Maharajas and Maharanis of India have left a mark on our country’s history with their charm, poise, love stories and immaculate sartorial choice. Some of the Maharanis like Maharani Gayatri Devi, were known for being socially and politically active, also being instrumental in women empowerment movement.
Their stories and royal portraits have always fascinated me for their grandeur of scenery and eminence. These photographs function both as socio-historical documents — a record of the cultural and social modalities of their time. A part of our history to narrate and to keep the royal blood lineage alive in our memories.
However, I always wonder if these portraits are romanticised into one dimensional image, leaving behind the complexity of that time? Like one of the less spoken; existence and significance of third gender in ancient India – Tritiya-prakriti. Their presence is in rituals, law books, religious and mythical narratives, commentaries, paintings, and sculpture.
These images are notes leading towards deeper inquiries, whether into gender debates, the complex relationship between Indian royal families and colonialism, or our conceptualisation of the past. They were people who were brave, who were emotional, who were political and who were complicated.
Much like the past, our present is struggling with similar issues of patriarchy, identity and self. We are grappling with new age realities, eastern vs modern, past vs future. We often have questions about our origin, questions about cultural appropriation and a constant search within; of one’s own ideology, self image and body.
As I received postcards from the past, I admired them in all their glory and asked myself what it was to feel like royalty?
Feeling like royalty, owning my body unapologetically.
Feeling like royalty, owning my culture lost in time.
Feeling like royalty, owning my strength and poise.
Feeling like royalty, agender; am infinite.
Muse – Alok V Menon | Styling and creative direction by Ashima Gandhi | Photography by Abhinav Anguria