Princess Akshita M Bhanj Deo, 28, is taken in transit between Kolkata and Mayurbhanj, Odisha, en route to her family’s Belgadia Palace, a former royal guesthouse and residence of Maharaja Praveen Chandra Bhanj Deo of Mayurbhanj and the Maharani Rashmi Rajya Laxmi Bhanj Deo of Mayurbhanj (Princess of Jaisalmer) who hosted such luminaries as Tagores and JN Tata in the late 1800s.
His sister, Princess Mrinalika M Bhanj Deo, 30, is already in Belgadia and joins us on call from the colonnaded palace of the Victorian era.
It was Mrinalika who, fresh out of a stint in New York working for a third-generation perfume brand (which owns the Carolina Herrera brand), decided to transform the 20-acre property into a luxury hotel. charm of 11 rooms in 2015, a process that took two and a half years to restore.
Akshita is a social entrepreneur working at an AI nonprofit, astute storyteller, craft revival, neo-influencer, and potential author, while Mrinalika is a yoga teacher, hospitality maven. , fashionista and co-founder of a craft label with her younger sister.
“We have just added two more rooms specially adapted for people with reduced mobility,” says Akshita. “I also incorporate native flora into our landscaping, ideal for agrotourism and sustainable agriculture.”
In the genes
The educated Askhita bard speaks quickly, punctuated by the inflections of an international education (after a few years in La Martinière, Kolkata, she left for Singapore to finish her secondary studies). Mrinalika is equally eloquent; A graduate of the University of Virginia, she did a month-long yoga retreat in Bali and was teaching in person before the pandemic. She even ran two eponymous yoga studios in Kolkata, where the family has a home.
Like real millennials, princesses are committed to making the world better. Akshita does not see herself as an influencer, but as an entrepreneur whose team is ready to do groundbreaking work. “Understanding how brands work – the narrative aspect – is why someone buys a product,” Mrinalika explains.
Akshita’s work with public policy and international affairs came naturally after graduation (her mother founded a school for street children and her father is in politics), when she worked with refugees. while she was part of an international relief committee. But this sense of justice for the less fortunate runs in his blood.
“We grew up with stories about my ancestors, so there are stumps of what they planted as seeds,” she says. His great-grandfather’s younger half-brother, Maharaja Sriram Chandra and Maharani Sucharu Devi’s son, was a fighter pilot for British India, working with refugees from the Middle East. “His plane crashed at Cuttack in 1945 while fighting the Japanese,” Akshita explains.
Akshita recently discovered that the second wife of his grandfather’s younger brother, Asha Bhanj Deo, had written bestselling Raj-era romance novels under the pseudonym Rebecca Ryman.
“I would like to do a book or podcast on uncovering these lesser-known stories of princely India, which showcases the culture and resilience of unique individuals who have helped to weave the fabric of modern India.” , she says.
Likewise, Mrinalika discovered the sketchbook of his grandfather Maharaja Pradeep Chandra Bhanj Deo and used it as a basis for his restoration work on Belgadia. “I was also inspired by my father’s Nepalese mother (daughter of King Tribhuvan), who built Belgadia when there were no architects,” she says.
Currently, the sisters are neck and neck with Hasa Atelier, the luxury craft brand they co-founded, where they sell bags of woven sabai grass often associated with dokra (metallurgy of Odisha tribal communities). ).
“We contribute to our ancestors’ vision of building sustainable communities; women have gone from a few thousand rupees a month to almost a few lakhs by weaving the Sabai grass into beautiful products, ”Akshita explains. The princesses are pushing for an IG label for the Sabai herb which is said to have been brought back from Madagascar by one of the princesses’ ancestors.
With his father as a public figure, Akshita would rather be out of the public eye. “It doesn’t mean anything to have more likes, followers and mentions in the media,” she says. “If it comes organically, great, but you can walk away and let your work speak for itself. ”
She recently made her Instagram private to focus on her work. “I want to build a community and not allow people to have access to my privacy,” she says.
Mrinalika also uses Instagram to build her community. “I post pictures of things I love to do, things that make me happy. My yoga journey is definitely something I love to talk about as it has helped me tremendously and I hope others will as well. My story reflects who I am and sometimes I show what a day in my life looks like. ”
the royal family of the 21st century
“We have a rath yatra where the king sweeps the ground,” Mrinalika said. “My dad does that again today, in front of the whole town, when the rat is shot. These rituals bind us together as a family. You are not a king without your people. The minute you disassociate yourself from your community, you lose all relevance.
European aristocrats have hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. Is this a similar trend in India? “The fascination stems from the political stability and continuity that royalty brings,” Akshita explains. “Members of the royal family are mirrors of society – there is a standard to be met, but there is a risk that it will become a golden cage. ”
Akshita says it’s time to look past the Maharajas as they are portrayed through the prism of a Cartier or Rolls-Royce and balance their personality with individuality and the responsibility to give back. to the communities from which they come.
“What I love about shows like The Crown is that royal families are revealed to be vulnerable. This is how we live and earn our money; and we’re talking about mental health, climate change, and gender equality, and we’re allying with LGBTQIA and so on. We have contemporary relevance to society, ”she says.
Mrinalika adds, “Although we do not have a monarchy in India, the philanthropy of our ancestors and their institution building activities left us with a lot of respect and love in our state. People believe that our family has the network and the access to be an agent of social change. “
Akshita compares the royal family in India today to a chamber of modern-day princes. “Each family is its own brand with its own specialty,” she says. “Each is known for several things, such as the cuisine of the Sailana family, the heritage restoration by Maharawal Chaitanya Singh of Jaisalmer and the museum expertise of Maharani Priya Raje Scindia of Gwalior. We help each other today as professionals, extending our partnerships in the corporate world to the connections we have.
Priya Kumari Rana is a Delhi-based lifestyle journalist who has worked with publications such as Harper’s Bazaar and Outlook.
From Brunch HT, September 26, 2021
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