Timeless Treasures — the Material Culture of Regal Indian Weddings

Timeless Treasures — The Material Culture of Regal Indian Weddings – a 40 Kg, coffee table book on regal Indian weddings was launched amidst great pomp and grandeur at the Oxford book store, Kolkata, by London-based publisher Rutland Hall.


The highly visual large-format publication comprises unique pictures and stories of weddings in the royal families across India from the late 19th century to the present day. It has rare or never-before-seen archival images. The book traces the evolution in wedding trends in India, from its princely past to its modern avatar

The book is authored by Andy Varma and Ungelie Patel


Andy Varma is the co-founder and chef de cuisine of Vama and Chakra restaurants in London and is a Kolkata boy.

Andy Varma, had teamed up with Ungelie Patel, a business partner, to set up Maia, a company which will plan dinners and parties for its clients.

While Andy focuses on the food, Ungelie, focuses on the creative side.

Andy Varma, Ungelie Patel and Kamaljit Singh are also the directors of Rutland Hall Publishers.

The book was part-authored by Art Consultant, Curator, and novelist Deepika Ahlawat.

Three years ago, Kamaljit, Ungelie and Andy were sitting and having a drink together when they decided it would be good to do a book on weddings.

In the days of your, Royal families of India would commission jewelers like Cartier, Mauboussin and Chaumet for bespoke jewelry.

The French Jewellery company opened its archives for researchers of this book. Cartier is well known for its jewelry and wrist watches, the diamond necklace created for Bhupinder Singh the Maharaja of Patiala and the “Santos” wristwatch of 1904

Cartier owes its rise to Indian and Indian nobility. Cartier became big actually because the Indian royalty commissioned such big pieces.

Jacques Cartier came to India, to take away magnificent jewelry of local maharajahs back to the London studio to redesign and modify for their own use. Jacques-Théodule Cartier was one of three sons of Alfred Cartier and the brother of Pierre Cartier and Louis Cartier. Pierre’s grandfather, Louis-François Cartier had taken over the jewelry workshop of his teacher, Adolphe Picard, in 1847, thereby founding the famous Cartier jewelry company.


Together, Pierre and Jacques purchased a large number of pearls and precious stones from an Indian prince. The uniqueness of the pearls and stones created a sense of each piece of jewelry being special, which helped with the success of their business.

The erstwhile royal families also opened their private collection for the researchers. This was because of trust established by Deepika Ahlawat, who is already doing projects with the Maharaja of Kapurthala, with the Scindia and Gwalior families, the Nawabs, The Nizams including Middle Eastern royalty.

The second part of the book features an exclusive selection of modern-day luxury brands that represent the ethos of the regal Indian wedding, including couture houses, jewelers, and iconic wedding destinations.

The Book has been priced Rs10, 000 for the Indian market.


The Launch was accompanied by a lavish drink party by Chef Andy. It included Red and White Chilean wine which was accompanied by Kolkata cuisine and sweet dishes with a twist. Oxford was also transformed into a ramp for models to showcase wedding couture by Shantanu Goenka.


Plug-in- a tribute to an American Baul


Plug-in is a free three-day music festival curated by Oxford Bookstores for the eighth edition of Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival.

Plug-in is a tribute to Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016.

Bob Dylan has an intimate relation with Bengal.

Bob Dylan would often visit a studio at Woodstock, New York, where the Baul musicians Purna Das, his brother Luxman and their entourage would hang out in 1967-68.

Dylan would also fiddle on the Baul instruments ektara and khamak.

Dylan told Purna Das that:-“Purna Das is a Bengali Baul and he is an American Baul. We both sing music of the roots. Our objectives, he told me, were the same: To sing for people, tell their tales and spread love through music.”

The world’s most legendary song smith flew down to the city to attend a marriage of Purna Das Baul’s son in the winter of January 1990.

Moheener Ghoraguli was India’s first rock band. It was established in 1975 in Kolkata. They were influenced by Bob Dylan.

Hence it was indeed great that Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival introduced the Plug-in to play tribute to Bob-Dylan.

The plug-in brought together the brightest young musicians of West Bengal to perform in the heart of the city at St Paul’s Cathedral Grounds for a free music concert.

Those who performed are:-

No Strings Attached -known for their repertoire of music that combines elements of American folk, jazz, country and blues and Ritornellos known for their rousing music and easy tunes.

Underground Authority – countrywide, a rap-rock outfit.The band set the fire on stage with numbers of playlist ranging topics from violence to love, from diversity and inclusiveness to revolution and passion.

Paloma & Adil, famous for their feel-good mix of electro pop songs with smooth vocals and soulful melodies, experimental, soothing electronic soundscapes.

The Plug-in closed with a solo performance from Sambit loved for his mesmerizing and fantastic solo act of rhythm and music.

On Greek and Indian Mythologies



Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik is an Indian physician turned mythologist and author whose works focus largely on the areas of myth, mythology. He has written a number of books related to Hindu mythology.

Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik discussed about his latest book with Arshia Sattar at the Tollygunge Club.

In his book “Olympus” he has attempted to find similarity and differences between Greek and Indian mythologies.

Talking about similarities he says that just like Amravati of the Hindu devas, Olympus is the home of the Greek gods

Zeus the leader of Olympians, wields a thunderbolt like Indra and rides an eagle like Vishnu.

Also, the deeds of the Greek hero Heracles, known to Romans as Hercules, reminded many of Krishna, as did his name, ‘Hari-kula-esha’ or lord of the Hari clan.

Prometheus embodies fore-thought and his brother Epimetheus, after-thought; in Hindu mythology, Bhrigu is an intuitive and Brihaspati a rational adviser.

The Greek epic of a husband sailing across the sea with a thousand ships to bring his wife, Helen, back from Troy seems strikingly similar to the story of Ram rescuing Sita from Lanka.

In Indian mythology, we worship beings that are a combination of multiple animals like Narasimha (half-lion, half-bull) and Yali (part lion and elephant) and the Nagas.

They are similar to Greek monsters like Minotaur (half-bull and half-man), Medusa (woman with snakes for hair), Chimera (part lion, goat and snake).

The question then is there a connection between Greek and Hindu mythology then? Does it have something to do with a common Indo-European root? Or maybe an exchange of ideas in the centuries that followed the arrival of Alexander the Great?

Well according to the author there are fundamental differences because the Greeks believed in one life and so one chance, while Hindu mythology believed in rebirth.

Unfaithful wives are common in Greek mythology while fidelity is of paramount importance in Indian mythology.

The book is fascinating as it is an attempt by an Indian to look into Western Mythology.



Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob started with a ‘Literary Heritage Tour’ of Kolkata, where we visited the residence and workplaces of famous Bangla icons. I was fortunate to be a part of it. We visited the house of Raja Rammohan Roy(now the Kolkata Police museum) , Rammohan library, Upendra Kishore Roy Choudhury’s House, Vidya Sagar’s House and bangiyo, Shahitya Parishad with distinguished writers, bloggers and media persons.


The first stop was The Kolkata Police Museum

This house at 113, A. P. C. Roy Road was built for Raja Ram Mohun Roy  around  the  year  1814.  In  1996  this  building  was  converted  into  a  Museum  of Kolkata Police. It houses important relics and documents related to India’s freedom strugle.

Recently 64 files related to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his family members are kept there by the Government of West Bengal for public viewing.


The next stop was Ram Mohun Library & Free Reading Room

In 1904 some Bengali literati of eminence were among the founding fathers of the Rammohun Library & Free Reading Room. The proposal to establish a library as a tribute to Raja Rammohun Roy, the great harbinger of the Renaissance in Bengal, was first mooted on 27th chaired by Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar at the City College Hall.

A four storied building stretched over 1600 sq ft area located at the crossing of the Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road and the Sukhia Street near Maniktala. The ground floor houses the historical Auditorium .In fact, a trio of auditoria marked as Heritage Halls in Kolkata are – Town Hall, Albert Hall and the Rammohun Library Hall.

The first floor spaces out to the Museum & Archive; and a part of the Library; The second floor accommodates the Library, Reading Room, and the Office; and On the third floor is a Conservation Laboratory that caters to the preservation of rare books, the rich legacy of the Bengal renascence.


The next stop was the House of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury



Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury was the father of the famous writer Sukumar Ray and grandfather of the renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray. He was a versatile genius, excelling in the fields of children’s literature, music, painting and printing technology. He was the father of the famous writer Sukumar Ray and grandfather of the renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

Upendrakishore first introduced modern blockmaking, including half-tone and colour block making, in South Asia. In 1913 he founded what was then probably the finest printing press in South Asia, U. Ray and Sons at 100 Garpar Road. Even the building plans were designed by him. At its inception the firm was named U. Ray after its owner; and Sons was added in 1900 when his son Sukumar Ray joined the firm. Upendrakishore ordered the necessary equipment from A.W. Penrose & Co., of 109 Farringdon Street, London.

Upendrakishore’s son Sukumar Ray going abroad on the Guruprasanna Ghosh Scholarship at Presidency College, Calcutta in 1911 to study at the London County Council School of Photoengraving and Lithography. An integral part of the firm, Sukumar was to take over the running of the press when his father fell ill and his knowledge and technical expertise regarding latest printing techniques, half-tones and multiple stops picked up at LCC and later at the School of Technology at the University of Manchester

In April 1913, when the building for the new press at 100, Garpar Road was still under construction, Upendrakishore started the magazine Sandesh, a popular children’s magazine in Bengali that is still published today. It was the first magazine for children in India that had coloured pictures, and it became an institution in Bengal.


The building had three storeys and a fine flat roof, which Upendrakishore had used for his astronomy. The printing machinery was housed at the front of the building on the ground floor and directly above that were the block-making and typesetting rooms. The Ray family lived at the back on all three floors. To reach them, a visitor entered a small lane to one side of the house.

The Next stop was Vidyasagar Smriti Mandir 

Vidyasagar Smriti Mandir is the erstwhile residential house of Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was an academic educator, writer, translator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur, reformer, and philanthropist. and a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance. His efforts to simplify and modernize Bengali prose were significant. He also rationalized and simplified the Bengali alphabet and type.

 Vidyasagar Smriti Mandir  features two purposely renovated buildings and is in operation since 2000. The main building features a special study centre of IGNOU and the Vidyasagar Memorial Museum.

An exquisite terracotta mural, measuring 20×60 ft, which depicts the life and works of Vidyasagar is the main highlight of the museum.

The second building of Vidyasagar Smriti Mandir houses a well-stocked library and a well-equipped auditorium.





The last stop was Bangiya Sahitya Parishad




The Bangiya Sahitya Parishad Chitrasala was founded in the year of 1910.This historic landmark on Uper Circular Road, was the symbol of Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century.
At the time of its establishment 122 years ago at the residence of Raja Benoy Krishna Dev of Sovabazar, it was named ‘Bengal Academy of Literature’. The Institution was renamed as Bangiya Sahitya Parishat the next year. The present building  was constructed was a munificent gift from Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandi . The iconic litterateur of Bengal like Ramesh Chandra Dutt, I.C.S., Rabindranath Tagore, Ramendrasundar Trivedi, Nabinchandra Sen, Jagadishchandra Bose, Nirmal Kumar Bose, Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay, Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay, Haraprasad Shastri and many others graced this organization as its Presidents or Vice Presidents.
The Bangiya Sahitya Parishad Chitrasala has a large reserve of the various artifacts , stone and metal statues, gold and silver coins, and art and craft work that throws light on the rich historical past of Bengal.There are almost 2.5 lakh books, thousands of letters and manuscripts

Bangiya Sahitya Parishat Museum of Old Manuscripts, called ‘Bangiya Sahitya Parishat Puthisala’, was established in 1894  as per the proposal of Jatindranath Roychowdhury and Rajanikanta Gupta. The museum boasts a collection of 9427 manuscripts in Bengali, Sanskrit, Hindi, Assamese, Oriya, Tibetan, Persian and Ceylonese including manuscripts written on ancient writing materials like palm-leaf, paper made of cotton pulp, bark of trees etc.
The most notable collection of the museum are :

  • (a) Only extant manuscript of ‘Srikrishnakirtan’ by Badu Chandidas.
  • (b) Manuscript of ‘Manasamangal’ composed by Khemananda.
  • (c) Manuscript of ‘Premabilas’ written by Dhayamani Pattamahadevi, queen of the King of Bishnupur.
  • (d) Manuscript of ‘Chaitanyabhagabat’ by Brindaban Das in Bengali and English.




The seventh edition of the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival, 2016 was hosted in Kolkata from 14th -17th January 2016.

The sites for this edition of Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival were Nandan, Town Hall steps, The Indian Museum, Presidency University, Tollygunge Club and Victoria Memorial.

In one interesting session called “Crossing the Line”, we got to interact with Pakistan author Reema Abbasi. Abbasi, who has written a book ‘Historic Temples in Pakistan: A call to conscience’. In the book the author travels through the four provinces of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan detailing their landscape, local population and temples as well as their keepers. A set of nearly 400 photographs in the book brings alive the rich history of Hinduism in Pakistan

Pakistan’s Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis and Shi’ite Muslims today make up about less than 5 percent of the nation’s 180 million people. According to her Hindu temples are well-maintained in Pakistan.
She speaks of Hinglaj which is an important Hindu pilgrimage place in Balochistan, Pakistan and Kuldevi of many Kshatriya, Charan and other Hindu Communities of India. It is situated in Balochistan province about 250 km north of Karachi. The Bhairava at Hinglaj is called Bhimalochana, located in Koteshwar, Kutch.

Hinglag is near the peak of one of the mountains of the Makran Coastal Range. The area is extremely arid and the pilgrimage also called ‘Nani ki Haj’ by local Muslims. Despite the independence and the increasing Islamic stance of the Pakistani society, Hinglaj has survived and is in fact revered by local Muslims who call it ‘Nani ki Mandir’. Muslims offer red or saffron clothes, incense, candles and a sweet preparation called ‘Sirini’ to the deity.

The session was an interesting one.


sherlok holmes

My favourite detective is Sherlock Holmes by Sir ArthurConan Doyle of 221b Baker Street London.

I admire Holmes because:-

Holmes lived during Victorianperiod and I consider Victorian era to be one of the best phases in human history. During this period religious faith and the sciences were generally seen to be in beautiful accordance. The study of God’s Word, in the Bible, and His Works, in nature, were assumed to be twin facets of the same truth.

Holmes was a self-made man with a scientific temper who represented this period.

He is a Victorian Gentleman who believes in Science, Morality, Nationalism, and Democracy.

“The ideal of the English gentleman was a very real one. It was looked up to, admired and imitated all over the globe, that strange, indefinable yet quite clear notion of always and in all circumstances doing the decent thing”. It was an ideal embodied in the person of Mr Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes lives and thrives in the post-Darwin upheaval. The Scientific temper and spirit of enquiry is what attracts me immensely. The character of Holmes, is a celebration of confidence in the uniform operation of scientific laws that allowed the trained observer to deduce causes from effects. Just as palaeontologists could identify an organism from fossil fragments, so could Holmes reconstruct a crime by tracing physical clues and piecing together their meaning.

Today’s youth may have lots of Information crammed in their heads, but they lack the spirit of scientific quest and observation skills.

When Holmes first met Dr. Watson, he made a certain observation. “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”

This is how Holmes deduced it:-


  •  Watson is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor.
  •  He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and this is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair
  • He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his worn-down face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural mann
  • Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.'”


Holmes loved violin concerts, all Great Minds have an inherent love for music.

Holmes had powerful intellectual ability, yet he possessed above-average physical strength and martial arts skill.

In spite of being great brain, Holmes was not attracted by any or every women. It was Irene Adler a women of superior intellectual ability to whom Holmes is attracted.

“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex”

Hence Sherlok Homes represented the Victorian Spirit and The Gentleman (Bhadralok in Bengal) which I admire so much.

On how Tagore influenced modern writers?




Rabindranath Tagore, not only left behind a huge ovure of work but had seminal influence on many modern writers. The reason for his appeal was spiritual humanism.

The bard not only influenced generations of Bengalis, but he had seminal influence on many modern writers.
Some of the writers he influenced are :- Chilean writer Pablo Neruda, Mexican poet Octavio Paz, Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata, Kannada poets D. R. Bendre, , Gujrati poet and writer Umashankar Joshi, and Kannada novelist A. N. Krishna Rao.

After he won the Nobel, Tagore attracted much attention in the West, those attracted by Eastern mysticism. They included W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost etc.

Tagore had great influence on Latin American poets. In a lecture on Tagore’s manuscripts, given at the University of Delhi by Octavio Paz, he says “Although Rabindranath has influenced some of our Hispanic-American poets, none of our poets have had any kind of influence on him. He was not well versed in Spanish and in his writings there is no hint of his acquaintance with our writers or our tradition”.(1)

Many of Pablo Neruda’s poems are based on Tagore. “In My Sky at Twilight” is based on Tagore’s “Tumi sandhar meghamala” . “ComeWith Me, I Said, And No One Knew” is based on Tagore’s “Jodi tor daakshune’ keu na aashe’…ekla cholo re“.

Juan Ramón Jiménez was a Spanish poet who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956. In 1913, he and his wife-to-be, Zenobia Camprubi, had begun translating Gitanjali . Jimenez was producing what was later to become one of the most important books in Spanish literature: Platero and I. The book – the story of a man and his donkey – is deeply influenced by Tagore’s lyric prose, and it is an effort to transgress the classical boundaries between novel and poetry.

Yasunari Kawabata was a Japanese novelist and short story writer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968.He became the first Japanese, and third Asian (after Rabindranath Tagore and Shmuel Yosef Agnon), to win the award. Yasunari Kawabata, treasured memories from his middle-school days of “this sage-like poet” .His white hair flowed softly down both sides of his forehead; the tufts of hair under the temples also were long like two beards, and linking up with the hair on his cheeks, continued into his beard, so that he gave an impression, to the boy I was then, of some ancient Oriental wizard.(2)

Leoville L’Homme was the first Mauritian poet of French expression who was influenced by Rabindranath Tagore.
In China, Tagore is said to be the most translated foreign writer in Chinese after Shakespeare. He found admirers in 20th century Chinese writers and poets like Xu Zhimo.(3)

Tagore also influenced writers in other Indian languages. (4)

  1. R. Bendre (Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre) kannada poet was greatly influenced by Tagore.

Umashankar Joshi received the Jnanpith Award in 1967 for his contribution to Gujarati, literature. He was highly inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s dialogue poems, and enriched the existing Gujrati literature by penning in the same manner. Two such poems are his “Prachina” and “Mahaprasthan”.

Dr. A. N. Krishna Rao Karnataka’s famous novelist was greatly influenced by Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore left an enduring impact on Urdu literature and is still  a constant source of inspiration for writers. (5)

Many of the popular Bolywood songs are based on Tagore’s writings.

Thus we see that Rabindranath Tagore’s influence in global and he has influenced writers through generations throughout the world.


(1) http://archive.thedailystar.net/newDesign/print_news.php?nid=206529

(2) http://www.outlookindia.com/article/A-Poet-Unwelcome/281819

(3) http://travel.cnn.com/mumbai/play/rabindranath-tagore-bengali-bards-150th-year-516791