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Growing up Royal

April 3rd, 2011

“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 yourvoice@ago.net.

Four Small Canadians at the Indore Palace

April 3rd, 2011

“My husband and I went to India in 1950 with our baby daughter. She called me this morning to tell me how thrilled she had been to view your wonderful exhibit. Her sister is in India at present with her physics professor husband, who is speaking at several Indian universities. While in North India she is visiting the hilltop town of Mussoorie where she was born. Since we lived in Indore our second term, I decided to home school the children and send them to Daly College, a private school founded by the Maharajah of Indore, to study art and music. In 1958, Wendy, Susan, and the two Canadian Leard children Bill and John, were invited to the Indore Palace to attend the birthday party of one of the young princes. We have pictures at home showing the children along with the Holkar family and guests watching the entertainment. If I were in Halifax instead of Central Florida, I would be attending your wonderful exhibition. Hurrah for Canada … Jai Hind!!!!”

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 yourvoice@ago.net.

Your Stories: The 100 Rupee tour of Jaipur

December 17th, 2010

“Welcome to the city of Jaipur, the Pink City. We begin our tour at the Hawa Mahal, the palace of the winds. You can see the many windows where the princesses would sit and watch the people go by on the street. They, of course, never left the palace. It would not be proper. We will just drive by now.”

“Wait, we’re not stopping? I wanted to take a picture.”

“No, the tour will run late.”

“What nonsense, she came all the way from Canada to take a picture of the Hawa Mahal. We can stop for a second.”

“Very well, but only for one photo.”

So began my afternoon tour of Jaipur in September 2004. Scrambling out of the old white Ambasador car, I snapped a quick picture of the famed façade, disappointed to learn that the rest of the palace had crumbled over the years.

The tour continued on, taking us to the Jaipur Observatory (Jantar Mantar), built in 1728 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur. I snapped away at the imposing structures built to read the universe as accurately possible, only half-listening to the tour guide, thus annoying him further.

“…the paints for these walls were mixed with crushed emeralds, sapphires, and rubies…”

The rulers had built these forts to endure, which clearly their architects and artisans had accomplished, with the walls intact and still so vivid after being caressed for hundreds of years by the dust and dry winds of Rajasthan.

“…and this is the queen’s window, which I showed to you from the courtyard as we entered the Amber Palace. From here the queen would sit and throw rose petals as the king came home from the battles…”

Kneeling where the queen would have sat, I poked my camera through the window opening to snap a picture of what would have been her limited view of the outside landscape while she was throwing those petals.

Our tour ended at the City museum in Jaipur, under the patronage of the current Maharaja of Jaipur. Listening to tales of the Fat Maharaja, my cousin and I lingered in front of the diorama showing a queen sitting among her servant girls as they dressed her in jewels and embroidered clothing.

As I tried to sneak my camera out from my bag, the tour guide smirked and shook his head at me.

“No more photos allowed.”

Amanjeet is a writer and photographer living in Toronto. Her photography can be seen at www.galleryakc.com. She has a wonderful photo essay on the exhibition at KuchBatao.com.

Your Stories: Hamilton Artist P. Mansaram Remembers the Royals of Rajasthan

August 23rd, 2010

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.

Do you have a Maharaja story? We’re on the prowl for your connections and we’ll be highlighting various anecdotes and memories that come our way. Share your story here. Or contact us at yourvoice@ago.net.

Your Stories: If walls could speak

August 3rd, 2010

When I was a child, I was obsessed with the 1,001 Tales of the Arabian Nights. I read every book in the library and painted huge colourful murals on my walls of genies coming out of bottles, turreted palaces and fairy tale forts. Many years later, as an adult, I went to India to recover from loss and depression, stemming largely from the sudden and unexpected death of my mother.

Imagine my surprise when I went to the Maharaja’s Palace in Mysore, and to the land of Maharajas; Rajasthan, and saw my bedroom walls come to life! I cried many times touring these fantastic palaces as I remembered my mother and how she had brought me up to believe in magic.

India turned out to be the land of my imagination, heart and soul. Traveling in India healed me, and gave me back my enthusiasm for life. And, I am especially enthusiastic about Rajasthan.

In Rajasthan, there seems to be no end to the wonders. The golden city of Jaisalmer with its fairy tale fort; the riches of Udaipur and the shimmering lake surrounded by palace hotels; the massive Amber Fort overlooking the pink city of Jaipur.

But one of my favourites is the Mehrangarh Fort in the centre of Jodhpur. I was advised to rent the audio tour and I am so glad I did. The present-day Maharaja’s voice regales you with spell-binding tales as you walk through the huge fort-palace, past magnificently furnished rooms, a somber enclosed courtyard in the women’s quarters and ramparts that soar hundreds of feet above the Blue City.

The most moving stop on the tour was the site of rows of small handprints at the massive exit gates. These are the handprints of the wives of Maharaja Man Singh, who committed sati by throwing themselves on his funeral pyre in 1843. They made these marks on their way out of the fort to a certain death.

So, Rajasthan is not just about glorious art and architecture. It is also about stories – stories that come alive when you visit the Land of Kings.

Mariellen Ward is a freelance travel writer who is passionate about sharing the beauty of India’s culture and wisdom. She has traveled for about a year altogether in India and publishes an India travel blog, Breathedreamgo.com.

Your Stories: Remembering a friendship, a Maharaja and his doctor

June 22nd, 2010

To kick off our call for your maharajas stories, we are delighted to share with you this story from Barbara Stephen. Just last week Barbara wrote to us with her very own memory, not of a particular Maharaja, but how a family friend brought a little bit of royalty into her family’s life through a silver cup and saucer. Dr. George Martos was once the personal physician to Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore and he gave her mother this gift after a trip to India to hunt tigers with the Maharaja.

silver demi-tasse and saucer

Here’s her story:

During the 1950s and early 1960s, my mother worked with Dr. George Martos, a Hungarian doctor who had gone from teaching at the University of Berlin to Indore where he was Medical Officer of Health during WWII, and was closely connected with the Maharaja. He built a hospital for him there, and retained his connection with Indore after immigrating to Canada after the war, requalifying, and opening an obstetrical practice in Toronto.

From time to time the Maharaja would extend an invitation to join him in India for the tiger hunt, and in due course a ticket would arrive from the maharaja desk at a London travel agency. My mother heard lots of details about life in Indore, and as Dr. Martos was also my doctor and a family friend until his untimely death, I too learned about raising lion cubs, managing elephants, hunting tigers, etc.

I suspect the current Maharani may remember Dr. Martos from her childhood. I believe it was my mother, Charlotte Burry, who wrote to inform the family of his death in the 1960s, not too long after the death of the Maharaja. Dr. Martos always spoke of the Maharaja with great affection and respect.

My mother was given a silver demi-tasse cup and saucer from Indore after one of his last trips, very plain and moderne in style, with an angular handle. It was locally made and he indicated to her that it was quite special.

– Barbara Stephen is a Curator Emerita and Early Chinese Specialist with the Royal Ontario Museum.

I will post more about the Maharaja of Indore (now part of the state of Madhya Pradesh) later. Not only was he a fascinating individual – he was photographed by Man Ray, commissioned a sculpture by Brancusi, built hospitals and loved cars – we expect to have his life-sized portrait in the exhibit!

Do you have a Maharaja story? We’re on the prowl for your connections and we’ll be highlighting various anecdotes and memories that come our way. Share your story here.

Piali Roy is a Toronto freelance writer with a long-held interest in South Asian culture and history. You can contact her at yourvoice@ago.net.