Article for marwar magazine
THE MAHARAJA OF JODHPUR
- the legacy lives on…
- It was a hot May morning and the sultry heat haze hung low over the Blue City of Jodhpur. The Umaid Bhawan Palace rose like a peachy gold phoenix, over the arid landscape, languidly stretching its emerald lawns across acres of the low lying hillock, overlooking the city. Inside, was a flurry of activity and the excitement was palpably rising, as the Royal Durbar was about to commence.
- Standing at the balcony, I looked down at the hugely grand and ornately carved Durbar Hall, where a sea of colourful turbans flashing jeweled ‘sarpechs’, atop proud heads, bobbed beneath me. About 500 Rathores, mostly wearing jodhpuris, achkans and carrying ancestral swords, rose and then bowed 'Khamaghani', as their Maharaja Gaj Singh II, strode in. The Maharaja sat on his gaddi with his son, Yuvraj Shivraj Singh, sitting at his left and other senior clansmen and heads of other Rathore states, here by invitation, sat flanked on either side. They faced the Rathores, who were there to pay tribute to the head of their clan, and honor him on the celebration of the 50th year of his coronation.
- Fifty years of kingship and kinship! I watched entranced, transported back in time as this glittering ceremony was a scene out of time, redolent of the princely durbars of the past, which is enacted every year and imbued with strong Rathore pride, sentiment and emotion. Though their kingdoms have long gone, and the gestures of kinship are now merely symbolic, they were strangely stirring, reminiscent of a time not so long ago when these blood ties were put to the test, as families rode into battle together and survived to see another day…. another dawn.
- Maharani Hemlata Rajye, Princess Shivranjani Rajye and other ladies, bejewelled and dressed in bright chiffons, also watched the Durbar proceedings from the balcony, as traditionally women were not allowed inside the Hall during Durbars. By protocol, Yuvraj Shivraj began the nazar, followed by others who were seated according to birth, rank and status. The Rathore clansmen queued up to the Maharaja, respectfully touched his feet and circled the nazar, a token amount of money, around him. The Maharaja, in turn, greeted them warmly, while accepting this symbolic tribute in recognition of their fealty and loyalty.
- “These shared memories and living traditions, like this Durbar, are a glorious reminder of our collective history. The Maharaja has nurtured these to maintain the distinctive identity and unity of the Rathore clan”, explained Dhananjaya Singh, author of ‘House of Marwar’, who gave me an insightful perspective.
- Fifty years ago, His Highness the Maharaja Gaj Singh the II of Marwar – Jodhpur, was anointed Maharaja of Marwar and head of the Rathore clan by right of primogeniture. His father Maharaja Hanwant Singh, whose love for flying was legendary, had his life cut short tragically, when the aircraft he was piloting crashed. So, on the 12th of May 1952, in a courtyard of Mehrangarh fort of Jodhpur, the Thakur of Bagri said to his four year old prince, “Marwar mubarak ho, I give you Marwar”. So began the journey of the ‘boy-who-would-be-king’ towards shouldering the hopes of his people, whose social welfare was his responsibility.
- Earlier that morning, we had filmed the Tuladaan Ceremony at the Palace, where the Maharaja had donated his weight's worth in charity, while priests had chanted mantras offering a benediction of goodwill to the people of his realm.
- Later, ceremonially resplendent, Maharaja Gaj Singh II and Yuvraj Shivraj drove in a vintage Rolls Royce towards the Mehrangarh Fort, the totemic seat of the royal Rajput clan that had built its impressive fortunes on this invincible bedrock of destiny. The Maharaja's ancestors had ruled Marwar, from nearby Mandore, for three hundred years. In 1459, the 15th Rathore ruler, Rao Jodha, founded Jodhpur- ‘Jodha’s city’, and built Mehrangarh Fort - the Citadel of the Sun. Alighting at their formidable bastion-of glorious, bloody and spectacular history- the 39th Rathore ruler of Marwar and his heir apparent walk, in the footsteps of their ancestors…through the wraiths of time.
- The Royal Procession was led by a retinue of bearers, carrying the royal flag and royal standards, followed by the Maharaja walking under a red and gold chattri, escorted by the Yuvraj and other members of the clan. They walked across the ramparts of the fort to the Chamunda Mata Mandir to pay homage to the presiding deity of the royal family.
- As an aspect of Kali, the goddess of war, she is the primal source of the Rathore code of honor and represents the bond that links the divine with the temporal, investing the Rathores with the divine right to rule in her name. The Maharaja, as embodied divinity, continues to fulfill that duty to serve his people, as ordained in the ancient texts. And in this service lies his salvation.
- With the morning prayers done, Gaj Singh and Shivraj received hordes of local people who had to come to greet and touch their Maharajas feet, to ask for his blessings. The royal procession then moved to Jaswant Thada, the royal cremation grounds and cenotaphs of the Maharaja’s ancestors, set atop hill abutting the Blue City. Father and son paid homage to their forefathers, honoring the heritage bequeathed to them, in an unbroken legacy.
- The kingdom of Marwar, one of 22 princely states in Rajasthan, merged into independent India in 1949, and the Princes lost their sovereignty, as a part of a democratic republican India. But, for the people of Jodhpur, the Maharaja still represents the collective aspirations, of their shared history and culture, for he is, as were the Maharajas before him, Bapji, or Father, to his people.
- And that was what I observed as, post the Jaswant Thada ceremony, Bapji and Shivraj drove through the streets of Jodhpur, where people had thronged to greet him. I was quite amazed at the enormous love and goodwill his people seemed to have for him which was spontaneous, unlike the “organized” politician rallies. A local summarizes the mass sentiment -“after all, he is like our father- he takes care of us even now, as his forefathers have done for generations.” Bapji explained his viewpoint to me later. “In today’s times, as Maharaja, I consider myself as the custodian of Jodhpur’s legacy, the family’s legacy and the clan legacy. I think of myself as an instrument of change and cultural continuity. It’s my duty to serve my people”
- And it is this perception of “his duty”, which was deeply instilled in him since he was 4 years old, that has led Bapji into varied philanthropic activities and trusts which look at education, medical facilities water harvesting, conservation et. al, in Jodhpur. He is also responsible for putting Jodhpur on the world tourism map, encouraging the emergence of heritage hotels, promoting local handicrafts and performing arts, etc.
- The Royal Coronation Durbar was my first introduction to Bapji, after which I spent twelve shooting schedules, spread over a year, to document the life and lifestyle of a truly inspirational man. It was an amazing, memorable and learning experience, which will be much treasured.