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Rajputana’s debutant cartist: Chirantana Kumari

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Hailing from the house of Jamnia in Madhya Pradesh, Chirantana Kumari was raised by a family of petrolheads. Both her father, Raja Saheb Shaliwahan Vats, and brother Yuvraj Saheb Shailaditya Singh join the nation’s conglomerate of vintage car enthusiasts, and I am yet to find a make or model that the young Yuvraj doesn’t recognise. Recently, he even directed a promo film for Rajkot’s iconic Rolls Royce Phantom II, which is popularly known as ‘The Star of India’. 

Chirantana’s fascination over vintage automobiles found expression in the form of fine arts, wherein the budding artist has hand-painted a striking series of ceramics. A national-level sharp shooter, Chirantana’s balanced stillness further enriches her creative adroitness. She is now married to the house of Ramgarh, wherein she is devising an entrepreneurial model for her artwork. For the time being, her newly-launched Instagram handle, @the_ mystic_trunk reveals brief snippets of her ongoing work, and also mediates any product inquiries that one might have. 

Elaborating upon her family’s penchants for vintage automobiles and art, Chirantana says: “Vintage cars are a legacy of the nostalgic bygone era. I’ve always been fascinated by these old cars since my childhood. My grandfather, his friends and other family members owned vintage cars that were designed in the absence of constraints such as crash tests. Instead, automobile makers of those days created streamlined designs that were reflective of the trends and moods. Every vintage car tells a story of its own, and the history that went into its inception is a sub-genre that piqued by interest for a long time. For example, extravagant metals such as gold, silver and gems such as diamonds were used while crafting vintage cars for the rulers of various princely states. Most of these masterpieces continue to be impeccably restored and adored by enthusiasts all over the world.”

 She elaborates, “When it comes to creative arts, the various women of my family have involved themselves in painting on different mediums as a leisure time activity. So, I followed suit and studied the detailed anatomy of vintage cars in order to paint them in my free time. When one of my uncles, who happens to own a handicraft showroom came across my work, he encouraged me to occupy a corner of his space where I could showcase my talent. In no time, the paintings began to sell, and I received several orders by vintage car enthusiasts for their archives and regal garages.”

 “Now, when I look back, I see that my combined love for painting and vintage cars, which started as a leisure time activity, has culminated into a specialisation in its own right. Even though I am busy pursuing my PhD in Economics, I continue sparing some time to feed my creativity,” Chirantana adds.

 Automotive artist, research scholar and sharp shooter, Chirantana sure is a jack of many trades. Sooner or later, she is likely to join India’s leading cohort of automotive artists (also known as ‘Cartists’ in trendier nomenclature), such as Vidita Singh of Barwani, Himanshu Jangid, Nikki Chauhan and Nidhi Agarwal.

Royally Speaking

Chiffon sari: A fabric that defines Rajput women

Anshu Khanna

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It is the one fabric royal Rajput ladies were known to historically patronise and wear everyday with élan. When holidaying in the Swiss Alps, enjoying at an open-air garden party in winter or even when seated inside their plush palace in Rajasthan, the one thing that would drape around their beautiful self would be chiffon.

Add to this translucent, rich textile a hint of embroidery, a touch of lace, a vintage border or bold hand-painted or printed floral and voila you have the look of the regal Maharani alive before you. Chiffon saris, resonate completely with a princely era witnessed by Kanwarani Dipti Singh of Kachhi Baroda and she with her daughter Rohini Singh Gupta are keeping this legacy alive through their brand Just Chiffons. 

Rohini Gupta
Nandini Singh
Maanvi Kumari

The sheer velocity of a gossamer chiffon, the cadence of wearing an ombre that goes from a calm blue to a haute red, the thrill of recreating past bastions of embroideries like cut work, badla, sequins, tissue appliques and thread work, Just Chiffon presents their look for the festive season of 2020. Their winning story being the cut worked saris, a craft they have painstakingly revived. Shares Dipti, “It is the most indulgent of crafts as the artisan first sketches the border, and then embroiders it with pure gold. Later carefully burning out the fabric within the embroidery to give his design a rare sense of lux.”

And the royals residing in Indore wear their cut works with full justice: Princess Maanvi Kumari of Jobat, Princess Nandini Singh Jhabua, the Thakurani of Limdi, amongst others.

A bride who came from the noble family of Baidia to wed into yet blue-blooded family of Madhya Pradesh, Dipti was inspired by legendary women like Rajmata Padmini Devi of Jaipur, Maharani Reeta Devi of Kapurthala who made the chiffon an icon of royal India. She decided to work with a dwindling lot of beaders and embroiderers who were creating chiffons for erstwhile yuvranis, maharanis and kanwaranis. She created a little craft karkhana and began dipping into old family portraits, treasure trunks and vintage textiles to recreate past regalia.

“The one thing that binds together every Rajput woman is her love for the chiffon,” opines Rohini. “When it’s day time we wear our prints, fussed up with a vintage border, when it is time to go clubbing, out comes our Chantilly lace and when we are going to a wedding we couple the heirloom jewels with a delicately embroidered ombre chiffon.

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DIGGING OUT THE LITTLE-KNOWN ANNALS OF VALIANT RATHORES

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India’s glorious histories are interwoven by the timeless heroic sagas of its warrior scions—the Kshatriyas. The ever-inspiring traditions of virtue, sacrifice and loyalty run deep within the Kshatriya veins, and infuse every forthcoming generation with their unique resplendence. Endless inheritors have smeared their valiant Kshatriya legacy on gleaming swords and bled tears, sweat and blood to reap their motherlands.

Amongst the Suryavanshi branch of Kshatriyas, one clan of Rajputs is believed to have originated out of Lord Indra’s ratha or spine. The Rashtrakutas, as this dynasty was more popularly known, had ruled over Kannauj for several generations before one of its princes, Rao Siha ushered a westward shift of his locus. During the late thirteenth century CE, Rao Siha conquered Pali to establish the bravest dynasty that would nurture the arid desert sands of Marwar. And thus, the Rathore dynasty was born.

The Rathores are known to be descendants of the mighty Rashtrakutas, who prevailed as medieval vanquishers in central and southern India. Ongoing historical strife revolves around the origin of Rao Sahaji, which oscillates between the 160 kilometre-wide see-saw of Badayun and Kannauj in present day Uttar Pradesh. For now it would be safe to say that Rao Sihaji’s offensive on Pali hailed from Uttar Pradesh. His famed annexation of Pali is known to have resulted out of an open invitation to him from the Paliwal Brahmins of the region. He was attending a holy pilgrimage in Dwarka, from where he detoured to shield the obliged priestly caste. It was during this visit of his that Rao Sihaji’s prudence led him to seize what would be the new capital for his dynasty. 

Colonel James Todd, Munhot Nainsi, Jodhpur’s historical archives and diverse annals across Marwar praise the brave Rathore founder, who continued to reinforce his kingdom until he met his waterloo fourteen miles North-West of Pali in Beethu at the majestic age of 80. A stone inscription found in the vicinity of this area testifies this account adjacently to the sati of his queen, Rani Parvati Devi of the Solanki clan. 

Every breeze that winds past the ombré folds of the Thar reverberates Rathori greatness, and the distinct embellishments of conquests that they brought upon their land. Twelve generations later, Rao Jodhaji carried forth his dynastic surge westwards towards Marwar, and his legacy continues to thrive in the form of Jodha Rathores all over the world. True to his name, he was the founding father of Jodhpur, the Rathore headquarters that succeeded Mandore. The majestic Mehrangarh fort was also manifested out of his vision, and continues to stand tall as Jodhpur’s timeless sentry. There is no dearth of Rao Jodhaji’s myriad glories, but the vindication of his father’s murder remains a rather intriguing, albeit lesser known story. 

Rao Jodha’s father Rao Rinmalji was murdered by a conspiracy spearheaded by his misguided nephew, Rana Kumbha. When Rao Rinmalji caught a hint of his nephew getting roped into these conspiracies, he issued a warning to his Rathore scions: “Nowadays people are unlawfully soliciting Rana Kumbha against us. Since his relative lack of experience increases his gullibility, I must warn you against concurring to any invitation that I make on his behalf.” 

Their father’s prediction turned out to be true. Rana Kumbha summoned their presence several times, but the alerted Rathore brethren resisted his orders. Upon receiving their deliberate refusal on more than one occasion, Rana Kumbha’s conspirers suspected Rao Rinmalji and murdered him while he was asleep in his chambers on a cold winter night. But even when the brave head of Rathores was tied up on his charpoy and ruthlessly attacked, the warrior stood up in unison with the wooden frame to slay four assassins before succumbing to his wounds.

After succeeding his father who had departed well ahead of his time, Rao Jodha thirsted to vindicate his assassination. He pierced the Aravallis and hurled at Chittorgarh and realised at one point that his army lacked a substantial cavalry force. But it was impossible for a dearth of horses to cower the mighty Rathore warrior, who resorted to carrying much of his army on bullock carts. This unusual sight of the undaunted Rathore advance caused the Rana’s army to flee. Rao Jodha and his brave men surrounded Chittorgarh from all sides, set fire to its gates and prostrated at the door of the fated chamber in which his late father was deceived.

It is only in recent times that the more intricately documented annals of Rathore history are being explored and translated into English. My upcoming authorial project is a humble initiative in this direction and is likely to make its debut appearance sometime in 2021.

The writer is an author, blogger and editor-in-chief of Rajputana Collective.

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DUSSEHRA AND THE ROYALTY

Dussehra, for royal families in the country, is all about celebrating their lineage and traditions. While for most, it is a time to worship and rejoice, for a rare few, it is a time to mourn as well.

Anshu Khanna

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The thrill of knowing they are direct descendants of mythological heroes, a love for their arms and armaments, a story of the conquest of good over evil and the conch shells declaring a battle won—Dussehra holds a very special place for the Indian royal families. For them, the festival denotes a lot more than just the victory of good over evil, the end of Ravana and the homecoming of Lord Rama a few days thereafter. For some, it is the time to celebrate the notion of a victory over war by praying to their shashtra, while for others, it is for paying reverence to their horses.

In Udaipur, Arvind Singh Mewar, the 76th custodian of the house of Mewar and a great one at celebrating occasions, will unveil the magic of Ashwa Pujan. Suryavanshi kings like the Udaipur royal family, allegedly the direct descendants of Lord Rama’s son Luv, hold Ashwa Pujan, a grand ceremony where Marwari battle horses are worshipped in thanksgiving, in all their Rajput regalia.

Arms and armaments also play a major role in the celebration of a royal Dusshera.  A few hundred miles away from Udaipur, inside the City Palace of Jaipur, the handsome young Maharaja, Padmanabh Singh, will sit down to preside over a Shashtra Puja. Jaipur, surrounded by some of the most travelled homes of the nobility, also comes alive for Dusshera as all the nobles around the city come to celebrate with the ruling family. At the Sarvatobhadra Chowk, as Padmanabh performs prayers to the horses, elephants, palkis and baggis that his ancestors rode to war, he will be joined by many erstwhile thakurs and jagirdars of Jaipur.

Dussehra in Udaipur.
Maharaja of Mysore.
Maharaja Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur.

In Mysore, Dussehra or Dasra heralds the showcase of the rarest of jewels, the most ornate of pandals and the highly ritualistic puja presided over by the young Maharaja, Yaduveer Krishnadatta Wadiyar. The festival begins on a grand note with a prayer at the Chamundeshwari Temple, followed by its inauguration at the royal Amba Vilas Palace. The young and dynamic Maharaja holds a private audience by ascending the Golden Throne in the palace’s durbar hall. In fact, Yaduveer holds the Khasagi or private durbar for all the nine days of Navratri, culminating in celebrations with a victory parade on the ninth day, Vijay Dashmi. The priests also perform Hindu rituals in the palace, in the presence of an elephant, a camel, a horse and a cow. Priests from 23 temples in the old Mysuru region make offerings to Hindu gods and goddesses and sprinkle holy water on the scion.

Speaking of lineage and traditions, an interesting site is the village of Mandore, from where hailed the wife of Ravana, Mandodati. On Dussehra, the residents of that town observe mourning, in reverence of Ravana as a great scholar and devotee of Lord Shiva. Mandore, the ancient capital of Jodhpur, saw many of the descendants of the demon king travel and settle there after Ravana’s capital, Lanka, was devastated in the war with Lord Rama. So, while the rest of India celebrates Dussehra with great festivities, Mandore is a rare place where the death of the demon king is mourned!

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An introvert’s kaleidoscope with Jahnvi Singh of Rohet

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Dualism is a word that most of us Rajput millennials know too well. We have grown up juggling with two parallel worlds. On the one hand, there is the bygone era of Rajput glory that continues to resonate in presentday rituals, folklore and songs. On the other hand, lies an expanding world of liberal ideas, freedom and change that we begin dissolving into once education and schooling begin. No sooner do we come of age and return to our ancestral dwellings than that contrast between these two worlds becomes all the more apparent. It is no less challenging for our parents to ensure the mutual involvement of traditional restraint and liberal modernity in our upbringing. Some of us are more aware of this dualism than others, but we are all mediating with it day in and day out, and are often torn between the two in terms of our choices.

 The 22-year-old Jahnvi Singh of Rohet is no exception to this existentialist angst. She too shuttled between two distant but equally urgent sensibilities until one day, when she felt too exhausted by it. Instead of constantly trying and failing to be in two places at once, Jahnvi decided to step away from playing mediator to becoming an observer. What started off as a tiny change in perspective ended up culminating into the most radical shift of perspective that she had ever made. 

Jahnvi’s description of her younger self plays a major part in discerning this implication. “I was a shy, introverted kid. The cliché in every classroom, who sits in a corner with a diary drawing something she never shows to anyone. I wasn’t trying to be mysterious or pretentious, the truth was that I was so afraid of putting myself out there that I never ended up trying. This is something that I have recently come to terms with. Somehow through my teenage turmoil, I managed to stick to my pencil set, and that saved me.” 

The budding artist then graduated to college, wherein that whole new world remoulded her reticence into a whole new self that was so unhindered and venturesome, that its misrecognition was indeed plausible. How could such a rapid alteration of an artist’s personality not reflect in their creative expressions?

 “As a teenager, I put a lot of emphasis on questioning what it meant to be an artist. I wondered whether my skills were merely skills, or whether I could really become an ‘edgy artist’ someday. I don’t remember when I started drawing, but I remember doing it a lot. My lockers and cupboards were always full of sketches, there were more doodles on my math textbooks than sums”, she says in hindsight.

 She continued resorting to her drawing tools well beyond her teenage years and as the world unfolded in front of her wondrous eyes, Jahnvi’s art exceeded its graphitic confines. When she was no longer able to channelise her expressions through pencil strokes, she found meaning in paint, ink, pastel, and even installation, fabric, music, dance and writing. To her former self, these would have just been overestimated mediums that she never found herself to be capable of creatively deploying. 

Stir some evolutionary ferment into artistic cultivation and, lo and behold, Jahnvi became the soughtafter artist for Masaba By Nykaa’s cosmetics collection. Her freelance work is getting better by the day and she is also open to pursuing art commissions. Interestingly, each one of her works, whether for cosmetic promotions or alternative exhibitions is unmissable in depicting her inhibited essence. Just like her persona, one finds revelation in what her artboard conceals. Being explicit was never her style, and her growing set of creations is bound together by an enigma that doesn’t give in the very least to its varied interpreters. 

Jahnvi’s concluding remarks aptly explain this essence: “The unexplored leaves hope for more learning in the future and gives perspective to the present. Perfection only eliminates the chances of possibility. Four years ago, I would be uncomfortable with the idea of ‘not doing enough’. Today, the only true intention behind all my work is merelyto better understand’. And I am happier for it.”

 Whoever said existentialist angst wasn’t a good thing? And do introverts really see more colours? Not quite, they just observe a lot more than the rest of us. 

The writer is an author, blogger and editor-in-chief of Rajputana Collective.

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Keeping the heritage of the havelis alive

With House of Badnore’s rich offerings of fabrics, jewels and art objects, blueblooded entrepreneur Rani Archana Kumari has successfully combined the
centuries-old legacy of her family with a spectacular modern aesthetic.

Anshu Khanna

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The world of refinement as we see today owes its allegiance to the myriad craft studios and art ateliers that thrived within the forts, palaces and havelis of India — homes where, in the past century, princely families resided with their royal entourage of personal attendants available to fulfill their every whim. 

Besides their living quarters filled with their staff, the palaces also housed many a ‘palace karkhana’ or studios, where worked and resided jewelers, tailors, folk artists, architects, weavers and craftspeople, each one nurtured and patronised by the Maharaja. In their courts were found singers, who filled the durbar with their Thumris and ragas, dancers, whose ghungroos resonated through the courtyards, and the bards and court jesters, who kept the entire family entertained.

 Cut to 2020, and we arrive at an era of democratic modernism, filled with Western luxury, couture labels and contemporary artists. However, in these contemporary times too, some royal scions are working hard to keep their legacy of patronage alive. They are adopting the local craftsmen of their regions, and infusing their skills with their refined aesthetics to create spectacular designs. These creations are proudly showcased by them in their palace museums, through the regal platform, Royal Fables, and a few handpicked craft-selling portals online. 

One such blue-blooded entrepreneur is Rani Archana Kumari of Badnore who has, in a span of two years, brought alive an enviably exquisite brand. Born into the culture-rich state of Pratapgarh in Awadh and married into the family of Badnore in Rajasthan, which flanked on one side by Ajmer and on the other by Pushkar, Archana Kumari personifies her legacy through her well-curated brand , which she calls, House of Badnore.

Having spent a great part of her life promoting silver – smith work of heritage value with Frazer and Haws , Archana is also a writer (she was the editor of the Gems and Jewelry magazine), a sharp entrepreneur and a design addict who understands gems and precious metals. Backed by this reservoir of skill and experience, she forayed into creating what she calls a ‘past forward’ brand. With its ethereal collectibles, fashion knick-knacks, travel jewels and art objects, House of Badnore resonates with Archana’s rich family legacy which dates many centuries. 

It is a legacy where “the clash of swords, blood, sweat and tears in the tough terrain was juxtaposed with a life of refinement lived within palaces; where Rao Jaimal ji’s heroic bravado and Mira Bai’s divine ardor co-existed”. Archana, a mother of two gorgeous girls, one a banker and the other an art historian, tries to create a bridge between “the sheer romance of past royal art bastions and a modern and chic design language”. The polo memorabilia, the shikaar, the birds found in miniature art, the Maharaja’s horse, his favorite Cecil Beaton portrait in a carved silver frame — all these and more are inspirations she recreates into memorabilia which can be gifted. Each piece is packaged in a very stylish box with the Badnore seal. While the inspiration is one, the interpretations are many.

 From buttons embellished with precious stones to embroidered stoles with falcon motifs, and from photo frames polished with silver to silk kerchiefs matched with hand-painted cuff links, each of these gifts are made for those with exquisite taste. “Indians love gifting, especially at weddings, and I find that my main market,” she says. This festive season, she is adding travel jewels and exquisitely designed floral saris to her repertoire.

The Badnore saris are reminiscent of the past, with their vintage borders, woven by hand and attached to floral chiffons, reminiscent of the chiffons imported for the Maharani from the mills of Manchester in the Raj era. There are also the exquisitely embroidered saris with sumptuous motifs of the rose spread all across them. “In the end, I simply want to celebrate royal crafts which, one day, one of my daughters will adopt and take forward, just like how I picked up the baton from my ancestors,” she concludes.

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How kingdom of Panna turned into a wildlife sanctuary

Anshu Khanna

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Panna is a sleepy town of Madhya Pradesh, known both for its now dried diamond mines and the wildlife sanctuary that houses the Kohinoor of Indian wildlife: The tiger. Few know that it is also the princely state historically ruled by the Rajas of Bundelkhand, famed for their bravehearts on the battlefield and their bravado in the jungle. Surrounded by the densest of forest covers, it today thrives as a pristine sanctuary where wildlife sightings are easy. We chat with the petite and pretty princess of Panna, Krishna Kumari, as she is passing the pandemic time in Panna. 

Half bundelkhandi and half Gujarati (her mother Dilhar Kumari hails from the royal family of Bhavnagar), she is a cordon bleu tigress, a free spirited adventure buff who also surprisingly doubles up as as a sensitive artist… Painting her beloved animals on Porcelain, a medium of expression that is known to be tough to manoeuvre but exquisite to behold. And this artist paints extreme close ups of tigers, zebras, deers and elephants that she encounters on a regular basis. Both back home in Panna and in Africa which she admits is like her second home. “I love travelling to Africa. 

Princess Krishna Kumari of Panna

To the forest reserves. That to me is the most precious of places in the world.” Living between Panna, Bhavnagar and Mumbai, Krishna, very visible on the social landscape of Mumbai and much loved too, is actually happiest when behind the wheels of her SUV manoeuvring through tough terrains. Quick to drive off at a whim she has, “Driven the length and breadth of North India in my SUV. I find it the easiest mode of transport and also love taking part in car rallies through the desert and the mountains.” 

That is when Krishna is not undertaking a motorbike tour through Ladakh or driving across the wild life parks of Uganda with her compatriot Radhika Raje Gaekwad, the Maharani of Baroda. “We did this trip through Uganda last year, encountering chimpanzees and gorillas. This year we were slated to go back but then the world got gripped by the pandemic.” When not sighting wild life for real she is busy capturing them on porcelain tiles, trays, plates and bowls. Often monochrome with a dash of yellow or ochre highlighting the tiger’s stripes or the zebras eyes, Krishna shares that, “I stumbled upon this art form by a stroke of luck when I met a seasoned artist in Mumbai and took part in her art camp. Though tough, the art form captured my imagination and I decided to travel to cities where it is truly practiced: Spain, Portugal, France. I trained to understand its nuances and carefully mastered it.” Today she creates a body of work that is wild life inspired. 

She says, “Principalities like ours that lived on the fringe of the jungle knew what to hunt when to hunt. We were told to leave the animals be at breeding season. I see my art as a turn from hunting animals to nurturing them and capturing their immense beauty inside a canvas that is as pristine as them.” Or as pure hearted as this artist who, when not trotting across the globe, is busy teaching art to the tribal girls who come to study at their girls school in Panna, named after her grandmother Maharani Durga Laxmi. And when stuck in the pandemic she is converting one of the family homes on the fringe of the park into a homestay heritage property. She smiles, “I got into my car with my mother and drove off from our home in Mumbai straight to Panna, the moment we were allowed to… I want it to look like a mini-jungle.” 

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