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ASHWA POOJAN

— JASMEEN DUGAL

Udaipur's cultural landscape is as enchanting as the city's lake, palace and monuments. Here, time-honoured traditions come alive during the celebrations of intangible living heritage, inculcating values, pride and a sense of belonging in the community. Today, ancient horse-worship ceremony 'Ashwa Poojan' performed by Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar Chairman and Managing Trustee of the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, illustrated how intangible living heritage retains its original purpose, focuses on community values and preserves ancient tradition for future generations.

 

For the uninitiated — 'Ashwa Poojan' is an auspicious ritual where royal 'ashwas' i.e. horses are worshipped, since time immemorial. The Marwari horse is fundamental to the region's history and ballads recount the beauty, bravery and loyalty of this breed, and how they helped save lives. However, not many people are aware that this breed was revived from near- extinction at the Shikarbadi stables. Researching it a few days before the ceremony, I came across a piece of literature where Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar explained: ''The horse is an integral part of our living heritage. It is as important for us to preserve the rare Marwari horse bloodlines as it is to preserve our palaces and temples. From time immemorial, horse and man have evolved between them an affinity of not just true companionship but a great deal of trust, respect and deep love. 'Ashwa Poojan' or worshipping the horse, is our way of paying homage to this bond.''

 

This morning, on the first day of 'World Living Heritage Festival', also the auspicious ninth day of Navratri, a beautiful invitation to experience 'Ashwa Poojan' was hand delivered to me. My friend had mentioned that it would be a grandiose ceremony, an experience unlike any… and I was looking forward to it. It was an auspicious date… one where the rituals would invoke both, the power of Durga and Ashwa. At 5 p.m. we met up in the hotel lobby, all of us in festive attire, as we hailed our hotel buggies to Manek Chowk. Shortly, we witnessed a magnificent palace procession, led by Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar in his 1905 Vintage Landau — another form of living heritage since it is not showcased in a museum but is restored and in use at festivals; otherwise it part of the vintage and classic car collection at Garden Hotel. As the procession approached Manek Chowk, a fervent chorus of 'Jai Mewar' resounded as locals assembled in the surrounding balconies cheered. Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar dismounted, and joined by his son Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, proceeded with the ceremony of honouring each of the rare Marwari horses dressed in finery… a ceremony that has been conducted for over a hundred years. It was lovely observing them in traditional poshak, which looked stylish, regal and at the same time, an ode to their heritage. Overseas guests were in black tie and evening dresses while indian guests looked beautiful in saris and lehengas offset with statement jewellery. Coming back to the ceremony, the silver artefacts used by Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar were part of the Amar Mahal Silver Gallery; after the ceremony, they would be taken back to the gallery! This is another example of living heritage: the silver artefacts are precious but in use. The ceremony, where Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar honoured and fed the horses dressed in regal equine jewellery — Kalingi i.e. worn between the horse's ears; Phuldi i.e. necklace; Mora i.e. worn on the face of the horse; Neveri i.e. worn around the knee; Dumchi i.e. leather piece attached to the saddle and covered in cloth and silver work — was followed by 'Nazraana' where he met guests over sumptuous refreshments organised by HRH Group of Hotels.

 

Enchanted by the ceremony, and blessed that I had been invited to be a part of it, I couldn't help thinking that 'Ashwa Poojan' — an intangible living heritage of Mewar — wouldn't be forgotten over time; it would 'live' on through this annual ritual. Because, Living Heritage is precisely about preserving everything of value that teaches us to treasure our past in the here-and-now and to safeguard it for the future. Its conservation is important because it gives a sense of belonging to the community — there are so many people in search of their roots and what better way to get an insight of their culture than practicing time-honoured community-driven rituals? Looking at the larger picture from an editor's eye, with Udaipur ranked third among the world's most beautiful cities by the acclaimed 'Travel And Leisure' magazine, the region's magnetic charm drawn from centuries-old tradition, culture and heritage, is further motivation for inbound travellers seeking new experiences. Jai Mewar!
 

Ashwa Poojan
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar in his 1905 Vintage Landau
 
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar performs Ashwa Poojan
 
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur performs Ashwa Poojan
 
16-OCTOBER-2018
 
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