C. P. Belliappa's Column

Princess Victoria Gowramma: From the Shadows of History

“Victoria Gowramma’s Rendezvous at Leeds

By: C.P. Belliappa

It was wonderful to be a part of two memorable events to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Alchemy, a cultural organization headed by Dr Nima Poovaya-Smith at Leeds, UK, during October 2014. One of the programmes curated by Dr Nima, titled – ‘From the Shadows of History: Princess Victoria Gowramma of Coorg and Maharaja Duleep Singh of the Punjab’ – was held at the Round Foundry Media Centre (site of one of the leading foundries that contributed to the Industrial Revolution of 19th century Britain). The following day, the event, very differently curated, was held at The Leeds Library, established in 1768, and one of the oldest private libraries in the country.

Several artists took part in depicting the story of Princess Victoria Gowramma and Maharaja Duleep Singh, and in bringing them out of the shadows of history. It was immensely gratifying for me to have resurrected the forgotten story of this lost princess of Coorg, based on which the artists portrayed her extraordinary life in Victorian England, as god-daughter of no less a person than Queen Victoria.

Well-known musicians David Wilson on the saxophone, and Inder ‘Goldfinger’ Matharu on the tabla, composed the musical scores. Rashmi Sudhir enacted Princess Victoria Gowramma in a dance sequence along with Hardeep Sahota playing the role of Maharaja Duleep Singh. Christella Litras and Rob Green sang with Jonnie Khan on the guitar, for which Dr Nima Poovaya-Smith wrote the evocative lyrics (reproduced below).
From The Shadow of History:

My name is Victoria Gowramma.
Daughter of the last Raja of Coorg.
God daughter of Queen Victoria
honorary sister to Maharaja Duleep Singh
of the Punjab
(once he’d decided I would not make a suitable wife.)

Rajas, Maharajas, Queens
Grooms, under butlers
Havelis, palaces, courts,
Lingayats, Christians
English, Kannada
Coorg, Benares
-my father’s Trojan horse
so he could wage futile battle
against the East India Company –
my life, rich in confusion
even before I crossed the alien ocean,
to England.

I frolicked with the Queen’s daughters,
was painted by Winterhalter
and sculpted by Marochetti.
The Queen dreamed of grand alliances
but no one would marry me

One day, in distant Yorkshire
my honorary brother – Duleep Singh
Introduces me to my future husband.
Thirty years older, he’d already lost a wife.
He was careless like that
he lost my jewels too
when he disappeared.

At 23, fatherless daughter,
neglected wife and mother
I vanish into the shadows of history

My chronicler is Belliappa
My bard Christella
Rashmi – my spirit and soul
In the yearning note of the saxophone
David captures my voice.
The beat of my heart,
the thrum of my blood
echo in Inder’s pounding
of ancient rhythms.
And I emerge
From the shadows of history.

My name is Victoria Gowramma.
Daughter of the last Raja of Coorg.
God daughter to Queen Victoria,
honorary sister to Maharaja Duleep Singh
of the Punjab
(once he’d decided I would not make a suitable wife)

The event was graced by David Lascelles, The Earl of Harewood (and great-great-great grandson of Queen Victoria), and his wife Diane, the Countess of Harewood. Another guest was Mrs Anne Phillips, the great-great-grand-daughter of Lt Col John Campbell (husband of Victoria Gowramma), from his first wife.
Aruna and I presented Alchemy with a conceptualized painting of Princess Victoria Gowramma with her daughter Edith, as well as a smaller charcoal portrait of Victoria Gowramma drawn by our artist friend Jayashree Pathak from Mumbai.

Since our visit, there has been an hour-long programme recorded on ‘From the Shadows of History’ involving interviews with Nima and some of the artists interspersed with music and vocals performances, which will be broadcast on Bradford Radio. From the Shadows of History will also be performed at the Barnsley Civic on 26th February 2015. Andrew Morrison, Chief Executive of The Leeds Library said at the launch there – ‘one book has generated all this – poetry, paintings, dance, music and vocals. This shows how powerful a source of inspiration books can be.’