Aesthetic Traditions of the Maharaja
His Highness Maharaja Sriraj Jayasinhji
In their senior years, into age 60, and beyond, such persons pursue large aspirations, such as the building of temples and water tanks as well as the enhanced patronage of institutions of the arts.
The body of the Maharaja is both a public institution as well as a particular individual.
To be resplendent in body, clothes, stature, demeanor and expression is natural for and expected of the maharaja. He visibly manifests pride and health of his people by being resplendent at all times.
Sumptuous clothes, jewels and enticing perfume are mere ornaments. It is radiant beauty, manifest in his eye, his posture and his gesture that exemplify grace and majesty and ornaments embellish the image. When restraint is lost in the person of the maharaja he is reduced to being a manikin. He is savaged by jewels, clothes and silver furniture that project an empty vessel of kingship.
The beautiful tiger to be protected, the Arabian stallion to be saluted, the inspirational lyric to be embraced. These and many other area of beauty are supported by Maharajas by establishing preserves, breeding stud farms, court musicians, court ateliers, dance schools, weavers, perfumers and jewelers. These institutions were intrinsic parts of the Maharaja’s court and everyday life experience. Even on military campaigns Maharajas were accompanied to the battlefield by poets and singers, theatrical performers, genealogists, and dancers. The etiquette of single man to man combat were minutely evolved, with the rigors demanded by a skilled dancer.
The above is my inheritance and my experience with beauty which goes back to my earliest memory of sitting beside my grandmother while she did the evening aarti, a spiritual ceremony where lights with wicks are soaked in ghee, in her personal temple. The sounds of the bells, the perfume of the incense, the haunting and beautiful verses singing the praise of my resplendent Goddess Shaktima whose image was bejeweled and adorned with sweet smelling flowers.
Feeling the power of my horse flying in the desert winter wind chasing the elegant leaps of the black buck are then miraged over the salt pan of the Rann. Seeing my parents and relatives on festive occasions of marriage and religious ceremony dressed in magnificent jewels and delicate silks was a parade of persons saluting beauty. These were experiences that since childhood I have experienced and on occasion experience today.
They educated me to become a gemologist and an expert on emeralds in my early adulthood. Documenting the musical tradition of my royal home, the Jhalavad royal house of Dhrangadhra was an exciting project and the collection is now housed in Harvard University’s Library of World Music.
Becoming a visual anthropologist allowed me to record the life ways of the Jhalavadi pastoralists, salt makers of the desert, theatrical performers of the ancient Bhavai theatrical tradition, bards, poets, and then share their beauty with distant eyes even as it rejoiced in experience.
During the past 15 years I have been fortunate to commission more than a hundred paintings celebrating the history of my dynasty and the acts of royal men and women as well as people of all the castes that make up the Jhalavadi people. Finally, now in my seventies I am with my brothers engaged in the making of temples to our gods and and shrines and statues to our ancestors.
I am privileged to do what I do because of what I learnt by living in the world I have and with the people whom I love. I have had magnificent teachers of many aesthetic traditions. I am ever humbled to have been beside them and to have felt their vitality. How they saw, heard, sensed and moved in a vibrant sensory landscape was a life shaping experience.
My efforts are modest aspirations to walk in their path along this simmering golden road.