Restoring Awadh’s treasured past: Rajkumar Alka Rani Singh is reviving Awadhi craft, food and much more
Revivalist Alka Rani Singh, Rajkumari of Pratapgarh, Awadh, gives us a peek into the yesteryear’s of princely zenana.art and culture Updated: Nov 24, 2017 18:02 IST
On a mellow winter afternoon, we walked into Alka Rani Singh’s quaint palatial house tucked away in the lush green lanes of Pandara Road. The richly furnished drawing room with sepia portraits of the wall, gigantic antique mirrors and blue pottery plates instantly transported us to a different era, a different place. The elegant Alka Rani Singh emerged from one of the rooms dressed in a white floral kurta and palazzo, her face glowing without makeup and her hair worn in elegant curls. Singh, an artist who has taken up the mission of bring back all things Awadh, settled on the sofa to tell us her revival story.
The Rajkumari of Pratapgarh, Awadh, along with her eldest daughter, Yashodhra Singh Rana has been working relentlessly to revive the crafts, beauty and culinary tradition of the Awadh royalty. “We are trying to revive the lifestyle of yesteryear. Revival in its purest form is not commercially viable. So we are throwing in a little design edge and a contemporary touch to make it more viable for the younger generation. We are bringing back old craft techniques and presenting them in a modern interpretation. At the same time, we have also revived in the purest form as well..it’s for those who can relate to it.
Years ago, when she was a kid, Singh saw a lifestyle that has been engraved in her mind. “Earlier, there was no dearth of time. The ladies spent time creating and supervising homemade beauty products. They were also into various kinds of beautiful crafts. My mother experimented with craft within the parda, and all of her beauty products were made at home. I thought that when women could do so much within the havelis, why can’t they do it now on a larger public platform,” says Singh.
Ten years ago, when Singh attempted reviving Awadhi crafts, it wasn’t easy. Though some of the crafts were documented, it was a task to find artisans to represent kamdani, coloured mukaish and tukadi work. “With mechanisation and modernization, everyone looks for shortcuts. No one was readily willing to do laborious things. So I had to give them motivation and a little incentive,” says Singh. Tukadi involves joining coloured pieces of silk together and turning them into garments. “The idea was to make it more wearable with the use of panels and borders which you put on different pieces, so that it’s not heavy and cumbersome, explains Singh. Similarly, coloured mukaish- threads have to be separately dyed and then done, which makes the process engrossing. Singh is also is working on hand painted textiles, which includes saris, scarfs and table cloths with inorganic hand painting over georgettes and silks. “One sari takes about 3-4 days to finish. The colour palette is inspired by kites, as kite flying was an important part of the Awadh culture,” says Singh. Singh is glad that this revival is helping patronize the artisan’s families and protect the art from dying.
Vintage beauty secrets
Homemade beauty products were a part of traditions of the princely families. “What they ate was what they applied on their face. The products were healthy, chemical-free and had no preservatives,” says Singh. All her beauty products are handmade, freshly dried and pounded. The shahi uptan, a natural scrub, has 32 ingredients in it, and it’s recipe is a family secret to beauty. Rose water is also made without any colour and has a subtle smell. It is made just the way it was made in the zenanas. The kajal that Singh makes is also handmade with no lead in it. It is made by collecting muslin cloth or cotton soot in a silver box, as silver has soothing properties.
Food livened up with fragrant spices and beautiful presentation was an integral part of the Awadhi culinary culture. The cuisine has some elaborate recipes. Apart from the quintessential kababs, kormas and biryanis, there is a huge wide variety of vegetarian recipes too. Dishes such as channe ki daal ki puri are made for religious and auspicious occasions. It is served with dapki ke aloo, kachumber salad and amle ki chutney.
Sooji ka halwa and besan ka halwa are popular desserts. Singh uses a treasured recipe passed down from generations. Sooji is flavoured with saffron and raisins and besan is flavoured with kewada. The dessert is served in a silver thali.