Arts and crafts boom provides lifeline for India's former aristocrats

Arts and crafts boom provides lifeline for India's former aristocrats
Baisa Pushpita Singh, a member of the royal family of Kharwa, is a self-taught bespoke jewelry designer who combines semi-formal neckpieces with traditional techniques.

NEW DELHI -- Princess Kamini Singh, a member of the erstwhile royal family of Seohara, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, spends much of her day poring over gossamer fabrics, fussing over artisans, or sketching designs for her clothing line, which retails across the globe.

Kamini Singh is one of an increasing number of Indian royals who are leveraging the cultural legacies of their former feudal states for income. Their ateliers typically produce high-end products ranging from pashmina shawls to hand-painted saris, bespoke jewelry, paintings, furnishings and tableware.

Arts and crafts in India have traditionally been patronized by royals as part of their stately duties. But such patronage has gradually disappeared over the last few decades following the dismantling of more than 600 independent princely states in the wake of Indian independence from the UK in 1947.

The rulers of small aristocratic states - Hindu Rajas, Maharajas and Thakurs, and Muslim Nawabs - lost their executive powers to the new democracy. But they retained many of their other privileges until 1971, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's government ended official recognition of titles, and abolished privy purses - payments to the former royal families from the central government.

Prime Minister Gandhi's action, together with other legislation, left the former ruling families with no guaranteed income from New Delhi or their former states. However, many now make a comfortable living by promoting the legacy of their ancestors.

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