In 1876, when the Prince of Wales Albert Edward (later known as Edward VII) visited Jaipur, Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh Ji II organised an eclectic display of arts and crafts at ‘Baadal Mahal’ to introduce his royal guests to the handcrafted treasures of the pink city. Today, the same ‘Baadal Mahal’, with its mesmerizing motley of blue and white coloured galleries, houses the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation (PDKF), which empowers women artisans through skill building initiatives and creates an exquisite range of handmade inventory for craft aficionados from across the globe.
While PDKF has been generating sustainable livelihoods since 2013 under the able guidance of its founder Princess Diya Kumari, its activities recently piqued the interest of her young daughter Princess Gauravi Kumari, who returned home during the pandemic and began investing a significant number of hours with PDKF’s artisans. Gauravi, who just graduated in media and fashion from the New York University found immense delight in engaging with the organisation’s undertakings, and soon transitioned from being a keen onlooker to an active participant across all its initiatives.
PDKF has always been known for its exquisite product range, but what Gauravi brings to the table is her young and contemporary design sensibility which is distinctively visible in the bags, dresses and quirky accessories in PDKF’s current catalogue. She is also involved with the establishment’s collaborative training initiatives like the ‘Swavlamban Project’ which offers free certified courses in digital literacy, tailoring and tour guiding, and ‘Project Pragati’ which has been empowering the underprivileged women by skill building in heritage crafts like ‘meenakari’, ‘gota-patti’, quilt-making and indigo dying. Commenting on these shared synergies, Princess Gauravi says, “PDKF remains committed towards using quality and innovation to make a positive impact, and partnering with master craftsmen and diverse organisations from time to time enables us to explore each-other’s novelty and best-practice solutions.”
One such creative collaboration took place last week when PDKF joined hands with The Art Ghar to host a unique fundraiser in Jaipur. This one of a kind event saw women artisans of PDKF spend leisurely time at The Art Ghar to engage with art, share life experiences, and eventually bring them alive on canvas under the able guidance of Princess Gauravi and Sharaddha Jain of The Art Ghar. Choicest connoisseurs and philanthropists were invited to indulge in these creations during which six of the ten paintings made by the women artisans were sold and their proceeds were donated to PDKF.
Talking about the event, Princess Gauravi Kumari says, “Seeing the women express their struggles, dreams, challenges, and aspirations through the medium of art has been a truly gratifying experience. Our women shared very significant aspects of their lives in a simple yet poignant manner, and that is what touched the hearts of the guests at the fundraiser.” While Lajwanti Devi in her painting titled ‘Nari Ki Shakti’ portrayed the ability of a woman to multitask, Shyama Devi’s work ‘Koshish’ was her humble effort towards raising awareness for aquatic life conservation. ‘Purani Yaad’ by Rekha Devi recreated her childhood nostalgia of running across bajra fields, and Guddi Devi shared her dream of building a two-storey house for her parents in her artwork ‘Mera Sapna’.
While each of these creations reflected an uplifting tale of love, longing and life, it was Chanda Devi’s work that was personally most heart-warming for me. Chanda Ji was consumed by a severe emotional void ever since she lost her mother a few years ago, but when she joined PDKF a month back, the spirit of sisterhood and camaraderie at the organisation enabled her to overcome her grief. Since she found a second home at ‘Baadal Mahal’, she painted its blue and white walls, and lovingly titled it ‘Mera Parivar’. When I discovered the backstory of this painting, I could not help but wonder that this simple piece of art is probably the purest form of validation for the first family of Jaipur for they have succeeded in creating a congenial environment where women feel at home.
As for Gauravi Kumari, growing up amidst living history and in the company of two exemplary women – her grandmother Rajmata Saheb Padmini Devi and her mother Princess Diya Kumari, it was a natural progression for her to harbour a sense of purpose towards redefining lives. Anyone who has met Rajmata Saheb cannot stop raving about her warmth and graciousness, and Princess Diya Kumari, as a former MLA from Sawai Madhopur and as a sitting MP from Rajasmand has won hearts not only because of her regal lineage but because of her humility and hard work. Princess Gauravi certainly has big shoes to fill, but taking into consideration her recent work with PDKF, it would be safe to say that her heart is in the right place.