Actor Saif Ali Khan being ceremoniously, albeit symbolically, being made the Nawab of Pataudi after his father’s Mansur Ali Khan’s demise (Screen grab from ndtv.com)
I was mildly amused to watch a video clip of the “pagdi rasam’ (literally the turban ritual) that symbolically made actor Saif Ali Khan the 10th Nawab of Pataudi. It was an odd perpetuation of a royal feudal order being ironically observed by “commoners” themselves.
The heads of some 52 villages were at hand to bless Saif’s succession to the title of Nawab, which before India abolished princely states in 1971, carried a great deal of formal power, pomp and wealth in many of the varied sized kingdoms that controlled territories and people’s destinies. The ceremony was necessitated by the demise of the flamboyant cricketer and Saif’s father, Mansur Ali Khan, who carried the title throughout his adult life.
What I found even more ironic was that the ritual ceremony was taking place on the 136th anniversary today of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who often single-handedly persuaded and/or coerced more than 600 princely states to join the new Indian union in the aftermath of independence in 1947. The state of Pataudi, which on a scale of royalty was a relatively minor princely state, was one of them.
Of course, the turban ceremony was a largely symbolic and harmless vestige of a bygone era but it did underscore the fact that given half a chance many ordinary Indians’ would like a royal benefactor in their midst.
In the NDTV video clip that I saw, I could hear the master of ceremonies saying this in a delightful fusion of Hindi and English.
“Aur ab pagadi rasam shuru karengey. Aap yehan ke local log jante hein shayad jo metrpolitis ke hon who na jante ho ke pagadi rasam… Pagadi rasam hoti hai legacy being passed on to the next generation. So yeh legacy ja rahi hai, yeh virasat ja rahi hai, yeh convention, yeh mulya, yeh sari paramparayen, yeh zimmewari, yeh samman…” (And now we begin the turban ritual. Those local people might know (about the ritual) but those from metropolitis (sic. meaning metropolises) may not know that the turban ritual…The turban ritual is legacy being passed on to the next generation. So this legacy is now going, this heritage is now passing, this convention, this value, all these traditions, this responsibility, this honor…)
The MC made sure that those present knew that it was not merely an act of a turban being tied on the head of the popular actor but it represented a combination of legacy, heritage, responsibility and honor. The turban having been tied, the heads of the villages, which once formed the princely state of Pataudi, filed past Saif Ali Khan paying their respects.
Saif Ali Khan himself has been sensible enough to say this in an interview with The Times of India, “Royal titles ceased to be recognised by the Indian government in 1971. The title of Nawab and Maharaja are not recognised by the Indian government anymore. And rightfully so. We are a democracy and I am not under any misconception about me ruling any state or body of people. It's just a sense of tradition. As far as receiving the title and the ceremony from the villagers go, they are sentimental about tying the pagdi. Perhaps it is is something symbolic. And yes, I will be there for that.”