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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

When culture is not bound by boundaries

In 2015, Indian news channels were rife with the ‘cross-border Royal wedding’ between Amarkot (Pakistan) and Kanota (India). Kunwar Karni Singh, the 27th scion of Amarkot’s Sodha dynasty, was tying the knot with Kanota’s Rajkumari Padmini Singh Rathore. Known to have ushered the first tika and lagan ceremonies from India to Pakistan in the nations’ seventy years of Independence, the iconic wedlock between the two families was carried out in a wedding ceremony wherein not only two erstwhile princely states, but two erstwhile unified countries came together in merriment.

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Given the paradoxes that surround us in present times such as the coexistence of globalisation and ethnocentrism; and diversity and polarisation, the house of Amarkot serves a peculiar mediation of culture across one of the world’s most contested borders. I am joined by its daughter-in-law, Padmini and princesses—Deval, Aparajita and Mahalaxmi Sodha—to discuss their embodiment of transnational diversity, and how it impacts their identity and sense of belonging. The three sisters have been married into India’s houses of Auwa, Awagarh and Balrampur respectively. 

The youngest of the lot, Mahalaxmi begins by introducing Amarkot’s relegation in Pakistan as a result of deliberated sentiments. “In 1947 when Hindus from Sindh were migrating, my grandmother, Rajmata Dev Kunwar was unwilling to part from her roots and chose to stay back. Seeing her, the majority of the Hindus also changed their mind and stayed back. Then, it was the Muslims who stood by the family to protect them from harm’s way”. This sentimental account is topped by her older sister Deval: “You can take a Sodha out of the desert, but you can’t take the desert out of the Sodha.” 

Despite hailing from a conservative family, the present-day Sodha patriarch Rana Hamir Singhji kept up with the times when it came to bringing up his daughters. Both Deval and Aparajita pursued their schooling in Rajashtan’s Mayo College Girls’ School while their younger sister Mahalaxmi went to a leading convent school in Karachi. Having spent the most amount of time in Pakistan amongst all three sisters, Mahalaxmi sums up a concise narration of her sentiments. “Pakistan is my motherland, it will always hold a special place in my heart. I am proud to be born in a country whose people in general are very liberal in their thinking and beliefs. Women are safe; and although an Islamic Republic, the people of Pakistan are free to openly practice their religion. We took part in Muslim festivals such as Eid and our Muslim friends were part of our festivals such as Holi and Diwali. The food is exceptionally good and people are very welcoming and hospitable, which compels one to visit again and again. Be it joy or sorrow, Hindus and Muslims stand together.”

The three girls fondly recollect their childhood memories. “When I look back now, I can say my childhood is what any child would dream of. I had the best of both worlds, as my grandfather and father were prominent political figures, we got to be a part of the city (Karachi) and yet go back to the village as and when we wished”, Aparajita says jovially. This much-needed exposure notwithstanding, she lays emphasis on being conditioned around their arranged marriages to a Rajput, and the inevitable geographical displacement implied therewith. She states her own example of a transnational matrimonial alliance with many nuances, “After marriage whether one is in India, the US or Pakistan, they are bound to face challenges and changes. Marrying in the same community comes with the particular advantage of one not having to go through drastic measures of adjustment. Changes are weather, food, clothes, making new contacts. Other than that, it’s just a new home with new faces.” Predictably, this statement could arouse an interesting debate with married women taking varied stances based on their lived experiences. 

Regardless of the numerous variables and experiences around matrimony, one can safely admit to married women being important mediators of culture. The realms that a married woman domesticates become an interestingly complex area of cultural fusion, one in which traditional interactions multiply and evolve. In this equation there lies a delicate balance that Deval elaborates on. “It is important for a girl to retain her roots and cultural heritage as that is her identity. However, it is equally important for her to have an open mind to imbibe the culture and heritage of the family that she marries into.” Aprajita adds, “Retaining one’s roots and cultural heritage is as important as knowing one’s parents and identifying with them. I feel there should not be any difference of thought towards a son or daughter. Since they both need to be versed with that knowledge to be able to let the coming generation know and make others aware of where s/he comes from.” 

The ongoing discussion becomes all the more complex and interesting when Padmini’s viewpoints are factored in. The outdoorsy lover of sports and erstwhile national-level cricketer spent her childhood in Jaipur lest knowing her destiny lay in marrying the eligible Sodha prince and settling down in Sindh. Bright, vivacious and full-of-life, Padmini comments, “Maintaining culture and heritage differs for a boy and a girl. I believe it is a little easier for the boy as he has to maintain or carry on the culture in his own family where he has been brought up and lived for all his life. On the other hand, the girl has to do so in a family in which she hasn’t been brought up. She also has to bring up her children and instill in them the culture and tradition of the family that she has been married into.” 

Having undergone a significant plunge in terms of localities, Padmini is bound to miss her home, her loved ones, the food, festivals and childhood memories, just as the Amarkot sisters do. However, their nostalgia is punctuated by a convergence on the understanding of one’s matribhoomi or motherland. The vivid similarities on either sides of the border starkly highlight how much more similar Indians and Pakistanis are to one another than we understand them to be.

“Now that I have been living in Pakistan for five years, it is sad to see people of the same colour and race have so much confusion and misunderstanding between one another. There are helpful, strong, good and bad people on both sides. People drink tea and suffer from corruption on either sides. We look similar, we share the same level of cricketing passion, we have lots in common. India has Dhinchak Pooja and Pakistan has Tahir Shah. For the past seventy years, our countries could not establish peace with each other, and yet, we share a Nobel prize for peace”, exclaims Padmini.

Similarly, Maha draws parallels between the cities of Karachi and Lucknow, on how either of the cities made her feel closely familiar as did the other. Deval provided a fitting closing statement on the topic, “Historically, we’re all the same people. What is now referred to as a cross-border alliance is something that was very normal. Countries may have been formed and borders created but ties that have been there for over a millennium will not be so easy to sever!” 

Like their older sister, Aprajita and Maha are firm believers of cultures cutting across borders. In Aprajita’s words, “Cultures don’t see boundaries and are spread not only within a certain periphery but wherever one goes.”

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Decoding Victorian costumes in India

Anshu Khanna

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The influence of Victorian costuming is evident in many silhouettes adapted by the Indian princely states during the Raj era. From the mandatory gloves which had to be worn, while offering courtesy to the visiting monarch during the Delhi Durbar, to the long overcoats, embellished and embroidered in gold and worn over breeches and sharp pants, the Maharajas adapted their dress style immensely in the company of the British viceroys and Brigadiers.

The women too were not left far behind. Especially those from the hill kingdoms of Punjab and Kashmir who were often seen wearing gownesque silhouettes over their salwar like pants. Or the Ranas of Nepal who wore tiaras over their asymmetrical wedding gowns.

However, if there is one costume that both men and women happily adopted it is the cape, possibly the strongest symbol of Victorian dressing. Founded simply as a round piece of cloth, capes evolved into more complex styles that demanded tailoring and intricate stitching. Their many iterations were used to signify rank or occupation. The British royal’s capes were double-stitched, fur-trimmed and made from velvet, silk, or satin. Interestingly, capes in scarlet red epitomised good breeding and high standing in society. And the ultimate in capes are the ones worn by Queen Elizabeth, who really knows how to wear one with style!

Back home in India, the capes as a sartorial style statement remained at the heart of royal dressing, right through the Raj only to remain long forgotten till the legendary costumer Umang Hutheesing fetched them out of the Hutheesing costume collection, reviving them for posterity. It is singularly his contribution of bringing the cape back into vogue. The Hutheesing capes are cordon bleu, reminiscent of the Raj and a symbol of utmost regalia. Many have found their way into museum shows like the one held with the Al Thani jewels in Bahrain. Or the show he presented with the YSL trust in Paris. Or at the Baroque Museum in Mexico where he held a solo show titled The Baroque Maharaja.

Another royal, Rani Jaykirti Singh from Baria too should be applauded for adding the cape, created in rich velvet, to dressing royal in this era. It is to her atelier that many young royal Rajput women rush to refurbish, revive and restyle their vintage capes. Or simply creating a remake. Giving her capes a simpler, wearable form, Jaykirti, every winter rustles up a complete range in stately black, festive maroon and rich blue. Three universal colours that can be worn over pants, saris, skirts and gowns.

A couturier who imbibes vintage designs especially Victorian with immense élan, designer Rohit Bal has presented some stunning capes on the ramp. Drenched in the richness of Victorian embroidery, his ubiquitous rose render to his black velvet capes exuding an air of regal richness.

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Royally Speaking

A LEGACY KEEPER WHO IS WEAVING TOGETHER PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

With a treasure trove of royal influences and a zest for reviving heritage styles, Kunwarani Ritu Sinh’s brand of festive wear is tailored for the modern era.

Anshu Khanna

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A quiet worker, a born stylista, an former supermodel and daughter-in-law of the Wankaner royal family, Kunwarani Ritu Sinh can be best defined as a firebrand with the zest to go beyond the brief of life and achieve something on her own steam. A craft curator who has lived, worked with and experienced fashion of the finest quality, Ritu is also a legacy keeper, who decided to revive the traditional forms of costumes worn at celebrations by the erstwhile royals.

Ritu Sinh is a self-made design professional, who creates a complete festive line under her brand, Kanwarani Ritu, which is widely worn and patronized by Bollywood divas like Karishma and Kareena Kapoor, Malaika Arora, Jahnvi Kapoor and Sara Ali Khan. Her collection of aabhas, angrakhas, chaniya cholis and farshis are made out of the finest block-printed cottons, created by a cluster of artisans based in Rajasthan. To that, she adds a touch of festivity, embroidering them with gota patti and embellishing each piece with exciting tassels, bells and baubles.

Ritu has been privy to the finest royal influences from every side. Her mother-in-law is one of the six daughters of the dynamic leader, the late Maharaja Dinesh Singh of Kala Kankar. Among the rich costumes worn by all her aunts, uncles and grandaunts, Ritu finds an entire universe of inspiration. «The Indian royal women wear their chiffon saris with the utmost elan. They often couple their saris, mostly floral or embellished with woven borders, with sharp jackets crafted from the finest of silks, fully embroidered and embellished. My journey with design started with the reviving of these jackets. However, I soon discovered and fell in love with the poetry-like flow of the poshak, especially the ones worn by women of the hill kingdom. My collection is an ode to this heritage silhouette,” says Ritu.

Full of beans and very verbose, Ritu found her feet first through the one forum that most young, design-oriented blue-blooded women patronize: Royal Fables. Her first stint as a revivalist was when she went with a group of royals to Thailand, where Royal Fables had been invited to showcase as part of the Incredible India Festival. Her gota patti stationery, tiny potlis, handmade knick knacks reverberated the beauty of Gujarat and were an instant sell out. Overnight, the reticent bahu found her entrepreneurial abilities and her zen for design, and the rest is history.

Kanwarani Ritu, the brand, tries to create festive collections that are «easy, breezy, boho and chic”. “I feel that women need to dress down a bit and allow their inner light to shine through,» says Ritu. From pleasing pastels to feisty reds, from fully embellished aabhas, to delicately detailed dhoti pants, the brand is a dream for those who want to look their celebratory best, without getting confused for a Christmas tree.

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Polo factory: A new legacy of Indian polo

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The Polo Factory

Their mutual adoration for horses brought two friends together during their school days in Mayo College. Theirs was amongst the few premier schools of the country that offered its students the liberty of picking up dressage and polo in the early and formative years. Furthermore, their Rajput descent ensured their inheritance of a rich ancestral history, wherein bards of courageous war horses was a commonality. Over time, the duo observed a general absence in high-quality manufacturing of polo equipment in India. This seemed strange indeed, given that India’s age-old equestrian legacy. However, it was time to change this by making a breakthrough into India’s lacking polo manufacturing infrastructure. What thus began as an entrepreneurial opportunity evolved into what is today known as Polofactory.

Established in 2012 by childhood buddies Jai Sirmathura and Vikramaditya Barkana, Polofactory began as a direct supplier of polo equipment to ten clients. Polofactory’s first success story followed the launch of their signature product- the Polo Saddle. Made with the finest quality leather and artisanal craftsmanship, this saddle was designed to enhance the rider’s performance. The response that Jai and Vikramaditya received was truly overwhelming, it took the market by storm and became Polofactory’s success symbol for its unmatched emphasis on bespoke quality. There was no looking back hereafter.

Jai Sirmathura and Vikramaditya Barkana.

Eight years down the line, Polofactory has expanded its presence as a supplier to over 700 horses, 200 polo players and in all, 12 countries worldwide. Their newest addition to their ever-expanding range of high quality polo gear is the LSR Polo Saddle, designed exclusively for Polofactory by Thakur Lokendra Singh Rathore of Ghanerao. “Its unique design brings the best out of an all purpose saddle-a versatile and popular choice for country riding, jumping and flat work as compared to our quintessential Polo Saddle, which is designed more specifically for a fast-paced mounted game. Seats and flaps are very different on these two kinds of saddles. The LSR saddle emerges out of a hybridised design in accordance with what the legendary player calls a perfect saddle.

Their commendable job with saddles notwithstanding, it is worth noting that Polofactory has expanded their nature of products beyond a purely equestrian sports clientele. Instead, their fashion and lifestyle merchandise makes Polofactory India’s foremost brand to have introduced the spirit of polo through commercial merchandise. Now, the celebration of one’s love for horses is no longer restricted to the polo-playing or dressage-performing elite. An iconic piece in this regard would be the cotton block printed pony shirt, which can easily be discerned from afar. It cleverly blends equestrian motifs with the popular textile trend of Rajasthan and enables the debonair polo enthusiast to don India’s age-old relationship with horses.

True to its original vision, Polofactory continues to strive towards becoming the topmost globally-recognised brand in their field. In the words of its two founders,

“We intend to emphasise more on direct retail, online and offline, and eventually distribute as a mono brand concept store that works on the franchise model. Such stores would be one-stop shops for the best in polo equipment, services and fashion. On the polo front we want to collaborate, provide, support and co-brand with the biggest polo events in the world”

 Their brand’s philanthropic arm, known as ‘People for Horses’ is an NGO dedicated to the welfare of horses. Moreover, their long-awaited dream of creating another green polo ground in Jaipur has thus materialised after two years of perseverance. It is known as the Polofactory Polo Club.

Polofactory’s success story  leaves little doubt about the fact that Jai and Vikramaditya’s passion for horses goes above and beyond the commercial picture. It conveys the power in purposefully retaining vintage aesthetics and philanthropy. Their sincere dedication to traditional artisanal techniques and inventive collaboration has paved a new path for aspiring entrepreneurs to derive inspiration from. Many who have availed their services would agree that Polofactory is a living example of the idea that with the right concept and execution skills, one’s love for an age-old sport can enrich it in myriad ways. High quality revival and promotion of the sport can lead to the creation of a lifestyle interest that works towards the greater good of the rider, as well as his steed.

The author is a writer, blogger and Editor-in-Chief of Rajputana Collective.

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Royally Speaking

PRINCE, PATRON AND PATRIARCH

An insider’s perspective of the magnificent Jagatjit Palace.

Anshu Khanna

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A book reminiscing the iconic life of the last ruling Maharaja of Kapurthala, HH Maharaja Jagatjit Singh, authored by his grandson, Brigadier HH Sukhjit Singh, and historian Cynthia Meera Frederick captures the life of this truly evolved monarch. The Daily Guardian catches up with the co-author, who talks of how the book is “a very intense, heartfelt account of a grandfather who HH had a special bond with”.

In the book HH Sukhjit Singh and Cynthia talk of the stunning palace built by the king which was often called The Versailles of the East, of the splendid Chateaux built for his summer vacations in Mussoorie and the ornate mausoleum he built as a symbol of the secularism that his rule was famous for.

Among the assemblage of ruling Indian princes, perhaps no other continues to fascinate, inspire, and awe more than Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala (1872–1949), a remarkable ruler whose reign was a period of eminence, culture, expanding horizons and notable public service. The grandson remembers: “I often sat in on meetings with officials and others who came to call on him on matters concerning the administration of the state. I avowedly preferred to be outside with my pets or other youthful activities, but now I realize only in hindsight his enormous effort to pass on his vast experience. He was endowed with a percipience of vision, extreme clarity of thought and a compassion for putting people of all levels of society completely at ease.”

Cynthia Meera Frederick with Brigadier HH Sukhjit Singh.
Decorations and medals
Maharaja Jagajit Singh
The dining hall
The palace

A ruler of exceptionally cultivated tastes, Maharaja Jagatjit Singh was renowned for the munificence and opulence of his domains and the material culture pertaining to his life—all of which splendidly came together in the Jagatjit Singh Palace. An excerpt from the bestseller with special focus on the splendid Jagatjit Palace that still stands tall in the culture rich city of Kapurthala:

‘This Versailles of the East is in reality the embodied expression of the attachment His Highness the Maharaja bears to French civilization, culture and art.’

The apotheosis of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh’s architectural and aesthetic vision was the creation of the fabled Jagatjit Palace. A majestic edifice inspired by the French royal abodes of the Palace of Versailles and Château Fontainebleau, it was deemed the jewel of Kapurthala and remained the Maharaja’s lifelong pride and joy.

His dream of creating a truly authentic palace in the French order was realized by the Paris-based architectural firm, Marcel et Boyer, whose partners were trained at the renowned École des Beaux-Arts. The Maharaja explains his decision:

‘You know how devoted I am to French art in all its forms. To me, French art stands for delicacy, elegance and above all for harmony. …That will explain to you why, in 1900, when I was anxious to build in my capital a Palace in European-style, I did not hesitate to give the preference to your art and your artists. The plans for my palace were, in fact, drawn up by two of your countrymen MM Alexandre Marcel and Paul Boyer.’

The Maharaja apparently met the duo during the Paris Exposition Universelle in September 1900 (a World Fair where Marcel designed several structural exhibits, including the Cambodian and Spanish Pavilions). Around this period, he begins to mention in his diaries discussions for plans for the new palace, citing ‘Messrs Marcel and Boyer architects have made very good palace plans’.The actual construction began in 1902 and overseeing these blueprints were H.J.A. Bowden from Bombay, State Engineer J.O.S. Elmore, and Lala Shiv Darshan, assistant engineer of the State. This collaboration saw that engineering marvels, so incredible at that time, were integrated into the plans such as electrical fittings, waterworks and sanitation, a system of water pipes designed for combating fires on each floor, air and piping ducting and coal-fired boilers for heat and hot water as well as a ventilating system.

The Maharaja would ride out on horseback to the palace grounds on most mornings to witness the work on site and when it was formally opened on 29 November 1908, he euphorically wrote as the day’s entry:

‘Finally the day of entry to the new palace has arrived. At 10 I left the Elysee with my three sons in the state coach escorted by the bodyguard. Troops lined both sides of the route. Arriving at the Palace I did a Puja of Chath. Finally entered the palace with Anita and my three sons. I receive compliments from my Ranis. In the afternoon there was a garden party then a gala dinner for 33.’

Also present at the ‘house warming’ of the Jagatjit Palace were the Prince and Princess de Broglie, the Baron de Rothschild and many other dear friends from France. All were unanimous that the elegance of the palace paid true homage to Versailles and a contender to the finest domains in France. Set against the exotic backdrop of India, the entire effect must have appeared ethereal, much as the Maharaja expressed: ‘I feel I am in a fairy-tale palace and it is like a dream.’

The regal façade of the Jagatjit Palace, where ‘MM Alexandre Marcel and Paul Boyer have placed on the exterior of the building (give it) a real stamp of grandeur and majesty’4 was distinctly French dominated by a mansard roof crowning a central block. This was veiled in slate imported from France set with round ‘oeil-de-boeuf’ windows and garnished with festoons. Classical elements such as pediments, balustrades and arches also added to the harmonious and noble exterior.

Situated right under the mansard roof was the grand central interior staircase, which led down to the front main entrance of the palace. This opened to a wide arched porte-cochère specially designed to allow passage for caparisoned elephants during State processions as also the traditional deployment of the Guards of Honour and the Ceremonial Coach escorted by the Bodyguard, or motor cavalcades.

The Jagatjit Palace was built on three levels. The ground floor was the working floor housing the Household Treasury Office, administrative and clerical offices, the dispatch section and magneto telephone exchange along with the electricity switchboard. The main kitchen and pantry store complex was located there as were the games store full of equipment for the clay tennis courts, badminton, croquet, and golf. This also held the linen and toiletries store, and another section for the Maharaja’s personal saddlers and cobblers. The ground floor also contained large air blowers that circulated fresh air through air ducts in the palace rooms.

The first floor could well be considered the ‘defining panorama’ of the palace as it housed all the stately ceremonial rooms and halls. While the Château Kapurthala may have been faithful to French Renaissance architecture, its interiors reflected the style of its age, whereas at the Jagatjit Palace, the Maharaja’s passion for period French elegance would bear supremacy: ‘As for the interior arrangements of the rooms everything pure and gracious offered by your (French) art is synthesized in a skillful gradation of every epoch, … All these things (styles) are the work of your artists. All the credit belongs to them…’

European artists were commissioned to create murals of captivating mythological themes on the ceilings and panels of the principal rooms, while decorative mouldings of shells, cherubs, festoons and garlands, foliated scrolls, along with copious amounts of bronze, ormolu and gold leaf ran riot throughout. The Maharaja personally selected the fine Damaskand watered silk fabrics to go with the antique furniture from France, while also ordering custom pieces from the London firm of Waring & Gillow. Rooms were accented with chimneypieces carved from prized Carrara marble, lapis lazuli columns imported from Italy, custom-woven Aubusson carpets, Gobelins inspired wall tapestries, beautiful Sèvres-style porcelain vases and figurines, and objets d’arts collected from around the world. The ambience almost rivalled the courts of the French monarchs.

The Maharaja was a keen collector of paintings which he displayed prominently in the palace. Most were acquired in Europe as he was a frequent visitor to the Paris Salon exhibitions. He eschewed the avant-garde art of the era, gravitating towards eye-pleasing genre, Orientalist sceneries, portraits of beautiful ‘Gibson Girl’ types or sensuous classical models, landscapes reminiscent of French court painters Watteau and Boucher, and several paintings depicting Norwegian fjords.

The divine Grand Salon served as the formal State Reception Hall. Also referred to as the Louis XVI drawing room, this truly captured the veritable baroque resplendence of Versailles.

The Maharaja also modelled the palace grounds after Versailles’ illustrious gardens designed by the famed landscape architect André Le Nôtre. He exclaimed, ‘Ah! yes! The French Gardens! I have been especially anxious to have them…. In this way, I shall have, even in India, the illusion both of Versailles and Paris. A French park, and the “cousin” of your Grand Palais de Champs-Elysées. What better could I ask?’9 This included a sunken garden, parterres of flower beds, embroideries and topiaries laid out in symmetrical pattern set among spouting fountains with mythical figures.10

Within the grounds, the Maharaja kept a private zoological park housing a menagerie of exotic birds, antelopes, deer, ostrich, and zebras. ‘His magnetism was perceived by all the animals too. One bird cage contained a pair of Mexican Quail with a black feathered crest. The pair used to eagerly await the Maharaja’s arrival every morning when he walked in the Park, and would excitedly run up and down the front of their cage, chirping while he would softly “croon” to them while feeding them through the mesh enclosure.’ There was an exotic goldfish pond, a raucous waterfowl enclosure and in a separate corner of the estate, was located the household kennels. The Jagatjit Palace remains an unsurpassed and unrivalled tribute to French aesthetics in the heart of Punjab. Today, it is the home of the Sainik School Kapurthala, where such gracious surroundings cannot but help infuse dignity and aspirations to the students who transit its portals.

King Louis XIV of France brilliantly employed architecture, gardens, and interiors to assemble the ultimate image of majesty. Perhaps here it can be said that Maharaja Jagatjit Singh bears a resemblance to the famous Sun King when he declared, ‘I wanted to realize here one of the dreams of my life, to leave behind me a work that would endure.’ The Jagatjit Palace still resonates as an eternal monument to his memory.

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Chiffon sari: A fabric that defines Rajput women

Anshu Khanna

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

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

Rohini Gupta
Nandini Singh
Maanvi Kumari

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

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

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

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

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