Hailing from the princely city of Baroda, Maharani Radhika Raje, wife of HH Maharaja Samarjitsinghrao Gaekwad, is a woman whose elegance surpasses anything we’ve ever seen. Her charming personality along with her passion for her family’s tradition are what intrigue us about her. This month, among other things, we chatted with the lady about her role in reviving chanderi and other dying weaves that have played a major role in the tradition and culture of the Gaekwad family.
We’re told you use your clothes as a medium to revive the Gaekwad family’s tradition and heirlooms. What drew you to it?
I became a textile revivalist, just like my mother-in-law, because of her association with the chanderi fabric.
She comes from Gwalior, which is close to the town of Chanderi. It all started when she was commisioning chanderi fabric for her daughter’s wedding, and she couldn’t find any of the same quality that she had seen growing up. Chanderi (the fabric) is a major part of the Gwalior family’s tradition. Be it the men’s turbans, rugs, dupattas, or even the Maharaja or prince’s sword that he carries on ceremonial visits were covered with Chanderi.
Disappointed on not finding the same kind of fabric, my mother-in-law went back to the town of Chanderi, met the families and future generations of the weavers, and began working with them on reviving the lost tradition. Although nobody had any idea how to make Chanderi or the beautiful designs that were adorned by our ancestors, they began tapping into our family’s old albums to look for designs. The idea here is to revive, not innovate.
What does your personal collection consist of?
Everything! The only sarees that perhaps I don’t have are patan patola and paithani. I have Kotas, Banarasis, Kanjeevarams, garas, etc, whether embroidered or woven. It was something my mother used to do when we were young – buy my sister and I a saree from wherever we travelled.
What was the most difficult part of this textile revival?
Research and development issues. When we decide to recreate an old pattern, it’s when we take it on the loom that we realise that it’s not possible, because it’s either getting wabbled or the warp and weft are not aligned. It honestly looks easier than it is, and that’s because the looms today are different. Another problem is the shortage of water due to the lack of a river in this region.
What’s your personal style?
Very easy and functional; something I’m comfortable in. I like wearing cottons because Baroda is a very hot town. At home I’m either in cotton sarees or kurtas, and salwars. I’m not a matching-matching person; I try to mix and match and make a statement.
Do you think modern India lacks tradition?
India is vast, so you can’t say that the entire nation is lacking tradition. There are many people who still follow the tradition, but what I’m afraid of is losing the aesthetics. Festivals are and will be followed with the same gusto, and people still go to temples and places of worship. But very often I find that many old palaces or small havelis are being pulled down for making malls or other modern construction. So you see, we’re losing the aesthetics; it’s the loss of our architecture.
How does it feel to be a royal in present times?
Now is actually a better time to be a royal in India than it has been in the last 70 years. It was an awkward space to be, for us royals, post-Independence, because there was a constant attempt to bring down the reign.
There still is great interest and a lot of regard for the royal families and their history and culture, but very little history remains in terms of families and their households. But the royals are truly the only living testimony to what India was.
What about your culture are you most proud of?
I’m proud of our family’s history in the making of modern day India and Baroda. Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad gave his scholarship to B.R. Ambedkar and sent him to college, and in fact made him who he was. That was the first sign of equality. Also, being able to see Raja Ravi Varma’s attention to detail and give him the stature he got, when he was a nobody, was another thing that the Gaekwad family did. Even Sri Aurobindo Ghosh was the first vice chancellor and private secretary of the Maharaja.
What about your culture intrigues you?
The way we have to balance it. We too, just like the others, have to and can survive in the world. I want my daughters to live a life of a normal person too. Nothing comes without responsibilty, not even being a royal!
What do you do in your free time?
I read books by authors like Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse, try to write sometimes, and watch TV. My all-time favourite book, that can crack me up even now,