Updated: Jan 10, 2021
What makes a royal, we wondered. We then began to form an answer after speaking to Ambika Raje Ghorpade from the royal line of Sandur, India.
Ambika Raje Ghorpade, pictured above in the golden saree next to her elder daughter Krutika, is a veritable repository of knowledge, skills, stories and experience.
But, more than that, she is easily one of the most elegantly dressed women in India today.
Ambika Raje Ghorpade is originally from the Indian state of Gujarat, and spent much of her childhood in the cities of Rajkot and Ahmedabad. Her father, a Gaekwad, was a gold medallist with an extraordinary intellect and an individual legacy of his own as a bureaucrat. Her mother was a Princess- Rajkumari Sushiladevi of Jasdan; graceful and wise; with an innate taste for all that had an enduring, feminine timelessness to it.
Ghorpade herself was a psychology student before she got married to the highly astute Kartikeya Raje Ghorpade; a well respected politician in Karnataka and the son of former Member of Legislative Assembly M. Y. Ghorpade, from the primary line of royal Marathas in southern India.
Ambika Raje Ghorpade's life has been multi-faceted and multi-hued; often enabling her to switch between being an educator of literary works, mentor for the youth, handloom saree promoter, and a voice for state-led initiatives such as 'Vocal for Local.'
One of the many things to admire in her is her stunning sense of aesthetics: firmly classical with the expert inclusion of the new and modern. She does the latter in quiet and subtle ways; making her aesthetic effortless, layered, nuanced, and winning.
Ambika Raje Ghorpade is a clear patron, and an aficionado of sarees. She would always wear a saree to school when she was teaching in Sandur prior to her family's move to Bangalore.
"The school kids, who are all grown up now, still send me messages telling me that they often remember my cotton, Maheshwari and Chanderi sarees-- and that I inspire them to wear sarees," said Ghorpade.
"Whenever I hear that I inspired someone to wear a saree, I feel happy," she said.
Every saree is unique for Ambika Raje Ghorpade because of her ability to squarely see each saree for what it is; as if it were not merely just a piece of clothing, but a unique cultural and historical fingerprint.
She describes sarees with a strong understanding and appreciation for texture, color, pattern, and degrees of permanence. She often locates sarees in rich context, giving an ode to where the saree was produced, and what it means for us today.
She can frequently be spotted wearing beautiful, light and flowing chiffons with large borders, or soft chamois silks or satin; a few types of sarees which comprise her fashion trademark. We can see why: for the sense of ease and classic charm exuded by the fabrics, as well as the grace of women who wear them.
Ambika Raje Ghorpade is often nostalgic when speaking of sarees, usually due to the personal history attached to many of the sarees in her rich, extensive collections. For example, her collection of chiffons is built upon both, the collection as well as the memories, of floral French chiffons of her own mother; like the pink-gold tissue saree with an intricately woven, real zari border, or her favorite black, bordered chiffons.
Ghorpade sees fabrics as an open canvas to weave and imagine an everlasting vibe on any given day. In her ongoing, personal saree blog on Instagram, she expertly shared that Chantilly lace can be boring when worn alone, but "comes to life" with a zardozi border. She also adds that while several would dismiss "gloomy" greys and unusually esoteric and dampened colors, Ghorpade sees them as the perfect shades to accentuate accessories; from strings of pearls to necklaces of gold and silver.
As far as kanjeevarams go, she shares that tissue kanjeevarams are even more interesting, since they drape beautifully and look richer than their traditional silk counterparts.
She rightly believes in preserving fabrics passed down through the generations. As it happens, she has gorgeous, authentic, Indian vintage-border sarees that were first worn over a century ago.
If we had to summarize Ambika Raje Ghorpade's personal fashion staples, it would be: sheer, lightweight, flowy, beautiful, soft drapes with traditional Indian motifs, embroidery or borders. This, she often coordinates with the right pair of shades, or the perfect pointed flat shoes; elegantly marking her presence on many occasions. All of this entails plenty of satins, georgettes, lace, organza, tissue, silks, and, of course, chiffons.
According to Ambika Raje Ghorpade, the former Rajmata of Sandur and Princess of Baroda, her mother-in-law, is "loved and missed by all."
"She was always smiling, gracious, and dignified."
"We got along like a house on fire," she added.
This made sense. Because while Ghorpade herself wears many different hats, including that of a teacher and mentor at the family-instated residential school when in Sandur, she is also clearly the real essence of her own family, much like the former Rajmata of Sandur had been for hers.
Writing about Ambika Raje Ghorpade would be incomplete without also mentioning her significant role in preserving, refining and furthering Indian culture in her own family; a lot of which can also be seen to have reflected in her daughters, Krutika Ghorpade Bhansali and Anushka Ghorpade.
The dazzling fact is that the personal stories of prior and current generations of Ghorpades are stories of art, culture, and heritage in India. The famed royal recipes of Sandur (which Kartikeya Raje Ghorpade himself takes an active interest in) are priceless notes on Indian cuisine. And the exquisite sarees of Ambika Raje Ghorpade are a carefully curated amalgamation of traditional art, fabric, fashion, and history.
She is an invaluable presence amongst her own. By extension, she is invaluable for Indian culture.
This, perhaps, helps to explain what it means to be extraordinary like Ambika Raje Ghorpade of Sandur. ●