Royal treasure

Heritage

Royal treasure

Manjulaa speaks to Maharana Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, the 76th custodian of the House of Mewar, on the dynamic nature of heritage, and its value for generations to come.

“They have to take pride in their heritage. The story of their heritage has to be told and retold, to newer and distant audiences all the time. It is their identity, something they are known by, something they identify themselves with. It stands for their principles, their values and so on.” Meet Maharana Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, the 76th custodian of the House of Mewar — the world’s oldest serving dynasty, which goes back to the greatest of warriors like Maharana Pratap. This is in response to what he would like to leave as a viraasat for his children.

Shriji, as he is formally addressed, may not be waging wars like his forefathers once did, but he is waging battles nonetheless. Battles which, in modern times, cannot be done without. He is building an empire through educational institutions; channelising revenue from heritage properties into charitable work, and funding historical research.

Heritage, for Shriji, lives and evolves on a daily basis, “Today people talk of heritage as though it is something that is dead, but it is not. It is ‘living heritage’ as I call it. Heritage is continuity in every field — education, music, cuisine, architecture, festivals, rituals, even our marriages. My concept of heritage is not a dead monument; for me, heritage is dynamic.”

Part of this world view then, is the annual Ashwa Poojan or worship of the horse, on the last day of Navratri at Udaipur’s City Palace. Hand picked for the puja are horses of the Marwari breed. “We are committed to preserve the Marwari. The breed was being diluted and getting extinct. These are the horses we went to the battlefield with, in the good old days. A horse is a Rajput’s best companion. Paying respect to it in recognition of his contribution to the survival of the Rajput race, is why Ashwa Poojan came into existence,” Shriji explains.

But, are these ceremonies enough to revive the common man’s interest? “It is being relegated to pages of history because of people’s misunderstanding of living heritage. If you fashion it in a way in which it remains current, and an important part of daily life, then people will start relating to it even today. People think that they are living in the past if they follow culture, or if they follow rituals. They think that living in the past is irrelevant and I am the first person to advocate that — I want to live for today, and for now.”

An example of how Mewar lives in the present lies in the manner in which Mewar handled the abolition of the privy purse. While Mewar capitalised on its resources by converting properties into resorts, other maharajas failed to keep pace. “The maharajas acted very unwisely because they thought that privy purses would be enough and did not factor in inflation. Once the states had been amalgamated, they never made an attempt to create an income. The private properties that they had retained from the Union of India required heavy maintenance and the maharajas never bothered to create an income stream. That is why they are all in a situation that they find themselves in today,” reasoned Shriji.

But they were great administrators of their time. Surely, that meant they had chalked out a course for survival. “They may have been great administrators in their ministries and systems. But you took them out of their system and put them in a democratic system and they didn’t know how to handle it. The transformation and evolution required was lacking in the case of 99 per cent of the maharajas! All of us had to embrace change — create income so that we could live with some dignity,: explained Shriji.

In the days of the Raj, Fateh Singh, Shriji’s great grandfather, chose not to attend the Durbars of 1901 and 1911. In December 1911, he went to Delhi on the occasion of the Durbar, but did not take his seat there. During his reign, Fateh Singh made it clear that he was not a maharana by the grace of any queen, but by the order of his own people and in service of Eklingji — the family’s presiding deity. “One had to be self-reliant and self-respecting. The Mughals and British had always been hostile to us. Unfortunately with Mughals, we had to take a confrontational stand and that is why the lives of several of our ancestors were spent fighting, which left Udaipur’s coffers completely empty.

The entire state income went into keeping the army. As far as the British are concerned, I think they respected it if one stood one’s ground. But even with them, there were times, like when Maharana Fateh Singh took a stand saying, ‘I am not attending the Durbar. I am equally a king.’ If the meeting was at par, then it would be different, but it was a matter of self-respect for him and he refused to attend. There were other maharajas who were subservient to the crown, but Mewar and Udaipur never went. Yes, we had to pay a heavy price for it. There were battles, debt, hardship, probably never enough to eat for the people. It was a very painful time, but one has to do it. If you have to lead a life of dignity, sacrifices are needed. That is why Udaipur has always been known as a premier state because of the values we adhere to. Obviously, the consequences had to be borne, but then, there is a limit to how much you want to become a doormat. If it is confrontational, so be it,” replied Shriji.

So, beyond the material, this, perhaps, is the real legacy that Shriji is planning to pass on. “You have to have a very clear bond with your children. They should not be afraid to question your judgment. We should encourage their curiosity and if we don’t have an answer, then we find one and go back to them. That kind of relationship is required and only then can their overall development take place. That’s what I have tried to do as best as I possibly can.”

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