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The curious craft of cultivating cacti

How Raja Digvijay Singhji left a unique legacy in the quiet town of Sailana.

Jayathmika Lakshmi

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Photo Credit: Safed Haathi

Upon entering, the first thing one is mesmerised by is the unique Sailana Palace. The splendid structure with ornate marble jharoka’s, giant pillars, millennial pink veranda’s and Neo-mint green doors is a millennial instagrammer’s oasis. But a short walk past the royal residence and down a flight of stairs gives the first indication that there is something unusual about the place. Behind the palace is a world apart: Hundreds of varieties of prodigious, prickly and pleasing cacti.

 The celebrated cactus garden is a result of 40 years of love and diligent work by my grandfather in law, the late Raja Digvijay Singhji of Sailana. He began planning and working on the garden in 1950 and continued to care for it until his death in 1990. Today the garden, which is the oldest in Asia, has charmed visitors from across the world for decades.

My grandfather-in-law is fondly remembered by his family as someone who was a singularly gifted creative, cook and cacti cultivator. He was a practised painter, who was taught by renowned Bengal artists B.C. Gue in Mayo College and Ranada Ukil in Benaras University. He carried on the legacy of cooking left behind by his father late Raja Dilip Singhji, developing plenty of unique recipes in the kitchens of Sailana and later writing the acclaimed cookbook Cooking Delights of the Maharajas. Finally, he was an expert on plants and was a celebrated collector of cacti and roses.

Photo Credit: Sailana Palace

The cactus garden was planned on what was previously a tennis court and the grounds around it. These areas were landscaped into raised beds to bring in the desert-dwelling inhabitants from India as well as overseas. The low maintenance plants flourished exceedingly well in the Malwa plateau’s perfect black clay soil and many gradually grew to their full glory of 15-25 feet.

All sorts of otherworldly obtrusions, from monstrous pachycereus and sky-high saguaros to spiny, snake-like vines and big, blooming barrels, were curated into the space. During its peak, the garden had around 1,500 varieties of cactus and succulents, which is nearly half of the total number of species that exist.

The dedication by my grandfather-in-law to cultivate his backyard into such a peculiar garden soon became a way for him to share his passion with the rest of the world and opened the garden to the public in the late 1970s. While he had seen these prickly plants’ cool charm way before today’s lifestyle bloggers, back in the day it was unheard of to keep a cactus plant — let alone a collection — due to the negative beliefs that surrounded it.

 Hence the garden attracted hordes of visitors keen to see this one-of-a-kind space. A number of famous visitors included Indira Gandhi and Salim Ali. In 1984, it even featured in the film Jeene Nahi Doonga (1984) starring Dharmendra and Shatrugan Sinha. Soon it put the secluded and sleepy town of Sailana on the map, providing essential tourism to the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh.

But my grandfather-in-law began the cactus garden as a simple hobby and found happiness in something that enriched his life without any expectation of profiting from it. In doing so he left a unique legacy behind that his family carries forward today.

Jayathmika Lakshmi is the princess of Mysore and a graduate from the London School of Fashion.

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Royally Speaking

FORT TIJARA: A HERITAGE ART GALLERY WITH A MODERN TWIST

Neha Kirpal

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A comfortable drive of about an hour and a half from Gurugram, through the rustic countryside and the Aravalli mountain range, you suddenly come across the ramparts of an ancient 19th Century fort that majestically stands out above a semi-arid landscape that surrounds it. The latest property of the Neemrana group, the Tijara Fort Palace was bought by the group in 2003. Built in the Rajputana Afghanistan style of architecture, it was extensively restored for 13 years after which it finally opened its doors to guests in 2016.

In 1835, Maharaja Balwant Singh of Alwar laid the foundation stone of his dream project with master masons from Kabul and Delhi. He, however, passed away, leaving the revival of the medieval capital of Hasan Khan Mewati, incomplete. The nine-acre area of the property offers a lot of wide, open spaces for early morning jaunts and post-dinner strolls. Walking through perfectly manicured, seven-tiered hanging gardens laid out against the stunning ramparts of the quaint fort on a barren hill feels almost other-worldly.

The hotel has 71 suites and rooms, all named after the country’s leading painters, designers and aesthetes. A lot of thought, creativity and innovation have gone into the restoration and reinvention work, with each room having a different character. The rooms in the Rani Mahal wing enjoy a particularly splendid aerial view of the town’s green countryside — with papaya, banana and palm trees as well as yellow mustard fields below. Several artists, including Anjolie Ela Menon, Anju Dodiya and Laila Tyabji, also have original artworks that were specially created for Tijara. In 2010, Menon also put together a magnificent painting in the hotel’s lounge.

Similarly, the Mardana Mahal has original works by male artists such as Mukesh Sharma and Sanjay Bhattacharya. The Surya Mahal, for instance, has lampshades made of waste and cardboard with names of mango varieties written on them. The interiors of another beautiful room, John Mahal (named after John Bissell), have been put together by Fabindia, complete with curtains, lamps, tables, fridge boxes and mirrors. Another of the rooms has been designed jointly by Vadodara-based artist couple Nilima Sheikh and Gulam Mohammed Sheikh. Then there is the Amrita-Vivaan Mahal, having Amrita Sher-Gil’s famous 1935 painting called Three Girls. The room also has works by Sher-Gil’s artist nephew Vivan Sundaram.

Every evening at six, the hotel organises a conducted guided tour for guests. Every Saturday, there is also a gala dinner along with cultural performances. While the ‘non-hotel’ is already a popular weekend getaway for Delhiites, of late it has also become a favoured destination for hosting conferences, weddings and cocktail functions. Further, the huge swimming pool is a delight to splash about in. Sunken on a slope of the hill, it has some of the most spellbinding views. The poolside area also has a unique mango tree theme created out of the garbage by one of the artists. There’s also a lovely lotus pond by one of the dining areas as well as an outdoor play area for young guests. And in case all the walking around leaves you tired, you could head to the in-house spa and treat yourself to a 60-minute Signature Tijara massage that combines the best relaxing techniques from Swedish, Aromatherapy and Deep Tissue massages. It’ll leave you feeling brand new!

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul,’ an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. All her published work can be accessed on her blog www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com

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Royally Speaking

IT WAS AYODHYA’S HONOUR THAT IT HOSTED BEGUM AKHTAR’S ART: YATINDRA MISHRA

A celebrated Hindi poet, music and cinema scholar and also the prince of Ayodhya, Yatindra Mishra opened up about the recent translation of his book, ‘Akhtari: Soz Aur Saaz Ka Afsana’, based on the life, times, and music of Akhtari Bai Faizabadi aka Begum Akhtar, and more.

Anshu Khanna

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A celebrated Hindi Poet, Music and Cinema Scholar and also the prince of Ayodhya, Yatindra Mishra has four collections of poetry to his credit —Yada-Kada, Ayodhya Tatha Anya Kavitayein, Dyorhi Par Aalaap, and Vibhas. He has several well-received books on Indian Classical Music and cinema including Girija (Based on Thumri Singer Girija Devi), Devpriya (Dialogue with danseuse Sonal Mansingh), Sur Ki Baradari (Life & Times of Shehnai Maestro Bismillah Khan) and Akhtari: Soz Aur Saaz Ka Afsana (Based on Thumri and Ghazal Queen Begum Akhtar). He is the editor of a cultural gazetteer of Faizabad titled Shahernama Faizabad. His book Lata: Sur-Gatha (Musical Journey of legendary playback singer Lata Mangeshkar) won seven awards. He is currently working on a book on eminent lyricist, poet, and filmmaker Gulzar Saheb. An understated cultural aficionado, his works are linked to his inherited legacy in the richest, most seamless manner. Yatindra spoke to The Daily Guardian about the English translation of his book Akhtari the Life and Music of Begum Akhtar based on the life, times, and music of Akhtari Bai Faizabadi and more.

Yatindra Mishra

EXCERPTS:

Q. Can you share the famed legacy of music in Ayodhya?

A. My city Ayodhya is a Vaishnav city where there is a tradition of Madhuropasana or Ram Rasik Bhakti Tradition. Here the deity is revered by the devotee through music channelised by love and devotion. The pioneer of this tradition was the ancient saint Sant Kripa Niwas. 

Ayodhya is a complex blend of Ram bhakti, Nirguna Upasana, folk culture of Awadh, and snippets of musical heritage from the Ram Bhakti traditions of the South. It is visible in the path of Alwandar Strota where Shri and Narayan are worshipped. The city boasts of Ramleela Performances in fields (Maidani Ramleela) that bear the traces of Parsi theatre along with Ram Katha Gayan. Ram Katha Gayan is a major part of the theatrical musical legacy of the land. The winds carry hymns sung in temples all over the city, composed on a common beat and rhythm pattern following in the tradition of Saam Gaan from the Saam Veda. Saam Veda is the Veda is among the four holy books that deal with music. Over time, the city has also been touched with modernity and musical instruments like harmonium, tabla, dholak, manjeera and the live musicians have been replaced with records and tapes. It is common to hear Mukesh’s Ramcharitmanas, Hanuman Chalisa by Anoop Jalota and Hari Om Sharan being played in the temples. 

There have been many famed personalities who have graced the musical landscape of Ayodhya. Begum Akhtar, Swami Pagaldas, and a disciple of the renowned Mridangacharya Swami Bhagwan Das are noteworthy. Pandit Rasik Vihari Mishra ‘Kallu Maharaj’ and Bhagwat Kishor ‘Vyakul’ were great artists dedicated to their craft who did not get the fame they deserved. Pandit Dayashankar Mishra pioneered a rendition in bhajan and khayal gayaki  and established a new Gharana. 

My lovely grandmother Late Rajkumari Vimla Devi introduced me to the nuances of music. She was a trained semi-classical and folk singer and whose art remained unrecognised. She was trained under the tutelage of Pandit Ram Padarath Ji and also received training from Akhtar. Bhajans sang in her voice along with traditional folk songs in authentic Awadhi dialect like sohar, nakta, banna, and hori make up my fond memories. Ayodhya has a current of melancholy which is perceptible in the lilting Ramdhun that resonates in the city.

Q. Your book Akhtari relives the era of Begum Akhtar’s residency in Ayodhya. Explain the legacy?

A. The period from 1935 to 1945 was when Akhtar was making appearances in darbar and holding Khadi Mehfils (singing, dancing, and performing while standing). She performed in Ayodhya Darbar especially on Dussehra and Holi. This fact is further established by the works of historian Salim Kidwai that this was the time when she was holding Khadi Mehfils mainly in the Awadh Province. She mesmerised the elites and the common man alike with her aura as a diva. A white Mercedez Benz from Ayodhya Raj, under the then king Maharaja Jagdambika Pratap Narayan Singh, went to fetch her, bearing the number plate Ayodhya-126. By all records, it was her favourite and special attention was paid that this car remained in her attendance. Her visits and performances made up for interesting anecdotes that have been passed down to us from generations. Talking to my elders, I came to know that there was a fight amongst drivers as to who would go to receive her. Apart from her stardom, it was also because of her magnanimity as the driver in attendance got lavish tips, inams, and ikrams.

She sang a multitude of songs including sadra, mubarakbadi, thumri, kajri ghazal, holi and phaag ki thumri. My grandma mentioned her rendition of thumri Chala ho pardesiya naina lagaye, and  Holi ki thumri Daff kahe ko bajaye main toh aawat rahi  were something magical. She was fortunate enough to learn these from the great doyen. At that time, Akhtar graced the Royal Darbars of Kashmir, Reewa, Baroda, Darbhanga, and Rampur. The era dictated that the singer performing in the Baroda Darbar of Maharaj Sayajirao Rao Gaekwad III was listed as an A grade artist. It was a stamp of endorsement for any Bai ji or classical singer and in those times Akhtar was a prominent presence there. In these circumstances, it was an honour for Ayodhya that it hosted and revelled in her art. 

Q. Which is your favourite composition from her repertoire?

A. Picking a favourite amongst her songs is akin to say that Hazaron khwahishein aisi ki har khwahish par dum nikale. Each song, composition, and rendition pierces my heart in a new way. But if I have to pick a favourite I would go with Koyaliya mat kar pukaar, Nihure-nihure buhare, Jabse shaam sidhare, Kaun tarah se tum khelat holi, and Mori bali si umariya gaune ki aayi ratiya. Kaifi Azmi’s Aisa to zindagi mein kisi ki khalal pade, Sudarshan Fakir’s Kuchh toh duniya ki Inayaat ne dil tod diya, and Ahmad Jalili’s Ab chhalakate hue sagar nhin dekhe jate are perennial favourites in ghazal. The list will go on as the magic of the Akhtar unravels.

Q. What does music mean to you?

A. As a writer and poet, music is something inexplicable. It would be better if I said that what is inexplicable can only be explained through music. It touches on nuances, sentiments and meaning of the human life which were hitherto untouched. It calls out for something divine, the pukaar elevates the human experience. For me, music is suspended between being a solace and being sublime. I believe that if God exists, He can only be reached through music. It is not without reason that the last step of Navdha Bhakti culminates in musical offerings to God.

Q. How do you see the famed Ganga Jamuni culture of Avadh thriving in Ayodhya?

A. These are not just the cultural ethos of Ayodhya but the whole of India. The tradition of Nauha singing on Muharram is carried on with the same reverence and sanctity that is given to any other holy practice, Kabir the weaver is sung by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Meerabai’s padas by Ustad Faiyyaz Khan. I was captivated by Ustad Bismillah Khan’s spirit for his practice of playing sehra for Baba Vishwanath. Ayodhya is a living, breathing specimen of the same ethos. Muslims make up a major part of the Ram Leela performances in Mumtaz Nagar, a part of Ayodhya. We find soulful music emanating from the dargah of Hazrat Sheesh Paigambar and Argada Masjid in Ayodhya. Music talks of the shared divine, the shared bliss of harmony and melody. Various sects and regions too find their presence in Ayodhya with temples like Kale Raam Mandir. They carry on their respective musical and artistic traditions. 

Q. Did you relive a fine moment while penning the book on Lataji?

A. It was a journey in all sense. I understood that however cliché it must be, the journey is more rewarding than the destination. There were countless moments, some moments of pure awe where I stood star-struck, that I am talking to a legend who defined generations. I find myself extremely fortunate that in the process of writing this book I embarked on a journey to understand the musical and cultural topography of the Indian subcontinent. This quest to understand the music of the Indian diaspora has been incredibly enriching.

Q. Who are your favourite voices from Avadh? Share the legacy of words and verses of Avadh.

A. The most endearing ones are Arjoo Lakhnvi, Majaz Lakhnavi, Meer Anis — the king of Mersia and Khwaja Haider, Ali ‘Aatish’ Pandit Brijnarayn ‘Chakbast’ and Mohd. Rafi Sauda. The pioneers who have lifted Hindi poetry on their shoulders are Kunwar Narain, Raghuveer Sahay, Jaishankar Prasad, and Mahadevi Verma. Some eminent lyricists who always win over my heart are Shakeel Badayuni, Jaan Nisar Akhtar, Majrooh Sultanpuri, and Kaifi Azmi. 

Q. What are your views on the he fable of the Ayodhya Princess travelling to Korea and the link enjoyed between the two families?

A. Around two decades ago historians from Korea visited my home Rajsadan to meet my father Bimlendra Mohan Pratap Mishra. They had documents and historical and archaeological proofs stating that the clan mother of the Garak Clan was the princess of Ayodhya. Around 2,000 years ago, the king of Ayodhya had a dream that if he set his daughter to sail in a particular direction, it would result in her fortune. So he did as the divination dictated and Princess Suriratna set sail. At the same time, the King Kim Suro of Korea got a dream that to seek his fortune he should go in the direction in which the Princess was sailing. And on the consultation of his royal astrologers, he revered Princess Suriratna as an auspicious blessing and the two of them were married in a holy union. Thus she came to be known as Queen Huh. They had 10 sons, eight of whom became bhikkhus (Buddhist monks), one founded Japan, and one founded Korea. 

The Koreans pay homage to their Clan Mother, wherein the Garak Clan is the largest clan of Korea and has given the nation many leaders and visionaries. It was my father who pioneered the relation between Ayodhya and Korea. He went to great lengths to seal and honour the relationship at personal cost and effort. 

The Korean delegation comes every year for the past 20 years where they are hosted by the Royal Family of Ayodhya at their residence. There is an exchange of two cultures and their respective arts. It is a beautiful ceremony that could sustain itself because of my father’s efforts.

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Royally Speaking

The wine life with Radhika Puar

The Vitis vinifera grapes, when intermingled with a certain measure of yeast over a prolonged span of time, convert into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Different varieties of grapes and yeasts produce an exhaustive yet fascinating range of wines. Apart from these two factors, the terroir or the composite effect of environmental properties, such as the farming practices, climate, grape phenotype, condition the production process of wine. The biochemical development of grape from the fruit into a globally adored spirit is an art that is loved by many and impossible to ignore for those who bear the slightest immersion in the culinary world.

Within the spectrum of admiration, love and adoration for wine and wine-making, Radhika Puar stands in the last category. “I have always been fascinated by the tremendous variety available in wines. Different grape varieties and terroirs produce different kinds of wines. Some wines are sweet and some are dry. Some are light-bodied and some are full-bodied. There are Red, White and Rose’ wines. A great wine not only tastes good but is also an investment” the wine connoisseur narrates excitedly, in her opening sentences.

A graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Radhika spent a few years exploring the corporate sectors of the United Kingdom and India before she decided to exit the arena in pursuit of carving a niche for herself. She soon decided to combine her prior business skills from LSE with solid skills in wine by joining the Wine and Management Programme at France’s renowned Le Cordon Bleu. From then on, there was no looking back for Radhika, who is currently the owner of The Grape Vine, which is an India-based blog site that centres itself around wine, food and travel adventures. She also works in close association with the Ambassador of Champagne to India. At present, Radhika is steadily exploring options with the aim of starting her own entrepreneurial venture, whereby she is able to “encourage people to drink wine as a part of the enhanced food experience”.

In her career as a wine entrepreneur, Radhika has visited over 41 vineyards between the wine-expanses of France, India and Australia. “I am continually learning how different terroirs express themselves in wine,” she says. The young lady elaborates upon her comparative assessment of wine as a gourmet trend in Western Europe vis-a-vis India. She explains: “In parts of Europe, wine is considered an agricultural product. It is a healthier option to hard liquor However, in India, it is not considered an agricultural product, and the distinction between wine and hard liquor is not understood, which is unfortunate.” In the near future, she hopes to create ripples in Indian drinking culture by encouraging people to give up conventional drinking of hard liquor in exchange for a sophisticated and healthy glass of wine. Hence, not only does Radhika envision an India that adopts healthier drinking habits but one that is more conscious about the art of wine-making and the value behind its curation. The gradual ageing of this fruit spirit is known to increase its value in the wine market, hence making it a worthy investment in her views, as she had initially stated.

Choosing an alternative and lesser-known career has had its fair share of challenges for Radhika, all of which she embraces with due optimism and an evolved vision. “I face the same problems as any woman striking her own path. I find that it is still taboo for women to be involved in anything to do with alcohol in India. The lack of distinction between wine and hard liquor plays a big role in this”, comments the entrepreneur. However, having the unconditional support of her immediate family, as well as finding fulfilment in her career choice aid in keeping Radhika fully dedicated and passionate in her evolution as an upcoming professional in the wine industry. She concludes by saying, “As India grows and her economy grows further, Indians are travelling abroad and experiencing other cuisines and cultures. Awareness and interest in wine will only grow further, and returning Indians are likely to look for a taste of their foreign adventures in India.” It is within this market that Radhika hopes to make her mark in the years to come.

FOOD & WINE PAIRINGS

Radhika recommends these food & wine pairings:

• Smoked salmon with Champagne

• Danish blue cheese or Roquefort with Sauternes

• Rajasthani lal maas with Chateauneuf du Pape or a good quality new world Shiraz

• Goanese prawn curry with a good quality rosé or a late harvest Gerwurztraminer

MEMORABLE VINEYARD VISIT

“In the case of the Cognac Delamain, I was impressed by the enthusiasm and the affection the house owners had for the Cognacs they produced. The owners themselves showed us around and explained the process, and allowed us to experience on the nose their oldest cognacs straight from the barrel! The experience ended with a tasting of their Cognacs, and a souvenir which I have with me to this day. Why was I impressed? Because Cognac is made by double distilling wine and its ageing in oak barrels is counted in terms of decades rather than years (think closer to a half-century in barrel). Hence the business model and the vision of the business is extremely long term, and you have to have a lot of patience, perseverance, and a certain sense of detachment to put into production what you may or may not see through. It is an honour to work with what previous generations have put in place for you and a privilege to produce what coming generations will make use of,” says Radhika.

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT WINE

Here are some interesting facts about wine:

• Wine has always been associated with the landed nobility in Europe and is considered agricultural produce in France.

• In the past year, the change in wine index is 20% upwards as compared to diamonds and precious metals, which rose to a meagre 3%.

• In India, the production of wine dates back to as early as the 4th century BC.

• Grapes are not stomped underfoot as movies would have you believe it. Today wineries have hydraulic presses which do the job more efficiently.

• Champagne is the name of a region in France, as is Cognac. Sparkling wine from Champagne is called “Champagne”, and grape brandy produced in Cognac is called “Cognac”!

• Legally, if sparkling wine isn’t made in Champagne, it cannot be called “Champagne”! it would have to be called “Sparkling wine”.

• French wines have been associated with Indian Royalty for at the very least a century and a half.

• Cristal Champagne (Prestige Cuvee from the house of Louis Roederer) was first made for Czar Alexander the 2nd of Russia in 1876. The Czar was so paranoid against being assassinated that he insisted that the bottle be clear and transparent and not green (for fear of poisoning) and that there be no punt at the bottom of the Champagne bottle for fear that a bomb could be placed there.

Published

on

The Vitis vinifera grapes, when intermingled with a certain measure of yeast over a prolonged span of time, convert into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Different varieties of grapes and yeasts produce an exhaustive yet fascinating range of wines. Apart from these two factors, the terroir or the composite effect of environmental properties, such as the farming practices, climate, grape phenotype, condition the production process of wine. The biochemical development of grape from the fruit into a globally adored spirit is an art that is loved by many and impossible to ignore for those who bear the slightest immersion in the culinary world.

Within the spectrum of admiration, love and adoration for wine and wine-making, Radhika Puar stands in the last category. “I have always been fascinated by the tremendous variety available in wines. Different grape varieties and terroirs produce different kinds of wines. Some wines are sweet and some are dry. Some are light-bodied and some are full-bodied. There are Red, White and Rose’ wines. A great wine not only tastes good but is also an investment” the wine connoisseur narrates excitedly, in her opening sentences.

A graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Radhika spent a few years exploring the corporate sectors of the United Kingdom and India before she decided to exit the arena in pursuit of carving a niche for herself. She soon decided to combine her prior business skills from LSE with solid skills in wine by joining the Wine and Management Programme at France’s renowned Le Cordon Bleu. From then on, there was no looking back for Radhika, who is currently the owner of The Grape Vine, which is an India-based blog site that centres itself around wine, food and travel adventures. She also works in close association with the Ambassador of Champagne to India. At present, Radhika is steadily exploring options with the aim of starting her own entrepreneurial venture, whereby she is able to “encourage people to drink wine as a part of the enhanced food experience”.

In her career as a wine entrepreneur, Radhika has visited over 41 vineyards between the wine-expanses of France, India and Australia. “I am continually learning how different terroirs express themselves in wine,” she says. The young lady elaborates upon her comparative assessment of wine as a gourmet trend in Western Europe vis-a-vis India. She explains: “In parts of Europe, wine is considered an agricultural product. It is a healthier option to hard liquor However, in India, it is not considered an agricultural product, and the distinction between wine and hard liquor is not understood, which is unfortunate.” In the near future, she hopes to create ripples in Indian drinking culture by encouraging people to give up conventional drinking of hard liquor in exchange for a sophisticated and healthy glass of wine. Hence, not only does Radhika envision an India that adopts healthier drinking habits but one that is more conscious about the art of wine-making and the value behind its curation. The gradual ageing of this fruit spirit is known to increase its value in the wine market, hence making it a worthy investment in her views, as she had initially stated.

Choosing an alternative and lesser-known career has had its fair share of challenges for Radhika, all of which she embraces with due optimism and an evolved vision. “I face the same problems as any woman striking her own path. I find that it is still taboo for women to be involved in anything to do with alcohol in India. The lack of distinction between wine and hard liquor plays a big role in this”, comments the entrepreneur. However, having the unconditional support of her immediate family, as well as finding fulfilment in her career choice aid in keeping Radhika fully dedicated and passionate in her evolution as an upcoming professional in the wine industry. She concludes by saying, “As India grows and her economy grows further, Indians are travelling abroad and experiencing other cuisines and cultures. Awareness and interest in wine will only grow further, and returning Indians are likely to look for a taste of their foreign adventures in India.” It is within this market that Radhika hopes to make her mark in the years to come.

FOOD & WINE PAIRINGS

Radhika recommends these food & wine pairings:

• Smoked salmon with Champagne

• Danish blue cheese or Roquefort with Sauternes

• Rajasthani lal maas with Chateauneuf du Pape or a good quality new world Shiraz

• Goanese prawn curry with a good quality rosé or a late harvest Gerwurztraminer

MEMORABLE VINEYARD VISIT

“In the case of the Cognac Delamain, I was impressed by the enthusiasm and the affection the house owners had for the Cognacs they produced. The owners themselves showed us around and explained the process, and allowed us to experience on the nose their oldest cognacs straight from the barrel! The experience ended with a tasting of their Cognacs, and a souvenir which I have with me to this day. Why was I impressed? Because Cognac is made by double distilling wine and its ageing in oak barrels is counted in terms of decades rather than years (think closer to a half-century in barrel). Hence the business model and the vision of the business is extremely long term, and you have to have a lot of patience, perseverance, and a certain sense of detachment to put into production what you may or may not see through. It is an honour to work with what previous generations have put in place for you and a privilege to produce what coming generations will make use of,” says Radhika.

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT WINE

Here are some interesting facts about wine: 

• Wine has always been associated with the landed nobility in Europe and is considered agricultural produce in France.

• In the past year, the change in wine index is 20% upwards as compared to diamonds and precious metals, which rose to a meagre 3%.

• In India, the production of wine dates back to as early as the 4th century BC.

• Grapes are not stomped underfoot as movies would have you believe it. Today wineries have hydraulic presses which do the job more efficiently.

• Champagne is the name of a region in France, as is Cognac. Sparkling wine from Champagne is called “Champagne”, and grape brandy produced in Cognac is called “Cognac”!

• Legally, if sparkling wine isn’t made in Champagne, it cannot be called “Champagne”! it would have to be called “Sparkling wine”.

• French wines have been associated with Indian Royalty for at the very least a century and a half.

• Cristal Champagne (Prestige Cuvee from the house of Louis Roederer) was first made for Czar Alexander the 2nd of Russia in 1876. The Czar was so paranoid against being assassinated that he insisted that the bottle be clear and transparent and not green (for fear of poisoning) and that there be no punt at the bottom of the Champagne bottle for fear that a bomb could be placed there.

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Royally Speaking

CELEBRATING RATH YATRA WITH THE ROYALS OF ODISHA

As the Puri Rath Yatra remains a subtle affair this year, the royal families of Odisha reminisce about the glorious festivities of the pre-pandemic era.

Priyamvada Singh

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My earliest memories of the Rath Yatra take me back to childhood, when I watched the live telecast on Doordarshan each year, tucked cosily between my grandparents. The magnanimity of the chariot festival never ceased to amaze my curious little mind even after repeated views every twelve months. This annual tradition ended once I joined boarding school, but my interest in the festival renewed during my senior years when Kumari Divyajyoti Debi, the eldest daughter of Gajpati Maharaj Dibyasingha Deb of Puri joined my class. The two of us became good friends, and each time Divyajyoti shared some fascinating trivia about the Rath Yatra, I would tell her how keen I was to attend the festival at least once in my lifetime. Little did I know that I will land up getting married in Odisha one day, and the chariot festival will become an integral part of my life forever. 

Raja Jayant Mardaraj of Nilgiri during the ‘Chhera Pahara’ or Sweeping Ceremony.
Yuvraj Vijayendra Chandra Deb of Talcher during the ‘Netra Utsav’ Ceremony.
The Rath Yatra at Puri.
Raja Braj Keshari Deb of Aul during the Rath Yatra.
Raja Tribikram Chandra Deb and Rani Archana Kumari Devi of Baramba during the Yatra.

While the Rath Yatra of Puri is known all over the world, the festival is also celebrated in several other princely states across Odisha with equal gusto and gaiety. The construction of chariots begins on the auspicious day of ‘Akshaya Tritiya’ for the annual sojourn of the holy trinity. “Lord Jagannath›s chariot is called Nandighosa, the chariot of Lord Balabhadra is called Taladhwaja and that of Goddess Subhadra is called Dwarpadalana,” shares Raja Rajendra Chandra Deb of Talcher. “Even though most of the measurements are done traditionally using hand and finger lengths, it is fascinating to observe the design and dimensions of the chariots that always remain consistent.” 

It is interesting to note how the royal families of Talcher and Dhenkanal share a centuries-old connection with the chariots of Puri. Historian Hermann Kulke has mentioned in the Art and Archaeological Research Papers (London – Volume XVI) how “the iron, necessary for the construction of the chariots was procured from the feudatory Rajas of Dhenkanal and Talcher in 1744, and a royal order was issued to the temple officers of Puri to send mahaprasada to both the Rajas for generously supplying the iron ore for the chariots.” 

The festivities leading up to the Rath Yatra begin on ‘Devasnana Poornima’ when Lord Jagannath is unable to bear the heat of the scorching summer and steps out with his siblings for a bath. Explaining this ritual, Raja Tribikram Chandra Deb of Baramba says, “The deities are brought out with a lot of pomp and show to the ‘Snana Mandap’ and bathed with a hundred and eight pots of cold water. After this royal bath ceremony, the trinity falls ill and quarantines themselves away from the public view for a fortnight.” This period is known as the ‘Anasara’. Once the deities recover from illness, fresh eyes are painted on the idols during ‘Netra Utsav’, marking the beginning of the Rath Yatra.

The most significant ritual associated with the first day of the Yatra is the ‘Chhera Pahara’, where the Rajas act as attendants of the Lord and sweep the Rath. Throwing light upon this ritual, Raja Braj Keshari Deb of Aul says, “The sweeping ceremony reflects the idea of equalisation. Under the lordship of Jagannath Mahaprabhu, there is no distinction between a powerful sovereign and a humble devotee. Hence, the ruler becomes the sevak for one day in a year.” A unique feature about the Jagannath idol at Aul is that it is made of a single piece of muguni stone unlike the idols everywhere else which are made of wood, cloth and resin.

While all three idols reside in the temple in most princely states including Puri, Dhenkanal holds a unique distinction where the idol of Lord Balbhadra resides permanently in the palace. Yuvrani Meenal Jhala Singh Deo shares, “Lord Balbhadra’s idol proceeds for the Rath Yatra from the palace premises with incredible festive fervour, and he is later joined by Lord Jagannath’s idol en-route to the Rath. Hundreds of devotees pull the ropes of the chariots making it an inspiring display of enthusiasm and devotion.” The chariot journey is completed by reaching the Gundicha Temple, considered to be the home of the trinity’s maternal aunt.” 

Lord Jagannath is dressed in the form of the revered nine avatars like Narsimha, Vamana, Parshuram, and Rama during his stay at the Gundicha Temple. Raja Jayant Mardaraj of Nilgiri narrates an interesting ritual from this phase: “It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi gets upset with her husband Lord Jagannath for having left her behind and comes looking for him at his aunt’s place. This day is known as ‘Hera Panchami’, where hera signifies to look for. Goddess Lakshmi requests the Lord to return to their abode and he gives his consent in the form of a garland. On this day, the Lord is dressed in the Lakshmi Narayan avatar to celebrate his conjugal bliss with his consort.”  

After residing at the Gundicha Temple for a week, the trinity begins their return journey known as the ‘Bahuda Yatra’. Explaining the culmination ceremony, Yuvraj Vijayendra Chandra Deb of Talcher says, “Once the deities arrive at their temple, they continue to remain in the chariot for a day and don the ‘Suna Bhesha’, where they are dressed in elaborate gold fineries. Considered to be their most opulent avatar, this stunning spectacle draws pouring crowds of devotees. The deities finally enter the temple the next day amidst mystical chanting of mantras and reverberating sounds of conch shells, ending the Rath Yatra on a high note.” 

The Rath Yatra is one of the first non-Vedic festivals devised with the idea to unite different communities irrespective of their caste, creed or social strata. From finding mention in ancient scriptures like the Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, Skanda Purana, and Kapila Samhita, to becoming an important celebration across the globe in places like London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Toronto, Nairobi, Melbourne, and New York, the Rath Yatra has established its footprints across the sand of time. 

As for me, Lord Jaganath has always appealed to my spiritual senses since childhood because of his human-like attributes. He plays with his siblings Lord Balbhadra and Devi Subhadra, falls sick after bathing in cold water, argues with his spouse Goddess Lakshmi over trivial issues, and most of all, his bodily imperfection is what makes him so realistic and approachable. He is God, of course, but more than that, he is like a friend, invoking a sakha-bhaav or devotion through the emotion of friendship.  

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Star statesman: A personal tribute to late Raja Virbhadra Singh of Rampur Bushahr

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On 8 July 2021, Himachal Pradesh and the rest of India awoke to a day of mourning. Their ever-reigning Raja Virbhadra Singh of Rampur Bushahr was no more. At 87, the star statesman and political veteran of unparalleled stature had succumbed to a cardiac arrest post his second battle with coronavirus.

Startled by the tragic news, I was almost instantaneously thrown back to the various flashbacks of my childhood, when my family visited the man they most admired at his Simla-based Holly Lodge. The ever-green exemplar of chivalry, humility and selfless service, his poised image as he sat reclined on his living room chair adorning a Rampuri cap shall continue to remain entrenched in my memory. Grateful to have been blessed by him during my visit to Simla exactly two years ago, I shall forever regard the late Raja Sahib as a bastion of a bygone era, and this humble piece is my own tribute to the true exemplar and legend, who now rests in peace. 

Born on 23 June 1934, Himachal’s Raja Sahib stood out from within the Indian National Congress as its most significant Himachali leader. A noticeable presence at the Lok Sabha from 1962 to 1971, Raja Sahib made two more returns in 1980 and 2009. In 1983, he was elected for his first term as Himachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister and has served a sum total of six successful terms. Raja Virbhadra Singhji has departed as the state’s longest-serving Chief Minister with legendary triumphs at the poll booths of Jubbal, Kothkai, Rohroo and Shimla (rural). 

An alumnus of Simla’s Bishop Cotton School and St Stephen’s College, Delhi, Raja Sahib was a scholar of liberal arts and took keen interest in literature and diplomatic relations. In his lifetime, he presided over the Sanskrit Sahitya Sammelan and Himachal’s branch of the Friends of the Soviet Union. In fact, his diplomatic skills earned him a membership in the Indian Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 1976. From the mid seventies onwards, he held prominent ministerial and deputy ministerial portfolios, namely those of civil aviation, industries, steel and MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises).

As is the case with any odyssey, Raja Sahib’s journey too met with its fair share of hurdles. The tumultuous years from 2009 to 2012 in specific spelled numerous cases of political vendetta for him and his family, but before the end of 2012, Raja Sahib and his wife, Rani Pratibha Kumariji had been acquitted by the court on the very eve of him being sworn in as Himachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister for the sixth and last time. The political mudslinging ensued even after 2012, but Raja Sahib valiantly treaded on. 

His unmissable political legacy notwithstanding, Raja Sahib was also the patriarchal head of one of the oldest princely hill states of modern-day Himachal Pradesh. Believed to have been founded by Lord Krishna’s son Pradhumna, Rampur Bushahr was amongst Himachal’s wealthiest princely states, and bore immense geopolitical significance for sharing its borders with Tibet, Spiti and Punjab. Dynastically aligned to the Bhatis, the late Raja Sahib and his son, Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh constitute the very few remaining Rajput families of uninterrupted, direct descent, which essentially points to an absence of adoptions or brotherly feuds having prevailed in the long history of the state. 

Today, Raja Sahib’s 87 year-old legacy, and Rampur Bushahr’s centuries-old legacy lives on through its now Rajmata Sahiba and his many children, each of whom has gained prominence in their own field of expertise. One of his daughters, Abhilasha Kumari has made her mark amongst the Indian judicial system’s pioneering female justices, and Vikramaditya Singh himself has emerged as a young and promising legislator in Himachal Pradesh’s Assembly, where he represents the Simla (rural) constituency.

Clearly, Vikramaditya has big shoes to fill, and his doted flanking of the late Raja Sahib during their various public appearances in the past only went on to highlight his sheer admiration and adoration for his father. May the entire Rampur Bushahr family find the strength and resilience to endure this tragic loss, while I and the rest of the country mourn the setting of our ever-shining, ever merciful and largesse-drenched sun.

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Royally Speaking

WHERE TRADITION MEETS SPLENDOUR: INSIDE THE ROYAL MARATHA WEDDING

WHERE TRADITION MEETS SPLENDOUR: INSIDE THE ROYAL MARATHA WEDDING

SAMARJIT MAHURKAR

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Indian royalty has always been known for its lavish splendour. Sardar Kumar Daulat Mahadik, son of Sardar Yashwantrao Mahadik of Gwalior state, tied the knot with Sau. Chi. Kan. Kirtiraj, daughter of Sardar Shrimant Sharadrao Chavan Himmat Bahadur, a prominent family in the Nagpur state.

Ambika Raje Ghorpade Sandur with lady Uma Devi Raje Jadhav.Groom and bride.Sardar Yashwant Rao Mahadik and Vrushali Raje Madaik with Rajamata Gayatri Raje Puar.The Mahurkars with Yuvraj Divyaraj Singh of Rewa.Sardar Vikramaditya Phalke with the groom and HH Maharaj Vikramsinh Puar of Dewas.

Mahadik comes from a leading Sardar family of Gwalior. The marriage was a holy union of two souls and their noble families. The wedding, which was held on 4 July, turned out to be a meeting place for premier royal and Maratha Sardar families across India. Among those who attended were Karthik Raje and Ambika Raje of Sandur and Yuvraj Sri Divyaraj Singh of Rewa.

The Gwalior state once boasted of some of the biggest Sardars (Jagirdars) in India during the princely era. Prominent Maratha nobilities which attended the wedding were Sardar families of Gwalior including Phalke, Bhonsle, Patankar, Mahurkar, Kadam, Gujar and Awad, besides members of prominent Sardar families of Maharashtra including Naik Nimbalkar of Phaltan and Bhope Kadam of Kolhapur and royal family of Dewas, Madhya Pradesh.

The centuries-old wedding traditions involving the Sardar families took place at Taj Usha Kiran Palace, a heritage hotel and the former annexe of Scindia dynasty’s Jai Vilas Palace.

The guests witnessed the elaborate ceremony which was followed by a reception. The festivities began with a Grand Haldi Ceremony in which the groom was most elaborately dressed in the royal Maratha jari Angrakha and the stylish Gwalior pagri; he was greeted by the bride’s family with gifts, the festivities winding up with a reception on the second day.

At the wedding, the bride was welcomed with flowers and diya aarti by Dr Anushkaraje Mahadik and Princess Kanika Raje Puar, the sisters-in-law.

The wedding ceremony began with the Maratha Mangalashtak ritual in which the couple facing each other with a muslin cloth in between took the wedding vows amid mantras and shlokas chanted by the pandits. According to the unique Maratha customs, the groom’s mother had to keep away from the Mangalashtak ceremony.

The royal wedding celebrations were spread over two days, with the Haldi and Cocktails on 3 July, and a Maratha-style Kelwan, a traditional sit down luncheon in ornate silver cutlery. All the celebrations were held at Taj Usha Kiran Palace. Sardar Yashwantrao Mahadik (father of the groom) is a seasoned global HR professional with over 29 years of experience in top-notch multinational corporations. He is also an avid wildlife photographer with a captivating collection of pictures.

The Maratha women in the wedding wore the most spectacular Chanderi and Maheshwari sarees that were immortalised by royal Maratha figures like Rani Ahilyabai Holkar and Maharani Chimnabai of Baroda. The men wore pagris, made from stretched and starched Chanderi, the pugri of one state being unique from the other. They wore royal angarkhas, resplendent with regal and precious buttons. I had the great fortune of attending this wedding.

The Sardar Mahadik clan had played a significant role in establishing Maratha power in north India under the great Mahadji Scindia. Along with other Sardar families including Sardar Mahurkar family, it played a pivotal role in tracking down and then punishing the barbaric Rohilla chief Glulam Kadir who had gorged out the eyes of Mughal emperor Shah Alam-II with horrid cruelty in 1788.

The Himmat Bahadur Chavan clan is also a premier Maratha clan of Maharashtra whose ancestors had fought relentlessly against Aurangzeb after Chhatrapati Shivaji’s demise and ultimately helped in reducing the Mughal power and holding the Maratha flag aloft in the southern India

Even today the Marathas are known for their rooted and resplendent medieval traditions.

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