Prince BojidarKaradordevic was a Serbian artist, art writer, world traveler, and a senior member of the Serbian Karadordevic dynasty.
By (Mrs) Amb Narinder Chauhan,
As I was leaving Belgrade, Serbia on the completion of my tenure, Professor Aleksandar Petrovic, Professor in Belgrade University gave me a farewell gift: a book ‘Enchanted India’ by Prince BojidarKaradordevic (1862-1908).
Prince BojidarKaradordevic was a Serbian artist, art writer, world traveler, and a senior member of the Serbian Karadordevic dynasty. He was the second son of George and Sarka, his grandfather Prince Aleksa was the eldest son of Karadordevic Petrovic, the founder of the over two centuries old dynasty. A wealthy Serbian clan chief, Petrovicin 1804 led the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire which was ruling the Balkans.The Uprising was successful for a while and in 1811 he was confirmed the lawful ruler of Serbia. After the Turkish forces recaptured Belgrade in 1813, he went to Austria. His son Prince Aleksandar returned to rule Serbia in 1842 but was deposed in 1858. In 1903, the Serbian Parliament restored the dynasty; it went into exile again after World War II.
Prince Bojidar lived in France for the most of his life as the members of the Karadordejevic dynasty were in exile after Prince Aleksandar lost the Serbian throne in 1858. He gave singing and drawing lessons and later earned his living as an art critic and translator contributing to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and numerous journals. He served in the French army and was awarded the Legion of Honour.
Bojidar later travelled a lot and went on several trips around the world. During one of his trips abroad he travelled extensively around India, visiting 38 cities. The book ‘Enchanted India In its 305 pages offers his first-person account of the Indian people, their religious rites, and other ceremonies: Palitana: “A huge Buddha of gold and silver was hidden under wreaths of flowers round his neck, and a diadem of flowers on his brow, where blazed a luminous diamond”…” The fourteen hundred and fifty two gods of the Jain paradise are represented on a sculptured pyramid under a pagoda.”
He also provided detailed descriptions of the Indian landscape and buildings. At Haridwar he observed, ‘At the bottom of the wide flight of steps flows the Ganges, translucent, deeply green spangled with gold…” The city of Madras “produces the impression of a town built in the clouds and then dropped, scattered over the plain”. He describes Ellora temples “hewn out to the side of the hill…gigantic steps cut in the rock, caves enshrining immense altars of Buddha…beatitudes of Krishna, the vengeance of Vishnu, the marriage of Shiva and Parvati…”. In Srinagar, “the large town along the bank of Jellum, the houses are of wood, grey and satiny with old age…in the streets the people are all wrapped in long shawls of a neutral brown… you live under the impression the scene before you is a panorama painted to cheat the eye…”
During the seven months that he was in India he observed the work of Indian artists, his interests were aroused in the work on wood and copper, which he later exchanged for precious metals, leather and silk embroidery. ‘At a goldsmith’s, I stood to watch a native making a silver box…in the coppersmith’s street was a booth that seemed like a school of art…. Some more small boys were doing embroidery, mingling gold thread and colored silks in patterns on shawls…’
What struck me most were his visits to the famous cities and towns of undivided Punjab, including Rawalpindi and Peshawar, my ancestral hometowns, which I would have liked to visit but have not done so yet. Rawalpindi “is an English town of cottages surrounded by lawns and shrubberies”. In Peshawur, “as we approached the Afghan frontier, camp followed camp, clustering around the hill stations…”
He also left a testimony of an acute sensitivity to the suffering of the population that, for the English authorities or for the Europeans in general, seemed not to exist. “How is it possible”, he asked, “that I have seen the hideous famine roaming the country, hideous specters devoured by sores, hunger sowing skeletons barely covered in skin at the edge of the roads”.
Though he died in Versailles, Paris, in 1908 after a prolonged illness, his remains were later transferred to Serbia. Serbia declared eight days of mourning for the worker’s prince, as he came to be called. His fame had long transcended the borders of France, which awoke the Serbian bureaucracy from its lethargy. His mother received the long-awaited state pension: forty thousand francs a year which, it was said, could have prevented the worker prince’s illness. Her family mansion is today the headquarters of the University of Belgrade, where I had the privilege of addressing the students.
It is said in death Bojidar was paid the most beautiful flattery that could be paid to the nobility: being poor. “He was concerned about the disintegration of the earth to the point that, to judge the function of the Night Hospitality, night shelters for the homeless, more than once he would sleep like one more destitute in one of the shelters. He was interested in the humble … they have had the honor of accompanying him en masse to his last resting place”.
Bojidar’s library was donated to the University of Belgrade. Several of his paintings and landscapes were donated to the Museum of Fine Arts of Belgrade. Bojidaris is remembered as the working prince, artist, man of letters, and above all, a sensible and thorough man.
Bojidar was a prolific writer. His work, however, is scattered except for his book on India and another volume that brought together a collection of their stories: it was published in 1922 and is entitled Multiple.
Originally in French and translated into English by Clara Bell “Enchanted India”,published in 1899, has been “acclaimed as culturally important” though the western prejudices do filter in….”and considered part of a knowledge base of the civilization as we knew it….” All in all, the work is an example of great insight by the Serbian prince visiting India starting with Bombay and then travelling both North and South regions. He also wrote the famous Notes on India – ‘Notes Sur L’Inde’.I Wonder if any other foreign prince did India this honour! Prof Petrovic penned the following while presenting the book to me, ’travelers may come and go, but memories will always stay’.
The vicissitudes of history brought the dynasty back to the country only to leave again.In 2001, the Serbian parliament passed legislation conferring citizenship on members of the current Karadordevic family led by the erstwhile Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadordevic enabling them to return to their country in the understanding that they will not claim the royal title or participate in politics. The palace and other properties seized from the family were restored for residential purposes only with their ownership to be decided later. The palace at Dedinje in Belgrade is a sprawling estate where I met my very gracious hosts, the Karadordevics and participated in their humanitarian activities as well as witnessed the marriages of their children.
(The author is a former Indian Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).