Much has been known about the ruler of the erstwhile Baroda princely state Maharaja Sayajirao’s illustrious life through books and commentaries as a man of vision and patron of arts, culture and education.
However, Chandrashekhar Patil, a Baroda-based known painter and art-conservator, came up with a novel idea of organising a play to depict the life and times of Sayajirao. The aim was to present to the younger generation today the late Maharaja in “flesh-n-blood” and let him tell the story of his own life and with that of how Baroda grew up to be an ideal state.
Patil has been a keen student of the history of Baroda’s royal family and knew the late Ranjitsinh Gaekwad, the great grandson of Sayajirao and an accomplished painter and classical singer himself. When Patil sounded Ranjitsinh about the idea of the play, the latter immediately agreed and offered all possible support. The project gelled well with the year-long series of programs launched by a group of Baroda citizens to celebrate Maharaja Sayajirao’s 150th birth anniversary beginning 11 March 2012.
The play in Gujarati “Gopal Ane Sayajirao”, staged for the first time on 27 December 2012 and carried on for the next two days became the major highlight of the celebrations. Unfortunately, Ranjitsinh, 73 who was ailing for some time, passed away in May, casting a pall of gloom over the celebrations.
“Gopal ane Sayaji”, supported by Triveni, Baroda’s oldest theatre group, unfolds the tale of how Gopal, a village boy, came to be adopted by the Maharaja of Baroda, as a male heir to the throne and how he was transformed later into Sayajirao-III to leave his footprints on the sands of time. The full-length play also celebrated the diamond jubilee of Sayajirao’s coronation as the king (1875-1935).
Patil researched the historical and visual material extensively to get each detail required for the play correctly. He then sat down with author Makarand Musale and theatre director P S Chari to put together the play. Patil’s use of the modern technology of flex printing to create appropriate backdrops of landscapes and architecture that can be quietly wheeled in and out was interesting and effective.
Musale’s clear narrative might have appeared predictable to many older persons in the audience who already know the story but would certainly be of interest to younger Barodians. Chari’s vast experience of theatre direction turned that narrative into an exciting exploration through the use of songs, dances, popular and folk theatre elements. But his masterstroke was using the classic ego/alter ego drama mechanism, that activated a lively dialogue between the forever-young Gopal and the steadily-aging Sayajirao, as he ruminates on and debates with himself on the several decisions he takes for his kingdom.
The year-long celebrations also featured a “Rajyalakshmi” a dance- drama depicting Sayajirao’s contribution to making Baroda a truly cultural haven. Conceptualized and choreographed by Prof. Parul Shah, scripted by art historian Deepak Kannal, with the theatre design by artist Prabhakar Dabhade. It was produced by the Anjali Memorial Committee.
“Rajyalakshmi” was staged specially on the 15th August 2012 at the Donors’ Day organized by the M S University to felicitate donors to the University. It was the M S University’s tribute to the Maharaja Sayajirao, who was, for all practical purposes, the benefactor and founder of the University, and secondly, to showcase the Faculty of Performing Arts that also celebrates 125 years of its existence as the Gayan Shala which established with the blessings of Sayajirao.
As its name suggests, “Rajyalakshmi” celebrated the truly golden age of the Gaekwads in Baroda. Sayajirao channelized and harnessed the state’s wealth in ways that made the kingdom intellectually and culturally wealthy as well. The reforms that he introduced in the fields of social and public welfare, education, women’s development, medicine, industry and technology were designed for long-term sustenance.
“Rajyalakshmi” focuses on Sayajirao’s contribution to the development of the arts – both plastic and performing – in Vadodara. The Kalavant Karkhana in Kalabhavan (which later became the Faculty of Fine Arts) and the Gayan Shala (which later became Music College and then the Faculty of Performing Arts) are landmarks in the history of liberal arts education in India. Where else does one find such patronage to artists like Raja Ravi Varma, performers like Ustad Maula Bux, Ustad Faiyyaz Khan, Ustad Inayat Khan, Bal Gandharva, the south Indian Devdasis, and students of innovative media such as Dadasaheb Phalke?