“Growing up I had always heard my mother speak about the very colourful life of the royal court. She would speak about the glorious and less than glorious aspects of having a royal lineage. I would hear these rather ostentatious, colourful and often gruesome stories, taste many different types of royal cuisines and yet, I was never that interested in my ancestral past until 2006 when my sister and I decided to visit our ancestral home of Murshidabad with none other than my mother, a princess of the royal family of Murshidabad as our guide.
It was strangest and yet most wonderful experience to visit the Hazarduari Palace in Murshidabad and see my ancestors in paintings… the eyes! Yes, we all have the same heavy-lided eyes. The most precious part of the visit was my mother’s commentary on our family history and what life was like in the royal court. She named each object on display and what it was used for and then the stories; the many, many stories. We went through the armoury and that was chilling… to know that all these weapons had actually been used in battle. Perhaps it was my devotion to the concept of “Satyagraha” but I almost smelled the blood. When we arrived at the “Darbal Hall”, I could not help but be in awe of the majesty of it all! I looked up at the massive chandelier… the most massive chandelier I had ever seen in my life! I stared at the huge painting displayed right above the royal throne depicting a scene where my great, great grandfather was holding his court and then I looked down at the actual throne where he sat. The whole scene was being played out in my mind’s eye like a stop-motion film, complete with the scratches on the film and the sounds.
I was incomplete awe and then came the shock! It was incredible how quickly our arrival there made news through out the town, even though we went conspicuously as tourists! It was the strangest experience, to have people follow us around, stare at us, point at us, some stopping to say “salaam” or “namaste” and then bow down in reverence and respect. Those gestures felt so alien, uncomfortable even and yet, I felt an intense sense of belonging.
When we visited again in 2007, the connection was more in the face… for both me and my sister. She some how almost innately knew how to navigate the streets. I would look at the rotting, dilapidated structures in complete awe. These monuments to the pomp and glory of an era gone by, remnants of power, politics, culture, history and colonialism every where I looked; each building telling its own story, speaking as if only to me. No, these were not just any remnants, each and every stone spoke and was alive, telling haunting tales, tales of my forefathers, some even asking me questions.”
Do you have a story to tell about South Asian royalty? Does your family have connections to maharajas? Do you have photographs or objects related to kings and their courts? Share your stories and ideas here or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.