Heralding the legacy of her iconic ancestors like late H.H. Ganga Singhji, late H.H. Sadul Singhji and late H.H. Dr. Karni Singhji , Princess Rajyashree Kumari of Bikaner has nourished her soil with her philanthropic work, sporting and authorial talents.
Having picked up shooting at the mere age of six, her extraordinary prowess in the sport led her to clenching the prestigious Arjuna Award when she was only a sixteen year old. Princess Rajyashree Kumari’s seamless inheritance of her father’s passion and gift of ace marksmanship left no stone unturned in that she achieved her individual standing as amongst India’s first and foremost women shooters in the Air Rifle and Shotgun categories.
In addition to her countless shooting laurels, Princess Rajyashree Kumari is known to be a prominent philanthropist in her region. She has played an active role in the revival of Bikaner’s heritage through the preservation and restoration of her ancestral forts and palaces. More specifically, she has made significant efforts towards the establishment of several museums, charitable trusts and book and media publications that concern her family’s history, as well as Bikaner’s cultural heritage.
For its February 2019 Issue, Rajputana Collective is honoured to feature Princess Rajyashree Kumari of Bikaner as shares her esteemed views on sportsmanship, her duty-bound philanthropic ethics and her perspective on the destiny of Rajputana’s bygone traditions.
Born to one of the finest marksmen produced by India, Princess Rajyashree Kumari bore the rare privilege of not only being inspired by, but also coached and mentored by her father, the late H.H. Dr. Karni Singhji of Bikaner when she was only a young girl aged six. During the initial phase of her career as a shooter, she joined the Bikaner Thunderbolts Club and as her game improved, the national champion earned a spot in the Indian Shooting Team, representing her nation in various international tournaments and making it proud. In reminiscence of her days her days as a shooting champion, Princess Rajyshree Kumari says, “I loved shooting, whether it was air guns, .22 or heaver rifles and finally clay pigeon shooting. Sports are a great leveller and no matters how high born you are it makes no difference if the man on the other team is a brick layer. First and foremost the tie that binds is the love of the sport. I was greatly humbled to be awarded the Arjuna Award; it was the acknowledgement in many ways of a tough life in a fairy tough male-dominated sport.”
Back in the day when she was fifteen, she won as many as fifteen National titles and the largest collection of gold medals in the sport. At seventeen, Princess Rajyashree Kumari scored 92 out of 100 in the National Trap Shooting Championship, a record that remains unbeaten till date. Five years hence at the Nationals Championship in Chandigarh, she won the second places in Trap Shooting, beating all her male competitors save her father, who won the first place himself.
Assessing her beloved sport’s present-day relevance, she admits to its nature being of lesser exclusivity in today’s day and age, wherein it is accessible to a greater number of meritorious shooters in a more egalitarian manner. Tracing her family’s regal relevance to the administration of the sport, she elaborates, “I recall that many times when we were about to set off for an International competition my father used to be told that since he was a maharaja he should foot the entire bill of his air tickets, guns and ammunition! It is unbelievable but this happened. I think that it is now viewed slightly less as an elitist sport as it was in the past. I believe things are slightly better today and since it is the young marksmen and women who are bringing home the medals there is an acknowledgment that the sport needs encouragement and good coaching. The young shooters of today certainly have a bright future ahead of them and I wish them all the very best.”
After retiring from her shooting career, Princess Rajyashree resumed her duties in Bikaner as a social worker and philanthropist. The erstwhile regal prerogatives of community service and welfare responsibilities, when seen in their present day continuance, could often be touted as patronising by several observers and contenders. Princess Rajyashree Kumari responds to this commonly-passed generalisation by specifying her outlook vis-a-vis sustaining philanthropic efforts by exercising them as one’s duty. She cites this particular value out of an example of her great grandfather that her father educated her about, “my father used to tell us that Maharaja Ganga Singhji, his grandfather worked very hard and as children would ask him, “Dada, why do you work so hard? You are the Maharaja and you don’t have to”. To this, his reply was rather simple; he used to say, “This is my job, I am doing my duty.” This is the ethos with which the successive generations of the Bikaner family were brought up. I don’t look upon my work as being ‘social work’ in a self-contained box. This is my job and I too am doing my duty.”
Within the gamut of her philanthropic duties, Princess Rajyashree Kumari mentions the encouragement and sponsorship of several budding and talented athletes of Bikaner, whether it is in the form of providing equipment or nutritional counselling. She also highlights making her familial archives accessible to every research scholar who approaches them; as well as entertaining field inquiries from all over the world on a daily basis. Furthermore, she also hosts numerous charitable trusts in Bikaner for greater public welfare and proposes to invite international funding to optimise their operations and outreach.
Taking her literary skills into account, her flare for writing is another talent that the Princess inherited from her father. In progression to her former two books, namely, Lallgarh Palace and The Maharajas of Bikaner, her latest book release is titled, Palace of Clouds. Having had successfully authored historical accounts of her ancestral home and its linkup to the history of her male ancestors, it occurred to her that it was probably time to associate her life’s account to her ancestors’ in order to usher the narrative onto more contemporary times. Hence, her semi-autobiographical book approaches the overview of life in Bikaner through the eyes of one of its more recent female descendants.
Her authorial inquiry into the theoretical as well as practical purviews of the Bikaner state have instilled a deeper sense of contextual know-how vis-a-vis the complex mechanisms of tradition and modernity within the Rajput community; as well as the idea of royalty in transition. The Princess briefly delves into these dilemmas with her critical understanding and experiential contestation of these themes. Speaking of the idea of historical responsibility in modernising times, she pays homage to the inherent sense of modernisation that has existed within her family. Recollecting the examples set forth by her great grandfather, she says, “my great grandfather was the first to start a school for Rajput girls in Bikaner and wad also the first to bring cobalt therapy to the hospital in Bikaner for the treatment of cancer, which ere revolutionary acts in their times. My father too was a very modern man, who welcomed both his daughters with great joy and never differentiated between our brother and us in any way. So stepping into the twenty-first century has been no hardship in Bikaner. We have done so quite lightly, efficiently and seamlessly.” She also lays emphasis on her family’s preservative and social outreach drives as being fully compliant with the present-day imperatives of digital marketing and social media.
Lastly, when asked about her foresight for a sustainable future for Rajputana heritage and the balance of tradition with modernity, Princess Rajyashree Kumari responds with much pragmatism and realistic observations. In her own words, “I think quite frankly that it is a challenge. Perhaps we have gone too far the modern way and have either abandoned or forgotten or native Rajasthani roots. To cite an example nowadays when there is a wedding in the family hardly any man knows how to tie a safa! An expect turban tier is called for and the Banas line up and have their turbans tied, equally whereas in the past traditional Rajasthani songs and dance were performed at such times have now been replaced with Disco music. In many ways this volte face is a matter for concern. My father and his siblings were taught how to tie a turban from the time they were young boys it was one of the arts that were taught as a matter of course. It is also interesting to note that less people are speaking Rajasthani, most prefer to speak in Hindi or a mixture of both. It is becoming rare to hear pure Rajasthani being spoken. Great grandfather Maharaja Ganga Singhi when he heard one of his staff speak Hindi used to chastise him by saying ‘Poorvi ghori angreji chaal’ roughly translated as a Rajasthani mare walking with an English gait! Amusing but a sad refection on how many changes have taken place in the past decades, I feel that we are slowly losing our grip on our unique culture and identity; I hope sincerely that I am wrong.”