Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mewar Royalty celebrates Rajput military heritage

A procession today in the city of Udaipur, once the capital of the Kingdom of Mewar, celebrates the 472nd birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap also known as Pratap Jayanti. The photo from Udaipur Times shows the garlanded statue of the 16th century Rajput warrior, who became ruler of Mewar at a young age, at a time when his kingdom was at war with the Mughal empire. Pratap's military career began with a glorious defeat in the Battle of Haldighati and ended with a string of victories wherein he liberated most of Mewar from Mughal occupation.

The celebration began at Maharana Pratap's place of coronation in Gogunda on May 17, with the ritual of Bhumi Poojan, where Gangajal was sprinkled on the soil and Raj Tilak applied on the statue of Pratap. Rajput military heritage in the shape of weapons and armor were showcased at the City Palace in Udaipur. "The Rai Aangan in the City Palace compound was decorated for the occasion with the specially created showcase of armory as well as a statue of Maharana Pratap," said Bhupendra Singh Auwa, Deputy Secretary, Maharana Mewar Charitable Foundation.

This Udaipur Times photo shows the lineal descendant of Maharana Pratap, Lakshyaraj Singh with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, in Udaipur for Pratap Jayanti. Mr. Modi said: "I have been planning to visit Udaipur for the last two years and finally, I have gotten the chance to be here for such an auspicious occasion.....It is important that the brave tales and thoughts of our heroes be compiled and passed from one generation to the other. The younger generation needs to understand that despite being from a royal family, Maharana Pratap dedicated his life to his motherland. A society which forgets its history will never be able to create one."

Lakshyaraj's father Maharana Arvind Singh has been promoting the architectural and scenic heritage of his ancestral kingdom. Speaking to DNA India, Arvind Singh said: "We want to develop Udaipur as a city of excellence, and it’s on its way there. Tourism, at one point, used to be synonymous with taking your family and kids to the forts of Chittorgarh/Udaipur and narrate to them the history of the place.But now tourism has taken a 360 degree turn. People want to come down to hold conferences in the city — for me that is tourism too.....We are very possessive of our ancestral heritage. Even if we allow a shoot in the darbar area, we remove all the personal photographs or cover them with sheets. It’s important to showcase your culture without overexposing." The latest movie to be filmed in Udaipur is the British comedy-drama, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, most of it at the Ravla Khempur Palace hotel, Mewar's own property, over nine and a half weeks. Arving Singh tells the TImes of India: "The Lake Palace is the most photographed building in India after the Taj Mahal. We promise cheap locations, safety measures, not a single day's cancellation of shoots and a palace and lake that is kept spotlessly clean."

The other branch of Mewar Royalty (in the Mewar dispute), Arvind's elder brother Mahendra Singh and his family, are also seen celebrating Rajput military heritage albeit with less international exposure. This photo from a local Rajasthani newspaper shows Mahendra Singh at an event paying homage to the Rajput warriors and their families who sacrificed their lives for the independence of Mewar over the centuries, at the fort of Chittor. On Mahendra's right is his wife Nirupama Kumari, princess of the Rajput Kingdom of Garhwal in the distant Himalayas, while his son Vishwaraj is second from left. Interesting to see standing between father and son, Rajendra Singh Chib, a Rajput politician from the state of J&K.

Another event celebrating Rajput military heritage in Mewar is the Ashwa Poojan or horse worship ceremony. On his website Lakshyaraj Singh says: "On 5th of October 2011, the City Palace witnessed the traditional Legend of Ashwa Poojan Ceremony. It is one of the auspicious Eternal Mewar Festivals that is performed every year, especially dedicated to the HORSE for its contribution to the survival. It is the day to show our gratitude and honour towards the noble breed of HORSES to which we owe so much, probably our lives, in most of the incidents. Shastra (arms which were used during war) are also worshipped on this day. The tradition of worshipping the HORSE is our attempt to preserve the intangible cultural and heritage of Mewar. The royal horses selected for the poojan belong to a recognized breed known as ‘Marwari’. Ashwa Poojan is the grand finale to the Navratri festivities, invoking both, the power of Durga and Ashwa."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maharajas of Bikaner book

From the Deccan Chronicle a review of the book "The Maharajas of Bikaner" by Rajyashree Kumari, a descendant of the royal family of that desert kingdom. The appeal of Bikaner lies in the fact that it is one of the oldest Rajput fiefdoms that has transformed itself without compromising on its old world sensitivities and values. After its acceding to the Indian union, the state has become a prosperous business centre while the erstwhile royal family opened its well-kept archives to scholars.....these archives are said to house one of the largest collections of medieval manuscripts retrieved from the Deccan (Bikaner-Aurangabad connection).

"I remember growing up in the palace in the mid-1950s when we still had the palace to ourselves. The biggest setback came with abolition of privy purses. In the case of Bikaner, privy purses went into the upkeep of the palace staff. We had many. The move forced my father and grandfather to re-assess their roles," Rajyashree Kumari said. Former king Karni Singh, an ace shooter, made his mark in parliament, where he campaigned for the promotion of sports. Founded in 1465 AD by a Rathod Rajput prince, Rao Bikaji, the state was blessed by Karni Mata - a local Charan woman in the village of Deshnoke in the region who was elevated to a deity.

The former princess said the idea to write a book about her 'former kingdom' turned into a compulsion a few years ago when she was moving home. "I had interviewed some of the old staff of one of my ancestors, Maharaja Ganga Singh, nearly 20 years ago and forgot about the diaries. I came across the notes when I was moving house and decided to write an account of the family. The history of our family needed to be updated," Rajyashree Kumari said. "I don't want Bikaner to lose its character and become another metro city. One of its strengths is its harsh terrain - only the hardiest could reach it and it has kept Bikaner out of the way of unchecked urbanisation."

The lucid book, full of engaging anecdotes about war, politics, instances of Rajput valour and everyday life in the court in an easy-to-relate style, lists the life of every ruler 'over 23 generations' in 12 chapters with analysis of events - strictly from the writer's perspective.

Comment: Prior to its founding by Rao Bika, the territory of Bikaner formed part of the Delhi Sultanate, and subsequently of the little known Sultanate of Nagaur. The establishment of Bikaner is another instance of the reconquest/liberation of a territory from Islamic rule, for which Rajputana is justly famous. The name Bikaner literally translates to "Bika's nagar (city)" since it was established by the Rathore Rajput ruler Rao Bika.

The suffix ner comes from the Apabhramsa form nayaru of the original Sanskrit nagar. The Apabhramsa language rose in Rajasthan circa 7th century and became a pan-Indian language, fathering the numerous modern Indian languages. Other places in Rajasthan with the ner suffix are Sanganer, Gajner, Jobner, Bhatner, each named after warriors/rulers.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Last Maharaja of Jaipur

HH Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh, who died aged 79 on April 17, 2011, was the last recognized Maharaja of Jaipur.

The Telegraph

Sawai Bhawani Singh Bahadur was born on October 22 1931 to Sawai Man "Jai" Singh II (Maharaja of Jaipur from 1911) and Marudhar Kanwar of Jodhpur. Given the nickname "Bubbles" by his British nanny because of the gallons of champagne consumed at his birth, Bhawani Singh became 39th head of Kachwaha clan of Rajputs and Maharaja of Jaipur following the death of his father, Sawai Man "Jai" Singh II, at a polo match in Cirencester in 1970.

The Crown Prince was educated at the Doon School, Dehradun, and later at Harrow. As a young man he served in the Indian Army, becoming commanding officer of the elite Commando formation: the 10th Parachute Regiment in 1968. During the 1971 war with Pakistan, he led his troops deep into Pakistani territory, attacking and destroying several enemy posts including the Indus Rangers HQ at Chachro. During the fighting, he was said to have duped Pakistani troops into believing that a formation of Indian tanks was advancing on their position when in reality the vehicles were revving jeeps. For this, he was awarded the Mahavir Chakra, and was promoted to the rank of brigadier in 1974.

However the Maharaja's services to his country were soon forgotten as Indira Gandhi's rewriting of the Indian constitution in 1971 signalled a new and ugly phase in Indian politics. During the 1960s, the Maharaja's formidable stepmother, Gayatri Devi, had joined the anti-Congress Swatantra Party and, in 1962, won a seat in the Lok Sabha in the world's largest electoral landslide. In July 1975 both she and her stepson were arrested and incarcerated in Tihar Jail near Delhi, one of the worst prisons in India. No serious charges were ever laid against either the Maharaja or his stepmother, and after protests from Lord Mountbatten and senior Indian Army officers, he was released on bail. Styled Rajmata Gayatri Devi after the death of her husband, and freed a few months later, Jaipur's beloved people's princess passed away in 2009.

In Jaipur, the Maharaja continued to behave very much in the old Indian princely spirit – if not with quite the same regal opulence. He held regular durbars at which people could come for help and advice and took a full traditional part in Hindu festivals. Many villagers in Rajasthan continued to regard him as a king. The Maharaja served as president of Rajasthan Polo Club and, during his retirement, as Indian High Commissioner to Brunei from 1994 to 1997.

In 1966 he had married Princess Padmini Devi of Sirmour, the daughter of his father's polo-playing friend Rajendra Singh. Among the scandals in this royal family was the marriage of his daughter within the Kachwaha clan, which though consistent with modern law went against Rajput tradition. In 2002 the Maharaja, who had a daughter but no son, stunned his family by announcing his intention to adopt his three-year-old grandson, Padmanabh Singh, as his heir, overriding the claims of his stepbrothers. Thus, while he passed away as the last recognized Maharaja of Jaipur, Bhawani Singh leaves behind his name and properties to his daughter's son whom he adopted in 2002, and who is also a Kachwaha Rajput on his father's side of the family.

HH Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh gets a state funeral

The body, draped in the Tricolour, was kept on a gun-carriage and driven in a procession through the Walled City localities such as Hawa Mahal (below photo), Tripolia, Bari Chaupad and Gangauri Bazaar on way to the royal crematorium. Thousands of residents paid floral tributes to the departed Maharaja even as the attendants threw consecrated rice into the ranks of mourning people. The procession was accompanied by caparisoned and decorated elephants and horses marching in tandem with the tunes of a military band. The elephants and horses were bereft of riders as a mark of bereavement.
The Hindu

Acting Rajasthan Governor Shivraj Patil and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot joined the mourners at Chandra Mahal in the City Palace before the procession started, while soldiers belonging to Brig. Bhawani Singh's 10 Para Commando battalion carried his body and put it on the gun carriage. All government offices in the entire Jaipur district were closed following a public holiday and two-day State mourning declared to condole the former ruler's death. The national flag at Government buildings flew at half-mast across the desert State.

At the cremation ground, Brig. Bhawani Singh's 12-year-old grandson and adopted heir Padmanabh Singh lit the pyre amid chanting of Vedic hymns. Hindu priests recited mantras from ancient scriptures as the Maharaja's mortal remains were consigned to flames. According to the royal family's traditions, Padmanabh Singh will now ascend the titular throne of Jaipur.