A woman who survived being buried alive at birth by a snake-charming tribe before setting up a successful dance company in Rajasthan was just one of a number of women awardees at the Maharana Mewar Foundation Annual Awards in Udaipur last night.
The awards, now in their 35th year, held at the iconic City Palace, recognise exceptional individuals across Rajasthan, India and the world and attract an audience of more than 1800 guests, many from overseas.
A strong message was sent out from this year’s awards committee encouraging female achievement and challenging prejudice against women, which remains a major social problem in parts of India. The committee is headed by Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur, the 76th Custodian of the House of Mewar and the Chairman and Managing Trustee of Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation .
Gulabi Sapera caught much of the attention on the night as she was awarded with the Maharana Mewar Award. Many in the audience were stunned by her story of being buried by elders just an hour after her birth before being rescued by her aunt. The seventh child born into a nomadic serpent hunting tribe in Ajmer, Rajasthan the elders did not want to be ‘burdened’ with bringing up Gulabi in a tribal culture where infanticide of baby girls was common.
Gulabi’s attempted murder was undertaken against her father’s will and without his knowledge. She later rose to prominence after being spotted dancing to snake charming music by an official in the Rajasthan tourism department in 1981. Gulabi has since taken her celebrated whirling dance style ‘Kalbeliya’ around the world, performing in 165 countries. The dance, whose steps match the movement of a snake, has won international acclaim being listed in UNESCO’s representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The dance is also now one of the major features detailed on tourism maps in Rajasthan.
Meanwhile, Captain Radhika Menon the Indian Merchant Navy’s first woman ship-captain was bestowed the Panna Dhai award in recognition of acts beyond the call of duty. Captain Menon captured intentional media attention for her role in saving the lives of seven fisherman whose boat sank in rough seas in the Bay of Bengal.
Another woman awardee was Moti Meena who refused to follow the traditional custom of remaining housebound after being widowed aged 28 with three sons to provide for. Moti faced stern community disapproval after declining to remarry and lost the support of her parents-in-law when she refused to be housebound. Against these challenges Moti has spent the last nine years establishing herself as an independent woman and health worker running three health clinics in remote villages around Salumber Block in Udaipur.
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar said the awards have always been committed to progressive values of empowering women through education and acknowledging their contribution to rural development work often in village communities. He praised the women awardees as ‘beacons of inspiration’. This category of the MMCF Awards resonate with the ideals and achievements in the late 19th century when Maharana Shambhu Singh, an illustrious Maharana of Mewar, established the first secondary school for girls in Udaipur. Education was important for Maharana Singh who was not formally educated himself.
“We applaud all of tonight’s awardees and their outstanding achievements need to be acknowledged in our times,” said Shriji. “They need to be encouraged to carry on with their exceptional work. Women still face enormous prejudice in some parts of India but as tonight’s awardees have shown it can be overcome and fought.”
Meanwhile, other notable awardees included Sir Angus Deaton a Scottish born Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University in America. Sir Angus was honoured with the prestigious Colonel James Tod Award for his work researching healthcare in Rajasthan and India. The award is given to a foreign national each year who has contributed ‘permanent value’ in understanding of the spirit and values of Mewar. It is named after the British officer Colonel Tod who spent 22 years in India at the turn of the 19th century, several of those in Udaipur helping to develop a productive relationship between the British East India Company and Mewar.
The awardee of the Haldighati Award for journalism was Praveen Swami, an international affairs editor at the Indian Express. Accepting his award Praveen called for greater respect for differing opinions in public debate, raising his concerns about the increasingly abusive and intolerant tone of discussion in the media.
The awards function was chaired by one of India’s leading poets Balkavi Bairaagi, aged 87, who continues to produce inspiring poetry and was applauded by the audience.
“As I travel across India, I am often asked what does the Maharana of Mewar Foundation actually do?,” he said. “It is committed to instilling ancient Vedic and Indian values in new generations. Triggering a positive transformation in people of today’s time and age.”
Awardees were presented with ceremonial shawls, toran plaques, certificates, commemorative medals and cash awards, depending on the category of Awards
About Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation (MMCF)
‘Eternal Mewar’ was conceptualized in 2006 to provide an expression to the vision of the House of Mewar. Eternal Mewar, underlined with the words ‘Custodianship Unbroken Since 734 AD’, expresses, embodies and encompasses the core values, principles and legacy of the House. It covers all initiatives of the House of Mewar, which as an institution is bridging a historic past with a volatile, uncertain future in the 21st century. Today, in the age of globalization, Eternal Mewar is no longer just an established heritage brand but essentially a vibrant catalyst which continues to sustain the living heritage of Mewar and the civilizational ethos of India. The City Palace at Udaipur is a rare and exemplary living cultural heritage under Eternal Mewar.
House of Mewar, Udaipur background
· The House of Mewar is the oldest-serving dynasty in the world dating back to 734 CE.
In the 20th century, the House made one of the most successful transitions in modern India: from a Royal House to one that has clearly defined commercial and non-commercial enterprises, comprehensively preserving the its values, legacies and heritage under the laws of India’s democratic republic.
· Spiritual precepts of the House of Mewar: Bappa Rawal is the founder of the dynasty’s supremacy. Bappa recognized Parmeshwaraji Maharaj Shree Eklingnath ji, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, as the Supreme Lord of Mewar. He received the State of Mewar in trust from his guru, Harit Rashi. He thus set a tradition of pious humility and the concept of Custodianship or trusteeship as a form of governance begins with him. In April 1955, Maharana Bhupal Singhcreated the Shri Eklingji Trust to institutionalise the management of this ancient religious establishment.http://www.eternalmewar.in/collaboration/charities/trusts/shri-eklingji/index.aspx
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar as the 76th Custodian of the House has demonstrated his commitment, upholding the spiritual precepts as the living heritage of the House. The ambit of the Shri Eklingji Trust has grown and the Temple is now one of the most important pilgrimages of Rajasthan. In honour of Maharishi Harit Rashi, an annual award has been instituted for scholars of Vedic culture and ancient learning by the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation since 1980-81.
· On account of its illustrious history and adherence to values, Mewar was considered the foremost amongst all Princely States of India. Mewar was neither the richest nor the largest of the 565 Princely States of India. In terms of sheer wealth and power, Hyderabad, Mysore, Gwalior, Bikaner and Kashmir were far greater. Yet Mewar was acknowledged as the ‘most respected’ among all Princely States. The respect for Mewar, over the centuries, was the respect for the values and principles it stood for: Honour, independence, self-reliance and a respect for Mankind. The values go back to Vedic times: these are not ‘Indian’ values, as we understand the word ‘Indian’ today. These are ancient values and principles.
At the time of India’s Independence in 1947, the State of Mewar was the first to amalgamate with the Indian Union. Maharana Bhupal Singh, the Maharana of Mewar in 1947 said, “India’s Independence brings to fulfillment the 1400 years’ struggle and endeavour of my forefathers.”
With the accession to India, Mewar ceased to exist as a sovereign State. Its economy, polity, administration, judiciary, lands and resources were now merged with, or handed over to, the Government of India. Members of the former Royal families were now citizens of the free democratic Republic of India.
· In the mid-15th century CE, Rana Kumbha (r. 1433-1468 AD) emerged as a Renaissance figure whose Vedic knowledge and military leadership took Mewar to unparalleled heights. He was proficient in the arts, a scholar of scriptures and a man of letters.
Kumbha is credited with building 32 fortresses including Kumbhalgarh Fort now a World Heritage Site included in Hill Forts of Rajasthan. Kumbhalgarh Fort has an unbroken wall, 36 km long and is called the Great Wall of India, second only to the Great Wall of China. It is a major tourist spot, just 3 hours’ drive from Udaipur.
In honour of Rana Kumbha, an annual award has been instituted for scholars of history and literature by the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation since 1980-81.
Maharana Kumbha Sangeet Kala Trust, established in 1984 and developed by Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, promotes and encourages Indian classical music, dances, arts, drama, and other activities of cultural importance as part of the living heritage of Mewar.http://www.eternalmewar.in/collaboration/charities/trusts/mkskt/index.aspx
· Maharana Pratap (r. 1572-1597 AD) is one of India’s iconic historical figures. He fought for the independence of Mewar against the might of the Mughal Empire and Emperor Akbar. His determination, self-sacrifice and military strategy puts him in a pantheon of mythical, legendary heroes. Four hundred years after his death, Rana Pratap’s life and deeds are recounted in folk stories, songs, popular films and television serials besides works of history and literature.
In popular lexicon, Rana Pratap’s name has become a pre-fix to the words: honour, valour, bravery, sacrifice and freedom. The closest equivalent would be Mahatma Gandhi of the 20th century.
In Udaipur today, the international airport, railway station and bus station are named after Maharana Pratap. In 2009, at Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar’s behest the President of India Smt Pratibha Patil unveiled a 15-foot high statue of Rana Pratap at the airport complex. It is probably the biggest statue of the Rana in India today.
· The future King Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, visited Udaipur in 1875. The Prince was given a dazzling sarpech (turban ornament) made of three large emeralds and bordered by bands of bright red enamel and diamonds byMaharana Sajjan Singh (r. 1874-1884) and will appear in the Royal Collection exhibition ‘Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875–76’ being held later in 2017 in Bradford and Leicester. See:https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/11286/turban-ornament
· Maharana Fateh Singh (r. 1884-1930) considered King George V ‘an equal at best’. The story most often recounted is that of the Maharana who ‘refused’ to be a part of the Delhi Durbar of 1903 and 1911. In his own quiet and unassuming way, he made the British realize that Mewar could not, and would not, be equated with any of the other ‘subservient’ Princely States. He knew how to make his point of independence and honour without creating a conflict or controversy.
Maharana Fateh Singhji remains an inspiration for all Rajputs till date.
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, his great-grandson, recounted this story during several events in 2011, commemorating the 100 years of Delhi Durbar of 1911. It struck a chord with many 21st century Indians and foreigners who realized what a demonstration it was of Mewar’s inherent strength and sense of nationalism. In every way, he was an honourable Custodian, upholding the flame of freedom just as his forefathers had done. “For me, Maharana Fateh Singhji remains a quintessential up-holder of India’s dignity and autonomy,” said Shriji.
· Udaipur was visited during Prince of Wales 1921 tour with the future King Edward VIII saying: “There is nothing between Madras and the Northern Passes like Udaipur.”
· Udaipur and the House of Mewar have played host to royal guests and celebrities from all over the world. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1961, Lord and Lady Mountbatten of Burma in 1963, the Duchess and Duke of Kent in 1984 have enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the Maharanas of Udaipur. http://www.britishpathe.com/
Jacqueline Kennedy’s visit in 1962 is being recalled in the global press even today. http://www.britishpathe.com/
The historian Brian Master recounted in his book, Maharana, “Queen Elizabeth II was received as a guest at Shivniwas by Maharana Bhagwat Singh. When he naturally offered the Queen precedence, she demurred, saying ‘Please lead the way. You come from a much older family than I do!'”
· The City Palace and Udaipur were the setting for the James Bond film Octopussy in 1983.
Maharana Bhagwat Singh took the lead in inviting the famous producers Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson to Udaipur, the Lake Palace Hotel and threw open the doors of the new hotel, Shiv Niwas Palace, ahead of time to house the stars. The Indian press recognised the huge multiplier effect which the Bond film was having in Udaipur and Rajasthan.
http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/octopussy-james-bond-comes-to-udaipur/1/392211.html Till date, 33 years after Octopussy release, the film is screened, talked about and often marketed by restaurants claiming ‘the best Octopussy show in town’.
· The Durbar Hall, built during the reign of Maharana Fateh Singhji in 1909-10, was called ‘Minto Durbar Hall’, to honour the visit of Lord Minto, the Viceroy of India. It took 22 years for The Durbar Hall to be completed, it’s an engineering marvel of its times. Today, it’s a glittering exclusive venue for corporate events and celebrations, an integral part of the Fateh Prakash Palace Convention Centre.
· Crystal Gallery is housed in Fateh Prakash Palace. It is the single largest, private collection of crystal anywhere in the world. In 1877, Maharana Sajjan Singh ordered the crystal from the Birmingham-based F & C Osler Company, including objets d’art, furniture, washing bowls, dinner sets, perfume bottles; the Crystal Gallery also houses the only crystal bed in the world. The crystal collection, carrying the crest of the House of Mewar, lay unpacked in cartons for almost 60 years before the present Custodian, Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar curated and developed the Crystal Gallery.
Udaipur’s climate: Mild summers (30 degrees C to 40 degrees C); mild winters (11 degrees C to 28 degrees C). Clothing required: Light tropical in summer, carry hats and anti-sun lotions; Light woolen in winter. Accessories: Come armed with cameras and shoot to heart’s content in photographers’ paradise. Languages spoken: English, Hindi, Mewari. Best time to be there: September to April.
How to get there:
Nearest international airports: Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Delhi and Mumbai.
Flights: Daily flights from New Delhi (flight time: 1 hr. 10 mts.), Mumbai (1 hr. 30 mts), Ahmedabad (45 mts.), Jaipur (45 mts.).
Rail: Convenient daily trains from New Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Jaipur.
Bus: Air-conditioned coaches to and from New Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Jaipur.
Road: 637 km from Mumbai, 250 km from Ahmedabad, 405 km from Jaipur, 664 kmfrom Delhi