the “Gerbet” or the “Paris macaron.” Pierre Desfontaines, of the French patisserie Laduree, has sometimes been credited with its creation in the early part of the 20th century, but another baker, Claude Gerbet, also claims to have invented it.

World-famous 159-year-old French confectionary brand Laduree, which was created in 1862, is synonymous with macarons globally, being one of the world’s best-known sellers of the double-decker macaron, of which 15,000 are said to be sold every day. Laduree was brought to India by the young, dynamic luxury entrepreneur Chandni Nath Israni. She says, “Indian food connoisseurs just can’t get enough of our macarons that are made from 100% natural ingredients.” Hence at every fancy party hosted by the Jindals, Ambanis, etc. a tower of macarons by Laduree is a must. Desserts have always been patronised by the French monarchy, which nurtured many legendary chefs like Marie-Antoine Careme, born in 1784, five years before the Revolution. He spent his younger years working at a patisserie until he was discovered by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord and cooked for Napoleon Bonaparte.

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DIGVIJAY SINGH ART WEAR, BBG ROYALS MARK STORE OPENING WITH FASHION SHOW

Anshu Khanna

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An event organised by Digvijay Singh Artwear and BBG Royals at the Royal Fables Ahmedabad edition.

His mother was the beautiful princess of Awagarh in Uttar Pradesh. A family is known for their stunning fort in Agra and the iconic Belvedare Hotel in Nainital that the family runs even today. She is a true Blue Hill person, born and bred in Nainital. Interestingly, these two school buddies studied together in distant Baroda at the School of Art years back, falling hopelessly in love with each other.

Digvijay Singh, whose mother hailed from the princely state of Awagarh and whose father belonged to a landed farming family from Kiccha, Uttar Pradesh, is a fine artist, chef, designer, and hotelier. His wife, the petite and pretty Nidhi Sah, from a hotelier background, is a book designer who has worked with both Indian and globally acclaimed publishers.

Great design enthusiasts from Uttarakhand who grew up as schoolmates, travelled to distant Gujarat to study art and design, and then vowed to live a life together, The one thing that binds them together is art and its various forms of expression. While following their own paths in life, they have created a unique brand—BBG Royals, which has a sense of vintage iconography given the generous use of wildlife, flora, and fauna, as well as architectural motifs as its main design bastion. A BBG Royal is sure to be found in every royal’s wardrobe. BBG Royals creates limited-edition printed chiffon saris, featuring floral and animal prints with true royal splendor. The artworks are meticulously hand-painted and then reproduced on sarees, making each piece unique and heirloom-worthy. Animal print designs (tigers, lions, leopards, and horses) have always been popular.

Taking their quest for design to a permanent address, they recently launched their flagship store under the label Digvijay Singh Artwear at the Royal Fables Ahmedabad edition, held at the Hyatt Vastrapur. Digvijay, meanwhile, also holds forth with his men’s wear label under his own signature. A Lakme Gen Next Designer in 2007 and a finalist for the “young entrepreneur of the year” by the British Council and Elle magazine, he was nominated for the best costume designer for the movie “Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster” at the Producer’s Guild Apsara Awards. He dresses various A-list and Bollywood celebrities like Anil Kapoor, Jimmy Shergill, etc.

Calling their show Buransh, the Hindi name for the sumptuously beautiful flower Rhododendron that grows in abundance in the Uttrakhand hills, the show had royals like Rani Jaykirti Singh, Princess Nandini Singh of Jhabua, Aditi Singh, and Namrata Singh walk the ramp in hand-picked printed saris from BBG. Digvijay, meanwhile, dressed in royals, including Kunwar Yaduveer Singh Bera in his signature achkans. while Deeksha Mishra, a celebrated mommy blogger from Delhi, did full justice to their bridal wear. A show divided into four distinct sequences, it went from a striking collection of bridal wear to splendidly printed saris to an interesting array of dresses with floral prints and minimalist embroidery. The who’s who of the city walked the runway for the fashion walk with the royals.with 7th Avenue and Sujhal adding to the jewellery story.

A show divided into four distinct sequences, it went from a striking collection of bridal wear to splendidly printed saris to an interesting array of dresses with floral prints and minimalist embroidery.

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THE SHOEMAKER’S STITCH: MOCHI EMBROIDERIES OF GUJARAT IN TAPI COLLECTION

Some superb pieces of the 17th and 18th centuries, both for the Mughal court and for export to the West, do survive, and these are testament to the astonishing skill and adaptability of the embroiderers of the time.

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Chain-stitch embroidery from Kutch in Gujarat has been prized for centuries as one of India’s finest textile types. Worked in dense chain stitch in lustrous twisted silk thread, it has lent itself to all types of design from the floral arabesques of the Mughal period and the hybrid chinoiserie of the western export market to the stylised flowers, parrots and female figures found in the colourful garments and hangings made for local patrons in the 19th century. This type of embroidery is traditionally associated with the Mochi or shoe-maker community of Kutch. The origins of the Mochis’ craft lie outside Gujarat and outside the borders of modern-day India. Some members of the Mochi community believe that their ancestors came from Sindh, today in Pakistan, in the 14th century, settling in Halvad, in Surendranagar District in Gujarat, midway between Bhuj and Ahmedabad before migrating to Kutch. They learnt the art of embroidering in silk thread on leather in Sindh. Other sources state that the Mochis are originally from Gujarat and that the art of embroidering on leather was taught to them in Gujarat by a Sindhi. Yet another version tells of Kutchi embroiderers secretly learning the art by spying on visiting Sindhi craftsmen only in the 18th century. In all of these scenarios, the origins of the craft in Sindh are undisputed.

Embroidered Bed-cover

Embroidered Palampore

The region had been renowned for its embroidered leather sleeping mats at least since the 13th century, when Marco Polo had admired them. These embroidered mats, as well as other leather items, such as hawking gloves, continued to be made until the 19th century. An adapted cobbler’s awl (aari), with its thick wooden handle originally intended to help the user push the hooked metal embroidery spike through leather, continued to be used for embroidery on cloth in Sindh at least until the end of the 19th century, as illustrated in an article by B.A. Gupte in the Journal of Indian Art and Industry in 1888. Travellers such as the Portuguese Duarte Barbosa in 1518 and the Dutch Jan Huyghen van Linschoten in 1585 admired the fine embroideries of Gujarat, especially Cambay, where the embroiderers had at some stage started embroidering on cloth as well as leather. Soon after the foundation of the East India Company in 1600, the English trading company was asking for ‘quilts made about Cambay’ to be sent, and by 1641 they start to appear in the Company’s London auctions. Gujarati embroideries continued to be popular with British buyers into the 18th century; Alexander Hamilton’s travel journal ‘A New Account of the East Indies’ published in 1725 states that ‘[the people of Cambay] embroider the best of any people in India, and perhaps in the world.’ While no examples of chain-stitch embroidery remain from as early as the 16th century, some superb pieces made in the 17th and 18th centuries both for the Mughal court and for export to the West do survive, and these are testament to the astonishing skill and adaptability of the embroiderers of the time. It has long been assumed that the fine chain stitch embroideries made for the Mughal court in the 17th century, and for export to Europe in the late 17th and 18th centuries were made by Mochi embroiderers working to commission. But a technical examination of these embroideries reveals some surprising information. While the 19th- and 20th-century examples for the domestic market appear to have been embroidered using the distinctive hooked awl (aari) after which this type of embroidery is often named (aari bharat), the earlier Mughal and export pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries have all been embroidered u s i n g a straight needle. This only becomes clear when the reverse of the embroidery is examined: the stitches made with the aari are all interlinked in one continuous chain with no gaps between the stitches, while those done with a needle are seen as individual stitches, often at haphazard angles and with tiny gaps between them. This seems anomalous given the traditional history of Mochi embroidery, in which the use of the hooked awl is central to the story of the transition from leather-working to embroidery on cloth. It might well be the case that the earlier pieces were made by embroiderers working in royal karkhanas or Company workshops who were emulating the effect of the Mochis’ chainstitch embroidery but we r e n o t themselves of that community. They would therefore not be familiar with the hooked aari and would work instead with a straight needle. The garments and hangings made by Mochi embroiderers for Kutchi patrons working with the hooked aari show a level of skill equal to that of the earlier courtly and export pieces. The flamboyant dado panels in the Aina Mahal in Bhuj and the glorious floral tent from the royal family of Dhrangadhra are masterpieces of the later period of Mochi embroidery, along with other virtuoso pieces such as the animal cover (jhool) and pichhwai in the TAPI collection. The superbly embroidered dado panels on the walls of the Aina Mahal in the royal palace at Bhuj, built around 1750, are certainly the product of local Mochi embroiderers. Their designs are an amalgam of Mughal-style tent panels (qanat), with flowering trees shown beneath a cusped arch, separated and bordered by floral meander patterns and embroideries made for export to Europe for use as wall- and bedhangings, which frequently show an exotic flowering tree rising from a rocky mound. The larger, squarer panels are in a more Mughal style, while the dado panels of narrower joined niches are closer to an adapted export style. Both decorative types would have already been familiar to the Mochi embroiderers. The British historian L.F. Rushbrook Williams evidently saw them in the first half of the 20th century as he describes the Hira Mahal as ‘panelled high’ with ‘exquisite Kutchi silk embroidery.’ The panels were covered in plastic and installed as a permanent part of the Aina Mahal display when the building was converted into a museum trust in about 1971. Prior to that, they were displayed and brought out only on special days (e.g. three days of Diwali) when members of the royal family performed a puja of the ‘dholiya’ (Maharao Lakhpatji’s bed) in Hira Mahal. 

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