If “The use of time is fate.” — as the English poet-dramatist George Chapman has claimed, we’ve either wasted time or conquered it in creating this jewel, thus sealing our destiny to be grim or glo...
If “The use of time is fate.” — as the English poet-dramatist George Chapman has claimed, we’ve either wasted time or conquered it in creating this jewel, thus sealing our destiny to be grim or glorious.
The necklace’s fate, however, is in your hands. Whether it’s merely a fanciful exercise in jewel-craft or a timelessly regal ornament is for you to decide.
A year and two months in the making, the Sita-har has seen no less than six revisions and one remodelling as well. The elephant, with all its curves and contours, was chased, cut out, frosted, chiselled, and then fitted with pearl anklets and a line of pearl detailing on its headdress. Caparisoned richly, including a head covering and a crown, it’s the very picture of pachydermal pulchritude.
Fate hasn’t been as kind to the Ramnagar Fort, part of which still serves as the official residence of the King of Benaras. Constructed in the characteristically buff Chunar sandstone, the palace complex, on the east bank of the Ganga, lies in disrepair, the neglect of the Archaeological Survey of India evident in every part, inside and out.
The Durbar Hall, designed with acuity to be cool during the searing summers, is now the museum and to appreciate it one has to take in in full detail the architecture and not just the displays. Of course, the Vidya Mandir recreates the royal courts from the era of the monarchy effectively and there are dusty vintage cars (mostly American) and revolvers, guns, jewelled knives and swords and daggers from diverse countries (the armoury’s here) to see, and a rather interesting clock that tells not just the time but maps the stars and phases of the zodiac signs as well — and it works! Dresses, jewellery and furniture, all belonging to the royal family, are on display as are ivory-work and elephant decorations. A monumental elephant crown has been referenced for its superb chased patterns. The floral medallions on it are seen adapted to the forehead ornament and crown of the haathi and in the centre of the square naksha side-pieces of the Sita-har.
The elephant pendant has been drawn from the entrance gateway to the Durbar Hall where a pair in brilliant vegetable colours stands guard, one on each side, fronting fancy fluted pillars. Mounted upon a pedestal that cantilevers over (but actually rests on) two almost-smiling tigers, each elephant comes complete with a mahout perched on it with what seems a fly-whisk in hand and a chain and bell wound around its trunk. These two, we’ve excluded, as also the elaborate tassels affixed to the coverings, and the thick necklace the haathi wears. Also, instead of the cut tusks of the palace pachyderm, we’ve retained short but shapely ones.
This magnificent Durbar Hall portal has two gently curving ogee arches of which the one on the outside has spandrels that sport intricate curved patterns of the kind often seen in Mughal palaces (in fact, the fort does follow an overt Mughal design in its architecture even if not in its layout). These spandrel motifs have been reworked magnificently in the naksha caparison and the side-pieces of the Sita-har while the end terminals, the only part that is made of thokai and polish-pat, refer the geometric carvings on the stone frames that ornament the riverside gateway.
Five strands of seed pearls harness the elephant to your neck in spectacular fashion. Kept in place by simple spacers, the first segment of pearls is dotted with gold ball-beads that carry the splendour of the ‘shonar haathi’ upwards towards the side-pieces but disappear a little after midway because then there’d be too much gold, and grandeur would become gross. Royalty knows reserve.
Our first jewel of 2022, this. And you’re called upon to judge its fate.
While the elephant may well be a sign of regality and good fortune in India, to spend more than a year birthing it may seem improper if not downright indulgent. Still, the Ramnagarer Shonar Haathi, rendered in virtuoso naksha, was extremely difficult to manage — more even than the real ones are — and for a while became quite the proverbial white elephant till we got the pyknic aspect of it right. But there were other struggles, all of which you need not know, for art to be art necessitates them and their eventual overcoming, though the effort should never show in the finished work.
You, our only goddess, are given your immaculately handcrafted guinea-gold vahana. May you seat yourself upon your auspicious shonar haathi, tour the world, and bring peace, happiness and prosperity to it.
Once the safety of us all is ensured, we’ll walk to a corner of the fort and celebrate with an earthen glass each of Shiv Prasad Lassiwala’s ambrosial rabri-topped sweet drink — and a toast raised to the health of destiny.