Royal Renaissance

Taraana and Urvashi Vaswani trace the revival of India’s lost arts – in fabric and design, in painting and craft – as former patrons turn restorers

The Durbar Collection

India has always believed in moving forward while holding on to its roots. So while one section of society swears by Prada, the other proudly sports the zardozi kurta. But these two design details are just part of India’s rich royal heritage. There are so many more that have faded into oblivion. However, India is seeing a renaissance in its forgotten art forms, thanks to craft expositions such as Royal Fables, which recently put on show collectibles including textiles from Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad of Baroda, royal vintage wedding regalia from Rani Sandhyakumari of Khajurgaon and pure-gold-woven saris by Thakurani Darshanakumari of Mandawa.

Anurag Kanoria, of the Great Indian Store, believes this boom in heritage items is rooted in fresh national pride – a result of the growing buying power of Indians worldwide. Proof of this, he adds, is the recent Christie’s art auction in Mumbai, where miniature paintings from the ancestral collections of the Maharaja of Bikaner fetched a tidy sum.

Patrons have now turned custodians, and members of the aristocracy are taking it upon themselves to bring the royal arts back in the spotlight. Twentyseven- year-old Kunwar Mayank Raj Singh of Dholpur started working with the seven-generation-old family kaarigars, or designers, to revive the dwindling art of Shikaarbagh, a French-inspired saree style depicting hunting sequences using brocades and embroidery on chiffon. “I want to take this art form to as many people as possible as an heirloom piece,” he says.

Again, Rajkumari Divya Singh, great-granddaughter of the Maharani of Kapurthala, of the former royal state of Jubbal in Himachal, is reviving the art of the pahadi miniature paintings of Kangra. “The generation before us enjoyed the art but did not take the initiative to promote it. I want it get its due. This is our heritage – we should not let it slip away,” she says.

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