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Patrons to traders: Royal patronage to arts, crafts changing

Monday October 17, 2011 05:42:49 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

A contemporary "pichwai (religious painting) of cows from former princess Vaishnavi Singh's Studio Kishangarh

(Image: IANS)

New Delhi: Art and craft in India have traditionally been patronised by the royalty, who spent the bulk of their wealth adding to the country's artistic heritage. But over the centuries, the nature of patronage has changed with the fall of kingdoms.

The erstwhile royalty - who have since acquired contemporary aesthetic skills and global exposure - have taken it upon themselves to personally carry the traditional crafts to the domestic and international market.

"The cornerstone of the new initiative is relevance, fusion chic, affordability and functionality - suitably decked with the glamour of exclusive lineages. I wanted people to know there are people who are doing great art blending tradition with utility to revive their dying art traditions," art curator and connoisseur Anshu Khanna told IANS.

Khanna brought together 10 erstwhile royalty to present a collection of contemporary art, "Royal Fables" in association with Khushii, a non-profit group sponsored by former cricket ace Kapil Dev and the Metropolitan Hotel.

According to Brajraj Singh, the former ruler of Kishangarh, a hub of Rajput miniature art, "the Mughal school may have begun with Humayun, but it peaked during his son Akbar's reign (1556-1570) and continued through Jahangir's and Shah Jahan's reign".

"But emperor Aurangzeb curbed several genres of art in between 1670 and 1707, forcing artists from the Mughal court to move to the smaller Rajput principalities for survival. It sparked a new creative wave in the smaller Rajput kingdoms," the former ruler of Kishangarh told IANS.

Bhavani Das, a painter who migrated from the Mughal court to Kishangarh around 1719, and Nihal Chand, the chief court painter, were the early protagonists of the Kishangarh school of Radha-Krishna paintings.

However, in the last century shrinking resources and a creative morass led to its decline, the former ruler said.

In 2010, scion Vaishnavi Kumari Singh, the daughter of Brajraj, a trained designer from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, set up the "Kishangarh Studio" with 200 artisans to revive and modernise the Kishangarh School of Art.

"I am trying to fit the art into a metropolitan sphere by making it functional, practical and innovative with new ideas and techniques. I am teaching them new painting styles," Vaishnavi told IANS.

She has taken motifs of the cow, lotus and foliage to create a hand-crafted range of household accessories, "pichwai" style drawing room art and pret wear.

Kathmandu-based art promoter Prajwal Man Shakya traces the history of his family art and coral miniature sculptures to the lifetime of "Shakya Muni" or Lord Buddha 2,500 years ago during the Lichavvi period.

"My forefathers migrated to Kathmandu from Kapilavastu," Prajwal told IANS. The Shakya family is helping Gautam Rana, a leading entrepreneur and former nobility in Kathamandu, to conserve the Buddhist Newar art of Kathamandu Valley.

Newar art is an early form of Buddhist "paubha" or devotional painting that flourished in Nepal before Buddhism went to Tibet.

"The paubha art had been relegated in the last century because of poor promotion. We have been able to give Newar art an international platform with exhibitions at our galleries - Bodhisattva and Baber Mahal," Prajwal said.

The rare enamel art of Jammu and Kashmir has found a fresh lease of life in former Jammu and Kashmir princess-turned-enamel sculptor Jyotsna Singh, descendant of former Maharaja Hari Singh.

Jyotsna, an former Delhi University lecturer and daughter of Member of Parliament Karan Singh, makes "enamel and copper wall sculptures, lifestyle accessories with papier mache and paints Islamic calligraphy".

"I am trying to make the traditional enamel art more identifiable," the self-taught artist and a member of the Delhi Enamel Society, told IANS.

Former princess Priti Singh of Kuchaman, a descendant of legendary Bhakti movement icon Mirabai, has taken the traditional quilt art of her erstwhile principality to Europe and the US with her modern line of furnishings and apparel.

Begum Farah Mir, a former Surat royalty and a scion of the former exiled Afghan emir Dost Mohammed Khan's clan, has merged "Persian and traditional Gujarati embroidery traditions" in her designer saris woven by local "karigars" in Gujarat.

The tiger art of young Vikramaditya Singh, a scion of the former Palhaita princely state, "is finding a market globally with the several commissions".

"The country is beginning to recognise the importance of Brand India and our initiatives are a small contribution to the growing brand," jewellery designer Kavita Singh, a former Jodhpur royal, told IANS.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at





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