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PRINCE, PATRON AND PATRIARCH

An insider’s perspective of the magnificent Jagatjit Palace.

Anshu Khanna

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A book reminiscing the iconic life of the last ruling Maharaja of Kapurthala, HH Maharaja Jagatjit Singh, authored by his grandson, Brigadier HH Sukhjit Singh, and historian Cynthia Meera Frederick captures the life of this truly evolved monarch. The Daily Guardian catches up with the co-author, who talks of how the book is “a very intense, heartfelt account of a grandfather who HH had a special bond with”.

In the book HH Sukhjit Singh and Cynthia talk of the stunning palace built by the king which was often called The Versailles of the East, of the splendid Chateaux built for his summer vacations in Mussoorie and the ornate mausoleum he built as a symbol of the secularism that his rule was famous for.

Among the assemblage of ruling Indian princes, perhaps no other continues to fascinate, inspire, and awe more than Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala (1872–1949), a remarkable ruler whose reign was a period of eminence, culture, expanding horizons and notable public service. The grandson remembers: “I often sat in on meetings with officials and others who came to call on him on matters concerning the administration of the state. I avowedly preferred to be outside with my pets or other youthful activities, but now I realize only in hindsight his enormous effort to pass on his vast experience. He was endowed with a percipience of vision, extreme clarity of thought and a compassion for putting people of all levels of society completely at ease.”

Cynthia Meera Frederick with Brigadier HH Sukhjit Singh.
Decorations and medals
Maharaja Jagajit Singh
The dining hall
The palace

A ruler of exceptionally cultivated tastes, Maharaja Jagatjit Singh was renowned for the munificence and opulence of his domains and the material culture pertaining to his life—all of which splendidly came together in the Jagatjit Singh Palace. An excerpt from the bestseller with special focus on the splendid Jagatjit Palace that still stands tall in the culture rich city of Kapurthala:

‘This Versailles of the East is in reality the embodied expression of the attachment His Highness the Maharaja bears to French civilization, culture and art.’

The apotheosis of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh’s architectural and aesthetic vision was the creation of the fabled Jagatjit Palace. A majestic edifice inspired by the French royal abodes of the Palace of Versailles and Château Fontainebleau, it was deemed the jewel of Kapurthala and remained the Maharaja’s lifelong pride and joy.

His dream of creating a truly authentic palace in the French order was realized by the Paris-based architectural firm, Marcel et Boyer, whose partners were trained at the renowned École des Beaux-Arts. The Maharaja explains his decision:

‘You know how devoted I am to French art in all its forms. To me, French art stands for delicacy, elegance and above all for harmony. …That will explain to you why, in 1900, when I was anxious to build in my capital a Palace in European-style, I did not hesitate to give the preference to your art and your artists. The plans for my palace were, in fact, drawn up by two of your countrymen MM Alexandre Marcel and Paul Boyer.’

The Maharaja apparently met the duo during the Paris Exposition Universelle in September 1900 (a World Fair where Marcel designed several structural exhibits, including the Cambodian and Spanish Pavilions). Around this period, he begins to mention in his diaries discussions for plans for the new palace, citing ‘Messrs Marcel and Boyer architects have made very good palace plans’.The actual construction began in 1902 and overseeing these blueprints were H.J.A. Bowden from Bombay, State Engineer J.O.S. Elmore, and Lala Shiv Darshan, assistant engineer of the State. This collaboration saw that engineering marvels, so incredible at that time, were integrated into the plans such as electrical fittings, waterworks and sanitation, a system of water pipes designed for combating fires on each floor, air and piping ducting and coal-fired boilers for heat and hot water as well as a ventilating system.

The Maharaja would ride out on horseback to the palace grounds on most mornings to witness the work on site and when it was formally opened on 29 November 1908, he euphorically wrote as the day’s entry:

‘Finally the day of entry to the new palace has arrived. At 10 I left the Elysee with my three sons in the state coach escorted by the bodyguard. Troops lined both sides of the route. Arriving at the Palace I did a Puja of Chath. Finally entered the palace with Anita and my three sons. I receive compliments from my Ranis. In the afternoon there was a garden party then a gala dinner for 33.’

Also present at the ‘house warming’ of the Jagatjit Palace were the Prince and Princess de Broglie, the Baron de Rothschild and many other dear friends from France. All were unanimous that the elegance of the palace paid true homage to Versailles and a contender to the finest domains in France. Set against the exotic backdrop of India, the entire effect must have appeared ethereal, much as the Maharaja expressed: ‘I feel I am in a fairy-tale palace and it is like a dream.’

The regal façade of the Jagatjit Palace, where ‘MM Alexandre Marcel and Paul Boyer have placed on the exterior of the building (give it) a real stamp of grandeur and majesty’4 was distinctly French dominated by a mansard roof crowning a central block. This was veiled in slate imported from France set with round ‘oeil-de-boeuf’ windows and garnished with festoons. Classical elements such as pediments, balustrades and arches also added to the harmonious and noble exterior.

Situated right under the mansard roof was the grand central interior staircase, which led down to the front main entrance of the palace. This opened to a wide arched porte-cochère specially designed to allow passage for caparisoned elephants during State processions as also the traditional deployment of the Guards of Honour and the Ceremonial Coach escorted by the Bodyguard, or motor cavalcades.

The Jagatjit Palace was built on three levels. The ground floor was the working floor housing the Household Treasury Office, administrative and clerical offices, the dispatch section and magneto telephone exchange along with the electricity switchboard. The main kitchen and pantry store complex was located there as were the games store full of equipment for the clay tennis courts, badminton, croquet, and golf. This also held the linen and toiletries store, and another section for the Maharaja’s personal saddlers and cobblers. The ground floor also contained large air blowers that circulated fresh air through air ducts in the palace rooms.

The first floor could well be considered the ‘defining panorama’ of the palace as it housed all the stately ceremonial rooms and halls. While the Château Kapurthala may have been faithful to French Renaissance architecture, its interiors reflected the style of its age, whereas at the Jagatjit Palace, the Maharaja’s passion for period French elegance would bear supremacy: ‘As for the interior arrangements of the rooms everything pure and gracious offered by your (French) art is synthesized in a skillful gradation of every epoch, … All these things (styles) are the work of your artists. All the credit belongs to them…’

European artists were commissioned to create murals of captivating mythological themes on the ceilings and panels of the principal rooms, while decorative mouldings of shells, cherubs, festoons and garlands, foliated scrolls, along with copious amounts of bronze, ormolu and gold leaf ran riot throughout. The Maharaja personally selected the fine Damaskand watered silk fabrics to go with the antique furniture from France, while also ordering custom pieces from the London firm of Waring & Gillow. Rooms were accented with chimneypieces carved from prized Carrara marble, lapis lazuli columns imported from Italy, custom-woven Aubusson carpets, Gobelins inspired wall tapestries, beautiful Sèvres-style porcelain vases and figurines, and objets d’arts collected from around the world. The ambience almost rivalled the courts of the French monarchs.

The Maharaja was a keen collector of paintings which he displayed prominently in the palace. Most were acquired in Europe as he was a frequent visitor to the Paris Salon exhibitions. He eschewed the avant-garde art of the era, gravitating towards eye-pleasing genre, Orientalist sceneries, portraits of beautiful ‘Gibson Girl’ types or sensuous classical models, landscapes reminiscent of French court painters Watteau and Boucher, and several paintings depicting Norwegian fjords.

The divine Grand Salon served as the formal State Reception Hall. Also referred to as the Louis XVI drawing room, this truly captured the veritable baroque resplendence of Versailles.

The Maharaja also modelled the palace grounds after Versailles’ illustrious gardens designed by the famed landscape architect André Le Nôtre. He exclaimed, ‘Ah! yes! The French Gardens! I have been especially anxious to have them…. In this way, I shall have, even in India, the illusion both of Versailles and Paris. A French park, and the “cousin” of your Grand Palais de Champs-Elysées. What better could I ask?’9 This included a sunken garden, parterres of flower beds, embroideries and topiaries laid out in symmetrical pattern set among spouting fountains with mythical figures.10

Within the grounds, the Maharaja kept a private zoological park housing a menagerie of exotic birds, antelopes, deer, ostrich, and zebras. ‘His magnetism was perceived by all the animals too. One bird cage contained a pair of Mexican Quail with a black feathered crest. The pair used to eagerly await the Maharaja’s arrival every morning when he walked in the Park, and would excitedly run up and down the front of their cage, chirping while he would softly “croon” to them while feeding them through the mesh enclosure.’ There was an exotic goldfish pond, a raucous waterfowl enclosure and in a separate corner of the estate, was located the household kennels. The Jagatjit Palace remains an unsurpassed and unrivalled tribute to French aesthetics in the heart of Punjab. Today, it is the home of the Sainik School Kapurthala, where such gracious surroundings cannot but help infuse dignity and aspirations to the students who transit its portals.

King Louis XIV of France brilliantly employed architecture, gardens, and interiors to assemble the ultimate image of majesty. Perhaps here it can be said that Maharaja Jagatjit Singh bears a resemblance to the famous Sun King when he declared, ‘I wanted to realize here one of the dreams of my life, to leave behind me a work that would endure.’ The Jagatjit Palace still resonates as an eternal monument to his memory.

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Royally Speaking

Breaking free from conventional images of royal jewellery

Namrata Singh’s versatile jewellery is created with her innate and inherited sense of design and seeks to show
that the definition of ‘royal’ jewellery is not set in stone.

Anshu Khanna

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“The noble and royal families of India, especially the Rajputs, very consciously adapted to European jewellery settings, to the famed Victorian styles of blending silver with gold and making stones, precious and rare, or just bright and beautiful, as the central theme of their creations.”

Namrata Singh, born in the sleepy but beautiful town of Kishangarh, brought up in Jaipur, designs jewellery that is not just a piece of adornment, but also reflects the beauty of her inner imprints, memories and past recollections.

“It is actually me recapturing my various trips to distant lands in the form of jewellery, besides the inborn sense of design that most of us Rajput women are born with,” she says.

Working with silver and gold, Namrata creates what she calls, everyday bells and baubles, “perfect when worn with a floral chiffon sari or even a sharp, dark business suit.”

She works her designs as a sketch first, inspired by a shape, a form, a lyrical fable from the past. Each piece is then crafted, after selecting the stone, with the shape and form emerging from a strong underlying theme that guides the collection.

Namrata has, in the past, worked on a variety of themes, including the tribal imprints of the Masai Mara tribes, the lyrical poise of the geisha, the pyramid-like form of the pagodas and the poetic beauty of the Hawa Mahal, which is an icon of her city, Jaipur.

Related to the Jaipur royal family, and inspired by Princess Diya’s work with craft, Namrata informs, “Diya Baisa is such an inspiration. She and Rajmata Saab have inculcated in every Rajput woman of Jaipur a drive to not just create something but also the commitment to keep our culture alive.”Namrata’s jewellery tells stories of brilliance through rare, precious and semi precious stones like quartz, crystal, lapis lazuli, malachite, onyx, cat’s eye, and moon stones.

“Though I also work with very precious diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies, I prefer not to get restricted to these classic colour palettes,” she says. Her jewellery is unique and stunning, besides being a reflection of the strong influence which European Ateliers had on royal India during the Raj.

There is many a story of the nobility taking sacks full of jewels to Tiffany, Van Cleef, Cartier and others to get them to set in very ceremonial designs. Yet all that you see in the name of royal design are very rich polkis and kundans. As she says, “It’s sad that most people are not aware that Rajput women wear jewels that spell simplicity and elegance. 

It is very irritating to see images of a bride clad in 10 kg of kundan jewellery with the tagline ‘royal’.” This is an imprint that Namrata, in her subtle ways, is trying to break free from.

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Jawai: The leopard country

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Bordering Gujarat, Rajasthan’s south-western region is popularly referred to as Godwar, meaning the water (god) territory (war). The Sukri river and its tributaries gush through its otherwise arid and rocky terrain before joining the westward Luni river. Back in 1946, Jodhpur’s Maharaja Umaid Singhji had commissioned a dam project in Jawai for Rs 2 crore to cater to irrigation in the Pali and Jalore districts. The Jawai dam, also known as Jawai bandh, attained completion after 11 years of hard work and forms the largest dam of western Rajasthan. Not only is it the main water reservoir for all of Pali district, but the decades following its establishment have witnessed Jawai becoming home to many migratory birds, and its erstwhile flora and fauna have further thrived. Moreover, thirty-odd lakes in this locality provide ample waterholes for Jawai’s territorial and aerial fauna.

Rabaris constitute the region’s dominant community of shepherds, whose cattle and Jawai’s clusters of wild boards and antelopes serve as prey base for Jawai’s iconic wild cats-the leopards. After hunting in the thick of the night, these majestic panthers prowl about their caves to bask in the Sun atop a territorial rock. Should their livestock serve as an occasional casualty, the Rabaris surrender to its fate as divinely ordained by their fountainheads, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Their bony frames are accentuated by fitted white angrakhas atop white dhotis; and can be spotted from afar due to their scarlet turbans. They escort flocks of goats, cows, buffaloes and camels to nearby pasturelands in between dawn and dusk, and make for an unmissable sight to the increasing throngs of Jawai’s safari-bound tourists.

Not very far from this symphonic wilderness, there lie concrete Jain colonies, home to a sizeable community of rich and affluent families that found fortunes in faraway cities, and the pristine white domes of their numerous temples. Nestled amidst one of these colonies in Bera is the present-day dwelling place of the erstwhile jagir’s Ranawat clan, its Rawla. A faction of Bera Rawla’s premises is the contemporary hospitality domain of its younger Thakur sahib, Baljeet Singhji, wherein he hosts diverse flocks of tourists from all around the world. Castle Bera, as it is now known is a quaint homestay of five rooms that emanates an unassuming and jovial essence identical to its host. And although it is far from claiming itself to be a luxury homestay, it derives its old-world charm in the rare and personalised hospitality extended by Thakur Baljeet Singhji, or Winku bana as he is fondly known as. 

Come rain, hail or the scorching summer sun, there isn’t a safari that Winku bana would voluntarily miss. His dark green gypsy awaits him twice every day, once before dawn and once around late afternoon. Freshly shaven and donning a safari hat, Winku bana serves as the driver Narayan’s ace shotgun for each safari, regardless of whether there are guests to be taken along or not. His keen enthusiasm for Jawai’s native cats was nurtured right from his childhood days, when his father would take him along for their daily sighting adventure. Now at over 60 years of age, Winku bana does the same with his children and guests. Every morning carries with it the hope for a rare sighting, a gorgeous sunrise and the thrill of venturing out into the rugged terrains of his homeland. Throughout his life, he has either discovered or been confided in with knowledge on over fifteen safari routes across Jawai. Host to the region’s oldest lodging, it comes as less of a surprise that its more recent hoteliers are barely beginning to grasp a few. 

Upon returning from his evening outing from the arid forest, Winku bana shares fond childhood memories over two Bera pegs of whiskey in water, a reference to his preferred pegs of 10 or 15 ml each, depending on the size of the bottle cap. His infectious laughter makes it nearly impossible for the visitor not to crack up in amusement to Winku bana’s animated collection of anecdotes. Juxtaposed with these comical descriptions of life’s oddities is the veteran’s unparalleled passion for wildlife and conversations. 

The ardent follower, admirer and friend of the fabled M.K. Ranjitsinhji proudly shares hand-signed books of India’s biggest wildlife pioneer, who also happens to be wedded to Winku bana’s immediate sister-in-law. And unlike the usual conservationist, Winku bana is a man of few words but much meaning. His observations seldom honour conventional happenings. Rather, he shares the very essence of Jawai’s wildlife as one of its oldest and most heartfelt companions. He laments the recent overpopulation of hotels and tourists in the area, which is evidently pushing back Jawai’s already hesitant leopards further back into their shells. Poor safari knowledge, irresponsible tourism and the absence of government regulations over Jawai are unitedly contributing towards his homeland’s ruination and true to his cause, Winku bana is amongst the few nature lovers who have learned to continue being wistfully in love with Jawai through its incumbent blotting. After all, what temporarily serves most of us as an exotic getaway essentially comprises of the very foundations of his past, present and future.

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A clothing line which cares for rural well-being

Shubhangana and Veerangana Jamnia’s brand, Dor, is not only keeping the legacy of craft alive,
but also promoting sustainable clothing and supporting rural development.

Anshu Khanna

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“While many 15-year-olds were chasing their medical or engineering dreams, I was fascinated by the Arthashastra, an Indian treatise on statecraft written by Chanakya, especially the role rulers played in nurturing their people and protecting them”—a role that this young blue-blooded girl is playing with perfect humility in the distant region of Jamnia, Madhya Pradesh.

Shubhangana Jamnia, daughter of Rajkumar Dhruv Jamnia, along with her sister, Veerangana, is creating awareness of women’s healthcare, running a unique menstrual hygiene drive in the various villages that surround the city of Indore.

All set to take off for her postgraduate studies overseas, she and her sister are playing a dual role: keeping their craft legacy alive with Dor, a sustainable fashion brand that uses local textiles and embellishment techniques to create formal Indian ensembles. “My sister and I joined hands and conceptualised Dor to support rural empowerment. The name, which literally means thread, aims to connect people for a better tomorrow,” she explains. Spearheaded by Veerangana, an Economics graduate from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Dor is their way of combining fashion with a cause.

“After listening to our grandmother’s stories about the bygone era, about how the royal courts were the primary patrons of exquisite art and craft, we believe that it is because of this that India’s cultural heritage continues to be unparalleled. So much that even modern designers dig for inspiration from India’s past,” she says. Today, with changing times and needs, she endeavours to make sustainable fashion a part of everybody’s life and not just a mere concept. She strongly believes that sustainability is no longer just an option. Rather, it’s a responsibility and an obligation to make better choices.

The sisters showcase the collections through private shows. Money raised from these sales is then invested in sourcing sanitary pads for free distribution to the tribal women! “We have tied up with a Scotland-based company called Sanitree to distribute free pads in rural Madhya Pradesh. These pads are 100% biodegradable. When a girl is given our menstrual kit, she doesn’t have to buy anything for the duration of minimum 2 years as they’re completely reusable!” explains Shubhangana.

“My father has worked all his life for the people who live in the villages in Jamnia. He is my true inspiration,” she says. The princely family of Jamnia is from the Sangora Chauhan clan, who are historically strong allies of Prithviraj Chauhan and came to Madhya Pradesh from Nagor in Mewar. Jamnia is surrounded by villages where the Bhil and Gond tribals reside. 

Shubhangana, well aware of these backward tribes, was further driven towards CSR when, while studying Political Science at St Xavier’s Mumbai, she read about “India’s chequered milieu and the unequivocal and ubiquitous impact public policy has on not just the political, economic and social landscape of a country but also the day to day life of its citizens.”

“The above learnings blazoned the melioristic approach and gave me the necessary impetus towards the field of policy making,” she says.

Currently pursuing an MSc in International Social and Public Policy at the London School of Economics, she feels that she wants to spend her life helping those who have been marginalized for centuries by the urban, privileged Indian. She shares,”Today, the number of villages with roads, shops, electricity, primary schools, primary healthcare centres and police stations may be increasing, but the quality of soil, water, air, light, plants, cattle and the human body in Indian villages is slowly deteriorating. Transforming villages into cities or filling them up with urban facilities isn’t the real empowerment of villages. Real empowerment would be when the people are themselves able to preserve their surrounding environment,” she says.

While menstrual hygiene is just the first cause taken up by Dor, their next aim is to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on child education in rural areas. “It’s so sad to see so many of them getting dragged back to child labour, taken out of schools, forced to work at home. Trust me, the impact of the pandemic is felt worse in rural India,” she shares.

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Royally Speaking

When culture is not bound by boundaries

In 2015, Indian news channels were rife with the ‘cross-border Royal wedding’ between Amarkot (Pakistan) and Kanota (India). Kunwar Karni Singh, the 27th scion of Amarkot’s Sodha dynasty, was tying the knot with Kanota’s Rajkumari Padmini Singh Rathore. Known to have ushered the first tika and lagan ceremonies from India to Pakistan in the nations’ seventy years of Independence, the iconic wedlock between the two families was carried out in a wedding ceremony wherein not only two erstwhile princely states, but two erstwhile unified countries came together in merriment.

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Given the paradoxes that surround us in present times such as the coexistence of globalisation and ethnocentrism; and diversity and polarisation, the house of Amarkot serves a peculiar mediation of culture across one of the world’s most contested borders. I am joined by its daughter-in-law, Padmini and princesses—Deval, Aparajita and Mahalaxmi Sodha—to discuss their embodiment of transnational diversity, and how it impacts their identity and sense of belonging. The three sisters have been married into India’s houses of Auwa, Awagarh and Balrampur respectively. 

The youngest of the lot, Mahalaxmi begins by introducing Amarkot’s relegation in Pakistan as a result of deliberated sentiments. “In 1947 when Hindus from Sindh were migrating, my grandmother, Rajmata Dev Kunwar was unwilling to part from her roots and chose to stay back. Seeing her, the majority of the Hindus also changed their mind and stayed back. Then, it was the Muslims who stood by the family to protect them from harm’s way”. This sentimental account is topped by her older sister Deval: “You can take a Sodha out of the desert, but you can’t take the desert out of the Sodha.” 

Despite hailing from a conservative family, the present-day Sodha patriarch Rana Hamir Singhji kept up with the times when it came to bringing up his daughters. Both Deval and Aparajita pursued their schooling in Rajashtan’s Mayo College Girls’ School while their younger sister Mahalaxmi went to a leading convent school in Karachi. Having spent the most amount of time in Pakistan amongst all three sisters, Mahalaxmi sums up a concise narration of her sentiments. “Pakistan is my motherland, it will always hold a special place in my heart. I am proud to be born in a country whose people in general are very liberal in their thinking and beliefs. Women are safe; and although an Islamic Republic, the people of Pakistan are free to openly practice their religion. We took part in Muslim festivals such as Eid and our Muslim friends were part of our festivals such as Holi and Diwali. The food is exceptionally good and people are very welcoming and hospitable, which compels one to visit again and again. Be it joy or sorrow, Hindus and Muslims stand together.”

The three girls fondly recollect their childhood memories. “When I look back now, I can say my childhood is what any child would dream of. I had the best of both worlds, as my grandfather and father were prominent political figures, we got to be a part of the city (Karachi) and yet go back to the village as and when we wished”, Aparajita says jovially. This much-needed exposure notwithstanding, she lays emphasis on being conditioned around their arranged marriages to a Rajput, and the inevitable geographical displacement implied therewith. She states her own example of a transnational matrimonial alliance with many nuances, “After marriage whether one is in India, the US or Pakistan, they are bound to face challenges and changes. Marrying in the same community comes with the particular advantage of one not having to go through drastic measures of adjustment. Changes are weather, food, clothes, making new contacts. Other than that, it’s just a new home with new faces.” Predictably, this statement could arouse an interesting debate with married women taking varied stances based on their lived experiences. 

Regardless of the numerous variables and experiences around matrimony, one can safely admit to married women being important mediators of culture. The realms that a married woman domesticates become an interestingly complex area of cultural fusion, one in which traditional interactions multiply and evolve. In this equation there lies a delicate balance that Deval elaborates on. “It is important for a girl to retain her roots and cultural heritage as that is her identity. However, it is equally important for her to have an open mind to imbibe the culture and heritage of the family that she marries into.” Aprajita adds, “Retaining one’s roots and cultural heritage is as important as knowing one’s parents and identifying with them. I feel there should not be any difference of thought towards a son or daughter. Since they both need to be versed with that knowledge to be able to let the coming generation know and make others aware of where s/he comes from.” 

The ongoing discussion becomes all the more complex and interesting when Padmini’s viewpoints are factored in. The outdoorsy lover of sports and erstwhile national-level cricketer spent her childhood in Jaipur lest knowing her destiny lay in marrying the eligible Sodha prince and settling down in Sindh. Bright, vivacious and full-of-life, Padmini comments, “Maintaining culture and heritage differs for a boy and a girl. I believe it is a little easier for the boy as he has to maintain or carry on the culture in his own family where he has been brought up and lived for all his life. On the other hand, the girl has to do so in a family in which she hasn’t been brought up. She also has to bring up her children and instill in them the culture and tradition of the family that she has been married into.” 

Having undergone a significant plunge in terms of localities, Padmini is bound to miss her home, her loved ones, the food, festivals and childhood memories, just as the Amarkot sisters do. However, their nostalgia is punctuated by a convergence on the understanding of one’s matribhoomi or motherland. The vivid similarities on either sides of the border starkly highlight how much more similar Indians and Pakistanis are to one another than we understand them to be.

“Now that I have been living in Pakistan for five years, it is sad to see people of the same colour and race have so much confusion and misunderstanding between one another. There are helpful, strong, good and bad people on both sides. People drink tea and suffer from corruption on either sides. We look similar, we share the same level of cricketing passion, we have lots in common. India has Dhinchak Pooja and Pakistan has Tahir Shah. For the past seventy years, our countries could not establish peace with each other, and yet, we share a Nobel prize for peace”, exclaims Padmini.

Similarly, Maha draws parallels between the cities of Karachi and Lucknow, on how either of the cities made her feel closely familiar as did the other. Deval provided a fitting closing statement on the topic, “Historically, we’re all the same people. What is now referred to as a cross-border alliance is something that was very normal. Countries may have been formed and borders created but ties that have been there for over a millennium will not be so easy to sever!” 

Like their older sister, Aprajita and Maha are firm believers of cultures cutting across borders. In Aprajita’s words, “Cultures don’t see boundaries and are spread not only within a certain periphery but wherever one goes.”

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Decoding Victorian costumes in India

Anshu Khanna

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The influence of Victorian costuming is evident in many silhouettes adapted by the Indian princely states during the Raj era. From the mandatory gloves which had to be worn, while offering courtesy to the visiting monarch during the Delhi Durbar, to the long overcoats, embellished and embroidered in gold and worn over breeches and sharp pants, the Maharajas adapted their dress style immensely in the company of the British viceroys and Brigadiers.

The women too were not left far behind. Especially those from the hill kingdoms of Punjab and Kashmir who were often seen wearing gownesque silhouettes over their salwar like pants. Or the Ranas of Nepal who wore tiaras over their asymmetrical wedding gowns.

However, if there is one costume that both men and women happily adopted it is the cape, possibly the strongest symbol of Victorian dressing. Founded simply as a round piece of cloth, capes evolved into more complex styles that demanded tailoring and intricate stitching. Their many iterations were used to signify rank or occupation. The British royal’s capes were double-stitched, fur-trimmed and made from velvet, silk, or satin. Interestingly, capes in scarlet red epitomised good breeding and high standing in society. And the ultimate in capes are the ones worn by Queen Elizabeth, who really knows how to wear one with style!

Back home in India, the capes as a sartorial style statement remained at the heart of royal dressing, right through the Raj only to remain long forgotten till the legendary costumer Umang Hutheesing fetched them out of the Hutheesing costume collection, reviving them for posterity. It is singularly his contribution of bringing the cape back into vogue. The Hutheesing capes are cordon bleu, reminiscent of the Raj and a symbol of utmost regalia. Many have found their way into museum shows like the one held with the Al Thani jewels in Bahrain. Or the show he presented with the YSL trust in Paris. Or at the Baroque Museum in Mexico where he held a solo show titled The Baroque Maharaja.

Another royal, Rani Jaykirti Singh from Baria too should be applauded for adding the cape, created in rich velvet, to dressing royal in this era. It is to her atelier that many young royal Rajput women rush to refurbish, revive and restyle their vintage capes. Or simply creating a remake. Giving her capes a simpler, wearable form, Jaykirti, every winter rustles up a complete range in stately black, festive maroon and rich blue. Three universal colours that can be worn over pants, saris, skirts and gowns.

A couturier who imbibes vintage designs especially Victorian with immense élan, designer Rohit Bal has presented some stunning capes on the ramp. Drenched in the richness of Victorian embroidery, his ubiquitous rose render to his black velvet capes exuding an air of regal richness.

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A LEGACY KEEPER WHO IS WEAVING TOGETHER PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

With a treasure trove of royal influences and a zest for reviving heritage styles, Kunwarani Ritu Sinh’s brand of festive wear is tailored for the modern era.

Anshu Khanna

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A quiet worker, a born stylista, an former supermodel and daughter-in-law of the Wankaner royal family, Kunwarani Ritu Sinh can be best defined as a firebrand with the zest to go beyond the brief of life and achieve something on her own steam. A craft curator who has lived, worked with and experienced fashion of the finest quality, Ritu is also a legacy keeper, who decided to revive the traditional forms of costumes worn at celebrations by the erstwhile royals.

Ritu Sinh is a self-made design professional, who creates a complete festive line under her brand, Kanwarani Ritu, which is widely worn and patronized by Bollywood divas like Karishma and Kareena Kapoor, Malaika Arora, Jahnvi Kapoor and Sara Ali Khan. Her collection of aabhas, angrakhas, chaniya cholis and farshis are made out of the finest block-printed cottons, created by a cluster of artisans based in Rajasthan. To that, she adds a touch of festivity, embroidering them with gota patti and embellishing each piece with exciting tassels, bells and baubles.

Ritu has been privy to the finest royal influences from every side. Her mother-in-law is one of the six daughters of the dynamic leader, the late Maharaja Dinesh Singh of Kala Kankar. Among the rich costumes worn by all her aunts, uncles and grandaunts, Ritu finds an entire universe of inspiration. «The Indian royal women wear their chiffon saris with the utmost elan. They often couple their saris, mostly floral or embellished with woven borders, with sharp jackets crafted from the finest of silks, fully embroidered and embellished. My journey with design started with the reviving of these jackets. However, I soon discovered and fell in love with the poetry-like flow of the poshak, especially the ones worn by women of the hill kingdom. My collection is an ode to this heritage silhouette,” says Ritu.

Full of beans and very verbose, Ritu found her feet first through the one forum that most young, design-oriented blue-blooded women patronize: Royal Fables. Her first stint as a revivalist was when she went with a group of royals to Thailand, where Royal Fables had been invited to showcase as part of the Incredible India Festival. Her gota patti stationery, tiny potlis, handmade knick knacks reverberated the beauty of Gujarat and were an instant sell out. Overnight, the reticent bahu found her entrepreneurial abilities and her zen for design, and the rest is history.

Kanwarani Ritu, the brand, tries to create festive collections that are «easy, breezy, boho and chic”. “I feel that women need to dress down a bit and allow their inner light to shine through,» says Ritu. From pleasing pastels to feisty reds, from fully embellished aabhas, to delicately detailed dhoti pants, the brand is a dream for those who want to look their celebratory best, without getting confused for a Christmas tree.

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