The Maratha royals or the Maratha Confederacy were a conglomerate of princely states that ruled a large part of western and southern India, starting from the Deccan Plateau. The empire dates back to the coronation of Chhatrapati Shivaji in 1674. The Maratha warriors were singularly responsible for wiping out the Mughals and also maintaining their strong, rooted identity during the British Raj. Many Maratha states were the highest in the order of the gun salute like Baroda and Gwalior. But many remained insulated in their own world.
Even today, the Marathas remain deeply-rooted, Indian and tradition bound. Their women wear the most spectacular Chanderi and Maheshwari saris that were immortalised by ruling women like Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, Maharani Chimnabai of Baroda and more recently Rajmata Vijaye Raje Scindia of Gwalior. There are many Ravi Varma portraits of women wearing Navsaris draped in nine-yard Chanderis, even mounting horses in them. The men wore pagris, made from stretched and starched Chanderi, the pugri of one state being unique from the other. They were known to wear angarkhas, resplendent with regal, precious buttons.
I had the great fortune of attending a true blue Maratha wedding of Rigvedita Deo, daughter of the Mahurkar family, with Raj Ratna Pratap Deo, scion to the royal state of Nagar Untari, Jharkhand. One of the largest states in Jharkhand, Nagar Untari is a Rajput state, while the Mahurkars were one of the most prominent Sardars (nobles) in the Gwalior state. The father Uday Mahurkar is an author whose book Marching with a Billion on Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a best-seller. A well-read historian, he is known for his vast knowledge on Maratha history and his special insight into the life and times of the Chhatrapati.
Rigvedita, meanwhile, is a foodie, a restaurateur and now a Kunwarani who is looking at ways to turn the distant state in Jharkhand and its fort into a glorious destination. While her husband, a marketing professional, hopes to market the state for its great historic value.
The wedding was held at the fabled Lakshmi Vilas Palace, home to the Gaekwads of Baroda, and seen as the largest private residence in the world, four-times the size of Buckingham Palace. The festivities began with a tilak ceremony where the groom was greeted by the bride’s family with gifts, an auspicious tilak and many platters full of mithais. The bride meanwhile sat in her chamber, surrounded by her bridesmaid and women of the family dressed in a Chanderi sari. At this time it is considered inauspicious for the bride and the groom to see each other.
The wedding itself was resplendent with the bride wearing a beautiful Rajput poshak, which is traditionally gifted by the groom. Her face was totally covered in a veil that she could only raise after the wedding. And the groom came riding the traditional elephant with a battery of folk musicians and dancers leading an all men’s baraat. Yes, women traditionally never attended their son’s wedding.
The bride was welcomed with flowers and diya aarti rendered by Hiteshwari Mahurkar, the sister-in-law, as brother Samarjit led her to the dais. Before the wedding the very touching Maratha ceremony of Mangalashtak was held. The couple hidden from each other with a muslin cloth held between the two was blessed by a battery of pundits who recited shlokas. These shlokas are very auspicious and not to be heard by the groom’s mother. The bride’s maternal uncle stood by with a sword in hand, auspiciously protecting her. The guests at this time are each given a silk pouch filled with kesar and rice, which they have to bestow on the couple on completion of every verse. The Marathas have eight pheras around the havan kund and they are known to keep to the wedding traditions very formally.
The palace, with its very maverick Indo-Saracenic architecture and domes, was all lit up, the array of amazing Maratha food and the sheer magnificence of the guests dressed in their royal finery left an impression that could be lilting for life.
The wedding took place early this year, before Covid-19 brought the nation to an unprecedented halt.
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A WAVE AGAINST THE CURRENT: GOVIND SINGH RATHORE AND THE SAMBHALI TRUST
Worldwide, it is a common feature for boys from male-centric family setups to grow up into active perpetrators of the very patriarchy that they were raised amidst. Add to that the socio-cultural dividends accorded to patriarchs in more conservative milieus, which further bolsters male-chauvinistic conducts of behaviours and mindsets as a widely accepted and rewarded norm. Direct and indirect references to social misconducts warranted by patriarchy pervade across class, caste, race and religious barriers in most parts of the world, but their increasing severity towards the more underprivileged rungs of every society are obvious. Not only does the lack of social mobility subject certain groups to more intensified discrimination, but also makes their redressals more elusive. And until those with socio-economic capital don’t step in as active contenders, these social evils will continue to pervade and plague our existence.
Govind Singh Rathore.Amongst the series of vocational training initiatives, sewing has emerged as a popular skillset.A workshop with members of the Sambhali Trust.Govind Singh Rathore with a few members of the Sambhali Trust.
An acute exception to this standard progression of patriarchal norms in Rajasthan is Govind Singh Rathore, the elder son of a traditional Rajput family in Jodhpur City. Having had been birthed and brought up there, Govind became a conscious receptor of his family’s patriarchal ways at a relatively young age. In this regard, his experience is not very different from other boys his age, who too, receive an upbringing soaked in male entitlement and privilege. The institutionalisation of women subordination, that they witness through their family’s treatment of its female members is normalised in the very psyches of young boys and men. But Govind’s mental make-up would set him apart from other boys his age in more ways than one.
Govind was only 15 when his father died, leaving his mother hapless to contend with the stiffening destiny of widowhood. The lack of dignity that a society accorded to its women, especially those with the lack of protection of a male member pierced Govind’s heart. Even worse off than women of India’s higher castes were those from Dalit and minority communities, whose gloomy futures as women are further doused by their lower caste standing. With a lack of not just societal sympathy, but a total absence of familial support and compassion, what was their escape route from this labyrinth of misery?
After long mulling over this question, there came a day in 2006 when Govind finally found an answer. The prime and most obvious barrier to their social emancipation, as Govind identified, was their illiteracy and financial dependence. “That day, I decided to do something for the disadvantaged women and asked my house-maid Meera to bring her two non-school going daughters over, so that I could begin teaching them some reading and writing. To my surprise, 18 girls turned up with my housemaid the following day. Perplexed as I was, I didn’t refuse anyone and set off with the motivation of my wife Mukta and a small fund pooled in from the earning of my ancestral guest house, Durag Niwas”, says Govind.
This seemingly small philanthropic venture organically began to grow, and its overwhelming response soon led to the Sambhali Trust, which Govind founded in the January of 2007 as a non-profit organisation with an amplified resolve to provide distressed women with a sense of belonging through a community that enabled their education and vocational training. Members of the Sambhali Trust devised a quest for its sustainability by showcasing their craft handiworks through the Sambhali Boutique. Over time, Govind’s humble venture has reached out to over 10,000 women and girls in and around Jodhpur through nine empowerment centres and two boarding homes that provide basic education and sewing training to its inhabitants. He also led Sambhali Trust’s ripples to his ancestral village of Setarwa, wherein academic scholarships, self-defence training workshops and micro-finance projects have gathered wind to stir a gleam of hope in the lives of disadvantaged women and girls.
Up until now, Govind Singh Rathore’s passionate endeavours in the field of philanthropy sound like a much-needed fairy tale in our troubled times. However, there is a price to pay for every convention broken, and Govind shares his own consequences—“With no experience and guide to run a charity, I faced sceptical behaviour of the community being a Rajput working for the SC/ST, being a Hindu involving myself with a Muslin community, being a man working for women. Discrimination of some members in the family not accepting to even drink water at our home for this, judgemental behaviour of people for NGO’s and foreign volunteers, people even thought I was involved with missionaries looking for SC/ST’s to bribe them and change their religion.”
That said, it is evident as to how Govind’s resolve to bring about change in his world proved to be far stronger than the cynicism and distrust he faced. Today, Sambhali Trust attracts thousands of volunteers and interns from India as well as around the world, and has marked its presence in five countries and has got an accreditation from the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
His true zeal and passion to bring about change left Govind’s resolve undeterred even during the onset of the recent pandemic. When the outspread of Covid-19 brought tourism to a complete standstill, Govind offered his familial guest house to the health administration to serve as an isolation facility and relocated his family and some volunteers at Setarwa.
For the next three months of lockdown and rampant unemployment, Govind stirred through the sweltering desert heat providing ration to villagers. “I am delighted that God up there chose me for this noble work, I will not back off come what may”, Govind concludes.
DR RAVIDARSHAN VYAS HOSTS SOLO SHOW AT AHMEDABAD’S ICONIC ART ADDRESS
It’s very rare for a qualified practitioner of Ayurveda to also be an artist behind museum-quality art. Dr Ravidarshan Vyas, the Rajya Vaid of Gondol state in Gujarat, is one such exception. He recently hosted his solo show of paintings, his live’s repertoire. Works in oil that capture what he calls the history of royal India, its mythology and regal folklore. Hugely inspired by the genre of calendar artist Raja Ravi Verma, Ravidarshan, who also helms the much revered Shaktipeeth Bhuveneshwari Temple, had a galaxy of royal stars attending his preview. From the Maharawal of Baria to the princess of Bhavnagar, the Nawab of Balasinore and the scion of his own state of Gondol, Dr Vyas got them all to attend. Including the heir to the Hutheesing family Umang Hutheesing who finds his art, “European in style and fiercely Indian in story.”
Maharaval Tushar Singh Devgarh Baria with the art and Nawab Salauddin Khan Babi of Balasinore.Rohit Raje Deshmukh of Surguna Maharashtra .Mahalaxmi.Vyas.Darbar Saheb Satyajit Khacher, Rani Alaukika Raje, Yuvraaj Raviraj, and KS Shivraj of Jasdan.Mrs and Mr Vyas with Bijeshwari Gohil of Bhavnagar, and KS Jyotirmah Sinhji of Gondol.The royal line up
Grandson of the much-acclaimed Vaidya His Holiness Acharya Shri Charan Tirtha Maharaja, he steers a pharmacy founded in 1904. “My grandfather was the royal physician of many states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Though based out of Gondol in Kathiawar, we were consulting many leading families like Jodhpur, Rajkot, Jasdan etc.”
Heir to this legacy of science, Ravidarshan is a lover of art, qualified in homoeopathy, and still consults. Besides being the Gaddi Pati of Bhuvaneshwari Temple, a Shakti Peeth revered by people of Gujarat, living across the globe.
“I am not really trained in an institution. I paint through the inner instinct of growing up amongst Ravi Varma’s art.” The Vyas family enjoys a deep closeness to the Jasdan royal family and Baroda and in his work, you will find many references to parts of their stunning palaces. Like the Maand room in Jasdan Palace that is a reflection of the local craft of mirror work and has sparkling brass urns piled upright to its roof. Ravidarshan paints an image of the siblings Krishna and Subhadra chatting in this very room. Then there is the image of Mohini, half male, half female seductress, who could lure the most saintly of saints in Laxmi Vilas Palace, Baroda.
“Raja Ravi Varma’s every brushstroke captures the depth of Indian mythological history. In his work, I find a Godlike innocence and in my own way I try to recreate that rare reverence.”
Curated by Deep Khatri with whom Dr Vyas creates art inspired fashion, the show also throws light on some recent works like his interpretation of the erstwhile Rani of Ayodhya. Waking to visions of the sheer sadness of her life, he captures her in the jungle, devastated and lost.
He shares, “Ayodhaya was a flourishing kingdom even after Rama rajya. Manorama, married into the family saw her life tumbling down losing her husband, her kingdom and her wealth. To save the real heir of the empire her son Sudarshana, she escaped to the jungle and my painting portrayed her lost in a devastated jungle. The burnt wood carved frame represents devastated Ayodhya suffering due to this sudden incident.”
Gods, goddesses, Maharanis and their strife filled life, Ravidarshan’s art, carrying forward the vivid genre of Ravi Verma’s art, is a must-watch for those living in Gujarat.
(DIS)UNITY IN DIVERSITY?
As an Indian, I have held immense pride in my nation’s diversity of regions, topographies, languages, cuisines, traditional attires and religions to name but a few. This diversity’s gruesome heads to surface every now and then, but the utopian in me seeks solace in India’s symbiotic retention of parallel worlds, realities and truths. Of holding both, apples and oranges, chalk and cheese in one marvellous subcontinental platter. Where progressive and fascist political agendas relay side by side, India’s ever-continuing power of dissent seems threatening to more and more citizens and netizens.
For the sake of individual thought and liberty, I hope for socially constructive dissent to prevail above and beyond the shackles of threat that it faces. But after shedding a naive vestige of my perceptions, I also understand that dissent and threat are impersonated and conducted by us, the very people who constitute India and the world at large.
Whereby there was a time in India a few decades ago where differences in political ideologies could very well hold a civilised conversation, today they host an economy of squealing prime time debates. Whereby there was a time when diverse religious identities co-inhabited unassuming neighbourhoods, today many of them lie ghettoised. Some in hushed tones, and the others more boldly so. After years of observing this organised chaos, Mark Tully once remarked that in India, we don’t cast our vote but rather, vote our caste. Having being born and brought up in a family with ample political participation, my pragmatism knows that contesting the caste-based or religious-based vote banks, especially in less urbanised parts of India is asking for too much. But how do our identity markers find ways of pervading so rudimentarily?
Soft ethnocentrism and territorial attitudes vis-a-vis us fellow Indians would make many like myself concede to the otherwise casual remark touting Indians to be amongst the most racist and discriminatory people in the world. In my backing of this argument, I am not even factoring in the post-colonial shambles of racism or counter racism yet. If we take a minute to consider the alienating extent of the oblivion that percolates south of the Vindhyas, and the resentment it triggers in return for the butter chicken-eating, noisy north Indians, many more such tropes from our personal experiences begin to jostle in.
In my own case, I’ve grown up in a multi-cultural family that constitutes a mix of Rajasthani, Gujarati, Himachali, Kashmiri and Bundelkhandi influences. Thanks to the privilege of the resultant cultural exposure, my worldview isn’t as geographically confined. But on the downside, this very advantage makes ethnic myopias seem more acute to bear. As a full-time resident and hotelier of Manali, I have become habituated to being asked about my story from Rajasthan to here. Which is perfectly alright, until the unsuspecting ‘local’ asks whether or not I am a ‘local’ myself. Given that I am a registered voter of Himachal Pradesh, I am told that I don’t look or seem like a local. How is one expected to bargain that? I remember my Nepalese classmates from Mayo putting their experiences into one poignant phrase, that after 9 years of being in an Indian boarding school, they were too Indian to count as Nepali, and still too Nepali to count amongst Indians. Indian diaspora is sure to relate to the same transnational alienation that they still might feel, no matter how many more bridges globalisation physically erects. But for most of us even at home, intra-national alienation is as real as it gets.
The average commuter is expected to notice the overwhelming discrimination accorded to drivers bearing number plates from ‘outside states’. Never mind the state number plate defaulters, it’s the outsider who is more likely to be harassed over the very same trivialities. Should a person belonging to a different state express their keen interest and/or genuine knowledge in my own, I forsake curiosity for my ego and am so easily threatened. Is being an Indian not enough? This might be a more reasonable question before I can begin fancying the idea of questioning whether being human will ever be enough.
One takeaway looks my way. The very diversity that united us seems to create divides. The question is the same as the answer. We embody the difference, the similarity, the unity and the diversity.
It makes us kind just as it makes us cruel. The only variable there is, and the only one that matters right now, is which of the two ends we choose.
A WOMAN AHEAD OF HER TIMES
Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari was a divine soul who believed in helping people around her in whatever small or big form she could. Because she believed helping a person in need is equivalent to worshipping God.
Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari was the fourth daughter of Late Raja Jaganath Singhji of Daulatpur and his wife Rani Saheba Hiteshindra Kumari who belonged to Patiala Royal family daughter of Raja Ranbir Singhji of Patiala.
Being born in the times of purdah she had a vision that was quite different than her brothers and sisters. She was a woman filled with daring, never scared of speaking the truth and alone managed to do a lot of things that nobody ever imagined.
Her father late Rajasaheb Jaganath Singhji was addicted to alcohol and she was very close to her father she didn’t go to boarding school like her other siblings who got educated in Doons, Welhams, MGD girls school and Mayoor School Ajmer. Rather she stayed back with her parents in Bhopal and looked after them and their properties. Though her mother was from Patiala they had a lot of financial support also at times from Patiala.
But once her mother passed away things changed and situations worsened. Her father being addicted to alcohol had sold their palace and all the agricultural land of Daulatpur to his cousin brother Laxman Singhji in 1958.
Once when Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari had gone to Daulatpur to pay condolence to Rajputohit of Daulatpur jagir she requested Laxman Singhji to let her worship ‘Gadi Madi Mata’ their diety the Kuldevi that’s when Laxman Singhji misbehaved with her and she decided to pay the debts of her father and take back the entire property. She did manage to but it back from her uncle Laxman Singhji not only that but she also bought a plot from the villager and gave it to Laxman Singhji along with the money.
After that along with her father and her younger sister Srimati Mohini Inder Kumari married in Jamnagar family now stayed sometimes in Daulatpur and sometimes in Bhopal. She had set up a small business for women empowerment in Daulatpur village where they used to make small toys made of wood as Daulatpur being on the periphery of Kheoni Sanctuary had a lot of teak and bamboo wood once in abundance. And she also used to get the zardozi work done in the small town of Sehore and sell these products in fairs which were held in cities like Bhopal. She used to travel on horseback, and a lot more adventures she did being unmarried and when the society was orthodox and people believed in purdah in spite of Daulatpur being jagir of Bhopal state. She broke the stereotypes.
Later in January 1963, she got married to Maharaj Saheb Madhusudan Sinhji of Danta Bhawangadh one of the princely states of Gujarat, Maharaj Saheb Madhusudan Sinhji was the second son of Late Maharana Sir Bhawani Sinhji and Late Maharanisa Anand Kunwar Ba of Danta Bhawangadh.
In Danta too she tried to set up a small business like dairy farming, making of pickles and papad but unfortunately the luck didn’t support her and she was unsuccessful in it. Along with that as she had to look after Daulatpur too as well as her father and her younger sister who was unmarried then, she helped her younger sister in getting married and looked after her father who used to stay in Daulatpur. Unfortunately, her father late Raja Saheb Jaganath Singhji got infected by the deadly disease of Cancer and Jagjit Inder Kumari also went into financial crisis and she also got infected with high diabetes as well she lost her elder son as she could not take care of him as he was an immature born child. Her spirits went low and hence she had to send her father to Bhopal to live with her brother Bharat Inder Singhji and then in his last days Raja Jaganath Singhji was sent to Kalapeepal at his cousin brothers house where his cousins and his nephews took care of him and he took his last breath and due to heavy rains, his cremation was also done in Kalapeepal and not in Daulatpur.
After her father’s demise and being a diabetic patient she could not look after her properties in Daulatpur hence everything she had in Daulatpur she willed it to her younger daughter Rajkumari Gitanjali Devi.
As long as she lived in Daulatpur and also in Danta she worked for a lot of people especially the villagers. She wasn’t a graduate but she had quite a good knowledge of ayurvedic medicines as she was fond of reading she had learned a lot. Today she lives in the heart of the people of Daulatpur for whom she often went out of the way and worked.
After marriage, the younger daughter for almost nearly 10 years with her husband Mr. Dharamsingh Karmyal stayed in Daulatpur and practiced agriculture but for their kids better education and future, their sold the agricultural land moved to Gujarat and somehow due to some misunderstandings today the fortress of Daulatpur has become a government entity—which is a big question mark as no one knows how and why it happened.
Later on 6 June 1996 after a long battle with diabetes, she took her last breath in a hospital in Palanpur. And being bahu of Danta she was cremated in the Royal Crematorium of Danta which is in Gangwa village a jagir of Danta.
Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari had three children. Two daughters namely Rajkumari Hemangni Devi married to Menghani and Rajkumari Gitanjali Devi married to Mr. Dharamsingh Karmyal. One son Rajkumar Harshvardhan Sinhji married to Kunwarani Vrindakumari of Gorad Jagir.
That was she the Legend Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari in my eyes she was definitely a hero. She never let anyone leave her house empty stomach. She was always fond of cooking and hosting people over food. She also helped lots of people for getting jobs and helped the people by providing medical facilities if they could not afford them. She used to provide food to those people living in nearby areas and couldn’t afford it.
She was a divine soul who believed in helping people around her in whatever small or big form she could. Because she believed helping a person in need is equivalent to worshiping God.
Hence in her fond memories and remembrance, I Khyati Singh granddaughter of Shrimati Jagjit Inder Kumari has started a foundation ‘Food for cause’ for old people suffering from Alzheimer who are seen on public places like railway stations and bus stations where we provide them food with the help of local tea stalls who provide us the information about these kinds of people.
Currently, we have started our first batch at Aburoad railway station. Also, we would like if anyone wants to join us can always get in touch with us on our Instagram handle @khyatisingh784. Slowly and gradually our mission will also be to provide education to the students who cannot afford fees for their school. This year we have enrolled only one student, but we look forward to many more.
EIGHT ROYALS TO WATCH OUT FOR IN 2022
The thrill stays same as the world advances into 2022, and the year ahead offers plenty of opportunities to people to make a mark in their various fields.
2022 though begun on a fearful note remains another year, another hope. We list for you eight incredible royals, young and promising who will make the year a success story in their journey towards perfection.
PRINCESS DIYA KUMARI OF JAIPUR:
A custodian of Jaipur’s rich cultural heritage, the torchbearer for girl’s rights in Rajasthan, a member of parliament who won with a thumping majority from Rajsamand, a strong voice for BJP in Rajasthan and a philanthropist who, through her, NGO PDKF has empowered hundreds of women in Rajsamand and Sawai Madhopur, Diya Kumari is emerging as a leader to watch out for. The torchbearer for the role royals can play in present-day politics.
HH MAHARANI RADHIKARAJE OF GAEKWAD:
The palace is alive once again: with the sound of music, the patronage of craft and the promise of philanthropy. The Laxmi Vilas Palace at Baroda has become an oasis of craft and culture under the patronage of its Maharani Radhika Raje. Possibly the strongest voice in craft revival today, Radhika is as vocal in saving our animals as she is committed to the cause of women empowerment. Through the pandemic, she worked hard to support those truly marginalised like the LGBTQ community of Gujarat. May she continue to play her role of the protagonist to perfection.
PRINCESS MRIGANKA KUMARI OF PRATAPGARH:
Tucked away in rural regions of Avadh, Pratapgarh is finding itself in the midst of refined living with its Princess Mriganka Kumari presenting to the world an amazing array of honey, ghee, pickles and salts that are produced under her stunningly curated label Pratapgarh Collective. Following 100 percent natural processes, this farm-to-table story is cultivated by women of the village who now stand tall on their independent feet and has found their way to the dining table of film stars, leading influencers and connoisseurs of true taste.
PRINCESS VAISHNAVI KUMARI OF KISHANGARH:
Legacy is for most royals to keep, but turning it into a mystical fable is Princess Vaishnavi Kumari of Kishangarh. Heir to the legacy of miniature art personified by Kishangarh’s Radha, Vaishnavi, a SOAS graduate is all set to present before the world her creative oeuvres with art this year. We wish her all the best. Known for its pichwais, its Kamdhenu cow and its valorous, playful Krishna, this art form under Vaishnavi has adapted a more pop approach. Deeply inspired by Pakistan’s reigning pop art, she hopes to add this element to Kishangarh miniatures.
YUVRAAJ VIKRAMADITYA SINGH OF J&K:
Home to his family Karan Mahal is now a beacon of heritage luxury for the world to see. The Yuvraaj of Jammu & Kashmir paves the way for inherited homes to turn into cordon bleu luxury homes that also houses nostalgia and memorabilia in many ways. Karan Mahal, all of seven keys sits on the saddle between two hills—one of them the Shankaracharya peak—of the Zabarwan mountain range. Nearly 60 acres of orchards and woods surround it. With Covid driving the world towards terrains more serene, and Kashmir opening up, this heritage hotel promises to be the toast of 2022.
JEMA AKSHITA BHANJDEO OF MAYURBHANJ:
The title of a princess who cares sits best on her able shoulders. Akshita Bhanjdeo has made it to many glossy covers as not just a perfect host in her majestic Mayurbhanj home, now a heritage property. But also as someone who has emerged a strong voice in the world of sustainable and slow fashion. The project Karkhana chronicles taking the grass-root craft to Haute, stylish levels.
HH MAHARANI PRIYARAJE SCINDIA OF GWALIOR:
Born into the Gaekwad legacy of Baroda and married to the dynamic aviation minister of India, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Priyaraje is an educationist, a culture protagonist, and a heritage promoter who is quietly working towards bringing world-class experiences to her land of Madhya Pradesh. A strong believer in promoting experiential tourism, she is all set to emerge as a strong voice in this realm.
MAHARAJA CHAITANYA RAJ OF JAISALMER:
Last year changed his life forever placing this young lad all of 24 into the seat of power after his father passed away. Chaitanya Raj Bhati’s swearing-in was covered extensively by the media. Now at the helm of his family’s varied businesses he is also getting set to promote the life of his people in Jaisalmer. The Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls being one of his most commendable contributions as a young Maharaja.
A project initiated by the international non-profit organisation CITTA, and operated by its India’s arm, it is located near the village of Kanoi, Jaisalmer. Donated by Chaitanya Raj Singh it has his total attention. Best of luck to the young Maharaja who is trying to fit into his inherited throne.
RAJASTHAN’S GOLDEN MARKSWOMEN
Rajputana’s archaic association with warrior-ship has translated during less feudal eras into renowned sportsmanship in the fields of equestrian sports and marksmanship amongst others. Late H.H. Maharaja Karni Singhji of Bikaner made India’s mark in the world of shooting, a legacy that his daughter, H.H. Baijilal Rajshree Kumari inherited and proved to be a trailblazer indeed. In more recent times, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s Olympic and Apurvi Chandela’s Commonwealth medals brought immense pride to the nation. While male expedience in sports generalised as masculine is expectingly lauded, increasing participation of women in these disciplines is reclaiming the sphere altogether. Moreover, the oft-forgotten martial expedience of Rajput women is revived every time a woman shooter narrows down on her target and fires her weapon.
With Bihar’s Shreyasi Singh clinching two golds at the recent national championship in Patiala, Rajasthan’s women double trap shooting team ruled the winning podium, winning their state gold with their cumulative scores. Thus, it can be said without doubt that this year’s double trap shooting season truly belonged to Rajputana’s various daughters. With Shreyasi’s forthcoming feature on the horizon, Rajputana Collective proudly celebrates the victories of champions Himangini Rathore Hooja and Anushka Singh Bhati. Members of Rajasthan’s trapshooting team that emerged victorious this year, both Himangini and Anushka share their journeys as trap shooters – how it all started, their highs and lows, and insights into India’s shooting world.
Bearing her ancestral roots in erstwhile Bikaner’s Ghantel thikana, Himangini Rathore Hooja reminisces growing up to the glorious tales of late H.H. Karni Singhji. She was blessed with the streak of her maternal grandmother (Nanisa), who made her mark by winning small bore competitions in Uttar Pradesh’s Tala estate as early as the ’60s. Despite that, it wasn’t until after Himangini’s marriage that she took to shooting clay pigeons. “My husband enjoyed clay shooting and encouraged me to visit the shotgun range with him at Jaipur. I fired my first shot in 2011, but I only took up shooting in 2015”, she says.
Subsequently, her younger teammate, Anushka Singh Bhati elaborates on her beginnings. “My papa got me into shooting, as he was a national-level shooter in the 1980s and wanted to introduce his children to the sport as well. When we were young, he’d take us to the range. Initially, I started with pistol but then got into trap as it was an outdoor sport and I liked that. Initially, I was quite hesitant but my parents and brother Janmejay motivated me. I smashed my first clay bird in trap, it was my first ever target with a little bit of beginner’s luck.”
Himangini’s recently acquired all-India ranking of 4th in double trap accords a convincing validity to her statement, and she is truly walking the talk. In similar conjunction, Anushka’s impressive qualification into India’s top 15 in women’s trap and double trap events supplicates this community-centric conviction. Moreover, she is the only woman shooter from Rajasthan to have qualified An athlete endorsed by Khelo India, Anushka won Rajasthan its first-ever gold medal in the senior trap mixed team event with Manavaditya Singh Rathore.
While sharing their rise in shooting glory, both Himangini and Anushka pay their worse days at the range their due. “I definitely have a lot of low days where I feel unhappy with myself when I am not able to invest mentally in the game to the extent that I feel I should be”, Himangini adds. Anushka too shares a day in the recent nationals when she was left distraught by her unexpected performance. These shooting blues are a feeling that every practicing shooter or even sportsman can relate to. But success comes to the stubborn hearted, and evidently so. Within two years of shooting, in the 2017 nationals, Himangini had made her way into the trap finals match. On a similar feat, Anushka too scored her lucky 25/25 in her second nationals’ participation.
The need to bolster India’s infrastructure for shotgun shooting though is one that both concur with. “I don’t think that the current infrastructure is sufficient for the growing talent in shotgun shooting. To begin with, there is a shortage of ranges all over India. Other than that, the licensing procedure for weapons is a very complicated procedure and offers little support”, Anushka comments. Adding to that, Himangini says, “Trap shooting is an expensive sport. Availability of firearms and ammunition is a tremendous problem when one is just starting off with clay shooting. Also, while both- the union and state governments provide financial support, the actual disbursement of funds could be made more prompt. In my case, the Rajasthan Rifle Association has been extremely supportive through the years, and I feel the support of local, district and state associations will help the growth of national talent.”
The adverse impacts of Covid-19 on the sport of trap shooting is another aspect that is difficult for shooters worldwide to sideline. “We didn’t get to practice much in the past two years due to Covid and not many matches were held. This led to a lack of mental preparation that affected my performance in the last nationals”, Anushka elaborates. Himangini holds a relatively more optimistic approach. Although factors relating to the pandemic and personal safety do divert one’s mind with additional elements apart from shooting while in a competition, she credits the open-aired nature of the sport as a crucial safeguard. “At the ranges in Jaipur, all shooters were extremely considerate and careful regarding Covid norms”, she adds.
When asked about their favourite marksmen, Anushka idolises Michael Diamond and had the good fortune of meeting him during his visit to the Rajasthan OASES Range. Himangini mentions Slovak Shooter Zuzana Štefečeková as her shooting inspiration and praises her for her performance at the Tokyo Olympics. In the 2019 nationals, the duo was a part of the teams that had won Rajasthan silvers in trap and double trap. That marked a special year for being their first silver victory, and 2021 made them bring home the gold.
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