- Sanjay Singh Badnor
Jodhpur Durbar's 75th Birthday Celebrations : A Photo Essay by Sanjay Singh Badnor
The grand Durbar Hall at Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan Palace was the focus of all activity as Maharaja Gaj Singhji II commemorates his 75th birthday celebrations.
Dignified Rajput gentlemen filed in an orderly manner to take their designated seats. Yuvraj Shivraj Singh, his son Bhanwar Siraj Dev, close family members, Jodhpur’s nobility and visiting princes dressed in starched colorful turbans, achkans and Jodhpurs (breeches) are seated according to convention. It is strictly an all male affair and everyone present at this august gathering symbolically accepts the Maharaja as their titular head. They have assembled here on this auspicious occasion to pay their respects to the erstwhile Maharaja, and to wish him a long life ahead.
The Maharaja, who is also considered the head of the Rathore clan of Rajputs now makes a stately entry into the Durbar hall followed by his personal aides. The gathering rises as a mark of respect and soon the ceremony of nazar commences in adherence to the prescribed protocol.
Meanwhile, in another adjacent and equally splendid hall, the royal ladies are in the middle of their own mehfil. The scene here is even more spectacular. Maharani Hemlata Rajye presides over the function and is accompanied by her daughter Baijilal Shivranjani Rajye, daughter in law, Yuvrani Gayatri Rajye and granddaughter Baijilal sahiba Vaara Rajye. It’s a dazzling myriad of color as the ladies dressed in Rajasthani poshaks of different hues perform the ghoomar dance.
Every year, the city of Jodhpur celebrates the birthday of its Maharaja with great fervor and enthusiasm. Revered as one of Marwar’s greatest and most iconic rulers, Maharaja Gaj Singhji II is dotingly known as Bapji by one and all.
The day starts early for Maharaja Gaj Singhji II, who ascends his sleek convertible Buick and proceeds through the city towards Mehrangarh fort. Here, he pays his respects to the various family temples and seeks the blessings of various deities and his ancestors. Enroute, one cannot help but notice throngs of people who have braved the chilly December morning to gather at regular intervals with flowers, garlands and banners to greet Bapji on his birthday. In fact, after observing this royal extravaganza, one is transported to the fairy tale days of yore. Despite the democratization of India, Bapji is symbolic of royal custodianship in present times as an immensely popular figure who is still in touch with his people.
The articulate and soft-spoken graduate from Eton and Oxford, Maharaja Gaj Singhji II is an exemplar of the modern maharaja who deftly balances tradition and modernity. Maharaja Gaj Singhji II was anointed as the 38th Maharaja of Jodhpur on 12th of May, 1952 at the tender age of four. His sudden assumption of royal responsibilities was the result of a tragic air plane accident that claimed the life of his father and Jodhpur’s late Maharaja Hanumant Singhji. Even though he wasn’t required to assume administrative powers, given India’s recent democratization, Maharaja Gaj Singhji II was recognized as the ruler of Marwar-Jodhpur by the Government of India.
Back in the days, Marwar was one of the premier princely states of Rajputana that covered an area of approximately 36000 square miles. Even though Prime Minister Indira Gandhi amended the constitution to de-recognise all royal titles in 1971, she failed to displace Bapji as the people’s Maharaja from the heart of Marwar’s citizens. As a matter of fact, Maharaja Gaj Singhji II is undeniably the most popular, respected and revered royal today, and this is largely due to his tremendous efforts towards the development of Jodhpur in the international tourism circuit. It is for the same reason that Bapji is often hailed as Rajasthan’s cultural ambassador. The credit for founding the Heritage Hotels Association belongs solely to him.
Over the decades, Bapji has encouraged many a former princes and feudal chieftains to convert their mansions and palaces into luxurious hotels thanks to which, Rajasthan became the epicenter of a gargantuan rise of tourist destinations. Had it not been for the Maharaja’s foresight, many of these historical buildings would have crumbled to decay.
In fact, Bapji’s royal residence, the sprawling Umaid Bhawan Palace happens too be one of the last great palaces to be built in India. The 300 room mansion was completed in 1942. According to the Maharaja, when he returned upon completing his studies overseas, the royal era had ended in India. It was in those turbulent times of reformation that Bapji considered Umaid Bhawan’s conversion from a palace into a hotel.
Considered as one of the largest private residences in the world, Umaid Bhawan Palace is a leading luxury palace hotel of India. The Taj Group of Hotels presides over its branding and administration, as it does for Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace and Udaipur’s Lake Palace.
Maharaja Gaj Singhji II and his family continue to reside in one section of the palace, which itself is a unique asset for Umaid Bhawan. Also known as the Jazz age Palace due to its art deco interiors, Umaid Bhawan remains more of a palace than a hotel. The soul is breathed into it by the royal family, and the celebration of their various festivals and momentous occasions.
To date, Umaid Bhawan Palace stands tall in Jodhpur’s vista, with a spectacular Mehrangarh fort not too far away from it. Both are reminiscent of an era gone by and an era that prevails, and Jodhpur’s beloved Bapji is the enduring thread that binds them both together, as he does his people, his heritage and his ever thriving legacy.
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