A Princess Remembered

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 10:29 AM in , , ,

Maharani Gayatri Devi
23 May 1919 – 29 July 2009

Born in London as the princess of Cooch Behar (West Bengal), voted by Vogue magazine as one of the ten most beautiful women in the world, third wife of the last ruling prince Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur, a pioneer in women’s education in Rajasthan, an avid equestrienne like her husband, a Guinness record holder for the biggest landslide Lok Sabha victory of 78.25% of the total votes cast during her term in governance in 1962 (C. Rajagopalachari’s Swatantra Party, running against the Congress), brand ambassador of Nakshatra diamond jewellery for their royal princess collection, and the owner of a Rs.2000 crore legacy after her death – are some feathers in the cap of an enigmatic Rajmata of Jaipur, Maharani Gayatri Devi.

A walk down the imperially embedded corridors of royalty…
My first impression of the lady was to see her show up meticulously for each school function. As it happens, I am an alumnus of Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School in Jaipur. The school was founded by Rajmata in 1943 and subsequently the management was handed over to the double tier staff. Like most aged educational institutions, the school started off with just 30 students in the first batch. Overtime, the numbers have increased to encompass about 2500 students studying at the institute at one time.

During my younger days in the renowned institution, I remember seeing Gayatri Devi grace each occasion with her presence. She used to turn up in a convoy of white Ambassadors on both ends and a glistening swanky sedan for herself in the middle. Draped in crisp chiffon sarees, she would wear spotless white pearls for jewellery and cover her head in keeping with the tradition. Others of the royal family, including Rani Vidya Devi, often accompanied her on various occasions. When asked to speak on the stage, she would speak passionately about women, the importance of their role in the society, the importance of good education and the power of knowledge. Citing examples from her personal life, she would speak to us about the struggle of growing up as a woman and would constantly encourage us to take life head-on as it comes. She discussed the challenges of her own life, and would talk to us about her lost husband and son in a ceremonious manner. We would listen to it with unwavering attention.

The one thing that she never spoke about was the valour that she displayed when the Indira Gandhi government locked her up in Tihar Jail for five months in 1971 on charges of tax evasion. Eventually she was released for lack of evidence. Humility and modesty infested her in good measure. Upon her release, she quit politics and went on to write an autobiography. The book was called ‘A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur’ and that’s where we get our knowledge about her days in prison. It also talks about her responses to the several challenges that she faced as a maharani.

The diamond-studded battle for good health…
As part of the privileged lot who got to see her up close on various occasions we also, sadly, bore witness to her deteriorating health. For the first time in the history of the school since its inception, on my passing-out ceremony in 2005, she delivered a sitting lecture out of a chair. That night she explained that this was such because she ‘had no strength to stand for more than a few minutes.’ The end of that farewell ceremony was a detour from tradition too. While the norm was for her to sign each student’s kurta at the close of the night, that day the maharani could sign just a handful before she assessed her health was frail and decided to take off with other members of the royal family. Right then, we knew that something was not right.

The heartbreaking end and a timeless legacy…
The lady who gave us subtle lessons in sophistication by her elegant displays of royalty suddenly passed away on 29th day of July this year due to chronic health troubles and an ultimate lung failure. It would be wrong to say that we didn’t see it coming, but the abruptness of the event took us all by surprise. When the denial mode ended, the vacuum was filled by a deep sense of remorse at the tragic loss.

Along with being a lady of substance who underlined the role of women in the today’s society, she was labeled a rebel in the royal houseold because of her non-conformist behaviour and varied interests. Her rollicking romance with Sawai Man Singh before marriage, her interest in sports, her exceptional work in politics, and her unbound thoughts on the way a modern society should work helped define her as a person beyond convention. When we were in her presence, we shone in the light emanating from her glittering persona.

To walk a golden line of balance after the demise…
The aftermath of her death has been disheartening. A property dispute has broken out in the royal family. The three main claimants to her assets are – her grandchildren Devraj Singh and Lalitya Devi (born to late Jagat Singh and Priyanandana Rangsit) and her step son Bhawani Singh by the law of primogeniture (the eldest son of Sawai Man Singh with his marriage to Marudhar Kanwar). The absence of a real will is causing turbulent waves within the family affairs of the various fighting factions. A public will to be displayed to the media on 9th August never came up. Devraj and Lalitya came up with a corny one-page will of their own recently.

The disputed assets are the Ram Bagh Palace (worth almost Rs.500 crore - leased to Taj Group for running a luxury hotel), Jai Mahal Palace (another Rs.300 crore), Moti Doongri Fort (Rs.100 crore), Lilypool (the palace complex where she lived), City Palace (Rs.200 crore) and Sawai Man Singh’s clubs and investments (Rs.500 crore). In addition several pieces of art, diamonds, jewellery, designer clothes and other personal items are up for grabs too.
(Source for listing assets: India Today, 7 September 2009)

The sooner the dispute gets resolved the better. Firstly, because is brings a lot of disgrace to the blue bloods of Rajasthan. And second, because Gayatri Devi would never have entertained her descendants quibbling over property. It’s a family of plenty, and hence whatever comes out of the battle will be closely watched by the public. Till then, we should focus on remembering the maharani for what she was - a living legend and a voice to many. Count this as my untimely tribute to the lady of grace, poise and personal strength.


Inspiring and very well written... has been a refresher after long... you should write more like you once used to :).

Shreyansh says:

she was also the owner of two most beautiful and elegant cars a bentley and jaguar XK 120
here is the pic of the bentley

there is a very interesting story associated with this car which makes it very valuable to the Late Maharani. It goes like the Maharani & the Maharaja were on there first honeymoon in Paris where she saw a big blue swanky car pass by and asked her husband about the car apparently he said nothing but on the very next morning a brand new Bentley 4.5 ltr was waiting its new owner and also it was the first gift Maharaja had given to his 3rd wife.

Such a Beautiful Soul truly inside and out. THANK YOU so much for sharing this every so lovely post!

Sandy :)

Knew she was princess but did not know she has inspired so many people out there. After reading the blog i checked her pictures and noticed besides her amazing personality she was also very very beautiful.I know its painful to believe she is no more.
C'est la vie!

Anonymous says:

Very well written. A soft topic handled just right. Bravo!
She was a magnificent lady. A dying breed; those who do good for the good itself and not to gain any mileage of it. She was a beautiful in every respect. And the essence of her beauty came, I think, from her being at peace with herself.
So long, Maharani!

i must confess i am struck wen i see gayatri devi's images towards the latter part of her life and those when she was younger. i am equally amazed by her natural beauty and the panache in those young eyes as i am by the grace of her face in the old age. she wud most certainly go down (perhaps along with the scindias) as the most celebrated royal of post independence india and her remarkable achievements stand out when compared with the relative anonymity of the other erstwhile princely rulers. her memory would stand as beacon of grace and cordiality and she would perhaps forever be an inspiration to the likes of you who were lucky to have interacted with her.

Nice post...seems like you really really liked her. Did not know much about her...but your post just added one more person to Jaimata's list of fans :)
btw the best part : "When we were in her presence, we shone in the light emanating from her glittering persona." too much !

welll researched and passionately written... by a true MGDite!!
truly, a tragic loss for india, she was one of the few people I really admired.

@affy: inspiration she was. yeah people are awe-struck everytime they look at her beauty... it was almost ageless. somebody i know once called her the 'most beautiful 90 year old they'd ever known'! btw if you read the rest of the comments... i did good service by giving people exact details of her life. so dont repeat what you once said to me :P

@sai: thanks! how did i write earlier? :P

@shreyansh: saw the link. n nice story u have there!! good u shared it... even i was unaware. displays of love in the royal household assume gigantic proportions :D

@sandy: well im glad people are being so appreciative :)

@praveen: ever so painful for us. and beautiful she was...

@rajjat: yeah... even her eyes reflected internal peace. good soul she was... and she will be remembered.

@rohan: rajmata, not jaimata :P otherwise, thanks for the comment. yeah maybe i took it a little far there with that comment... but in her royal presence, we really were radiant people!

@aditi: MGDian, is what we call it :P and thanks for the comment :) see the lady had so many admirers! even here in my comments section, there is undisputed acceptibility for the rajmata. this sentiment is universal. and very few people command such respect!

Boy!!!! yashika u write awesomely amazing women...this stuff is awesome.

jandeep says:

Well written!!

The magnitude of the influence she had on the lives of us M.G.Dians can't be measured!! And the extent of the grief which fell upon us on her demise can't be fathomed...

Well to be truthful, I do not know much about MGD, the comments on your blog suggest that she had done some good work in her past.

About your writing, concise and very well written.

And if I may, suggest you to write more on societal relevance of people who are working for one good, and it can be from any sphere of life.
good work.

@dipa: thank u :) forever appreciative!

@jans: i know. this was such a sad event..

An alumnus remembers her school and it's founder so fondly :)
Nicely written. Now calling it a journalistic piece would be rhetorical!
Write more often Yashika:)

@arunabh: journalistic piece? thanks ya :) yeah, trying to find time to write. you should update fitsoffantasy too!

oh btw, just noticed! The title of the post .. A "Princess" Remembered.. that reminds me of something, rather someone :P. Hope you are getting what i mean :D

Hey.. a very well written article.. Having led a meticulous life, it is surprising that Maharani would not leave a will, especially in light of her failing health for past few years. Quite unlike her not to have taken care of something so important! Any takes on this?

@arunabh: shucks arunabh!! shuusshh!! not here on blogspot :P

@gagan: nah, i think it was intentional. she was on very bad terms with most of her grandchildren. infact she even lived alone. she must have deemed it fit for the courts to decide who gets what. her own son jagat had died a few years back. so her not leaving a will could have been intentional.

very well written what to say
Beautiful woman or beautiful post ??

This comment has been removed by the author.

@kishore: thx for visiting.
@haddock: yep!

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She was an elegant lady.

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