ad info


Asiaweek TIMEASIA.com CNN.com
 > magazine
 home
 intelligence
 web features
 magazine archive
 technology
 newsmap
 customer service
 subscribe
 TIMEASIA.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL

Other News
TIME.com
TIME Europe
FORTUNE.com
FORTUNE China
MONEY.com
Asiaweek Services
Contact Asiaweek
About Asiaweek
Media Kit
Get up to 3 months of Asiaweek free when you subscribe online!


OCTOBER 27, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 42 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK


Amit Paricha — Roli Books.
Maharaja Sobhag Singh of Jodhpur with his daughter-in-law and two sons. Karan Vijay Singh (left) , is a renowned polo player.

End of the Royal Fairy Tale
Two new books recall the magic of the rajas, but India's aristocrats struggle to remain relevant in democratic society
By RITU SARIN

Once upon a time, India's princes and princesses lived in the kind of wealth you would only find in fairy tales. Together, their 560 families ruled over two-fifths of their country. One prince used a 162-carat diamond as a paper-weight. Another had a fleet of 72 Rolls-Royces and 100 other cars, while an especially eccentric one loved his dogs so much he dressed them in elaborate robes and equipped their kennels with telephones. Thousands of guests were invited to the wedding of one of these pampered pooches.

And then, in 1971, the Indian government did away with all royal privileges, cutting the allowances received from the state and ending the families' right to rule. With that, the princes of India were all but consigned to the country's history books. But while most of them may have lost their power and fortunes, they are not completely without support. Some historians and writers believe the princes remain relevant in a democracy and that their role in building the nation should be reassessed.

This is the theme of two recently published books on Indian royalty. They explore the role of the former rulers and find much of the romance and mystique surrounding them intact today. Sharda Dwivedi's The Maharaja and the Princely States of India (Lustre Press, Delhi, 155 pages, $125) and Costumes and Textiles of Royal India by Ritu Kumar (Christie's Books, London, 343 pages, price not specified) both present splendid photographs that highlight the opulence of the old ways.

The royals have an axe to grind. In a foreword to The Maharaja, Arvind Singh, himself a member of the Udaipur royalty, argues that the former rulers have never been given credit for their part in India's history. "Even as early as the 19th century, many played a significant and major role in the struggle for India's Independence," he writes. "Unfortunately, their contribution has never been highlighted or even acknowledged. Such is the weakness of democracy." One day, he suggests, "the true facts will emerge" and the princes' role will find a rightful place in the annals of history.

Author Dwivedi tells how some princes adapted to the sudden loss of state funds and other privileges. The wealthier ones set up trusts to look after the welfare of dependents and employees and for the establishment of institutions dealing with research, education, health care and social welfare. Others took jobs in industry, or joined the diplomatic service or became politicians — dealing on equal terms with people who had once been their subjects.

Some, like Singh, chose to capitalize on what they had and turned their fabulous palaces into equally fabulous hotels, often complete with many of the old trappings and possessions. Other homes morphed into schools and libraries. Glimpses of the rajas' vast inheritance can be seen in the wildlife sanctuaries that used to be royal hunting grounds and in the costumes, jewels, crystal and antiques displayed in museums.

Not all the former rulers fared well, of course. Many frittered away their riches or became entangled in wealth-sapping legal disputes. In other cases, says Dwivedi, the palaces became "millstones around royal necks." As a result, she says, some royals are "living in a state of near penury."

In Costumes and Textiles, Kumar, a fashion designer, says society's traditions were too deeply rooted to disappear at the stroke of an administrator's pen. Today, many royal families are still part of the social fabric. They dress in traditional costume for religious ceremonies and celebrations and some forms of royal language continue to be used in polite society.

Kumar describes the garments she features as among the "few surviving examples of India's vast textile heritage." Once the maharajas saw their lands merge with the Indian state, the traditional costumes were either packed away in trunks, donated to museums, sold to private collectors or left to decay. What a pity, she says. The attention to detail and the quest for perfection displayed in the costumes created a splendor "unmatched anywhere." Pity also that royal energies were not more devoted to the greater good.

Back to the top

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek.com Home

AsiaNow


Quick Scroll: More stories from Asiaweek, TIME and CNN

   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search
  ASIAWEEK'S LATEST
Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?


  THIS EDITION
COVER: Crisis: Asia braces for the fallout from Manila's turmoil
Philippines: Will people power — and big business — finally bring Estrada down?
Interview: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is ready to take charge

TECHNOLOGY SPECIAL
Asiaweek.com

Asia's Digital Elite: Our first annual list of the region's cyber kingpins

Home Alone:
An I.T.-challenged correspondent takes on Singapore's wired house

Music Box: Creative's Nomad Jukebox, a new breed of MP3 player

B2B: Japan can't find its e-commerce footing

SPECIAL REPORT
Internet Wars: STAR TV's James Murdoch vs. Richard Li
Interview: James Murdoch on the competition with PCCW

NATIONS
Awards: Asia's Nobels reward reform, freedom and genius
Writings: Gao Xingjian celebrates the individual

INSIDE STORY
Maluku: Will it be Wahid's Waterloo? Demoralized security forces show that no one's really in control

ARTS & SCIENCE
Cinema: Taiwan rock idol Wu Bai scores in his first lead role

Books: It's the end of the fairy tale for Indian royalty

Environment: Hong Kong's dangerous appetite for luxury foods

BUSINESS
Investing: How to ride the current volatile markets
Bargains: The biggest losers with upside potential

EDITORIALS
Security: Detente in Korea raises both cheers and fears in Asia

Ban: Malaysia's crackdown on arcades won't end illicit gambling

Letters & Comment: Bangkok crime capital?

STATISTICS
The Bottom Line: Asiaweek's ranking of world economies

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.