This is a small fictional story, written by me, based on some facts from one of the most colourful pages of Indian history.
It is a usual bright morning, birds chirping and peacocks cooing, the deer and rabbits bounding about, oblivious to the arrival of a family of distinguished nobles! They had obviously informed the queen beforehand, and preparations for their arrival have been going on all week. The guests were greeted very enthusiastically, keeping the staff completely occupied trying to make them comfortable. The queen herself was very eager to greet them herself, but that is one of the few things that the king has prohibited her from doing!
Loud, joyous drums marked the entry of the guests within the queen’s palace. Flowers and attar were also part of the welcoming ceremony. The whole atmosphere was filled with colour and fragrance. The retinue was finally led into their rooms. They had requested for the top-most rooms, and being Rani Mrignayani’s palace, the men and women of the party were not even separated! Eventually, they settled into their 5 rooms, overlooking the whole palace. It is said that it was the Maharaja’s idea to raise the guest rooms, higher than the host’s chambers, in respect to the guests. The Maharaja is truly an idealist, whose generosity can be matched only by the Rani!
The guest chambers have been very well equipped, with the latest, most luxurious items. The queen had asked me to oversee the preparations myself, asking me to check that everything was the same as that the queen used.
By mid-morning, the guests had settled in and washed off all the fatigue from the journey. They were ready to explore the city. They also had an invitation from the king to visit his palace at the top of the fort. They were all very excited, except for the elderly grandmother, who would be staying behind at the queen’s palace itself. She was much tired by the journey, to go on excursions so soon. All of us assured her though that she would have enough to do here. I told her about the several wonderful pavilions, built for the pleasure of the royal family, which could be used by her for the day, with melodious music playing continuously, throughout the palace. I also told them about beating the heat by soaking in the cold water, or just relaxing by the water pools. Hearing this, the children of the party immediately started crying out that they too wanted to stay behind with their dadi. This out burst delighted dadi, and secretly, me too. I was very pleased that they preferred my queen’s palace to the king’s much famed one.
They returned only after it started getting dark. They were all very excited as they had been to the emperor’s Maan Mandir, much loved by the emperor. I had heard the maids from up there say that he loved the palace even more than all his nine queens together. No one really knows how true that is! But the palace did deserve love. It is said that it is one of the best palace ever built by a Rajput ruler so far. Many men of notable dynasties, and other noble clans, much like our guests today, come here to study this palace, and build one of their own in their kingdoms. And so our guests felt very lucky to be given a complete tour of the same. The tour took so long that they didn’t get to see anything else! But they were to stay in Gwalior for over a week, so that wasn’t any problem.
The queen had issued a letter, sent to the guests’ chambers, assuring them that they are going to have a wonderful evening, also promising to be present if other matters didn’t impose. She had called the province’s best musicians for their entertainment, and if they were lucky, her guru himself, mia Tansenji, might be able to grace the gathering. I don’t know if they were excited about it, but i certainly was! The only vocalist better than the Rani was her guruji. To hear these wonderful compositions of taal and laya, the queen had specifically ordered a semi-open pavilion, baradari style, but with stepped and balcony seating. It is a beautiful place to hear the crescendo of the performances, may they be vocal, instrumental or dances. The empress is not as fond as dance as she is of music, but she does enjoy a Kathak recital now and then. And it is one of the best things to get the guests in high spirits. The performances, with the backdrop of the magnificently lit fort, almost bring to life the wondrous epics they depict, evoking a certain stillness, only disturbed by the continuous sound of the water channel nearby. It was the same this evening, though the queen couldn’t make it, as she had to go up to the Maan Mandir, to see the king about some urgent administrative matters. She had asked me to stay back, and make sure that both, the guests as well the performers, were taken good care of, she said that she didn’t trust anybody else for it! Some snacks with water and thandai had been served during the performance itself, and then the men of the party went for a short walk, up to the highest pavilion on the campus. It was a difficult walk, but they were all very restless now, due to the lack of much physical activity. The women went back to their rooms, to freshen up the children and ready themselves for dinner. They had asked for the dinner to be served at one of the balconies above their suites, specifically designed for such purpose. Our preparations were in full swing, even before the show got over. The huge plates were laid out, with the necessary bowls, filled to the brim, with food prepared with much love and care by our cooks, few of the best in Gwalior. The menu was a great combination of sweet and spicy (separate preparations for the few vegetarians), a delectable set of Rajputi delicacies.
The men, on their way to dinner, stopped at the sura (the bar), in search of madheera. They were not disappointed with either the madheera it the daawat. Everyone enjoyed the meal, especially the children, as they could run around the balcony even in between the meal, though their mothers were not very happy about that. But everyone appreciated the cooks’ efforts. I know how much that meant to the head bawarchi. The children ran around some more after the plates were cleared away, their mothers fretting about the cold night air, before retiring into their rooms for the night.
The whole complex of the Gujari Mahal was playfully lit, with the moon hanging just above, giving enough light to bathe everything in silver. The silhouettes of the building were seen strikingly against the lit balconies. The sound of water, far and near, could be heard rhythmically in the cold air. The complete setting was breathtaking, beautiful beyond words. This was the perfect ending for a hot, busy and tiring day. And a perfect prelude to the day ahead, a day by my beloved queen’s side, a day with entertaining another set of guests, who come to this palace as a haven, a place where they will be treated like the royalty themselves, where they enjoy the beautiful vistas, the natural as well as the man-made. A place of peace and harmony, my home.