Reclaiming Shakti

By The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation

Radhikaraje Gaekwad

"I have spent many quiet moments in the Gaadi
Hall, soaking in the stillness of the divine. 
Lakshmi, Saraswati, Sita Swayamvar, Krishna Janma, Kansa Maya, Keechak
Sairandri and Sita Bhumipravesh. Over the years, as
I have matured in my role as a woman, a wife, a mother, I have noticed the
finer nuances of 'Sita Bhumi Pravesh'." – Radhikaraje Gaekwad

Lukshmi Vilas PalaceOriginal Source: Royal Gaekwad Collection, Baroda

A new bride under my veil, ushered into my home for the very first time under a rain of rose water and petals to the mellifluous resounds of shehnai and Vedic chants, I found myself surrounded by the gods.

Lukshmi Vilas PalaceOriginal Source: Royal Gaekwad Collection, Baroda

Seated in the most sacred hall of the palace – the Gaadi Hall (Throne Room) – the symbolic seat of the Gaekwads, the scale and theme of art that overlooks it alone indicates its power and sanctity in Maratha history.

So there I was, surrounded by new faces that, with time, I will come to know and love, some among me, some upon me, witnessing from their gilded frames. It was in that moment, in my ceremony of Gruh Pravesh*, I discovered Sita’s Bhumi Pravesh**.


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* Gruh Pravesh: In this context means the auspicious entry of a new bride into her marital home.

** Bhumi Pravesh: The entry into Earth.

Lukshmi Vilas PalaceOriginal Source: Royal Gaekwad Collection, Baroda

The magnificent 'Sita Bhumi Pravesh' commands the entire wall right behind the throne, almost as a reminder of the duties of a King and the personal sacrifices it demands.

Sita Bhumi Pravesh (1880) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Royal Gaekwad Collection, Lukshmi Vilas Palace, Baroda

It depicts Maryada-Purushottam* Lord Ram, a man personified by duty, witnessing helplessly the sudden and final parting of his beloved, Sita, into the arms of her mother, Bhoomi, the goddess of Earth.

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*Maryada-Purushottam: The embodiment of respect and virtue.

The composition of 'Sita Bhumi Pravesh' would enthral me with its grandeur of architecture...

...jewellery and textiles...

...the perfect features of the protagonists, and the drama and movement in one frame, instantly becoming one of my favourites works of the artist.

Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III (1875)Original Source: Royal Gaekwad Collection, Baroda

Soon, to my utter delight, I came to discover another 'Sita Bhumi Pravesh' in our collection – it was clearly a favourite work of art of Maharaja Sayajirao III and his family as well. It has long intrigued me why is it that we hold two copies of the same work.

Sir Thanjavur Madhava Row (1881) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Royal Gaekwad Collection, Lukshmi Vilas Palace, Baroda

It is well documented in art history that Varma arrived in Baroda in 1881 on the invitation of an old associate, T Madhava Row, who in turn had already presented Sita Bhumi Pravesh as a gift to the newly anointed Maharaja, Sayajirao III.

The artist himself must have believed it to be one of his finer works to be gifted to the Maharaja as a sample of his skill.

Sita Bhumi Pravesh (1880) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Royal Gaekwad Collection, Lukshmi Vilas Palace, Baroda

Over the years, as I have matured in my role as a woman, a wife, a mother, I have noticed the finer nuances of 'Sita Bhumi Pravesh'.

The sadness on Lakshman’s face...

The shock on the Sadhus’ countenance...

The polarity of Luv and Kush’s reaction, one covering his eyes, the other soaking in the last visual of his mother...

The evident rage of the elements, as the red flags upon the grand facade sway defiantly and the earth cracks open...

Ram, who, for this one moment, appears to distance himself from his throne and sword, edging towards his wife, the hand depicting both shocked and helpless.

Divine Bhumi, the eternal mother of Sita, is to me the most beautiful figure. Her wise, ethereal countenance contradicting the motion to envelop her child in the recesses of her kingdom. The protective embrace and interlocking fingers in a gentle clasp could only be that of a mother, yet are so subtly captured by the male artist.

Sita, by far, is the central dictating figure in this painting. As she braces her bruised heart and journeys into Earth's bosom, all Sita has eyes for is her Ram — the king who never faltered, but a husband who failed. The haunting gaze that wells with pain and broken promises meets Ram’s helpless eyes.

Sita – the princess, the wife, the queen, the mother and above all, the empowered woman, let down by the one man she entrusted herself with, in this one frozen moment takes final control of her life and dignity.

To me, this immortalised moment captures the feminine rejection of the harsh world of male dominance and retreating only to reclaim Shakti*.

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*Shakti: The embodiment of inner strength and power.

Credits: Story

This article is authored by Radhikaraje Gaekwad, the present titular Maharani of Baroda. She is the trustee of the Maharaja Fateshingh Museum and the Royal Gaekwad Collection, Baroda (now Vadodara) which houses the largest private collection of paintings by Raja Ravi Varma. Radhikaraje Gaekwad is the Vice President of an NGO – the Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udyogalaya, the Director of the CDS Art Foundation, heritage conservationist, textile revivalist, wildlife enthusiast, writer and a public speaker.


Script rights: Radhikaraje Gaekwad, Vadodara.


Image rights: The respective image sources.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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