How kingdom of Panna turned into a wildlife sanctuary

Panna is a sleepy town of Madhya Pradesh, known both for its now dried diamond mines and the wildlife sanctuary that houses the Kohinoor of Indian wildlife: The tiger. Few know that it is also the princely state historically ruled by the Rajas of Bundelkhand, famed for their bravehearts on the battlefield and their bravado in the jungle. Surrounded by the densest of forest covers, it today thrives as a pristine sanctuary where wildlife sightings are easy. We chat with the petite and pretty princess of Panna, Krishna Kumari, as she is passing the pandemic time in Panna. 

Half bundelkhandi and half Gujarati (her mother Dilhar Kumari hails from the royal family of Bhavnagar), she is a cordon bleu tigress, a free spirited adventure buff who also surprisingly doubles up as as a sensitive artist… Painting her beloved animals on Porcelain, a medium of expression that is known to be tough to manoeuvre but exquisite to behold. And this artist paints extreme close ups of tigers, zebras, deers and elephants that she encounters on a regular basis. Both back home in Panna and in Africa which she admits is like her second home. “I love travelling to Africa. 

Princess Krishna Kumari of Panna

To the forest reserves. That to me is the most precious of places in the world.” Living between Panna, Bhavnagar and Mumbai, Krishna, very visible on the social landscape of Mumbai and much loved too, is actually happiest when behind the wheels of her SUV manoeuvring through tough terrains. Quick to drive off at a whim she has, “Driven the length and breadth of North India in my SUV. I find it the easiest mode of transport and also love taking part in car rallies through the desert and the mountains.” 

That is when Krishna is not undertaking a motorbike tour through Ladakh or driving across the wild life parks of Uganda with her compatriot Radhika Raje Gaekwad, the Maharani of Baroda. “We did this trip through Uganda last year, encountering chimpanzees and gorillas. This year we were slated to go back but then the world got gripped by the pandemic.” When not sighting wild life for real she is busy capturing them on porcelain tiles, trays, plates and bowls. Often monochrome with a dash of yellow or ochre highlighting the tiger’s stripes or the zebras eyes, Krishna shares that, “I stumbled upon this art form by a stroke of luck when I met a seasoned artist in Mumbai and took part in her art camp. Though tough, the art form captured my imagination and I decided to travel to cities where it is truly practiced: Spain, Portugal, France. I trained to understand its nuances and carefully mastered it.” Today she creates a body of work that is wild life inspired. 

She says, “Principalities like ours that lived on the fringe of the jungle knew what to hunt when to hunt. We were told to leave the animals be at breeding season. I see my art as a turn from hunting animals to nurturing them and capturing their immense beauty inside a canvas that is as pristine as them.” Or as pure hearted as this artist who, when not trotting across the globe, is busy teaching art to the tribal girls who come to study at their girls school in Panna, named after her grandmother Maharani Durga Laxmi. And when stuck in the pandemic she is converting one of the family homes on the fringe of the park into a homestay heritage property. She smiles, “I got into my car with my mother and drove off from our home in Mumbai straight to Panna, the moment we were allowed to… I want it to look like a mini-jungle.” 

Published on October 9, 2020

ByAnshu Khanna as at The Daily Guardian