Praying Women

Women collecting to pray hold a platter in their hands containing the few objects with which they venerate their gods.

There are two silver urns placed prominently in the City Palace in jaipur. Visitors often express themselves puzzled by their presence, particularly since the attendants are quick to point out that these are the largest silver objects in the world, as recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. But more interesting is the reason these urns there were three altogether, but one has since been lost came to be made. According to Hindu belief, crossing the seas to journey to distant lands inhabited by heathen races was an act so unholy, it brought upon the perpetrator untold calamities. Not content with that, it was deemed that the contaminated person would also lose his caste in the Indian social context.

Till such time as travel remained in the realm of the impossible, this suited everybody just fine, but with increased interaction with the British in India, and the regular plying of the P&O liners to Mumbai, the temptation to travel to England and other pockets of Europe became too strong to resist. Sometimes, of course, travel was necessitated by the demands of the office: a war had to be fought in distant Haifa, or a treaty signed in Versailles.

When the Maharaja of Jaipur expressed his desire to travel to London, the consternation in his court was managed somewhat with the thought that he would bathe with water carried from the river Ganga, and dine on food cooked by his accompanying chefs who would use the same 'Indian' water for their culinary preparations.

The large silver urns served their maharaja well, but left no one in doubt about the seriousness with which the people of Rajasthan took their rituals. A martial race, they went to the battlefields with their gold amulets and damascened swords to kill and be killed: but equally obligatory was their visit to their temples where they damascened swords to kill and be killed: but equally obligatory was their visit to their temples where they paid obeisance before their gods and goddesses. If they were killed, their wives committed jauhar, the mass leap into funeral pyres which, we are informed by the state's bards who still sing of such trials, was conducted with dignity, and in the nature of a celebration. Difficult to believe? Perhaps, but the voluntary imprints left behind by their tiny hands at the entrance walls of forts before they came to their fiery end, tell a somewhat different tale. The honour of a fort, we are again informed by the same minstrels, lay not in remaining unconquered, but in the number of such handprints collected at its entrance gate.