Gayatri Devi

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Gayatri Devi
Gayatri in her early years
Maharani of Jaipur
Tenure9 May 1940 – 1948
SuccessorPadmini Devi
Titular tenure1948 – 24 June 1970
Born(1919-05-23)23 May 1919
London, England
Died29 July 2009(2009-07-29) (aged 90)
Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
Spouse
(m. 1940; died 1970)
IssueJagat Singh
HouseKoch
FatherMaharaja Jitendra Narayan of Cooch-Behar
MotherPrincess Indira Raje of Baroda
ReligionHinduism

Gayatri Devi[1] (born 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.[2] 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.[3]

She was born in the Hindu royal family of Cooch Behar. 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, and she was sister to Jagaddipendra Narayan, informally known as 'Bhaiya', who became the Maharajah of Cooch Behar.[4]

Following India's independence and the abolition of the princely states, she became a successful politician in the Swatantra Party. Gayatri was also celebrated for her beauty and became something of a fashion icon in her adulthood. She served 12 years in Swatantra Party, during which 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 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 £250 million, which was passed on to her grandchildren.[5]

Early life[edit]

Gayatri Devi as a child

Born in a Hindu royal 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 studied at Glendower Preparatory School in London,[6] Patha Bhavana of Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan,[7] 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 Sawai Man Singh II when she was 12 and he had come to Calcutta to play polo and stayed with their family.[8] She married Sawai Man Singh II Bahadur on 9 May 1940.[2]

Gayatri 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'. Gayatri 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 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.[2]

As a style icon, Gayatri was shot by photographer Cecil Beaton for Vogue.[9][10] Gayatri was described by Cecil Beaton for Vogue as one of the ten most beautiful women in the world.[11][12] In a 2004 interview, Gayatri mentioned "I have never felt beautiful...I remember as a young girl, my mother had to literally force me into applying lipstick, physical appearance doesn't bother me, it never has, it never will".[11] In 1962 Jacqueline Kennedy visited Gayatri Devi in India and were photographed together at a Polo match and on her tour of India.[13][14] In 2019 an exhibition 'Maharani: ‘Remembering the Princess'" was held in Mumbai to celebrate the Maharani's Centennial year.[15] In 2013 designer Sabyasachi made five limited edition Sari's presented at the Taj Mahal Palace in honor of Devi's enduring style icon status.[16]

She started two schools in Jaipur, Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School established in 1943[17] and the other one being Maharaja Sawai Man Singh Vidyalaya, Jaipur which is a co-educational school opened in the memory of her husband Maharaja Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur.[18] She revived and promoted the dying art of blue pottery.[19]

Political career[edit]

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.[20] She continued to hold this seat on 1967 and 1971 as a member of the Swatantra Party founded by C. Rajagopalachari,[7] running against the Indian National Congress party.

In 1965, during a meeting with Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gayatri 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 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 was arrested during the Emergency due to an alleged political vendetta on the accusation of violating tax laws, and served 5 months in Tihar Jail.[21] She retired from politics and published her biography, A Princess Remembers,[22] written by Santha Rama Rau, in 1976[23] (this biography also published in Marathi language as A Princess Remembers: Gayatri Devi).[24] She was also the focus of the film Memoirs of a Hindu Princess, directed by Françoise Levie.

Gayatri Devi, was sent to Tihar Jail in July 1975, where she spent nearly six months during the Emergency imposed under the direction of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi due to critics made on MISA act. 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.[25]

Family[edit]

Gayatri Devi 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 married couple had 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.[26]

Family relationships[edit]

Gayatri Devi, photographed by Cecil Beaton in 1940.

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 paternal grandparents were Nripendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur and Sunity Devi of Cooch Behar. Maharani Sunity Devi was the daughter of the Brahmo social reformer Keshab Chandra Sen.

She had two brothers, Jagaddipendra Narayan and Indrajitendra Narayan of whom Jagaddipendra Narayan became the Maharaja of Cooch Behar in his infancy after the death of their father in 1922.

Thus, maternally, she was closely connected to Gaekwads of Baroda State. Further, her sister Ila Devi was married into the Tripura royal family, and her younger sister, Maneka Devi, was married into the royal family of Dewas 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 considered normal amongst the royalties of India.

Death[edit]

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.[27][23]

Filmography[edit]

  • 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).

References[edit]

  1. ^ "General Election, 1962 (Vol I)". Election Commission of India. p. 82. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b c Karim, Fariha (31 July 2009). "Gayatri Devi: the last Maharani of Jaipur". The Times. London.
  3. ^ Kanwar 2005, pp. 56–58; Moore 2005, pp. 78–80.
  4. ^ "New book says British did not want 'non-Aryan' Gayatri Devi to marry Raja of Jaipur". Indian Express. 21 August 2020. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  5. ^ "A battle of wills: Gayatri Devi's £250m legacy". The Independent. 19 September 2009. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  6. ^ Devi, Gayatri (1996), A princess remembers: the memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur, Rupa & Co., p. 87, ISBN 978-81-7167-307-0
  7. ^ a b Whistle-Stopping Maharani Time, 10 November 1961.
  8. ^ "'I Had Shot My First Panther Before I Turned Thirteen': Gayatri Devi turned 13 in 1932". Outlook. 20 October 2008.
  9. ^ "Sawai Man Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur; Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  10. ^ Francis, Martin (January 2006). "Cecil Beaton's Romantic Toryism and the Symbolic Economy of Wartime Britain". Journal of British Studies. 45 (1): 90–117. doi:10.1086/497057. ISSN 1545-6986. S2CID 146595646.
  11. ^ a b Sahwney, Anubha (24 April 2004). "I've never felt beautiful: Gayatri Devi". The Times of India. ISSN 0971-8257. Retrieved 29 October 2023.
  12. ^ "Instagram". Instagram. Retrieved 29 October 2023.
  13. ^ Zubrzycki, John (29 July 2021). "Jaipur's Last Stand". History Today. Retrieved 29 October 2023.
  14. ^ Thottam, Jyoti (17 August 2009). "Gayatri Devi". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 29 October 2023.
  15. ^ Kanwar, Dharmendar (1 October 2019). "Remembering the legacy of Maharani Gayatri Devi on her 100th birthday". Vogue India. Retrieved 30 October 2023.
  16. ^ Chande, Jerusha Ratnam (15 January 2013). "Sabyasachi's Maharani saris". Vogue India. Retrieved 30 October 2023.
  17. ^ "Rajmata Gayatri Devi". London: The Telegraph. 29 July 2009.
  18. ^ "Philosophy". www.msmsvidyalaya.in. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  19. ^ Roopa, Nupur (7 April 2018). "Jaipur's blue mystic battles loss of lustre". mint. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  20. ^ The Battle Royal - Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur... Time, 28 July 1967.
  21. ^ Malgonkar, Manohar (1987). The Last Maharani of Gwalior: An Autobiography By Manohar Malgonkar. SUNY Press. pp. 233, 242–244. ISBN 9780887066597.
  22. ^ "A PRINCESS REMEMBERS | Rupa Publications". Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  23. ^ a b Lall, Rashmee Roshan (30 July 2009). "Gayatri Devi: A maharani and a beauty". The Times of India. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  24. ^ "A Princess Remembers: Gayatri Devi - Marathi Book Buy Online". Menakabooks. Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  25. ^ Gayatri Devi may contest polls from Cooch Behar, The Statesman, 12 June 1999.
  26. ^ Bhandari, Prakash (19 April 2011). "Bhawani Singh had seen many ups and downs in life". The Times of India. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  27. ^ "Gayatri Devi, former Jaipur queen, is dead". The New Indian Express. 29 July 2009. Retrieved 26 June 2023.

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