Karauli Maharajahs Birthday

Jan Leeming

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Date: 8th January 2016

KARAULI - Birthday Dinner with the Maharajah

India once teemed with Maharajah's and Palaces many of which are still extant and testament to affluence. We were told that we were to go to Karauli and to celebrate the Majarajah's Birthday. I don't know what the others expected but I thought we were just going to the town and would join the crowds in the Birthday celebrations as we did in the Festival Parade to celebrate the Birthday of Ganesh, the Elephant God.

It was a long four hour car journey but an interesting one. The road is a good quality dual carriageway and we were able to be driven at speed but some of the sights we saw along the way were memorable - totally overladen trucks, vans with men clinging on to the sides, the back and perched on top, motorcycles with as many as a family of five perched on them - Dad driving with tiny tot in front of him, Mother holding on to him and three small children holding on behind her - No they'd never heard of 'Elf and Safety'.

At one point we needed a comfort stop and our lovely driver Janu swung across, did a U turn and for a few yards was driving the wrong way down the carriageway to access the only decent 'Motorway' service station on the road. It was more than a comfort stop and boasted an Eaterie as well as a large Bazaar selling all the artefacts which attract the tourist. We stopped there again on our return journey but this time we were on the right side of the road!

The journey took much longer than anticipated and the Maharajah and his family were patiently waiting for us at the New Palace. I must explain that the family moved out of the old 13th Century palace in 1937 - so the New Palace is relatively old now. I love the Indian way of greeting visitors - again we were strewn with Rose petals and Marigold garlands were placed around our necks. We were given ten minutes to organise ourselves and then half the party went off to a village and my half were taken by Princess Anshika for a tour of the Old Palace. Building commenced in the 13th Century those parts are still visible but the major area of the Palace was constructed in the 16th Century. The Maharajah at the time was influenced by the tail end of the Renaissance and hired Italian painters to adorn the walls with their fabulous frescoes and even some Trompe d'Oeil. By a miracle, these paintings are largely still extant and you can't believe the brightness of the colours. The Maharajah's son, the Prince, and his new wife are devoting their time to the refurbishment of this wonderful building and I suppose, in time, it will be open to the public. Words cannot describe the beauty of the work done by those Italian painters so I will leave it to my photographs - don't they say a picture paints a thousand words.

After our Palace tour and when the others returned from the village we prepared ourselves for the Maharajah's Birthday dinner. Prior to that the men of the party were able to witness the ceremonial presenting of gifts to the Maharajah. There is no place for women at that ceremony so we assembled in the lovely courtyard with the Maharani and the Princess - babies were brought to be admired and the serving women came out to greet us. I found it very embarassing that the obeisance they gave to the Maharani was also proffered to us - they kneel and embrace the knees. Mind you I also saw this when Princess Sangeeta's niece met her - she also performed this greeting and when I asked why, was told that it is out of 'respect'. (Princess Sangeeta is the 'landlady' of our friend Emma who runs a jewellery business in Jaipur - more of her later)

Respect was something of which we saw much during our stay in India. When the Maharajah had divested himself of his finery - as had the men in our party - they all came out for the entertainment arranged for us. The dancers were men encased it what must have been the heaviest and hottest of costumes totally covered in gold and 'jewels'. My camera battery chose to go on strike at this point so sadly I don't have a Video memory of the dance - which was one of the many stories of Vishnu. Whether it was my Father's upbringing in India or something else, I know not, but I have always been attracted to Indian music. In fact, in 1966 when I was working for Granada TV in Manchester, I went to the very first concert given by the great late Indian Sitar player - Ravi Shankar. After the entertainment - interrupted slightly by a light shower, we went in for dinner. I don't remember much about the food because I was sitting next to Princess Anshika who was such a fascinating individual that the meal became incidental.

I don't think the Maharajah will forget that Birthday in a hurry. He must have been quite perplexed at the impromptu entertainment which was offered. Sylvester McCoy played 'the spoons', Patti Boulaye sang 'La Vie en Rose' and we all joined in a rendition of 'Happy Birthday'. The Palace is obviously run as an Hotel so we were all allocated rooms. I hadthen  a huge Air conditioned Bedroom leading off to a 'Dressing Room' with delightful 50's furniture and through to the Bathroom. I was desperate for a cold shower but however I tried could only get scalding hot water out of both taps. Maybe I was pressing the wrong buttons but I ended up having a cold wash-down in the sink! We had a delicious breakfast with the Prince and Princess. The Maharajah sat at another table - more out of shyness than anything else I think. I'd brought with me a very ornate cigarette case which belonged to my Grandfather and which my Father gave me shortly before he died. Daddy said he remembered the case being crafted by a silver worker on the Veranda of their Bungalow in the Nilgiri Hills. I showed it to the Maharajah who declared it to be a very fine piece and commented on how small cigarettes must have been in the early 20th Century and that the 'holding straps' were missing.

I felt quite sad at leaving - we had been shown such wonderful hospitality and kindness. (I love peacocks and had a beautiful gold and black transfer of a peacock feather near my shoulder. I'd forgotten about it but the Princess was enthralled and I promised to send her some of the transfers along with some diamanté clips for her veil which kept slipping off. Sadly they've never arrived and my Indian friend at the local post office said the package was either held up in Customs or stolen! The same thing happened with a package of photos I sent to some teachers in Siberia whom I met on an exchange programme in 1998. Later they told me that parcels sent from outside the country rarely meet their destination - not sure if anything has changed since then.)

Programme 3 has just been transmitted and sadly there is nothing about Karauli.


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