Kia Seltos: Art in the heart of India
Amber Light rays reflected off the surface of the water as the sun dropped down to the horizon. The 'golden hour' won’t last for an hour and the photo and video team scramble to find the perfect shot, aided immeasurably by the handsome proportions and beautiful LED lighting elements of the Seltos. Meanwhile, I am cocooned in Kia'a blockbuster, the ambient lighting with the stellar Bose speakers belting out my favourite tunes and having a calming effect on me, as we kickstart the third leg of the Art with Seltos series. Over the past three months, we have found ourselves on week-long sojourns that have taken us to spellbinding locations as we rediscovered some special traditional art forms. Roadtripping across India, we had witnessed everything from indigenous tribal art in Maharashtra to some of the finest wildlife photographers in action in the Rann of Kutch. All along, the stylish Kia Seltos gave us company, its standout design admired by anyone who gave it even as much as a fleeting glance and its dynamics enabling us to criss-cross the country in comfort with speed and safety. The premium tech-laden interiors had us spoilt while features like the air-purifier allowed us to breathe easy – be it the deserts or our cities.
As the sun set, a thought crossed our minds. We were in the heart of the country and beauty was everywhere to be found – cultural riches in every direction. The state of Madhya Pradesh is home to numerous historical artifacts, monuments and art forms – some of them famous the world over. Places like Khajuraho, Bhimbetka and Sanchi need no introduction. However, where to head was a difficult choice to make. We were after something that a quick Google search couldn’t get you to. As the Narmada to my right ebbed and flowed, in a moment of tranquillity, it was obvious. It has to be something that has stoodthe test of time much like the Maheshwar fort in the distance. Flooded numerous times in its centuries-old history, the fort stands proud with the only visible signs being plaques on the floor marking the water level and the date in time.
That brings us to how and why the Kia Seltos got to the side of the river Narmada in the first place – a task that included inching along the narrow, slippery bank with the Seltos’ parking sensors and camera playing spotter. Much before that, we put the Seltos’ high-speed stability to the test as we sprinted 700-odd kilometres over often poorly surfaced highways to Maheshwar. With intricate and unusual carvings decorating the fort and the numerous temples in it, Maheshwar fort is artistically important. With the charismatic Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar bringing it into prominence in the 1700s, it was made the capital of the Malwa empire over the much larger city of Indore that is two hours away. Initially we planned to document the carvings inside the fort, but the locals alerted us to something that the walls of this centuries-old fort had treasured – and we went with it.
More than 200 years ago, Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar employed a team of craftsmen from Surat and Malwa to design an exclusive nine yard saree that could be gifted to her royal guests. Talk of the incredible artistry of the sarees made from a blend of cotton and silk reached far and wide. The delicate weaving process too was unlike anything practised on other handlooms. With the passing away of the queen, however, the sareesquickly fell out of the picture and were relegated to a sidenote in history books.
Fortuitously though, a weaver named Ganesh Bichwe met Richard and Sally Holkar (descendants of the queen) forty years ago while on a walk and the conversation they had, sparked a renewed movement. The royal family brought together six weavers to begin what is now called the Rehwa society – now famous for creating the sarees called Maheshwaris.
The process of creating a Maheshwari begins with the naturally dyed and untangled yarn. It is then ready for the tedious process of weaving by master weavers. Weavers use gold or silver threads to embellish the intricate patterns and add shimmer to the saree. As for the designs, the Maheshwar fort, numerous temples and their intricate carvings inspire them greatly.
The arrow straight highways that led us to Maheshwar were replaced with a section of twisties that allowed us to have some fun as we left for Bagh. Equipped with a 113bhp 1.5-litre diesel engine in the HTX+ trim, we had an ample 250Nm of torque to play with as we made our way through the ghats. The Seltos was the first in this segment to get BS 6 compliant engines and the diesel motor purred smoothly despite filling it up in small pumps in even smaller villages, so that should assuage whoever has any worries on this front. The 6-speed manual transmission with its short and precise throws was lovely to use, as we discovered over the course of an enthusiastic drive up to the village of Bagh. The Seltos’ inherent balance also egged us to push harder and harder over some well-laid tarmac.
Further along the Narmada, we ventured out to another form of traditional fabric rooted deep in history. A form of block printing using natural dyes on cloth made of natural fibres, Bagh printing is enjoying a resurgence all over the world. The Khatri community who currently practice the craft of Bagh print, relocated to the area around 400 years ago and brought the artform to India. The Khatris today are recognised by even UNESCO as custodians and practisers of this form of dyeing.
It starts with washing the fabric in running water and beating it on river stones to remove any starch. It is then soaked in a water solution of rock salt, mengni (goat dung), and castor oil before being pressed, rinsed and dried three times. Then, the cloth is pre-dyed with Harara for an off-white base colour. Bagh prints are then applied by hand, using carved wood relief blocks. Red and black dyes are traditionally used. Blocks are hand carved from teak wood and some have been in use for generations. The prints are geometric or floral and inspired by the 1,500 year old paintings at Bagh Caves nearby. Once the fabric has dried, it is rigorously washed and beaten against river stones to remove excess dye. The fabric is then finished by boiling in large vats in a mixture of water, Alizarin, and Dhavda flowers. The fabric is bleached and washed three more times before the process is complete.
Hundreds of years of history and to this day, the very essence of both these art forms stay exactly as they were when they were first born. That in itself is a triumph for the artisans behind Bagh and Maheshwari. More importantly, the two forms distinguish themselves from the glut of machine-made fabrics with methods, designs and skills passed on through generations while only using natural dyes and materials.
The Kia Seltos might seem at odds with such art perfected over centuries. But with an unwavering focus on beauty and Kia’s uncompromising design standards, the two are not far off. The artists attested to it as well with Bagh artisans going as far as helping us frame a great shot with a block printed specimen. They complement each other well, they said. And we couldn’t agree more