A Thakur of an estate and a member of erstwhile Rajput nobility wrote religiously and chronicled the life and times of the royal age.
Sounds unbelievable, but it’s true.
Amar Singh, Thakur of Kanota and Commander of the erstwhile Jaipur State Force, wrote diaries for 44 years — between 1898 and 1942 — without fail, except for one day when he had fallen from a horse and was unwell.
His passion for writing diaries has eventually gone on to become a world record as the longest diaries ever written. Those diaries can still be found preserved at Kanota Museum, located some 15 km east of Jaipur, on the Agra highway.
Generally, the museums of erstwhile royals showcase a rich collection of arms and ammunition, hunting records of royal clans and the lavish decors which once might have decorated the big plush palaces. However, this museum is quite different. It looks like a temple of knowledge housing a vast collection of books which date back to the 19th century.
This museum houses a library which initially started as a study room and then later grew into a personal library when the collection of books started expanding, courtesy the reading habit of Amar Singh.
He was the grandson of the founder of Kanota Thikana, Zorawar Singh, and a protege of Idar’s Maharaja Pratap Singh. Perhaps he is the only member of the Rajput clan who maintained a huge set of diaries which offer a fascinating glimpse into magnanimous royal courts, captivating colonial encounters and mesmerising and enthralling tales of Rajasthan.
By all accounts, he was a remarkable man. His military career witnessed the British Raj as well as free India and took him to different service locations in China, France and Afghanistan, among others. Travelling across distant locations, he developed a deep love for reading and writing.
He started writing these diaries in his Meerut College exercise books. The fact that surprises all is that he did not miss an entry for a single day except for that one occasion when he was unconscious after falling from a horse.
The Waterman-penned entries diaries comprise the 89 volumes of Amar Singh’s writing, which encompass observations on regular, daily life and affairs related to social, political, military and family. They also provide captivating insights into the lavish lives of the princely states during the British Raj.
Besides the diaries, the library houses 50 European cookbooks as well as 44 volumes of recipe diaries in Hindi. Amar Singh was passionate about food and hospitality and hence this museum retains the stories of his interest in food which extended from cooking and savouring to the origins of recipes, food history and culture.
The museum also displays a beautiful collection of tea sets, pickle jars, liquor glasses, whisky bottles, old tiffins and other utensils of that bygone era.
Going further, the museum beautifully showcases rich paintings, informative maps, random pictures, interesting books and household accounts, along with carriages, arms, armour and firearms.
Around 150 maps, some of which are featured in Colonel Tod’s “Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan”, and other maps of agricultural land divisions, documents the topographical and revenue details of the erstwhile era.
Tucked into the thick walls of Castle Kanota, this museum maintains the rich legacy since its construction in 1872.
Currently, the palace is occupied by Thakur Sahib Man Singh Kanota, Thakurani Sahib Sandhya Kanwar, Kunwar Pratap Singh Kanota and Kunwarani Vidushi Pal Singh. The fortified walls of the castle continue sharing the rich history of the once-rich estate. The members of the family have restored the elegant past with most earnest care.
Says Vidushi, the wife of Amar Singh’s grandson: “Everything inside this abode is valuable to our family. However, the most valuable part is Dada Sahib’s (Amar Singh) handwritten diaries.
“They exist in 89 volumes and it is something which is very close to our hearts. There are lots of emotions attached to these diaries as they reflect his feelings and emotions. What he might have felt each day in those 44 years is all well-documented here.”
The credit for maintaining this unique library at the Kanota Thikana goes to Man Singh, who proudly says: “General Amar Singh was my grandfather and my father always dreamed of building a museum and library around his unique personality. Hence, I decided to bring this museum to the world.”