There’s heritage, romance and beauty around every corner of this dusty yet vibrant city. But the last decade has seen Jaipur flourish as a centre for culture. With the Jaipur Literature Festival as one of its marquee events, many others have sprung up — like the popular kite festival and Jaipur Photo, the annual open-air travel photography festival. “There’s a lot happening, from festivals to food experiences, like the one with French chef Alain Passard a few weeks ago, which is a result of the government, the private sector and cultural organisations working together,” explains V Sunil, creative director of the Make in India initiative, and one of the names behind the JDH Urban Regeneration Project in Jodhpur, which will bring together heritage, shopping, culture, food and more. “While the proximity to Delhi is one of reasons, I believe it is the enterprising spirit that is helping Jaipur and cities like Jodhpur and Udaipur grow organically to become a platform for culture, craft and creativity.” Here are seven reasons why heading to Rajasthan in the next three months is a good idea.
Sculpture Park | Nahargarh Fort
On the edge of the Aravallis, the Nahargarh Fort overlooks the city of Jaipur. Built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1734, its colourful past is evident in its name (meaning ‘abode of tigers’), its stories of ghosts, and its presence in films like Rang de Basanti. Within the fort’s environs, Madhavendra Bhavan — a two-storey palace with multiple suites built by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II (1880-1920) — is its most finely preserved part. Now, under an initiative of the Government of Rajasthan, it will house the Sculpture Park, a one-of-a-kind venue for contemporary arts. Opening its doors on December 10, 2017, the park is a public-private collaboration between the government of Rajasthan and the not-for-profit Saat Saath Arts.
Malavika Singh, advisor to Vasundhara Raje, says, “The Chief Minister wants Jaipur, and Rajasthan, to have public spaces for arts, which will draw a national and international audience.” Singh, who facilitated the project, roped in Peter Nagy, owner of New Delhi’s Gallery Nature Morte, about nine months back, with the missive, “Won’t it be wonderful to do contemporary art in a traditional space?”
The government gave the property, providing security, electricity and general maintenance. Support grew with many corporate sponsors coming forward. Aparajita Jain, co-director of Gallery Nature Morte and director of Saat Saath Arts, says, “Peter and I had been speaking about the lack of public art venues in India as well as arts being a part of our living heritage. Among the Jaipur forts, Nahargarh is beautiful and not as busy. Madhavendra Palace was chosen for its contained space that allowed for a more focussed presentation and better security.”
The perfect foil
Nagy’s curatorial approach entailed finding important works that could command presence in the impressive setting, simultaneously engaging the everyday visitor who is not familiar with contemporary art. As he explains, “It is an empty monument, but it was built to be a pleasure palace, a site of luxury, eroticism and intrigue.” Desirous to bring alive ghosts of the past, he chose domestic art such as furniture and clothing. Responding to the lavishly decorated interiors, he also picked works with a relationship to the decorative arts, a trend he observed amongst sculptors for over 20 years. “Our first edition has 24 artists with approximately 50 works. The second edition will most likely have only four to five artists, with perhaps eight to 10 works by each,” he says. Indian artists in the first annual show include Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Vibha Galhotra, Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta and eight international, such as Stephen Cox of the UK and Americans Arlene Shechet and James Brown. International galleries contributing artworks include Hauser & Wirth (London) and Salon 94 (New York).
Capitalising on the palace’s ample natural light, Nagy has concentrated large works in the main courtyard and others in the interior suites. On a lighter note, he says, “Vikram Goyal, a furniture and interiors designer, is creating a group of works specifically for the roof. This proved the most challenging as the works had to be able to have monkeys climbing on them!” And since it is a heritage site, everything had to be designed without damaging the property. “The opening of The Sculpture Park will coincide with the fourth anniversary of the Chief Minister taking office,” Jain concludes.
Jaipur Literature Festival | Diggi Palace Hotel
Numbers say a lot, and at the Jaipur Literature Festival, they speak volumes. Try 3.5 lakh footfalls in the last edition, more than 250 speakers representing 15 Indian and over 20 international languages in 2018, and three international outposts — in Boulder, New York and London — for size. But what gives JLF its iconic status is not just its staggering size, but also its depth, feels co-curator Namita Gokhale. “When we do the programming, we put an enormous amount of work into the research and background. In my mind, JLF has become a place where India hears itself think and listens to itself argue,” she says.
While the recently-released short list of 60 speakers doesn’t reveal much, it does present some pleasant surprises. “We have three big writers who are returning — British playwright Tom Stoppard, Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje, and Pico Iyer, who brings an oasis of quiet and sanity wherever he goes,” says Gokhale. She is also looking forward to the sessions by Helen Fielding and Amy Tan. “This is Fielding’s first time in India, and she will be one of the stars. Her Bridget Jones series have become a mirror of how women perceive themselves in their self anxiety, and we are all very excited,” she adds.
Feminine voices are being highlighted in the 11th edition, with an important session around Angela Saini’s new book, Inferior. “She is somebody I am looking forward to. Her book is about how women scientists have been ignored or marginalised,” she says. The poetry element has also built up hugely, and Gokhale promises some excellent sessions for young readers, along with literature from India’s northeast. “I have edited a new book, The Himalayan Arc - East of South East, which will be released during JLF. It is about the area from Nepal to Myanmar and the cultural continuities there.” While the music and art experiences are being kept under wraps, she asks us to prepare for a rousing show. After all, Zakhir Hussain will be present, and going by the last edition — which had the Shillong Chamber Choir, classical musicians like Padmini Rao and Devashish Dey, and bands like Bombay Bassment, Kabir Café and Raghu Dixit performing — we can’t expect anything but.
From January 25-29. Details: jaipurliteraturefestival.org
Kites Festival | Jal Mahal
As the waters of the Jal Mahal on Amer Road glint in the late winter sun, hundreds of kites will take to the air. Held each year on January 14, the Kite Festival is a visual spectacle, and tourists can stop to try their hand at flying one of the complimentary kites available at the venue. “We wanted it to be a convenient location, as people can visit on their way to the other places of interest,” says Upendra Singh Shekhawat, assistant director, Tourism Department of Jaipur. “There will be 10 professional kite flyers competing with each other. One of the highlights will be a man who will fly 100 kites on one string, along with five to 10 cultural performances,” he adds. This will include Kachhi Gori and Kalbelia dancers, Langa singers and the ubiquitous puppet shows. There will also be an exhibition featuring various kite designs and styles. “We have two referees who will decide the winners,” concludes Shekhawat.
On January 14
JaipurPhoto | Multiple venues
The third edition of the international open-air travel photography festival kicks off in February, and in 2018 it takes its theme from the Simon & Garfunkel song, ‘Homeward Bound’. Curated by artist-writer Aaron Schuman — and spread across multiple venues, from Hawa Mahal to Jantar Mantar — contemporary photographers will explore, express and engage with the notions of ‘home’, of one’s own family and community. “While we are yet to confirm a few more speakers and photographers, you can expect names like Terje Abusdal, Arko Datto, Salvatore Vitale, Asmita Parelkar, Sebastian Bruno, John MacLean and Soham Gupta,” says Lola Mac Dougall, Artistic Director, adding, “A photo essay by Regine Petersen will be showcased at the Jantar Mantar (we are displaying there for the first time) and it will be one of the highlights.”
February 23-25. Details: jaipurphoto.in
Udaipur World Music Festival |Multiple venues
Putting Udaipur on the country’s music map is the annual Udaipur World Music Festival. According to festival director Sanjeev Bhargava, it was conceived to fill a vacuum in India’s music scene. “There is a dearth of focussed and thematic festivals as they exist in the West — especially in the realm of world music, which globally seems to be the most popular genre currently,” he says.
In 2018, in its third edition, he promises an eclectic line-up of artists from countries like France, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil and India. Visitors can expect six venues, music according to the moods of the day, and the romance to justify the picturesque Lake City. While the list of next year’s performers is not out yet, Bhargava says that Catalan band Txarango will be one of the highlights, with their reggae-Latin-dubstep fusion style.
In February (dates to be announced). Details: udaipurworldmusicfestival.com
The World Sufi Spirit Festival | Ahhichatragarh andMehrangarh Forts
Discover the rich heritage of Sufism at The World Sufi Spirit Festival. A tribute to the nomadic tribes from the Thar to the Sahara, the 11th edition of the annual festival in Jodhpur will include artistes from Algeria, Morocco, Ethiopia, Iran, France, Armenia and Lithuania, among others.
Alain Weber, Artistic Director, says instead of focusing on the religious aspect, they emphasise on the more universal notion of the ‘sacred’. “Every year, we attempt to discover new artistic expressions linked to specific cultural backgrounds from one country or ethnic group. We try to introduce two kinds of shows: one, comprising artistic expressions by traditional musicians, and the second, with more contemporary approaches,” he says. The 2017 edition close to 5,000 people, and he hopes the upcoming festival will garner a 10-15% increase in footfalls.
Featuring Tuareg music and wind instruments like the Mediterranean launeddas and the double flute satara from Rajasthan, the line-up of Indian artistes includes Hariprasad Chaurasia, Madan Gopal Singh, Arshad Ali Khan, Gazi Khan Manganiyar and more. One of the highlights will be Neighbours of Manghanyar Minstrels, formed by Ethiopian artiste Azmari, which will be performing in India for the first time. You can also look forward to Sufi walks, dance performances, conferences, movie screenings, an aesthetic documentary about Sufi rituals from Ajmer, and live Qawwali music.
At Ahhichatragarh Fort, from February 12-14 and Mehrangarh Fort, from February 15-17. Details: worldsacredspiritfestival.org
Amrapali Museum | Ashok Marg
We have been hearing about it for several years now, so it is something of a relief to learn that the Amrapali Museum is finally ready for visitors. Almost. With a little over a month to go before its official launch, the team is working at breakneck speed, putting together the finishing touches – there are over 30,000 museum-worthy pieces, after all, collected over 35 years by Amrapali’s founders Rajiv Arora and his friend Rajesh Ajmera. Both Rajiv and his son, Tarang, currently chief executive and creative director of the fine jewellery brand that finds favour with Bollywood and Hollywood stars, have been hinting at this being the largest collection of silver jewellery in India. Spread over 6,500 sq ft and spilling over from the ground floor to the basement of the Amrapali HQ, the fine collection of jewellery and decorative objects won’t disappoint. Exhibits include a silver and gold betel leaf container or Pandaan from Banaras, a silver, gold and glass Araipatta or waistband from Calicut, silver hair pins from 19th century Goa, 18th century armlets with painted images from Himachal Pradesh, and the most intricately carved cuffs and anklets from Assam, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and other states. There are scores of examples of wire braiding, hammering and soldering and perfume rings that will not look out of place in a contemporary setting (incidentally, the corporate office still gets persistent enquiries for ear covers that were featured in an issue of Vogue magazine months ago!). There are also plans to organise workshops, and host international curators at the museum.
Rajiv recalls how, in the early 80s, he and Rajesh would set out in a second-hand white Maruti 800, visiting villages and towns across the country. In Calicut, the 27-year-old History students met a dealer who melted silver jewellery and converted it to bullion. “A farmer came by with a gunny sack filled with hammered silver pieces. I was shocked and alerted the bullion dealer that we were willing to offer more than the market price for jewellery in good condition,” he recalls. Excerpts from our interview:
Your son Tarang says you have been working on this museum for the last 30 years.
When Rajesh and I were sourcing silver jewellery across India, we realised we wouldn’t be able to see such workmanship for much longer, as people were getting rid of it at pawn shops and with bullion dealers. Ours was a first-generation business started with some pocket money (approximately Rs 400), so it was initially difficult to collect jewellery that couldn’t be sold. In five years, we had about 70 pieces. In the early 2000s, when the Manchester-based Shisha Foundation approached us for six moving exhibits around the UK, we documented around 450-500 objects. We had collected so much of data, so we published the book, ‘Chandrika’, and that got us thinking about the museum.
How has the museum taken shape to become what it is today?
First came the documentation, which started before the construction of the museum. For the display, in addition to the aesthetics, we had to ensure that the objects were protected from the harmful fumes of wood. We could not place them directly on a wooden showcase, and the synthetic material Tyvek was suggested. Since each object had to be displayed with props, we had to send them all to the prop fabricator, a very lengthy process. The lights were customised too.
How have you selected the 750 display pieces from your collection of over 3000 pieces of jewellery and artefacts?
It is a pan-India collection. The ground floor displays items of beauty and adornment, silver and gold jewellery for every part of the body, from virtually every section of India; with a special focus on pieces that are connected with rites of passage, from birth to death. The basement houses numerous inspirations for design that have been available to Indian craftsman over time, be it jewellery or silver objects.
You have visited over a 100 museums in the process. Important points?
That lighting is the most important feature of a museum, as is tight security. The museum can’t just be a visual experience but should have historical and academic value as well.
Your team tells us you haven’t stopped collecting jewellery and artefacts.
Our most recent acquisition is an enamelled braid ornament and armlet (bajuband) originally from the Pakistan city of Multan. It is from the 19th century and is displayed in the beauty and adornment section of the Museum.
Are you sharing your stories at the museum via the audio guide and will some of the jewellery displayed be accompanied by photos taken at source?
Less than 15 per cent of the jewellery has been photographed on people, for in those days they were wary or shy in front of the camera. It was interesting to learn how jewellery was not just for ornamentation but also had ritual and cultural value. There was jewellery that only unmarried women could wear, and indicators of the geographical location. Yes we will have an audio guide.
Given your workforce of over 1,500 people, can visitors place orders for museum replicas?
No. But we have a museum shop, selling authentic old tribal silver jewellery and some of them are similar to the ones displayed in the museum.
The Amrapali Museum will launch during JLF. Details: 141 5191100