|Maharani of Jaipur|
The Maharani in her early years
|Maharani of Jaipur|
|Tenure||9 May 1940 – 1948|
|Titular tenure||1948 – 24 June 1970|
|Born||23 May 1919|
London, England, United Kingdom
|Died||29 July 2009 (aged 90)|
Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
|Spouse||Man Singh II|
(m. 1940 – 1970; his death)
|Father||Maharaja Jitendra Narayan of Cooch-Behar|
|Mother||Princess Indira Raje of Baroda|
Maharani Gayatri Devi (born as Princess Gayatri Devi of Cooch Behar; 23 May 1919 − 29 July 2009), was the third Maharani consort of Jaipur from 1940 to 1949, through her marriage to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II. Following her husband's signature for the Jaipur State to become part of the Union of India and her step-son's assumption of the title in 1970, she was known as Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur.
Ethnically born in a Koch Rajbongshi Hindu family, her father was Maharaja Jitendra Narayan of Cooch Behar in West Bengal, and her mother was Maratha Princess Indira Raje of Baroda, the only daughter of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III.
Following India's independence and the abolition of the princely states, she became a successful politician in the Swatantra Party. Gayatri Devi was also celebrated for her classical beauty and became something of a fashion icon in her adulthood. She served 12 years in Indian National Congress, during which time she was a prominent critic of Indira Gandhi's government. After her departure from politics, she lived a quiet life in her large estate, spending time with her grandchildren and on hobbies and leisure.
She died on 29 July 2009 in Jaipur, at the age of 90. She was suffering from paralytic ileus and a lung infection. She left an estate estimated at nearly half a billion USD, which were passed on to her grandchildren.
Ethnically born in a Koch Rajbongshi Hindu family, her father, Prince Jitendra Narayan of Cooch Behar, presently in West Bengal, was the younger brother of the Yuvaraja (Crown Prince). Her mother was Maratha Princess Indira Raje of Baroda, the only daughter of Maratha King, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, an extremely beautiful princess and a legendary socialite. Early in her life, her uncle's death led to her father ascending the throne (gaddi). Gayatri Devi studied at Glendower Preparatory School in London, Patha Bhavana of Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan, and later in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she travelled with her mother and siblings, then studied secretarial skills in London School of Secretaries; Brillantmont and Monkey Club London.
She first met Raja Saheb (H.H. Sir Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur), when she was 12 and he had come to Calcutta to play polo and stayed with their family. She married Sawai Man Singh II Bahadur on 9 May 1940.
Maharani Gayatri Devi was a particularly avid equestrienne. She was an excellent rider and an able Polo player. She was a good shot and enjoyed many days out on 'Shikars'. Her Highness was fond of cars and is credited with importing the first Mercedes-Benz W126, a 500 SEL to India which was later shipped to Malaysia. She also owned several Rolls-Royces and an aircraft. Gayatri Devi had one child, Prince Jagat Singh of Jaipur, late Raja of Isarda, born on 15 October 1949, who was granted his uncle's fief as a subsidiary title. Jagat Singh was the half-brother to Bhawani Singh, who was the eldest son of his father born by his father's first wife.
After partition and independence of India in 1947, Gayatri Devi ran for Parliament in 1962 and won the constituency in the Lok Sabha in the world's largest landslide, winning 192,909 votes out of 246,516 cast. She continued to hold this seat on 1967 and 1971 as a member of the Swatantra Party founded by C. Rajagopalachari, running against the Indian National Congress party.
In 1965, during a meeting with Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gayatri Devi was again asked to join Congress. This was the time when, despite the fact that her husband was being made ambassador to Spain, she stuck to her principles and decided not to join the party. In 1967 the Swatantra party joined hands with Jan Sangh that was led by Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. The alliance won a large number of seats in the 1967 election. In the assembly election Gayatri Devi lost to Damodar Lal Vyas, in Malpura constituency, but won the Lok Sabha election.
The privy purses were abolished in 1971, terminating all royal privileges and titles. Gayatri Devi was arrested during the Emergency due to an alleged political vendetta on the false accusation of violating tax laws, and served 5 months in Tihar Jail. She retired from politics and published her biography, A Princess Remembers, written by Santha Rama Rau, in 1976. She was also the focus of the film Memoirs of a Hindu Princess, directed by Francois Levie.
There were rumours that she might re-enter politics as late as 1999, when the Cooch Behar Trinamool Congress nominated her as their candidate for the Lok Sabha elections, but she did not respond to the offer.
She had one son, Prince Jagat Singh, Raja of Isarda (15 October 1949 – 5 February 1997), who was granted his paternal uncle's (father's elder brother) fief of Isarda as a subsidiary title. Jagat Singh was married on 10 May 1978 to Mom Rajawongse Priyanandana Rangsit (b. 1952), daughter of Prince Piyarangsit Rangsit and Princess Vibhavadi Rangsit (née Rajani) of Thailand. The marriage produced two children:
- Rajkumari Lalitya Kumari (b. 1979)
- Maharaj Devraj Singh, Raja of Isarda (b. 1981)
Today, they are her only surviving descendants, and as such, have claimed to be heirs of their paternal grandmother. Maharaj Jagat Singh was thus half-brother to Bhawani Singh of Jaipur, the eldest son of the late Maharaja by his first wife, a Jodhpur princess.
Maharani Gayatri Devi was related to several other erstwhile royal families in India. She was herself not from the Rajput community, but from a dynasty native to Cooch Behar in Bengal and was daughter of Maharaja Jitendra Narayan and Maharani Indira Raje, who was daughter of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III and Maharani Chimnabai belonging to the Gaekwad dynasty of the Marathas. Her grand-nephew, along with his wife (Poonam Singh Mewar) and 2 sons died in a car crash.
She had two brothers, Jagaddipendra Narayan and Indrajitendra Narayan of whom Jagaddipendra Narayan became Maharaja of Cooch Behar in his infancy after the death of their father in 1922.
Thus she was closely connected maternally with Gaekwads of Baroda State. Further, her sister Ila Devi was married into the Tripura royal family, and her younger sister Menaka Devi was married in Dewas Jr. State. Thus through various interconnections, she was related to the royal houses of Kota, Sawantwadi, Akkalkot State, Jath State, Dewas Jr., Jasdan State, and Sandur, Tehri-Garhwal, Mayurbhanj, Dhar State, Kolhapur, Lunawada State, Baria and Raja of Payagpur, which was normal amongst the royalties of India.
Gayatri Devi is known for her equestrian skills and polo-playing abilities. She was associated with Polo since childhood. In 1933, she participated in her first Polo match in Calcutta. She was the chief patron of Jaipur Riding and Polo Club during her later years. After her death in 2009, she and her quintessential polo skills were honoured by "Rajmata Gayatri Devi Memorial Cup" sponsored by Rambagh Palace and "Maharani Polo Club", which is celebrated every year in Argentina.
She developed gastric problems in Tihar jail during the infamous state of emergency imposed by Congress Party led by then PM Indira Gandhi. Later her gastric problem grew worse and so she was admitted to King Edward's Hospital in London. She was being treated for the gastric disorder there and had expressed her desire to return to Jaipur. Gayatri Devi was flown in an air ambulance to Jaipur. She was admitted at Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital (SDMH) on 17 July 2009. She died at the age of 90 on 29 July 2009, reportedly due to lung failure.
Gayatri Devi held the following titles:
1919–1940: Her Highness Princess Gayatri Devi of Cooch Behar
1940–1949: Her Highness The Maharani of Jaipur
1949–1970: Her Highness Maharani Gayatri Devi
1970–2009: Her Highness Rajmata of Jaipur
- Stephane Bern. Gayatra Devi, une princesse au pays des Maharajas. Documentary by Roland Portiche and Vanessa Pontet. 1h45'. 2013. First broadcast on 26 December 2013, FR2 (French TV).
- Karim, Fariha (31 July 2009). "Gayatri Devi: the last Maharani of Jaipur". The Times. London.
- "A battle of wills: Gayatri Devi's £250m legacy". The Independent. 19 September 2009. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
- Devi, Gayatri (1996), A princess remembers: the memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur, Rupa & Co., p. 87, ISBN 978-81-7167-307-0
- Whistle-Stopping Maharani Time (magazine), 10 November 1961.
- "'I Had Shot My First Panther Before I Turned Thirteen': Gayatri Devi turned 13 in 1932". Outlook. 20 October 2008.
- Sahwney, Anubha (2004) I've never felt beautiful: Gayatri Devi. The Times of India. 25 April.
- "Rajmata Gayatri Devi". London: The Telegraph. 29 July 2009.
- The Battle Royal - Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur... Time (magazine), 28 July 1967.
- Malgonkar, Manohar (1987). The Last Maharani of Gwalior: An Autobiography By Manohar Malgonkar. pp. 233, 242–244. ISBN 9780887066597.
- Gayatri Devi may contest polls from Cooch Behar, The Statesman, 12 June 1999.
- "Gayatri Devi, former Jaipur queen, is dead". Retrieved 10 February 2020.
- "Gayatri Devi: A maharani and a beauty | India News - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
- Additional sources
- Devi, Gayatri (1977). A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur. J.B. Lippincott. ISBN 81-7167-307-4.
- Kanwar, Dharmendar (2004). Rajmata Gayatri Devi. Roli Books. ISBN 81-7436-294-0.
- Devi, Gayatri (1999). Gourmet's Gateway: A Royal Collection. Dharmendar Kanwar. ISBN 81-901221-0-X.
- Moore, Lucy (2005). Maharanis. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-303704-0.
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