The 489th ceremonial head of the Katoch clan, Maharaja Aishwarya Chand Katoch of Kangra-Lambagraon, was placed on the gaddi at a raj tilak ceremony in accordance with a tradition that dates back to thousands of years, in one of the oldest forts of India.
In the presence of family members, guests, and 4,200 invitees from Dharamsala and nearby villages, the young heir, otherwise an astute entrepreneur and a well- educated citizen, promised to support the large Katoch clan spread over 436 villages that once formed his family’s jagir.
Over this emotional and endearing ceremony, he replaced his father, the late Maharaja Aditya Dev Chand Katoch as the head of what was a leading hill kingdom, responsible for many socio-political reforms. Privy to a 21-gun salute, Kangra became the hub of arts and culture under the magnificent rule of Maharaja Sansar Chand. The present-day heirs of this legacy keeping this culture of patronage alive even in The Sansar Chand Museum that was founded by Aishwarya and his wife Shailaja and houses some of the finest paintings that were born during the rule of Sansar Chand who took the school of pahadi paintings to its zenith. An ardent devotee of his beloved Lord Krishna he encouraged the artists in his atelier, including Nain Sukh to get inspired from classic like the Geet Govindam while painting.
The ceremonial Raj Tilak (coronation) of the 489th descendant of the Katoch rulers of Kangra, Maharaja Aishwarya Chand Katoch of Kangra-Lambagraon, took place in the majestic Kangra Fort, some 20 km from the city of Dharamsala, in Himachal Pradesh. With the purely ceremonial nature of this Raj Tilak (since the government removed official titles and privy purses in the 70s), Maharaja Aishwarya Katoch is the first Kangra royal to be crowned at this fort for 400 years – ever since Raja Hari Chand’s time, who lost the fort to Emperor Jahangir in 1620. Maharaja Aishwarya Katoch, who divides his time between Delhi and Dharamsala, is a director of IndiaBulls, and runs a homestay in Dhara=msala, a colonial-style villa named Cloud’s End. He also personally maintains the museum, housed next to the fort with its own dedicated cafetaria. At his tilak he hosted 300 members of the larger Katoch family or clan, friends, descendants of rulers of erstwhile Princely States, as well as 4,200 people from the region of Kangra, who were treated with a traditional Kangra ‘dham’ lunch, that is offered to their family deity, Goddess Ambika Devi. Dham is a temple cuisine comprising of rice, lentils and locally grown vegetables. It is traditionally cooked by bootis (Brahmin cooks) and serves thousands of people. A simple, flavorful meal served on banana leaf it was, “Much relished by our guests who came from across the globe, “Shares Shailaja. “Though at dinner and the following day we served, Chinese, continental and Rajasthani food, the guests appreciated this temple meal most, “She added.
The ceremony, a simple ‘tilak’ from a fellow Katoch family member took place in the courtyard of the family temple of Ambika Devi, at the top of the fort (guests had to climb some 200 steps to reach the venue) with invocations from the family priest. The Katoch dynasty is one of the oldest in the world, and traces its lineage back to The Mahabharata, and finds mention in Greek scholar Ptolemy’s writings – when a Katoch raja fought Alexander the Great. The Kangra Fort, one of the oldest forts in India – was invaded and looted several times – by the likes of Muhammad of Ghazni and the Tughlaq ruler of Delhi – and once boasted of silver doors and gold windows.
“It was a very emotional experience for me,” says Maharaja Aishwarya Katoch of Kangra-Lambagraon, of this ceremony that took place one year after his father’s demise, late Raja Aditya Chand Katoch of Kangra-Lambagraon. Maharaja Aishwarya wore a velvet choga, with a polki necklace and sirpech, flanked by his son Yuvraj Ambikeshwar Katoch and his wife Maharani Shailja Katoch, who was wearing a pink Himachali churidar suit which was a toned-down version of the flowing Peshwaj worn by the earlier Maharanis,” People came with all heart and excitement. Our clan took the whole event as their family function.
They came as if they were celebrating in their own homes – dressed up in their finery, whatever they could muster up. I was touched with how much they wanted to meet me and be with me, not just taking photos, but participating in the prayers with me and being in the temple, being part of the ceremony, greeting my guests, wearing my badge with honor on their chest. I was humbled – it made me feel proud of my family, what my mother (Rajmata Chandresh Kumari of Kangra-Lambagraon, Princess of Jodhpur, and former Cabinet Minister with the Congress government) stood for, my ancestors, what they gained with the public’s love.”
“It’s been special to have the function inside the Kangra fort, in front of my Kul Devi’s temple, after 400 years, something even my famous ancestors have not had the privilege of doing,” he says. “I just felt tremendously blessed by our Goddess Ambika Devi and humbled by the people’s love.”
Notable royals in attendance, included rulers of many leading princely states including: Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh of Kashmir, Raja Rupender Pal of Kutlehar, Raja Omeshwar Singh of Mandi, Raja Kirti Chand of Bilaspur, Raja of Kullu, and several Himachali politicians. The Katochs have roots deeply intertwined with many princely states. Shailaja is the Princess of Sailana in Madhya Pradesh. Her mother is the Princess of Jaisalmer. Her brother is married to the princess of Mysore and Aishwarya’s mother is Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur’s eldest sister. In attendance were also seen Maharaja Kamal Chandra Bhanjdeo of Bastar, Nawab Kazim Ali Khan of Rampur, Princess Mrinalika Bhanjdeo of Mayurbhanj, Maharaj Kumari Kalpana Kumari of Wankanerthe the Raja of Amb, the Raja of Datar, Maharaja Pushpraj Singh of Rewa, Maharao Raghubir Singh of Sirohi.