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Life in Zenana

An Online Exhibition about the Inside-out of Udaipur’s Palace for Women

‘Life in Zenana,’ an exhibition based on the inside-out of Udaipur's Palace for Women, attempts to understand and share the daily activities of the Royal ladies of the House of Mewar, along with their significant roles in administration and palace life, as well as the lives of several other female staff and ladies-in-waiting at the Palace. Unlike other exhibitions in the museum, which are based on collections, this is the only one based on a concept. This online exhibition provides a glimpse into life in the Queen's Palace within the City Palace of Udaipur.

Maharana Karan Singh contributed significantly to the construction of Zenana Mahal between c. 1620 and 1628. The ground floor bears architectural elements typical of Mewar. The upper floors, added later as per requirement, exhibit Mughal and British influences.

This architectural drawing enlists the names of the Royal ladies, demarcates the rooms used by them, and delineates the utility of various areas of the Zenana. In addition to these living quarters, the courtyard below, called Lakshmi Chowk, witnessed many festivals and events.

The divine pairs of Shiva (Gaura) and Parvati (Gauri), worshipped particularly by women during the festival of Gangaur. These polychrome wooden idols date back to the 19th and 20th centuries and are conserved specifically for this exhibition.

The Kurti-Kanchali (Blouse set) set from early 20th-century Udaipur is a stunning example of traditional Rajasthani attire, crafted with exquisite detail and fine materials. The set comprises a silk kurti with a deep horseshoe neckline revealing the silk kanchli beneath, both trimmed with chadidar magzi. The ensemble features silk satin-weave fabric embellished with karchobi embroidery using kalabattun, sitara, dapaka, nakshi, katori, and silk threads, along with velvet applique floral motifs.

The ‘Odhana’ from twentieth-century Udaipur is a cotton head cover adorned with exquisite Mukaish embroidery using silver badla. Intricate peacock, paisley, and floral motifs embellish the fabric, adding a touch of elegance and sophistication. Traditionally, the corner without embroidery is tucked into the waist, while the odhana is gracefully draped over the head, resting on the right shoulder. This garment reflects the timeless beauty and cultural significance of Rajasthani attire, blending intricate craftsmanship with graceful draping techniques.

This Zenana Armour dates from the late 18th to the early 19th century. Custom-made to fit women's bodies, it was designed to be more flexible and lightweight compared to men's armor, featuring distinct decorative patterns. Constructed from unusually small round rings of iron, brass, and copper, gilded with gold, this piece showcases a diamond-shaped chequered pattern.

This display emphasizes the importance attached to female beauty, particularly among royal women. Female attendants are depicted on either end, attending to the queen. The attendant on the left grooms the queen’s hair, while the other, on the right, holds a mirror. The design of this room is inspired by a wall mural from the 18th to 19th centuries found in the regal Badal Mahal within Udaipur City Palace Zenana.

The existing windows of the exhibition area are veiled with ornate red-hued curtains, reminiscent of those used in the past, aimed at piquing the curiosity of visitors about what lies beyond. The design of these curtains is inspired by centuries-old Mewar paintings and wall murals. To fully immerse yourself physically in the essence of the Zenana, a visit to the City Palace Museum in Udaipur is essential.