Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pussycat, pussycat where have you been?

I've been to Bobbili to see the king.
Pussycat, pussycat what did you there?
Almost fell asleep upon my chair.

This last weekend the group traveled by air conditioned car (hooray!) to Vizianagaram and Bobbili - two cities that used to be the capitals of ancient kingdoms before independence and nationalism happened. We had been invited to meet with both maharajas and quickly accepted the offer.
Maharaja means "great king" and these men's ancestors fully lived up to their titles. For a great many political reasons, the maharaja of Vizianagaram is still allowed to fly his flag along with the Indian national flag. His father was the last crowned king, and his family gave up all of their massive landholdings at independence. His fort has been converted into a college and he sits on the board of several universities that his family founded. He himself lives in a modest, for a maharaja, manor home and keeps a small staff. We wore saris in honor of the occasion and had an informal talk with him, lunch, and were invited back sometime. This is the maharaja who got us into the Samachalam temple and his chief physician and astrologer has been a great help on a few of the projects we're working on.

The king himself was an older man, probably in his sixties, but I have never met a more regal, genteel man in all my life. Taller and broader than your average Indian, he is definitely descended from a line of warriors. One girl compared his voice to James Earl Jones's. Though sitting comfortably in his lounge chair in button-up shirt and slacks, I could easily envision him in turban, jewels, silk, and sword presiding over a court or riding an elephant.

We met the next maharaja on Saturday. This man was a younger and still resided in his ancestral fort in the middle of the city. He has a retinue. And two life-size full body portraits of himself on the wall. There were also tiger skins, antelope, boar, and leapard heads mounted on the walls, and a museum-worthy collection of spears, swords, and rifles. Wandering among the battlements in Indian dress, I felt very regal and politely waved to the commoners peddling their wares on the street below.

But I am more than slightly embarrassed by the fact that while we were meeting with this man I was nodding off! I was falling asleep in the company of a maharaja! Who does that?! He was interesting, I had slept well the night before, the couch was confortable but not overly so...I have no idea what was wrong with me. Maybe I'm just that comfortable around royalty?

I love my sari! And i am completely incapable of draping it myself. My cook and friend, Durga, helps me.

The first fort at Vizianagaram.

Visiting an old Hindu Temple - the building of which is associated with the story of the Mahabharata.

At the 2nd century A.D. Buddhist ruins we visited.

We also stopped by a village completely dedicated to weaving cloth. It was incredible to see them start from goat and sheep wool and produce beautiful, elaborate cloth. I just wish they made more money doing it.

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