In Rajasthan, where I grew up, I had the opportunity of interacting with the descendents of the maharajas. Their palaces are still an integral part of Indian heritage. Their aesthetics, and the grace of the architecture, truly reflect the glory of that period. Even today, the subtle influence of the maharajas and their involvement with their ‘people’ has created a bond one can perceive and feel.
I was born in a small but beautiful hill resort, Mount Abu, where many maharajas had their summer palaces. As a child I was attracted to their architectural beauty and would sketch their façades. Each year, before the maharajas arrived for the summer, the palaces are made over. In the interim, the palaces would be open to the public to have a tour. As a child, I was given the responsibility to take our house guests to tour palaces like the ones belonging to the states of Bikaner and Alwar.
Mount Abu had thick forests. During the summer months, forest fires were a common phenomenon and cheetahs would sometimes come to the border of the town and attack its residents. Then, one of the maharajas would hunt the animal down. Later the dead cheetah would be displayed in front of the palace for public view, something I witnessed as a child.
After high school, I went to Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay to pursue art as a career. There I met my future wife Tarunika; her younger sister later married the Prince of Chhota Udaipur in Gujarat. We became good friends and he used to talk about their seven-story wooden palace. He was also related to the Maharana of Udaipur.
I was fortunate to have been invited several times to Udaipur and its many palaces. The maharanas of Mewar (Udaipur) have always been trustees of the state and not rulers. Even now the current Maharana is playing that role extremely well. In 1999, I was invited to the Maharana Mewar Charitable Foundation’s annual award ceremony. It was an extraordinary three day event, full of great pomp and show with hospitality of the highest order. There were about a thousand people in attendance and the venues for the receptions were a different palace each day. The whole event was more like sequence from the fairy land. I have never experienced anything like it.
Another time, I conducted a three-day drawing workshop for the students of the palace school. That privilege gave me an opportunity to visualise and see the glory and grandeur of the bygone era and which resulted in a series of paintings on Udaipur and were shown at a gallery in the city.
P. Mansaram is an artist living in Hamilton. You can see more of his work at the Colour and Form Society.
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