‘I’ll tell you a secret . . . A writer’s own experience, craft, imagination and thought have a limit, but the stories heard from the mouths of men and women have neither a limit nor a boundary. Neither a limit to storylines nor to the collective thought processes. Neither a boundary to the imagination nor to experience.’ – Bijji
A chronicler of Rajasthani culture and fondly known as Bijji, Padma Shri Vijaydan Detha’s collection of Rajasthani folk tales, the classic Batan ri Phulwari, have been produced as retellings in Timeless Tales from Marwar. Batan ri Phulwari, meaning ‘Garden of Tales’, is a fourteen volume collection of folk stories collected and written over nearly five decades. The literature of Rajasthan is usually thought of in the binary of khyaat and baat. Khyaat are the chronicles and praises of kings and rulers, while baat are imaginary tales that need not be historical. This collection falls into the latter category.
Vijaydan Detha was born in 1926 in Borunda, Rajasthan, in the Charan caste of bards and poets. One of the country›s most prolific and celebrated voices, his writings include more than 800 short stories, several of which have been translated into multiple languages. Detha’s timeless classics have also been adapted into major plays and movies, some notable ones being Paheli, Charandas Chor and Duvidha. Bijli collected all the stories in Batan ri Phulwari from Borunda and its surroundings. They were told by men who would sit around at the village chowk after nightfall, chatting and telling stories to one another.
In the book›s introduction, social activist Aruna Roy talks about this rich ‘oral tradition’ of storytelling in Rajasthan—one whose “every retelling adds textures, from one generation to the next for hundreds of years”. Vishes Kothari, who has translated the stories from Rajasthani to English, has attempted to conserve as much of the text›s regionality and orality. He has also sprinkled several Rajasthani words throughout the prose to keep it as close to the original as possible—for instance, mandana (a type of rangoli or mural art made on floors or courtyards in Rajasthan), choorma (a traditional Rajasthani dish made of crushed wheat flour dumplings with ghee), khejdi (the state tree of Rajasthan) and jharokha (an enclosed, overhanging balcony—a common feature in Rajasthani homes).
The stories range about everything from fortresses to castles, havelis and mansions, landlords, farmers, kings, constellations, trees, ghosts and animals. Each story begins with a quote talking about Bijji›s foray into the world of Rajasthani literature, progressively tracing his journey—from the time when he decided to start writing in his mother tongue, went back to his village and nurtured the craft and what he learned from his gurus. The book is also sprinkled with quotes by folklorist and oral historian Kamal Kothari providing his personal insights on collecting folktales.
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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Ever since I can remember, I have enjoyed sketching and watercolours. Upon growing up, I was certain about pursuing the field of art and design and proceeded to pursue a degree at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Gandhinagar. Soon after my graduation, I got married and moved to the United Kingdom for a few years, where I pursued an art degree at the University of the Arts in London. During my time there, I also got the chance to work for high street fashion brands such as H&M and TopShop. I didn’t waste a single opportunity when it came to soaking in the rich art, music and theatre culture in the historic British capital. Since my husband is a polo player, I accompanied him on his travels abroad and further immersed myself in the diverse cultures of the world.
Upon returning, I retained my keen and ever-growing love for all things creative. In 2017, I launched my dream project in the form of a lifestyle store, Gulenar in Udaipur, which is an outlet that offers ethically-sourced slow fashion and lifestyle products. I had also considered painting on numerous occasions over the past few years but didn’t manage to do so because of my busy routine. Soon, the concept of time dissolved under the imposition of a lockdown, and I have been privileged enough to rekindle my love for painting.
The lockdown months constitute that time of the year that I usually spend in Jodhpur. The present situations have prevented any possibility of me making a homebound journey, but have intensified my longing for the sights and sounds of my homeland in Marwar.
This longing inspired me to launch a series of watercolour paintings which I labelled as #30DaysOfThar, flora and fauna of the Thar desert. The online response to this series of mine has been overwhelming and has encouraged me to make it available at Gulenar in the time to follow.
Before I sign off, I’d like to share the biggest take back from this series, which has been the large number of people that have contacted me to express how my artwork has inspired them to dedicate time to their creative talents, which have thus far remained dormant. The deep and personal connection that my artwork has fostered amongst its audience has been immensely humbling.
The author can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to purchase these prints or request customised illustrations. Alternatively, she can be contacted via Instagram as @shelja__singh or @gulenarstore.
Life on the Front Lines in interiors of Rajasthan
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style. Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
– Maya Angelou
Having worked in the development space for about five years now, I have committed a large part of my energy and mind space to address pressing challenges faced by people around Rajasthan. I was amongst the founding members of Global Citizen India in 2016, wherein we chose three United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to focus on. They were water, sanitation and hygiene. I have become increasingly aware of the plight of young girls contending with school dropouts, urinary tract infections, anemia and so on due to a lack of education on menstrual hygiene and the taboo around it. This cause has particularly stirred my attention and I pledged to contribute my energies towards bettering it.
During the current pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, women have borne difficulties, especially hygiene-related ones. During the first phase of the lockdown, sanitary pads were not even recognised as an essential item! Not only did this cause an acute shortage in the rural belts of India, but also in the well-connected urban centres. It is easy to ascertain the hardships it would have caused in suburban and rural areas. As the larger parts of India step into the monsoon season, women using old pieces of cloth as reusable pads will only find it harder to wash and dry them without posing themselves with a serious risk of infections.
As per a 2014 report, there were as many as 35.5 crores menstruating girls and women in all of India. Given the rapid rise in population, it is safe to assume that in the years since the report was generated, these numbers have risen significantly.
I have collaborated with three different non-profits (BG Foundation, BGIF and MasksforIndia) to provide hygiene kits to families in rural Rajasthan, particularly in Khuri- my ancestral village in the Sikar district. The purpose of this hygiene campaign is twofold. One, to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene and government guidelines on the correct use of sanitation such as face masks and hand-washing. Two, to provide free hygiene kits to the women of these rural families as it has been observed that more often than not, they have ensured that children and older members of the family receive supplies. Each kit contains an average of 4-5 face masks; one for each family member. So far, I have distributed over 300 kits to young girls and women in the Jaipur and Sikar districts, and continue to work towards the cause.
Image, and content courtesy: Devika Shekhawat
The better-known states’ insignias were easily recognisable but the stories behind the symbols of pride of smaller states were dug.
How many of us know that there is a third chamber within the parliament house of India. A hall titled originally the Chamber of Princes that was home to an important congregation of Princely states who were part of the Chambers Established by King-Emperor George V’s proclamation after the Government of India Act 1919 was given royal assent. It was the venue where the royal scions of the 127 member states met, the royal insignias of each of these states cast in bronze gracing this circular room.
Anshul Alagh, Safir Anand, Dhyaneshwar Mulay, Anshu Khanna, Varun Khanna, and Rishi Kumar.Photo is an original from the Chamber of Princes library.
As India achieved its independence and Princely India merged into democratic India, the chambers were converted into the parliament library, conserved by the Archeological Survey of India. The insignias remained a subject of intrigue for the ASI, who were keen to discover which insignia belonged to which erstwhile state. Hence under the recent Parliament library initiative, Council for Royal Roots, a not for profit body founded by the philanthropist Rishi Kumar was invited to submit a document chronicling these insignias and matching them to the state they belonged to.
As part of the advisory committee along with Shri Dhyaneshwar Mulay, better known as the passport man of India, Safir Anand, celebrated IPR lawyer and Princess Vaishnavi Kumari of Kishangarh, I thoroughly revelled in this nostalgia trip. While most of the better-known states’ insignias were easily recognisable, it was interesting to find the story behind the symbols of pride of smaller states. Safir Anand believed that these insignias were, “Part of the intangible heritage of these states that needed to be recognised and protected.”
Council Of Royal Roots looks forward to linking conservation to appreciation of our heritage. The organisation hopes to undertake initiatives that will promote India’s rich cultural heritage to the new generation of Indians and international audience, making it more accessible to a wider public with an inclusive effort while preserving both tangible and intangible heritage of India. It also focuses on national and international tourism enhancement that strengthens the backbone of economic activities, which further generates year-round employment activities for inhabitants in both rural and urban areas. I have more than 15 years of experience in a leadership position with organisations and companies based in India and the USA. His deep interest in social work has led him to work in the mentorship of Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Late President Dr Kalam for education and digital India.
The parliament house was built in 1920 by the famous architect Sir Herbert Baker. It originally incorporated the central hall, the two chambers (The Central Legislative Agency now the Lok Sabha and the Council of States now Rajya Sabha) and the Chambers of Prince that was a beautifully built space for the royal scions to congregate in.
Formed in 1920, the chamber was the British government’s way of warming up to the creation of the chamber followed by the abandonment by the British of their long-established policy of isolating the Indian rulers from each other and also from the rest of the world.
The Chamber initially consisted of 120 members. Of those, 108 from the more significant states were members in their own right, while the remaining twelve seats were for the representation of a further 127 states. That left 327 minor states, which were unrepresented. Also, some of the more important rulers like the Maratha-ruled states of Baroda State, Gwalior State and Holkar State declined to join it.
The writer is the founder and MD of Council Of Royal Roots.
Bundi: The legacy continues
The sleepy town of Bundi awoke with great anticipation on the morning of the Navsamvatsar. It was the 2nd of April 2022 coinciding with the first day of the Hindu month of Chaitra which heralds the New Year in North India. The beginning of the year 2079 of the Vikram Samvat, a year filled with hope and revival, especially so, after the two years of the pandemic. However for the people of Bundi it was the eagerness to participate in an ancient tradition of the anointment of the titular Maharao Raja of Bundi that excited them even more. Hoardings and posters announcing the Royal Event had sprung up all over the city. The last Maharao Ranjit Singh died childless in 2010. He left behind no heir to succeed him and as per tradition, the Gaddi must not remain vacant as the ancient lineage must continue, therefore after a wait of 12 long years it was finally decided by the members of the former nobility of Bundi including the late Maharao Brijraj Singh ji of Kota that Kr Vanshvardhan Singh of Kapren is the deserving candidate since he is the nephew and the closest surviving kin to the late Maharao Ranjit Singh and shares the same Royal bloodline, hence he should be anointed the titular Maharao Raja of Bundi.
Royal retainers tie turbans and gear up for the grand ceremony.The magnificent Taragah Fort and the Garh Palace dominate the skyline of Bundi town in south-eastern Rajasthan.Vanshvardhan arrives for the Raj Tilak accompanied by royal retainers.Jagirdars or members from the former nobility of Bundi seated for the raj tilak ceremony.Puja and havan being conducted by royal priests
The former kingdom located in the South-Eastern part of Rajasthan was amongst the 22 princely states that comprised erstwhile Rajputana. A 17-Gun Salute state, Bundi was founded in 1242 AD by Rao Deva ji, a descendant of Rao Visaladev the Chauhan ruler of Ajmer who also happened to be the ancestor of the illustrious Prithviraj Chauhan. The Bundi Royals are the head of the Hada branch of the Chauhans and claim descent from the Agnikula or the Fire clan of Rajputs. Maharao Bhadhur Singh ji was the last ruler of Bundi and upon Independence signed the treaty of accession thereby formally merging the State of Bundi into the Union of India in 1949. Maharao Bhadhur Singh ji had been adopted by his predecessor Maharao Ishwari Singh ji, who did not have any issues, and thus in his lifetime adopted two sons, Bhadhur Singh ji and his brother Kesari Singh ji from one of the Jagirdar or Nobility family of Bundi. Maharao Vanshvardhan Singh is the grandson of Maharaj Kesari Singh ji, brother of the Late Maharao Bhadhur Singh ji. An alumnus of Daly College Indore, Vanshvardhan graduated from De Montfort University in Leicester UK. A keen cricketer he has also represented MP in the Junior National Shooting Championships.
The Garh Palace complex and below that, the Moti Mahal Palace complex were the primary venues for the splendid Raj Tilak Dastur. The Taragarh Fort and the sprawling Garh Palace complex pretty much dominate the skyline over the medieval town of Bundi. Built over 400 years by successive rulers of Bundi, a series of palaces, gardens, temples, fortified mansions and other magnificent structures exist within this astounding 500 meter high, hill side fortification that have each been named after the ruler who built them. However, the Forts, Piece de resistance is most definitely the stunning Chitrashala that boasts of some of the finest wall paintings and frescoes in Rajasthan. Executed by the ateliers of the Bundi School of miniature art, these exquisite paintings depict scenes from the life of Lord Krishna and his consort Radha, religious and military processions, Shikaar scenes, festivals and local folklore. The use of blue and green hues is predominant in most of these creations.
Customary rituals commenced right from daybreak and continued until sunset. Kr Vanshvardhan arrived with much fanfare from his Ishwari Niwas residence to the Mataji ka Chowk within the Moti Mahal complex. After the ceremonial bath and cleansing ceremony, Pujas, and Havan were performed by the raj purohits or the royal priests. This was followed by darshan, abhishek, and paying obeisance at the Royal Family deities at the Ashapura Mata and the Rangji temples. Meanwhile in the open courtyard of the Moti Mahal Palace the invitees to the Raj Tilak had already begun to assemble and were directed to their ordained seats. In the centre of the garden-courtyard, a large canopy was erected, below which the Royal Gaddi was placed. On the left of the canopy was a large area designated for the Jagirdars and members of the families of the former Nobility of Bundi, and important dignitaries from the town.Immediately flanking the two sides of the canopy were seats reserved for the visiting Royalty that included the Maharaja of Bikaner, Maharao of Sirohi, Raja of Khilchipur, Yuvaraj of Kutch and Raghogarh and then there were special seats for the Maharaja of Alwar and his son who are directly related to the Bundi royals. On the right of the canopy was a section that had been earmarked for the Kotah nobility, special guests, and family members. Directly facing the canopy at a little distance was the enclosure for the ladies who were attending the coronation ceremony. At the auspicious hour Vanshvardhan reached the venue accompanied by liveried attendants bearing the Royal Standard, the Insignia, the Chhatri and the fly-whisks. Once he had taken his seat, the Paag of the late Maharao Ranjit Singh ji was brought from the Rangnathji temple and placed over the head of Kr Vanshvardhan by HH Maharaja Jitendra Singh of Alwar. This was followed by the Raj Tilak Dastur that was performed by the royal priests. Once this ceremony was concluded it was time for the Nazar & Nazrana ceremony that was performed by the visiting Royalty and subsequently by all the members of the families of the former Jagridars of Kotah, followed by rest of the invitees and guests.
Post noon, the focus now shifted to the imposing Garh Palace where the next set of ceremonies were to be held. The traditional Darikhana, exclusively organised for the Bundi Jagirdars at the Diwaan-I-Khas within the Garh Palace precinct had been a major topic of discussion. The Darikhana, an age-old feudal practice is primarily a congregation of the nobility in the presence of the ruler and held on special occasions such as festivals, birthdays or coronation ceremonies. The nobility attending the Darikhana have to adhere to the strict dress code and are seated as per their hierarchy and pecking order. Vanshvardhan now climbed onto a bedecked horse and rode up to the fort followed by his retainers and others on foot. Resplendent in the customary brocade achkan and a safa adorned with an exquisite family heirloom—a stunning Sirpech or turban ornament, he took up his position on the marble throne at the Diwaan-I-Khas. On either side were seated members representing the 40 Jagirdar and Kotdiyat families that included Kapren, Junia, Antarda, Bada Kheda, Jajawar, Peepalda, Thikarda, Savantgarh, Indergarh, Balwan, and Khatolia mongst others. As per the protocol, all the Jagirdars then performed the Nazar & Nazrana; simply a social gesture to acknowledge the anointment of the new titular Maharao Raja of Bundi and reposing their loyalty and allegiance to him.
Last but not the least it was time for the stately elephant procession that now began to wind its way through the old town of Bundi. The new ‘Maharao Raja’ mounted atop the beautifully caparisoned elephant, steadily navigated the 3 km long route that was overwhelmingly greeted by the enthusiastic townsfolk. Post sunset and amidst chants of ‘Long Live the Maharao Raja of Bundi’, the procession finally culminated at Ishwari Niwas thus putting at rest the uncertainty and the speculation that had prevailed for the past 12 years and further ensuring the continuity of the 780-year-old legacy of the Hada rulers of Bundi.
‘Paper Jewels Postcards from the Raj’ by Omar Khan is a congregation of 518 vintage postcards that give you a visual tour of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Images from the Raj era are like visual delights that are like veritable art forms. Remnants of the Kodak era when the world was just about discovering the pleasure of photography. When German and French presses located in Kolkata and Mumbai were reproducing works of masters. I stumbled upon this jewel of a book titled ‘Paper Jewels Postcards from the Raj’ by Omar Khan. It is a congregation of 518 vintage postcards that give you a visual tour of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and co-published by Mapin Publishing and the Alkazi Collection of Photography.
‘Paper Jewels Postcards from the Raj’ cover.
Postcards were to people in 1900 what the Internet was to the world in 2000. These were the world’s first mass transfusion of color images. We went from thousands to billions of postcards in a handful of years. The finest painters and graphic artists from India, Austria, Britain, France, Italy, and the US were involved. It is the story of postcards during the Raj era and the first book on the subject that uncovers gems including early postcards of the great Indian painter M.V. Dhurandhar, Ravi Varma Press in Mumbai, exceptional work of an early Austrian lithographer in Kolkata, a British photographer in Peshawar, and Indian studios in Jaipur, Kashmir, Delhi, Lahore, Madras, Karachi.
Organised by place into a dozen chapters, the essays cover key themes crucial to postcard publishing: religion, dancers, teas, and soaps, famines, fakirs, humor, warfare, and the role of postcards in the Independence movement. It tells the stories of the first postcard publishers of the subcontinent between 1892 and 1947, most of whose images have not been seen since they were published a century ago.
‘Paper Jewels’ relies almost entirely on new primary research in archives and private collections in India, Pakistan, Europe, and the US, and explores the many artistic, business, fashion, political, and technical developments that contributed to the rise of a medium—the postcard—that is still very much with us today.
There were many reasons for the appearance of the picture postcard in the 1890s. These included the invention of photography—photographs were common by the 1870s, and the mass-produced Kodak camera came out in the 1880s and greatly democratised the form. There were more liberal international postal regulations and printing technologies like rapid press lithography were being exploited by small workshops and artisans in European and Indian cities. The growth of shipping and railway lines exemplified by cards like City Line To & From India contributed to a fertile tourist market. Postcards, as a messaging system, were literally built on an iron communications network. At the same time, the spark that proved the concept came from advertising. It was business and marketing that helped underwrite the initially rather high costs for printing postcards.
The selection of postcards in the book is eclectic and reflective of the many facets of the Raj era. The gallantry of the Indian forces is captured in a poster by Nestle’s Swiss Milk that celebrates the 20th Punjab Infantry, a successful British Indian Army regiment on the North-West Frontier. There are lilting images of the Southern peninsula. An endearing series by Singer Sewing Machine on the singer families. A very rich imagery of the Devadasis… yet another series of nawabs and kings posing like brown sahibs.
Especially interesting are those sent from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Bombay, which opened at the height of the postcard craze in the city in 1903. A postcard produced by the hotel is one thing: clean, purchased on the rack at the hotel shop, A postcard with instructions sent by J.C.G. Goodrich to the Editor of a Seattle, Washington newspaper on Christmas eve is quite another. Other times the writing overwhelms a beautiful card, as in the case of Bombay.
DECODING THE SAGA: MAHARAJA’S LOST DIAMOND NECKLACE RESTORED AND HOW
American YouTuber Emma Chamberlain recently appeared for the Met Gala wearing a ‘very gilded’ necklace around her slender neck. It allegedly belonged to the Maharaja of Patiala and was restored to its original brilliance by the Paris-based jewellery house Cartier.
T he world’s eyes once again got trained on our majestic maharajas and their jewels. All thanks to the appearance of social media queen and American YouTuber Emma Chamberlain who appeared for the Met Gala this year wearing a ‘very gilded’ necklace around her slender neck. Now, the theme of the gala was ‘Gilded history’ and the collar she wore could not have been more historic. Given that it allegedly belonged to the Maharaja of Patiala and was restored to its original brilliance by the Paris-based jewellery house Cartier not so long back. Netizens went to town calling it ‘colonial appropriation’. Popreset, who calls himself the pop culture god and is followed by 11k Instagrammers, claimed, “No shade to Emma since she is the Cartier Ambassador but, this is a very important historic piece that should have been returned to the Patiala royal family and not made into a fashion statement.” In defence of Cartier, leading author and historian Cynthia Meera Frederick claimed, “Cartier never said that it is the original choker or a reconstructed piece. There is no official statement on that.” To which yet another Instagrammer claimed, “There is nothing Indian about the necklace except that it was bought by an Indian potentate.”
Emma Chamberlain and Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala.
Indeed Cartier’s official press room has not made an official statement on its originality. It was in 1889 that Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala spotted and bought the seventhlargest diamond in the world, mined a year before in South Africa at the Paris Universal exhibition, gest diamond at the time. Bought from De Beers, it had a 428 carats pre-cut weight, and it weighed 234.65 carats in its final setting. It is the largest cushion-cut yellow diamond and the 2nd largest yellow-faceted diamond in the world. In 1925, the Maharaja travelled to Paris, bringing with him numerous trunks of precious stones: diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, pearls and rubies of the highest quality set in antique Indian settings, which he decided to have reset at Maison Cartier. The Maharaja commissioned Cartier to turn the De Beers diamond into an heirloom piece and make a ceremonial necklace with the diamond being its centrepiece. It was finally completed in 1928. The necklace has five rows of platinum chains embellished with 2,930 diamonds, including as its centrepiece the world’s seventh-lar. The necklace also contained seven other large diamonds ranging from 18 to 73 carats, and a number of Burmese rubies. This was the most expensive piece of jewellery ever made in history and it would have cost some US$ 30 million dollars today in its original form. The necklace disappeared from the Royal Treasury of Patiala around 1948. In 1982, at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva, the De Beers diamond reappeared. There, the bidding went up to US$ 3.16 million, but it is unclear whether it met its reserve price. In 1998, part of the necklace was found at a second-hand jewellery shop in London by Eric Nussbaum, a Cartier associate. The remaining large jewels were missing, including the Burmese rubies and the 18 to 73 carats diamonds that were mounted on a pendant. Cartier purchased the incomplete necklace and after four years, restored it to resemble the original. They replaced the lost diamonds with cubic zirconia and synthetic diamonds and mounted a replica of the original De Beers diamond. The fate of the choker worn by Emma though remains unknown. And, no one knows whether it disappeared with the necklace or if it was sold. It was the collar that Emma wore and what would have seemed like a proud moment for the Maharaja era, turned into another reason to scowl at ‘Imperialist Europe’. History has it that the Maharajas came out into the durbar flaunting the family jewels that were not just objects of desire but also a way to reflect the Princely state’s affluence and political well being. The Patialas were known for this practice and like their coffers, many toshakhanas went empty post-independence, especially when the privy purses got banned by the then government. As Cynthia admitted, “So many royal pieces were either sold or dismantled. This is, unfortunately, a sad reality which cannot be denied.”
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