The pandemic has left each one of us vulnerable and gripped with fear of the unknown. We all live locked up in our homes, protecting ourselves from a microscopic, invisible enemy that attacks everybody differently. Some it leaves mildly scathed. Others it can drag to extinction.
Here are a few stories of strength featuring women of blue blood who could have simply retreated behind the gilded gates of their homes and havelis. Instead they decided to do their two bits for humanity. Profiled are three Covid warriors who are not just helping and protecting the poor but also providing them livelihood by promoting their crafts.
We begin this story in Jhabua, a sleepy state in the tribal belt of Madhya Pradesh. Young and dynamic Princess Nandini Singh, who otherwise helps the local tribal artists to sell their Gond art to museums overseas, has joined hands with Marina Shiekh to found a non-profit organisation called the Rising World Foundation. She shares, “Marina and I grew up together in Indore, this foundation run by her has done tremendous and noteworthy work in delivering essential supplies to those that need it the most. Marina has personally gone to deep interiors of the most crowded suburbs of Mumbai to supply food packets and masks.” Nandini is replicating that endeavour in Mahua, a backward region of Jhabua. Where each week, “We go down the dusty lanes giving away 500 food packets to the tribal families living there. Also, teaching them the importance of sanitation and wearing masks, something that is toughest to imbibe.” Besides which she is busy meeting all her master artists like Jangram Shyam, Jaggu, etc, to, “create an art show under my foundation Nandini Singh Jhabua for a gallery in Belgium. Besides what I pay these artists I will donate the rest to help these families feed and clothe themselves.”
From Gond to Avadh, the region of refinement, let’s applaud the Princess of Pratapgarh, Alkarani Singh whose work towards Covid relief is very unique. An avid patron of folk music and a custodian to a group of Mirasins who traditionally sang at important occasions for the ruling elite, she is training these women to create exquisite masks made in tukri work of Avadh. She shares, “I was appalled to find out that they were begging for food. These Mirasins traditionally came to our kothis and the manzils of the nawabs (That is how our homes were referred to in Avadh) and sang in praise of the lord. I told them don’t beg, work with us and make these masks.”
Tukri work in a form of craft is seen in Avadh. Used to embellish the farshis, it was originally “used to create small potlis to hold the ingredients of our paans!” Turning them into masks then was not tough. She laughs, “I was so humoured to see the movie Gulabo-Sitabo. This puppetry act was born in our state. Craft is in the blood of every Avadhi and I thought why not turn a disaster into a discovery of a forgotten world.”
From Avadh to the copper town of Muradabad where one of the Thakuranis has proverbially created a storm with her organic cotton poshaks, farshis, anarkalis, skirts et al. Kanwarani Kamini Singh from the Seohara noble family, a designer whose brand Rose Tree is known for its organic cotton ensembles, now shifts gear, creating outerwear in SITRA-certified fabric. Manufactured keeping all safety standards in mind in her workshop in Delhi, these protective gears are washable and highly affordable. “They are perfect to give to your frontline workers: Your driver, dispatch boy, gardener, cook to be worn when they step out. It will keep them safe and in turn keep you protected,” says Kamini.
She has reached out to the many heritage enterprises run by royals and nobles to come forward and invest in these protective gears that will ensure their staff and guests are safe. Above all the project helps generate employment in Seohara, Uttar Pradesh. “I even went and gifted 300 of them to the local police and healthcare workers.”
“I see it as a donation campaign where hoteliers, museum owners, people who have large personal staff can buy the gloves, masks, outerwear for their staff. I feel we, as citizens also, have to do our bit and not expect the government to do everything. This project also generates employment for my people. Which is very crucial for me,” informs Kamini.
The initiative empowers citizens to take charge of protecting themselves, their families, and communities. The designer has also created a line of non-surgical reusable masks, for frontline warriors in appreciation for them working tirelessly for the well being of citizens during the pandemic. Her daughter Chandni Kumari and she are in the process of designing very stylish outerwear in khadi that can be worn by city slickers to work. “Best part being that they are Covid protective.”
The writer is the founder of Royal Fables, a heritage platform that helps in the conservation of craft, culture and cuisine of princely India.
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DISCOVERING THE ‘ROYAL HERITAGE OF ODISHA’ THROUGH THE LENS OF A BUREAUCRAT
From the chiselled finesse of the rock-cut caves at Udaygiri and Khandagiri to the sculpted splendour of the Sun Temple at Konark, the architectural marvels scattered across Odisha have continued to bear testimony to the dexterity of the local craftsmen for centuries. While religious influences encouraged an impressive array of structures in the state, local artisans wielded their magic in equal measure to erect a magnificent constellation of palaces belonging to the princely states of Odisha.
Entrance of Dhenkanal Palace
Sailashree Palace at Bolangir
Raja Parija, the author of ‘Royal Heritage of Odisha’
Entrance of Nilgiri Palace that earlier functioned as a lighthouse
Locally known as ‘Rajbati’ or the King’s abode, each of these palaces exhibit a unique design sensibility complementing the topography of the location. Perched on the slopes of the Paniohala hills, Dhenkanal Palace is the only regal structure in Odisha incorporated with the features of a fort and a palace. It has a blooming natural garden on the second floor of the citadel.
Be it the century-old still functional sun-dial at Baramba Palace that is strategically located to receive apt sunlight throughout the year or the intricately crafted ‘Chatris’ at Bolangir Palace, the intriguing tales about the structural brilliance of these palaces were waiting to be explored. And then a native bureaucrat Raja Parija curated the coffee table book ‘Royal Heritage of Odisha.’
“The legacy of these palaces extends way beyond their walls of brick and mortar,” says Parija, who is currently posted as the Special Secretary cum Director of SC & ST Development Department, Government of Odisha. “Since royal families were the most loyal patrons of their region’s art and culture, I have made a conscious effort to explore these palaces beyond their architectural glory and delve into the fascinating stories associated with their socio-cultural context.”
The author believes that every palace has its own unique story to tell, and he has left no stone unturned while researching this book to bring forth the choicest glimpses of the bygone era. Covering a distance of over 10,000 kilometres across the state over several years, Raja Parija has collected first-hand information from the members of the royal families to compile a priceless treasure of captivating stories.
Yuvrani Meenal Jhala Singh Deo of Dhenkanal had narrated how Maharaja Bhagirath Mahindra Bahadur had chanced upon the location of the present palace in the 1830’s and got inspired to build the ‘rajbati’ on this spot after being impressed by the bravery of a dove that was valiantly defending itself against a hawk on this land of the brave.
He believes that every palace has a unique story, and left no stone unturned to bring forth the choicest glimpses of the bygone era in this book. Parija has collected first-hand information from the members of the royal families to compile a priceless treasure of captivating stories. Yuvrani Meenal Jhala Singh Deo of Dhenkanal had narrated how Maharaja Bhagirath Mahindra Bahadur had chanced upon the location of the present palace in the 1830s and got inspired to build the ‘rajbati’ on this spot after being impressed by the bravery of a dove that was valiantly defending itself against a hawk on this land of the brave. Raja Jayant Mardaraj of Nilgiri had shared how the towering entrance gate of the palace was originally constructed as a lighthouse during World War II by the British forces. The former lighthouse now stands peacefully as a part of the palace complex.
Another slice of riveting history was revealed by Yuvraj Vijayendra Chandra Deb about how the ‘Singha Dwar’ or the Lion Gate of Talcher Palace was built by his ancestor Raja Ram Chandra Birabar Harichandan in the 1870’s under a famine relief scheme to provide food and employment with dignity to the people of this region. When a scanty monsoon followed by casual export of food grains under the British regime broke the backs of the locals, the benevolent ruler rose to the occasion and resurrected the socio-economic structure of this area.
“Exploring such inspirational stories from the past not only create a sense of pride, but they also inculcate a feeling of territorial loyalty towards our tangible heritage,” feels Parija. Piecing together one story after another has certainly evolved his deep sense of admiration towards Odisha’s regal history. He exclaims,“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and pass on to our coming generations. We must learn to appreciate what we have before time makes us appreciate what we had.”
A peek into Achintya Singh’s world of wildlife photography
Immerse into the thicketed world of Achintya Singh, a fast-evolving naturalist and wildlife photographer. Raised by a forest officer parent, Achintya’s interaction with the wild began when he was only 4-year-old. Ever since, he has volunteered for wildlife rescue programs, awareness drives, and educational projects in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India, the Corbett Foundation and the Turtle Survival Alliance. Although at 26 he associates most with his cause as a naturalist, Achintya’s accompanying camera lens kit opens up a fascinating world from the tiniest insects to big cats and everything in between.
Q. Tell us about your species of fascination?
A. I am fascinated by reptiles and the smaller world. I shoot everything, from insects to birds to big cats.
Q. Which is your preferred wildlife photography destination?
A. India’s Western ghats and the lesser-explored rainforests of India are no less than a visual treat to the eyes. They are also home to not so common animals and some very rare and endemic species live in these beautiful rainforests. New species of frogs amongst other wildlife are being discovered to date, which proves how biodiverse and unexplored these habitats are.
Q. What is the most challenging aspect of wildlife photography?
A. Not knowing whether you will get to see your target species at all. Several times while looking for wildlife to photograph, we don’t even see our target species, leave alone taking good photos, but that’s all part of the game, however, when we do see our subjects in favourable light or atmosphere, the adrenaline is just sky-high.
Q. What is your favourite part of the genre?
A. Finding the animal while looking for something rare or unique, be it snow leopards in the Himalayas or a critically endangered frog in Western ghats, there’s a story behind finding the animal that makes each shot unique in itself. It is easy to spot animals in captivity, such as zoos and biodiversity parks, but that wouldn’t be as wonderful an experience as finding and photographing species in their natural habitat. Sometimes, we experience very thrilling moments in terms of animal behaviour. I once saw a leopard take down a newborn Nilgai calf and offer it to her sub-adult cubs. Another time I saw a snow leopard call out her cubs in a snow-filled gorge in the high-altitude Himalayas. The whole experience of visiting different national parks, forests, and habitats makes the genre so interesting.
Q. Tell us about your current lens kit?
A. I am a Canon user, I currently use the following equipment :
Camera bodies: Canon 1DXmark 2, Canon 5d mark4, and Canon 7d.
Lenses: Canon 600 mm f4, Canon200-400 mm f4, Sigma 150-600 mm f5.6, Sigma 70-300 mm f3.5 Canon 70-200 mm, Tokina 11-16 f2.8, Tokina 10-17 fisheye, Tamron 90 mm f2.8 macro, Canon 18-135 mm, and Canon 50 mm.
I use different camera bodies and lenses depending upon the situation and the kind of image I want to capture. I also use GO PRO HERO9.
Q. Which is the best wildlife photography kit in the market today?
A. There are new cameras from Sony and mirrorless cameras that have changed the way photographers are shooting. Investing and getting new gear is a good thought, but acquiring skill and perception is even better. New technology keeps coming as time passes by, but as a photographer, I really like the current set of gear I own and aim to master my equipment to the fullest.
Q. Are mirrorless cameras a major breakthrough in the photography world?
A. Mirrorless cameras have changed the game for wildlife photographers but many of these camera bodies are compact and not as sturdy as DSLRs. I’ve seen a lot of mirrorless cameras die and fail on rough use on field days. Like I always say, no matter what equipment you shoot or own, you must learn how to use it to its maximum capability and take good care of your camera gear, there’s nothing like “bad camera”. It’s just a myth, it’s more to do with who’s shooting rather than what it’s being shot with.
NOVEL INSIGHTS AND ANALYSIS OF MUGHAL ART AND CULTURE
Busting the myths of the absence of figurative art in Islam, the book ‘Reflections on Mughal Art and Culture’ dedicates a special chapter on feminism and the strong portrayal of women in Mughal courts.
For a design addict like me, perennially engrossed in history and heritage, the Mughal era of resplendence holds a special place in the heart. Possibly the most enriching moments in Indian history, when it comes to the finer nuances of life, the Mughal era redefined our culture in more ways than one. These invaders like their many predecessors fell in love with the presiding heritage of India: its palaces, temples, craft and textiles. Borrowing from their inbuilt genius, an eye for detail, and the subliminal influence of Ottoman and Safavid cultures they then created a new design vocabulary with a strong language that blended into existing cultures. At the same time creating a space for a new richness not experienced in the sub-continent earlier.
Islamic arches, calligraphic lettering, rare influences of lapidary art, the rich use of Petra Dura, and the mystical textile culture of Mughal Burhanpur personified the Mughal era. A historic moment that comes to life in the coffee table book ‘Reflections on Mughal Art and Culture’ published by Niyogi Books and edited by Roda Ahluwalia. Through a series of in-depth writing and well-chronicled images, the book captures not just the art and architecture of the Mughal era but also its underlying socio-economic cultures. An independent scholar of South Asian Art, with an interest in painting and the book arts, religio-philosophical thought, and the material culture of South Asia, Roda invites participation from many experts who essay their views on the various aspects of Islamic culture. Having worked with the Rajput painting and manuscript collections of the British Museum and the British Library, she pens a very engaging chapter on works of seventeen artists listed by Abu Fazal in ‘A’in-I’Akbari’.
Themes as diverse as portraits of royal women, sub-imperial patronage of temples, word-image relationship, the lapidary arts, and the Imperial Library of the Mughals are consideration of Mughal garden typologies, murals painted on architectural surfaces, the textile culture of the city of Burhanpur, changes in the visual language and content of the painting, and imperial objects d’art have been discussed, challenged, and analysed. The final three articles are groundbreaking comparisons across Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal spheres. This beautifully illustrated book is sure to appeal to connoisseurs, collectors, and scholars alike.
The articles in the book explore varied subjects under the Mughal umbrella, challenge long-held ideas and draw comparisons between the artistic expressions and material culture of the powerful Islamic cultures of the Safavids in Iran, the European-based Ottomans, and the Mughals in the Indian subcontinent.
Many, especially in the current political landscape, question the secular intent of the Mughals but in this book, Roda throws light on the multicultural history and the easy flow of ideas that prevailed during the era of Emperors Akbar and Jehangir. There are many Hindu artists in the famed ‘A’in-I’Akbari’ including Kesu, Jagan, and Haribans. The sub imperial patronage of temples that were built during this regime under the direct patronage of their Rajput rulers also shows the prevalence of Akbar’s policy of sulk-i-kul (universal conciliation). The Adinath temple at Ranakpur, temples in Chittor, and temples built by Raja Man Singh (Govinda Deva Temple in Vrindavan), and Jagat Shiromani in Amer, show the distinct prevalence of the geometric influence personified in the Mughal era.
Busting the myths of the absence of figurative art in Islam, the book dedicates a special chapter on feminism and the strong portrayal of women in the Mughal courts. Specially Mahim Anaga, the foster mother of Akbar and his advisor, and Hamida Banu, Akbar’s mother and chief wife of Humayun. The powerful image of Mahim Anaga, seated in a bustling court next to Akbar, portrays the sheer power of a mother who taught the art of governance to this legendary ruler.
From visual imagery to verses of romance, it delves into the Persianate imagery of the Indian woman. The poets captured the beauty of the mystical apsaras and Persian women. Of interesting read is also the architectural heritage left behind by the Mughal emperors, especially the Mughal garden typologies: The chaarbaghs that gracefully encase their palaces, the generous use of lattice motifs on their windows, and the Petra Dura engravings that have been most immortalised in the Taj Mahal. This book feels like a special treat both for the eyes and the mind.
REWA: THERE’S MORE TO THIS MAJESTIC GREENLAND THAN WHITE TIGER
The royal family of RewaThe Rewa horsesRewa FortTansenThe Prince of Rewa
Maharaja Venkatraman SinghBirbal
Blessed with natural beauty, this 17 Gun Salute state is strategically located on the north-western side of Madhya Pradesh and was the third wealthiest principality of the Central India Agency during the British rule. Known for her lush greenery, enchanting Rewa is also home to Mohan — the world-renowned white tiger. Maharaj Martand Singh spotted him in Rewa and domesticated him when he was a cub. Interestingly, Rewa derived her name from the great River Narmada, that is also known as Rewa.
The princely state was founded in about 1400 by Baghel Rajputs who descend from the Solanki clan, which ruled over Gujarat from the tenth to the thirteenth century. As such they are the descendants of one of the greatest rulers of pre-medieval India, Emperor Siddhraj Jaisinh of Gujarat, whose rule extended till Karnataka. The Bandhavgarh state is believed to have been found by Maharaj Shaktivardhan Deo. Their royal residence and the Baghel capital was Bandhavgarh till 1597 when the ruler shifted it to Rewa. Vyaghra Deo, brother of the ruler of Gujarat, is said to have made his way into northern India about the middle of the thirteenth century and obtained the fort of Marpha. His son Karandeo, married a Kalchuri princess of Mandla, and received in dowry the fort of Bandhogarh. The Rewa Fort houses the premier ancient temple of Mahamrutyunjay that is one-of-its-kind on the planet.
Rewa’s royal cuisine has some exquisite dishes. The Bagheli Gravy cooked with chicken/ mutton is mouth-watering. The alluvial rich landscape has brought forth some unique dishes like Kathal Masala (marinated spicy Jackfruit to be had with wheat or rice) and Kamal Kakdi (Lotus Root) Kebab. The present head of the Royal Family: HH Samrajya Maharajadhiraja Bandhresh Maharaja Pushpraj Singh Ju Deo Bahadur is a food connoisseur himself and plays an active role in preserving the age-old family recipes and making sure it is passed on to the coming generations. He has held several events to promote royal cuisine. My father was privy to one of those in Delhi and he relished the food thoroughly, he quoted, “It is extravagant and superbly aromatic.”
Emperor Akbar was given refuge at Bandhavgarh (the then residence of the Baghel Dynasty) at age 10 when his father Humayun fled India following his expulsion by Sherhah Suri. Prince Ramchandra Singh and Akbar grew up together as royal heirs. Maharaja Ramchandra Singh and Akbar remained friends. In the mid-1550s, Maharaja Ramachandra Singh Baghela maintained a musically talented court including the legendary Tansen. Two of the Navratnas of Akbar, Tansen (originally named Ramtanu Pandey) and Birbal (originally named Mahesh Das) were sent from Rewa by Maharaja once Akbar became the Emperor of India.
The family has had alliances with almost all major royal families of Rajasthan. They’re Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Bundi, Ratlam, Bikaner, Bansi, and Kishangarh. Outside Rajasthan, they had alliances with the royal families of Bhadawar, Dumraon, Kutch, and Nagaruntari.
Maharaj Venkataraman Singh who ascended the throne at the tender age of 4, contributed greatly towards the war effort during World War-I making the provision for the “Solanki Squadron” of the Army Air Service. Hon Lieut-Col. IA 1/1/1915. He was a great patron of arts and culture like his ancestors and also a progressive ruler who greatly cared for his subjects. His son Maharaj Gulab Singh ji is credited with forming one of the first responsive governments in princely states providing the citizens of Rewa the right to question their monarch’s decisions. He was also the first ruler to declare Hindi as the state language.
Maharaj Martand Singh was also an Indian wildlife conservationist who worked hard to preserve the dwindling population of tigers in the area. Soon after becoming Maharaja, the late his highness set about conserving Rewa’s forests and tigers. It was during these conservation efforts that he came across Mohan, as a cub. Fascinated by the rare breed of white tiger which was native to Rewa, he worked to protect the species and making the region poacher-free. After the abolition of royalty, the late his highness represented Rewa in the Lok Sabha for 15 years. The Government of India awarded him the third-highest civilian honour of the Padma Bhushan, in 1986, for his contributions to society. His highness was ecocentric, gentle, and well-read. He was a good raconteur, especially when it came to jungle and tiger stories.
Sri Yuvraj Maharajkumar Divyaraj Singhji Ju Deo Sahib Bahadur is a two-term BJP MLA from Sirmaur and is devoted to the well-being of citizens, just as a monarch would be to his subjects.
DECODING THE ART OF TRANSFORMING BIKES WITH VIJAY SINGH AJAIRAJPURA
Vijay Singh Ajairajpura, the driving force behind Rajputana Customs Motorcycles, a Jaipur-based motorcycle outfit that changed the face of bike restoration in this part of the world, talks about the influence behind the customisation of motorbikes and further diversifying India’s curation of motorbikes.
Thanks to his father’s long-standing affair with two-wheelers, a young Vijay Singh Ajairajpura got introduced to motorcycles much earlier than his contemporaries. He grew up riding a 500 CC BSA Falcon before getting onto bigger beasts. Upon completing his higher studies and returning to India, he found that his old motorcycle had been donated to his factory electrician. Vijay took this as a turning point by choosing to take the road less travelled — he would build a bike for himself, from scratch! He reached out to Royal Enfield, who were kind enough to sell him their brand new 350 CC Unit Construction Engine to get started. With that and with the help of a master metal fabricator and ex-racer who Vijay refers to as Shakur Ji, Vijay got down to assembling his first-ever masterpiece which came to be known as Original Gangster. After its exhibit in the Auto Expo of 2010, the Original Gangster attracted a substantial trail of customised motorcycle orders.
Today, RCM contributes approximately 12 bikes per year to India’s diversifying motorcycle heritage. And what’s more, RCM has earned the proud patronage of motorcycle enthusiasts, with the entourage being led by none other than the Bollywood celebrity John Abraham, who happened to be Vijay’s first client. Abraham’s customisation — Light Foot stands amongst the first in Vijay’s extensive fleet of masterpieces to which he ascribes unique names such as Aghori, Rajmata, Jordaar, Laado, and the likes. And what’s more, the unique essence of RCM doesn’t end here, in fact, this is just the beginning. An oft-said but firmly maintained pledge at RCM entails that no design is repeated. Hence, bespoke automobile crafting is taken to a whole new level of authenticity, whereby each customisation is planned keeping in mind the character and priorities of its future owner. The careful crafting of every masterpiece is given a final finishing touch with Rajputana inscriptions, that, according to Vijay is his personal exhibition of Rajput culture through what he is most passionate about — motorcycles.
Under Vijay’s unparalleled leadership, RCM is presently close to 4.5 lakh followers on Facebook and many more admirers offline. Looking back at his seven-year-old journey, Vijay shares some personal and professional insights with Rajputana Collective, all of which reverberate the power of following one’s passion and dreams.
Q. What sparked off your interest in motorbikes, their customisation and restoration?
A. Having grown up around bikes, I’ve always had an eye for them and having built my first bike from the ground up, there was no turning back. Our team at RCM strives to challenge ourselves with every project in hopes of getting better at the art of customisation and restoration.
Q. Amongst the various motorcycles that you have worked on, which has been your most challenging project?
A. ‘Jordaar’ was the first Harley Davidson we built from the ground up. We built a sleek stretched out frame to cradle an HD 883 engine at its heart. The bike also sports a one-off front linkage suspension, plenty of custom metal fab, massive 23 inch wheels, intricate koftgari, and damascus detailing. We had three months to build the bike for India Bike Week and given the amount of work involved we had bitten of more than we could chew but we worked around the clock and got the bike looking decent. Since then we have given ‘Jordaar’ a lot more TLC with time in hand and now she shines bright and stands strong.
Q. In your varied collection, which is your most favourite piece and why?
A. I really like my Second World War BSA M-20 called ‘Laado’. She’s olive green with big balloon tires and plenty of brass with black leather to go. Having been manufactured in 1942, riding ‘Laado’ on an easy Sunday with fairly empty roads is a pretty special feeling.
Q. Is there a particular motorbike outside your collection that you aspire to as your ‘dream vehicle’? If so, which one?
A. There’s no one motorcycle I can think of. They all have their special magic if you tap in.
Q. What is your least favourite aspect of motorcycle restoration?
A. The amount of time these things take (laughs).
Q. What is your opinion on present-day motorcycle customisation/ restoration in India?
A. It’s great to see so many people embracing motorcycling again and trying/refining their customisation/restoration skills.
Q. How would you recommend further diversifying India’s curation of motorbikes?
A. Over the last few years the Indian two-wheeler sector has been reforming rapidly, prospering, and getting more informed globally. Everyone in the Indian motorcycle industry should push down their path and further their skills if we are to have a truly diverse and rich motorcycle heritage.
Q. In what way does your vision take forward Rajputana customs? What are your future prospects?
A. We will always look to do new challenging things in this magical world of two-wheelers and as long as we have the drive to keep exploring, we will build, ride, and race these machines.
REMEMBERING HEMENDRA SINGH JI OF BANERA
From being the youngest MP to playing a match against a Wimbledon semi-finalist, Hemendra Singh Ji lived a life less ordinary.
Three months ago, I shared a vintage photograph on Instagram of Rajkumar Pratap Singh Ji of Banera along with his best friend, my great-grandfather Rawat Jai Singh Ji of Meja from their days at Mayo College, Ajmer. My caption read, “The foundation of the Banera-Meja bond which was laid by these two schoolboys more than a century ago strengthened further with the passage of time. Both their descendants Rajadhiraj Hemendra Singh Ji of Banera and Rawat Hamir Singh Ji of Meja shared such a unique camaraderie that the anecdotes of their exemplary friendship and innocuous one-upmanship continue to echo the social circles of Mewar even today.” I shared this post with Rajadhiraj and his generously worded appreciation was my last interaction with him. He passed away earlier this week on 31 May 2021.
Rajadhiraj Hemendra Singh Ji of Banera.
One of the most celebrated luminaries of Rajasthan, Rajadhiraj was born on 18 January 1946. He joined Mayo College in 1952 and went on to become the college monitor and captained several sports teams. A national-level tennis player, he is remembered by the game aficionados for playing a captivating match against the Wimbledon semi-finalist Ramanathan Krishnan during a national lawn-tennis championship at Jaipur in 1961.
Having lost his grandfather and father while he was still in school, he succeeded his great grandfather Rajadhiraj Amar Singh Ji to the throne in May 1967. His succession ceremony was exceptionally unique because the rulers of Banera having branched out directly from the first family of Mewar enjoy certain privileges that are not held by any other nobles of the region.
On succession to the ‘gaddi’ by a new Rajadhiraj, the Maharana of Mewar sends the ceremonial sword to Banera unlike in the case of all other nobles who have to go to Udaipur for their formal investiture. Abiding by this tradition, Maharana Bhagwat Singh Ji sent Rajpurohit Vishweshwar Nath Ji to Banera for the ‘talwarbandi’ ceremony. Following this ritual, Rajadhiraj headed to Udaipur and was received by Maharana Saab at Suraj Pole. This is another privilege exclusively granted to Banera where the Maharana steps out of his abode to receive the newly enthroned Rajadhiraj at one of the city gates.
Heading the esteemed house of Banera at the nascent age of twenty-one could have easily fuelled the arrogance of a young Rajadhiraj, but he shouldered his responsibility with the utmost dignity and relentlessly brought glory to his revered family name. Contesting the elections for the fifth Lok Sabha in 1971 from the Bhilwara constituency, he went on to create a record for being the youngest ever Member of Parliament in India.
Being the youngest parliamentarian did not deter him from courageously voicing his opinion on several important occasions. In December 1971 during the Indo-Pak war, Rajadhiraj was the first one to oppose the proposal of unilateral ceasefire during the initial stage. He was subsequently supported by stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and eventually by Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi herself. In 1973, he engaged in an impressive academic dialogue with the Union Minister of State for Education & Culture, Saiyid Nurul Hasan regarding the presentation of certain historical facts by the Indian Council of Historical Research. His views were later endorsed by renowned historians like Dr Raghuvir Singh Sitamau.
When Rajadhiraj became a member of the ninth Lok Sabha in 1989, he took everyone by surprise by taking his oath in the Sanskrit language. Impressed by this act, President of India R. Venkataraman presented him with a token of appreciation.
Rajadhiraj often shared interesting anecdotes from his political innings with us. One incident that comes to mind is from his first term in the Parliament when former President of India Pranab Mukherjee was a member of the Rajya Sabha. The two of them shared a passion for smoking pipes and often sat together in the Central Hall enjoying the flavoured tobacco that Rajadhiraj’s mother-in-law would send from Gujarat. Both of them also had a common penchant for Indian classical music and frequently attended recitals together.
Rajadhiraj’s deep-rooted interest in classical music, history and culture made him the appropriate choice for being in the executive committees of several socio-cultural organisations like the Jauhar Smriti Sansthan Chittorgarh, Maharana Kumbha Trust Bhilwara, and Akhil Bharatiya Mewar Kshatriya Mahasabha. A culture enthusiast at heart, he often joined us at Meja during the festival of Gangaur and participated in the local ‘gair’ dance with the village menfolk shedding all inhibitions about his social stature. He was always the crowd’s favourite!
My grandfather would often persuade Rajadhiraj into rendering classical songs and bhajans during intimate family gatherings. The two of them were best friends, but my grandfather being the older one always got his way. Rajadhiraj’s immense knowledge of classical music led to his deep friendship with the renowned maestro Pandit Jasraj and they engaged in lengthy discussions about bhakti ragas and shlokas on several occasions.
To the world, Rajadhiraj was a socio-political dignitary, but to me, he was ‘Banera Data’ who was the first person to reach my house with a bouquet when I scored a distinction in board exams. The one who sang a Ganesh bhajan to commence my wedding festivities. The one who showed up at Meja to commemorate my grandfather’s first death anniversary and stayed with us till the end of the day despite his hectic social calendar.
Last year, on the eve of his father’s 60th death anniversary, he had said, “I am going to observe maun (silence) till sunset tomorrow. I shall indulge in self-introspection as to whether I carried my duty sincerely all these years? Have I proved to be a worthy successor of Rajadhiraj Amar Singh Ji? Did I meet the expectations of the voters of the Bhilwara parliamentary constituency who elected me twice to the Lok Sabha? I could not utter a word that day because when Rajadhiraj spoke, we just listened. That was the respect he commanded. That was the respect he deserved. How I wish I had told him that day that your introspection is reflective of the enormity of your virtuous heart. They don’t make them like you anymore.
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