Her Highness Maharani Shri Gayatri Devi Sahiba, Maharani of Jaipur | home
The Maharani in the News
Tea With The Queen Mum
by. Alex Ninian
From: The Hampstead and High Court
Democracy may have diluted the feudal Indian royalty but some still cling to their past glories as Alex Ninian discovers in the opulent palaces in the pink city of Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan.
Jaipur's magnificent palaces are testimony to its royal past: The City Palace's Peacock gate (Right) and its courtyard (Left). The Rambagh Palace (center) is now a luxurious hotel.
"When one was young,” said the Rajmata of Jaipur, “one had one's own elephants.” The Rajmata, or Queen Mother, is now in her late 70s, but looking beautiful and slightly exotic in a dark sari, she is still a strong and forceful personality.
I knew that elephants had been a measure of wealth and status among the old royal families in India. “My parents, the Maharaja and Maharani of Cooch Behar, had 60. My grandfather, the Maharaja of Baroda, had 99,” she explained.
I met her in Jaipur among the lupins and roses of the garden of her home, Lilypool, which is a compact mansion in the extended grounds of the Rambagh Palace. Christened Gayatri Devi, she went on from her royal parentage to become a queen in her own right as the Maharani of Jaipur having married the Maharaja “Jai” Man Sing.
She has always enjoyed the royal privilege of arriving a few minutes late and today was no exception. I got a sense of her background while I waited under a striped awning on the manicured lawn. A butler brought a tea tray. “A cup, or a mug, sir?” he said surprisingly. “I'd like a mug. It is hot and I am thirsty.” “From England, sir,” he declared rather than asked. “We have a big house in Ascot,” he reported, “and the town house in Mayfair. Her Highness spends the season there. I have been with her to England for 35 summers.”
She is one of the few people remaining who can describe and explain the life of fabulous wealth of the old feudal royalty, as well as full participation in the life of a modern Indian democracy.
“I am in The Guinness Book of Records twice,” she explains, proving the point in a couple of sentences. “First for having had the most expensive wedding in history and, second, after the royal privileges were removed and democracy took over, I had the largest majority ever recorded in a democratic election.” The latter was in the 1970s. “I took a stand against socialism and ran against the Congress Party of Mrs. Ghandi.”
The former was in the 1940s when there were so many guests that her father's palace in Bengal could not accommodate them. Her presents included a blue Bentley, a two-seater Packard and a mansion in the Himalayas. Her trousseau included sheets from Czechoslovakia, shoes from Florence, and nightgowns in mousseline de soie from Paris.
In 1975 she was imprisoned by Mrs. Ghandi on a trumped-up pretext, but eventually released without charge. The men of Rajasthan, largely of the soldier caste known as Rajput warriors, have been renowned as fighters throughout history. But the Rajmata, though not originally from Rajasthan, had to show fighting spirit of her own during those six months in a rat-infested cell.
Gracefully she walked me past the gazebo and the small fountain to the far end of the garden where a turbaned guard let me through a latch gate and into the lawns, topiary and large marble fountains of the Rambagh Palace.
When she and the Maharaja moved out, and into the (larger) City Palace, the Rambagh Palace was converted into a hotel, where I had the pleasure of staying. It has been restored to the full opulence it had at the height of the royal era and the rooms and suites, with chandeliers and agate pillars, look out on to lawns, fountains and marble colonnaded courtyards, and guests use the majestic dining room which once hosted the crowned heads of Europe. Peacocks strut and caparisoned elephants still parade.
In town, you know when you have reached the old city in the center of Jaipur, because everything becomes pink, or at least pinkish. The pinkest of all is the Palace of the Winds with its honeycomb of small open windows through which the ladies of the royal household could look over the town without being seen, and which also let in the wind.
The rest of the old city is a network of connected bazaars. Villagers in their brightest saris and jewelry come to sell produce and tie-dye in the crammed Chandpol Bazaar. In others, craftsmen make items of marble, gold, silver and leather.
The heart of the old city is the 1,000-room City Palace, still partly occupied by the current Maharaja and his family. “When my husband decided to turn the Rambagh Palace into a hotel,” said the Rajmata, “naturally I objected, but Jai said, We always have the City Palace; it is our real home.'”
I met the current Maharaja, Bhawani Singh II, the stepson of Rajmata, in the palace. Mrs. Ghandi and the Indian parliament phased out the privileges and titles of the old royal houses in 1972, but the arrangement was that anyone who was a ruling Maharaja at the time could keep the title for his lifetime, and Bhawani Singh qualifies as a real live Maharaja.
My letter of invitation caused a turbaned guard to escort me through gold-crested gates across pink courtyard after pink courtyard to the “ADC's room”. The aide-de-camp is a term hardly used in Britain since the First World War, but proper Maharajas have several. Retired army officers, they are military in bearing, in smart safari suits, and the one who brought me a cup of tea had a clipped, bristling moustache, while the one with the white handlebar version ushered me into the Maharaja's office. There seemed to be an army of assistant ADCs in turbans to keep the diary, take messages, collect and deliver, lift and lay and generally stand by just in case.
From the window one could see the gorgeously adorned Peacock Gate and the pavilion of the silver urns. These are five-foot vessels of solid silver, weighing a ton, which hold 250 gallons each. When the old Maharaja in the early 1900s went to England he took both vessels with him filled with Ganges water, so as not to have to drink plain English stuff.
The Maharaja stood up from behind his desk to shake hands. He wore a yellow sweater, open-necked shirt, and white linen trousers. Sixty-nine years old, he is a fit six-footer, with a round, smiling face. Unfortunately, his speech has been handicapped by a stroke and it was brave and considerate of him to attempt a halting conversation with a visitor. His ancestors included Maharaja Madho Singh who had nine wives, 7,000 concubines and 107 children, none of whom was “legitimate”. The present Maharaja was the first male “legitimate” heir to be born to a Jaipur Prince for three generations, and when he was born the palace fountains flowed with champagne.
He told me that after school at Harrow, he joined the 3rd Cavalry of the Indian Army where he rose to brigadier and commanded the paratroopers in the war against Pakistan. He was briefly imprisoned by Mrs. Ghandi in 1975 along with his stepmother, but now that is all forgotten.
In his western clothes, Bhawani Singh gives little hint of his fabled background, but there are pictures of him beturbaned, sitting on a silver chair, holding a jewel-encrusted sword. That same ancestor, Madho Singh, on festive occasions had to be held up by two men because of the weight of the bangles and bracelets which hung from shoulder to waist, a necklace of rubies, sapphires and blue diamonds, and a crown of emeralds and pearls.
His functional office sits below the private apartments which books describe as Jaipur-pink and white, decorated with mother of pearl and inlaid ivory, and furnished with crystal chandeliers, silver-embroidered curtains and silk carpets. Those rooms which are open to the public are an extravaganza of painted ceilings and frescoes coloured from jewel dust. The weapons room includes daggers with silver and crystal handles and the costume collection features Kashmiri goats-wool shawls and Benares silk saris.
The Diwan-i-Am, or hall of public audience, has handwritten Sanskrit scriptures and jewel-encrusted elephant howdahs.
Away from the old city, greater Jaipur seems to have a special mixture of working animals. Trotting pony traps overtake bullock wagons, horses pull loads of cane, elephants carry visitors through the town, and camel trucks tower over donkey carts waiting at traffic lights. They are engulfed in the usual chaos of motorised rickshaws and lopsided, battered, dirty buses crowded like cattle trucks. And it all takes place with the happy-go-lucky smiles of people driven by the life force to get on with things.
Three miles out there is a Water Palace in the middle of a lake, something like the Lake Palace of Udaipur but smaller and dirtier. At the viewing point, neither the hawkers nor the snake charmer seemed to mind the smell from the polluted water.
Four miles further on is the acme of the warrior cult. Like the Normans, the Rajput soldiers were builders of mighty forts and north of the Water Palace is the 400-year-old Amber Fort, which was the home of the Maharajas before they moved down to the palaces on the plain. It is the stronghold which dominated the region and it sits high on a hill, overlooking a lake which reflects its ramparts and terraces.
Jaipur has a bit of everything, from the cool breeze of the hill forts to the dusty plain, the colour of the Rajasthan saris and jewelry, the noise of daily life and the fabulous treasures of the palaces.
The martial traditions of the Rajputs have served them well. Only their own national politicians have been able to out manoeuvre them.
But not completely.
Jaipur and its Rajmata
Saturday, November 24, 2001
From: Tribune India
THE Delhi-Jaipur dual highway is the best I have seen in the country. After you get out of the city suburbs beyond the international airport, it is a smooth stretch of two broad black ribbons lined by multi-coloured bougainvilleas and cultivated fields with pampas and keekar with the low, rocky escarpments of the scraggy Aravalli range. The hoardings on the roadside advertise marble and granite. Eateries on both sides of the road are better appointed than on any of the national highways going out of Delhi to state capitals of Punjab-Haryana, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and beyond.
Two hours after a brief halt for an idli-dosa brunch at a half-way eaterie, we drove through a rock-strewn valley to face the mountain Fort of Amber, once the stronghold of the Kuchawa rulers of Jaipur. Then through crowded bazaars, past the Hawa Mahal and into the lush green gardens surrounding Rambagh Palace Hotel. A Palace it was not very long ago and the exclusive abode of Jaipur princes and their offspring. A palace it remains today but now open to anyone who can afford to stay in fiI felt a total misfit in the luxurious atmosphere of this princely hotel. The bed was of the size of a billiard table, large enough to accommodate a stud of royal blood and a small harem of three wives. The hotel does not provide lady companions. It took me a while to discover where light and G.C. switches were hidden; how to switch on the TV and the radio. And having done so, how to switch them off. Bearers were dressed in sherwanis and long-tailed Rajput style pugrees. Much bowing low and asking for hukum (orders). Every time the room boy came in, I felt I should stand to attention. It was all too exotic to be comfortable. When Rajmata Gayatri Devi walked in and joined us, all eyes turned to her; barmen turned more obsequious. She was voted the most beautiful woman of her times; she remains among the most beautiful and gracious of women today.
I asked her how comfortable she felt living in a huge palace with rooms the size of tennis courts. It must have been a problem to keep warm indoors in the winter months. "We used to have log fires in some rooms," she replied. I persisted:"Living in a palace of this size must have been uncomfortable." She replied, "I have a home of my own next door. Drop in for a cup of coffee tomorrow."
"My idea of a home is a nest: Small, snug and cosy. In winter a coal fire glowing in the grate. A deep leather armchair with a lamp, above it, a cat purring in my lap; a dog asleep at my feet, soft music over the stereo, book-lined walls with space for a TV set which is never switched on." She smiled, glanced at her wrist watch and replied, "Come, I'll see you to the coffee shop." I knew it was time for my dinner. I don't think she meant to snub me. Before leaving she repeated, "You must come over tomorrow to see how I live now."
Gayatri Devi lives in considerable style. Her house adjoins Rambagh Palace with extensive lawns of its own. She allows schoolchildren to play cricket there. Her double-storeyed house is like a museum cluttered with ancient relics and paintings. Her study and sitting room has shelves full of rare books. She leads a very busy life: She keeps an eye on the five schools, founded by her; that takes all her mornings. She has a lot of visitors, TV and Press interviews and family affairs to sort out.
The Rajmata hosted a dinner that evening. She was the imperious Maharani of old days, ordering people to sit at places indicated by her. I was given the seat on her right. Next to me was my old friend Bhoopinder Hooja, a retired IAS officer. I was present at his marriage to the sculptress Usha Rani Joseph in London over 50 years ago. And kept with them and their children - mostly their daughter Reema, now with a doctorate in archaeology from Cambridge and author of a couple of scholarly books. Bhoopi, as I have known, assumed a new name Kumar Bharati - G.B. KumarHooja, the author of Shahadat Nama: A Saga of Martyrs (Sanghar Vidya Sathu Trust, Indian Book Chronicle and Aalden Publishers). He presented a copy to the Rajmata and one to me. Before I retired for the night, I took a casual glance at the Shahadat Nama. It starts with the rising of 1857, which he as well as other patriotic Indians regard as India's first War of Independence. Most serious historians are of the opinion that it was nothing of the sort. However, I was not in a mood to dispute his reading of Indian history. At the end the book has an appendix listing names of freedom fighters who were executed by the British in different Indian jails. More than half of them were Sikhs who formed a little over 2 per cent of the population of India. That filled me with a sense of pride. I slept the sleep of the just till sunlight streamed through the windows. An hour latter, we drove out of Rambagh Palace to take the road back to Delhi. I took the more comfortable seat in front and let my granddaughter Naina Dayal and our escort Reeta Devi Varma, wife of Bheem Varma of Cooch Behar (nephew of the Rajmata) take the rear seat. After we passed the hill on which rise the magnificent escarpments of Amber Fort, I dosed off dreaming of the days when I first saw Gayatri Devi in all her youthful glory: How gracefully she had aged defying the ravages of time which included a year and a half in Tihar Jail where a very vindictive Indira Gandhi had imprisoned her along with the Rajmata of Gwalior during the Emergency for no fault of theirs except that she regarded them both as her rivals.
Vintage Beauties to Ferry Tourists in Jaipur
June 7, 2000
From: Indian Express
JAIPUR, JUNE 6: In its drive to restore to the Pink City of Jaipur some of its lost charm, the Rajasthan Government has decided to resurrect vintage beauties with exquisite curves to woo tourists -- particularly those with dollars -- on the roads. These are vintage cars which the state government is planning to introduce as taxis and win the hearts -- and of course cash -- of the tourists.
Rajasthan Tourism already operates the train, Palace on Wheels, which is very popular with foreign tourists. Also old forts, palaces and havelis have been restored and converted into hotels and museums to attract tourists. The initiative to put vintage cars on the road for commercial use coincides with a massive ongoing World Bank-funded scheme aimed at restoring the original character of Jaipur.
According to a transport department spokesman, by agreeing to allow the use of vintage cars as taxis, the authorities have conceded a four-year-old demand of their owners. Rajasthan has at least 250 vintage cars, 50 to 70 years old, with Jaipur alone having around 100.
The spokesman disclosed that it had been decided in principle that the transport department would charge each car a monthly road tax of Rs 100, while the fare would be fixed later. These would ply on selected routes to avoid heavy traffic.
Cars manufactured before 1939 fall in the vintage category while those manufactured later are given the classic tag. Rajasthan's impressive lineup includes a 1931 Bentley, owned by Gayatri Devi, former Rajmata' of Jaipur, a 1935 Rolls Royce, owned by Gaj Singh, former ruler of Jodhpur, a 1931 Studebaker and a 1933 Dodge, belonging to Sudhir Kasliwal, a 1938 Cedilla of the state motor garage, a 1936 Austin-1 of Sanjay Dutta, a 1931 Ford-A of Zafar Shama and a 1921 Wolsley and a 1938 Dodge of Ghani Auto. The oldest vintage car, a 1923 Austin-7, belongs to Rawat Enterprises.
The classic category includes a 1947 Buick-8 belonging to Yuvraj Shivraj Singh of Jodhpur, a 1947 Oldsmobile, owned by Bhagwati Singh Barwara, a 1949 Morris Minor, belonging to Umakant Pareek, a 1949 Chevorlet of DN Kasliwal and a 1941 Packard-110 of Sudhir Kasliwal.
The state will be the first in the country to have vintage cars plying as taxis. And in about a month's time, they would join its camels, elephants and a train taking the tourists on joyrides.
Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.
THE ROYALS' BLUES
Hundreds of kings lost their glittering fiefdoms to independent India. Many have yet to find their place in the world's largest democracy
by: Maseeh Rahman - New Delhi
From TIME Magazine
August 11, 1997
Volume 150 Number 06
Throughout history, kingdoms have been lost or won in India as easily and unpredictably as a dice game. Even by the standards of the subcontinent, though, what happened in 1947 was astonishing. Before World War II, when the British were still well entrenched in New Delhi, 562 princes held sway over 90 million people living in enclaves spread over two-fifths of the subcontinent. Barely ten years later the royals were extinct. Never in the annals of monarchy had so many potentates disappeared so quickly from such lofty positions of power and prestige.
India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his deputy Sardar Patel, determined to forge a unified nation out of the disparate parts of a vast land, led the way toward this sudden eclipse of royalty. Much of the blame, however, lay with the princes themselves, who were too contentious and ill-equipped to cope with change.
After Britain subdued the last rebellious kingdoms in the 19th century, the princes swore allegiance to the crown and were permitted to retain feudatory control of their territories. There were thus two Indias--one run by the British, the other by the maharajahs under the watchful eye of the colonizers. Princely India covered more than 1.25 million sq. km, an area greater than western Europe. Several of its kingdoms could compare with full-blown nations - Kashmir, for instance, was larger than France, Travancore more populous than Portugal. Some rulers even had their own armies and currencies. A majority of maharajahs were from warrior castes, and they loved nothing more than to ride out to battle from their hilltop forts. The British forbade their war-making ways but left them with bulging state coffers. So when the fighting stopped, the princes directed their energies into building palaces modeled on Windsor or Versailles and stocking them with trophies from the jungle or luxury goods from Europe.
During this period, the maharajahs developed a reputation for eccentricity and depravity. The Nawab of Junagadh, who was loathe to spend money on public projects, squandered a small fortune to celebrate the "wedding" of his favorite dog. Annoyed by a salesman's snub, the Maharajah of Bharatpur bought all the Rolls-Royces in a London showroom and turned them into garbage trucks back home. The Maharajah of Alwar, notorious as a sadist, poured kerosene over his polo pony and set the poor animal on fire. The Nizam of Hyderabad, acknowledged as the world's richest man, used egg-sized diamonds as paperweights, while the Maharajah of Gwalior built a 90,000 sq. m palace in which he never lived. "The British systematically alienated us from the real world. They demolished the capability of the order," laments Arvind Singh of Udaipur, scion of a 1,400 year dynasty that could be the world's oldest.
Whatever the cause of royal ineptitude, the princes were hopelessly outfoxed during the negotiations on the transfer of power in 1947. Finally, they had little choice but to cede their kingdoms to the new Indian union. They were allowed initially to retain administrative control, except over communications, defense and foreign affairs. But by 1949, contrary to the assurances given earlier by Nehru's government, they were forced to merge their territories with the Indian provinces. Unlike the sultans of Malaya, who retained a constitutional position after the British left in 1957, India's maharajahs could retain only their titles and personal assets. To make the surrender less painful, however, they were accorded a few privileges, such as exemption from income tax and the right to a state funeral.
The princes soon discovered, though, that they still commanded respect from their erstwhile subjects. Many of the maharajahs claimed "descent" from the sun, through the god Rama, while others traced their beginnings to the moon, through the god Krishna. The people also regarded them as representatives of gods and goddesses, and in many kingdoms religious festivals were incomplete without the presence of the maharajah. Nonetheless, several rulers had earned the admiration of their people by developing and modernizing their kingdoms. And despite their extravagant lifestyles, a few princes worked hard at playing the role of paternalistic benefactor, or annadata (grain-giver). "My grandfather used to be under canvas [in a tent] for more than six months of the year, touring his kingdom. He was a man of the people," recalls Madhavrao Scindia of Gwalior, a Congress politician who gets elected regularly to Parliament from the former capital of his princely state.
Feeling betrayed by New Delhi in 1949, the princes decided to show Nehru that they could be as adept at the game of democracy as at billiards or polo. When free India's first big elections were called in 1952, several maharajahs jumped into the fray. One even succeeded in giving Nehru's party a fright. Hanwant Singh, the playboy Maharajah of Jodhpur, put up his own candidates against the Congress in his former kingdom in Rajasthan, and virtually swept the board. Hanwant Singh could not live to savor his victory, the small plane he was piloting crashed (some said mysteriously) while the votes were being counted. But he had succeeded in making an important point: Despite their excesses, the princes still commanded the loyalty and support of their former subjects. Even a politically untutored maharajah could humiliate a mighty organization like the Congress.
For a while, the royals inhaled the heady aroma of electoral victory. Some played safe and joined the Congress; but others, emboldened by popular support, decided to confront the ruling party and its socialist rhetoric by enrolling with a newly formed right-wing group. A majority who stood for Parliament won seats. The glamorous Gayatri Devi, Maharani of Jaipur, won a poll in 1962 by 175,000 votes, the biggest margin yet recorded in a democratic election. It proved a costly victory.
When Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi came to power in the late 1960s, she quickly moved against the royals. A public campaign was launched to paint the princes as decadent, exploitative and antidemocratic. Breaking pledges given at the time of independence, the government abolished all royal titles and privileges in 1971 and stopped payment of special pensions, called privy purses. Gandhi also set the tax sleuths on her blue-blooded opponents and threw a few in prison. Gayatri Devi was one royal who paid for annoying India's new empress: She served time in New Delhi's notorious Tihar Jail. "From being privileged, we became untouchables," says Hanwant Singh's son Gaj Singh, who returned to Jodhpur after studying at Eton and Oxford. "A lot of propaganda was whipped up against us, which made the simplest of activity suspect."
Consider the fate of Pravirchandra Bhanjdeo, the 20th Maharajah of Bastar in India's tribal heartland. The Bastar rulers trace their ancestry not just to the moon, but also to Prithviraj Chauhan, the last Hindu king to rule from Delhi in the 12th century. In the 1960s, Bhanjdeo organized impoverished tribals and became immensely popular. The government responded first by declaring him "insane" and stripping him of his royal title. Then, in 1966, as tribal supporters armed with bows and arrows milled around him in his crumbling palace, he was shot and killed in cold blood by police.
Despite such setbacks, the royals had demonstrated they could play a role in democratic India. One study found that blue-blooded candidates enjoy an extraordinarily high success rate of 85% in elections. Amrinder Singh, whose father was the last ruling Maharajah of Patiala, resigned from the Indian Army to enter politics, serving briefly as a minister and working to help end Punjab's secessionist Sikh insurgency in the 1980s. Still an active politician he left the Congress to join the regional Sikh party, the Akali Dal, he remains committed to his people. "The underlying cause for the insurgency remains," he says. "Educated unemployed youth have been beaten into submission, but how long can they be kept down?"
At the eastern extremity of a far-flung nation lies Tripura, a backward state long neglected by New Delhi and now threatened by angry tribals. As he examines a massive bust of Mussolini presented to his father by the Italian dictator in 1936, Kirit Bikram Dev Burman, former Maharajah of Tripura, observes sadly, "I joined politics because I thought I could help Tripura. After all, it was my state." The 186th ruler in a thousand-year-old dynasty, Burman has stepped aside to let his second wife, Bibhukumari Devi, take the political spotlight. Though defeated in the last parliamentary elections because of a split within the Congress, she remains confident about her political future. "For a section of the people, we are very dear," she says. "Basically, they know we won't cheat them, won't make money at their expense." That point is endorsed by Jagat Mehta, former Indian foreign secretary whose father worked for the Maharajah of Udaipur: "Maharajahs appear so much more benign, so much more restrained than today's corrupt politicians."
If royal lineage can be useful in politics, it is an absolute blessing in the tourism business. Since the Maharajah of Jaipur shocked everyone by converting his Rambagh Palace into a hotel in 1958, virtually every former feudal chieftain in Rajasthan has restored his crumbling fort or palace to lure western visitors. Revenue from tourism has allowed Gaj Singh, who has turned his family's art deco palace in Jodhpur into a hotel, to pursue his interests in environment and conservation. Perhaps the most successful hotelier is Udaipur's Arvind Singh, whose chain of nine inns grossed $8.5 million last year. He recalls how the family opposed his father's decision to convert one of the Udaipur palaces into the ethereal Lake Palace Hotel in 1962. Now Singh knows better. "Our generation has no excuses for not getting ahead," he says. "How much of a head start do you want? We had assets, good education, contacts. What was lacking was the ability to manage money. It was like sitting on a gold mine with a begging bowl."
Gold mine is not a bad description for the Bangalore palace of Srikantadatta Narasimha Raja Wodeyar, the Maharajah of Mysore. Built in 1874 as a copy of Windsor Palace, it is surrounded by more than 190 forested hectares in the heart of India's fastest growing city. Bangalore politicians want the local government to acquire the estate for a modest $8 million, and the matter is now in court. The maharajah is a prominent Congress member of Parliament, but he believes that has only made him a more tempting target. "It is to keep me tied down, keep me away from politics," he says. "There is so much instability, such a decline in public values, that the people have lost faith in politicians. I'm the only person who can rise above it, so naturally I'm perceived as a threat."
Politics would have been the full-time occupation of Mohammed Abdul Ali, the Prince of Arcot, had his wife not insisted he steer clear. Thanks to a quirk of history, Ali is the only royal recognized by the Indian government. His family lost its kingdom to the British in 1801. After much legal wrangling, Queen Victoria conferred the new title of Prince of Arcot in 1867 and granted a tax-free pension in perpetuity. Since this agreement is separate from the one signed with the other maharajahs in 1947 and scrapped by Indira Gandhi, the government continues to honor it. A prominent leader of the Muslim community in south India, Ali lives in an old mansion in Madras. He devotes his time to repairing the relationship between Hindus and Muslims. "We're behaving like buffoons, and the whole world is watching us," he thunders at a beach front meeting in his home city. "India will die if there's no friendship between people of different religions."
The revival of Buddhism, rather than religious harmony, is high on the agenda for Wangchuk Namgyal, the son of the last Chogyal (king) of the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim. In 1975, Gandhi annexed Sikkim, ending its identity as a mountain kingdom similar to neighboring Bhutan and Nepal. Namgyal now lives alone in a palace draped with scarlet orchids above the state capital Gangtok, engaged in an effort to revive the Buddhist monasteries scattered in the mountains. "These are bewildering times for Sikkimese," he says. "We still feel shattered by the way India took us over."
The most poignant and widely publicized dispute between a royal family and the government is surely that of Wilayat Mahal, the self-styled Begum of Awadh, a descendant of the Nawab who ruled from Lucknow until being deposed by the British in 1856. For years, Mahal attracted the world's press to her campsite on the ceremonial platform of New Delhi Railway Station, where she lived surrounded by her heirlooms, her hounds and her son and daughter, demanding that the government grant her a residence befitting her pedigree. After rejecting the offer of a colonial bungalow, she finally settled for a crumbling pavilion built by a Muslim emperor. There, in the 13th century ruin set amid a secluded forest near the presidential palace, she took her own life four years ago, according to her daughter Sakina Mahal and son Ali Reza. Lost without the mother's domineering presence, Sakina and Reza lived with her embalmed body for more than a year, laid out ceremonially on a marble-topped table and adorned with her jewelry. They later cremated her body and crushed the jewels. "She was our only anchor of survival," the daughter sobs. "I've left combing my hair since the princess has gone, thinking perhaps she might not be combing. I do not desire to live in this world."
Many other ex-rulers could also never quite cope with the realities of a different, democratic India. The fabulous Nizam of Hyderabad sank into miserable isolation. His grandson and successor Mukaram Jah, the eighth Nizam, hounded by tax officials, greedy relatives and deceitful acolytes, fled to manage a sheep farm in western Australia. After that venture ended in disaster his second wife, an Australian, contracted aids--he tried to find his roots again in Hyderabad, changed wives two more times, and now lives mostly in Europe.
The Nizam can afford to fail on a grand scale. The smaller princes had no such choice, especially after the tax-free privy purses were stopped. Many share the predicament of Bhawani Singh, the Maharajah of Chhatarpur, who lives in a grubby corner of his palace abutting the 10th century erotic temples at Khajuraho, as devotees and camera-wielding tourists pass by. A number of families are also mired in endless feuds for control of property and wealth not already commandeered by the taxman. Jaipur's is the most famous instance, with Gayatri Devi (who long ago withdrew from politics) and her maharajah stepson locked in a court battle over assets worth millions of dollars.
Fifty years after having lost their kingdoms, India's royal families are still groping for a role and a direction. Some have found salvation in the tourist-hotel boom, especially in Rajasthan. But even there, corruption and misrule have devastated the environment and kept the people poor and illiterate. The more thoughtful maharajahs, such as Jodhpur's Gaj Singh, recognize the need to play an active role to check the depredation and foster development. The immense prestige they enjoy locally can help bring about change. "Our future will depend on our own contribution," he says. "I tell my son we need to develop special skills for this."
Probably the most carefree royal in India today is Kamalchandra Bhanjdeo, 13, Maharajah of Bastar and grandnephew of the unfortunate Pravirchandra. Though barely a teenager, he seems to straddle two worlds, the medieval and the modern, with natural grace. As he scooters back from a computer class to his family's decaying palace in Jagdalpur, Bastar's main town, a tribal villager arrives to offer obeisance. Rising from the floor after touching Bhanjdeo's feet, Ispar Maji proclaims: "Maharajahs may have been de-recognized by the government, but for us he's still the king. Without him, the goddess Danteshwari-Ma will be unhappy." As long as the faith of ordinary people like Maji endures, so, perhaps, will India's maharajahs.
--With reporting by Tim McGirk/Gangtok
NIFD Students Receive Diplomas
Tribune News Service
January 4, 2002
Jaipur, January 3 - Chandigarh-based National Institute of Fashion Design (NIFD) organised the annual convocation for its Class of 2001 of Rajasthan chapter at Jaipur, where budding designers from the streams of Fashion Design, Textile Design and Interior Design were awarded diplomas by star designer Raghavendra Rathore and her Highness Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. Ms Aditi Srivastava, GM, represented NIFD Corporate, Chandigarh.
It was a feather in the cap for NIFD, Rajasthan, having 12 NIFD Centres, and a moment of great pride for the students who received their diplomas from the leading celebrity and India's top designer Raghavendra Rathore, the reputed designer who shot into prominence for designing the clothes of Amitabh Bachchan in “Kaun Banega Crorepati”. He also has to his credit the tremendous achievement of being Amitabh Bachchan's designer for the recently released Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.
Rajmata Gayatri Devi put in a special appearance to flag off the budding NIFD designers into the world of fashion and design.
Mr Raghavendra Rathore asked the students to be hard working, determined, dedicated and to follow a positive attitude towards their goals. He also said that earlier this kind of specialised training was only confined to big cities but with NIFD reaching out even to smaller cities this kind of education was available at the doorstep of all class of people.
Rajmata Gayatri Devi congratulated and encouraged the budding designers and wished them all luck to make a mark in the world of fashion and design.
Also present on the occasion was Ms. Aditi Srivastava (GM Corporate). Mrs Kamla Poddar, (Centre Head, NIFD, Jaipur) gave the vote of thanks. At the end of the session, an interesting chat session of the students was held with Mr Raghavendra Rathore, where students asked him a variety of questions ranging from the role of designers to the secret of his success.
A Royal Love Story
By: Princess Diya Kumari of Jaipur
November 6, 1997
This whole tamasha over my marriage is making an issue of a non-issue.
I have not been brought up like a pampered princess. Yes, in Jaipur and for the rest of the world, I do have the title of a princess, but my upbringing was like that of any other child. This whole tamasha over my marriage is nothing but people trying to make an issue out of a non-issue. I am surprised, completely taken aback in fact, with this kind of reaction. It is totally out of tune with our life and times. Who I decide to marry is a personal decision, I don't see how and why it should affect anybody else.
I am not going to bow down to any of the threats I have been receiving. It is my life and I have every right to do as I please with it.
I was only 16 when a royal family sent a rishta for me
In fact, I remember I was just 16 when one of the royal families sent a rishta for me. It's quite customary to get engaged at that age and get married later. But my parents were good enough to insist that I was too young even for an engagement. That does not go to say that they have never stopped me from anything. They have given me advice from time to time.
Being a princess did have had its advantages. For instance, I got to meet a host of celebrities whom most people get to see only on the telly or read about in newspapers. The celebrity I enjoyed meeting the most was Princess Diana. I was 14-15 then and was totally bowled over by her and Prince Charles. She was quite something. She had a certain power -- call it charisma or whatever -- that instinctively drew people to her. I had taken her around Jaipur. She was so fascinated by Indian women, very struck by their eyes in particular. I still remember her words. She had looked directly into my eyes and said, 'You Indian children have such lovely eyes. Your eyes speak of innocence and charm.' She herself was extremely gracious. I still remember, when, just before her departure, my mother presented her with a parting gift wrapped in a traditional Jaipuri sari. Instead of handing it over her lady-in-waiting, she clutched it back all the way to the aircraft. It's probably this warmth in her and her ability to make you feel special that people found so endearing.
I've been made out to be a spring chicken of sorts who knew nothing about men before I met my husband
I dislike the way the media just assumes things. I've been made out to be a spring chicken of sorts, who knew nothing about men before I met my husband. Well, that's not true. Yes, I do come from a family that has given me a sheltered upbringing, but I was never stopped from making friends or going out. My parents entertained a lot, as a result of which I did get the opportunity to meet people and make friends. Like any normal girl, I went through my share of heroes and heroines and teenage crushes.
I was 18 when I first met Narendra Singh Rajawat (her husband). He is not the 'erstwhile cashier' of the palace nor was he my ADC or chauffeur who took me shopping as the media has alleged. All that is bosh and nonsense! I really fail to understand how people come up with just anything, however absurd that might be. My marriage might be the proverbial fairy tale romance but my husband is not exactly a pauper! He is, if I may be allowed to say, a chartered accountant and runs his own construction business. And all that talk of my parents having given him huge sums of money to construct houses so that he is not a social embarrassment in untrue.
We met way back in 1989 when my father had been asked by the late Rajiv Gandhi to contest the elections from Jaipur. Narendra's father, Thakur Budh Singh, comes from one of the small Jaipur thikanas -- Sawai Madhopur. He had been one of the many people helping in the campaign. My husband, since he had graduated in commerce and was pursuing his chartered accountancy, joined the accounts section in the S M S Museum Trust just so he could enhance his knowledge base and get some experience. He served in the department for three months which was where I met him.
The first time we met was at the palace. He had come over for some work and since I too was helping out with the accounts, I had asked him to chip in with some of the calculations I was tackling. We got talking and I found that I really enjoyed talking to him.
What appealed to me about Narendra was his simplicity and sincerity. He came across as being very considerate and caring -- qualities that you rarely find in Indian men. It is one thing to assume and assert yourself as an understanding and emancipated male but it is actually only a handful of men who have that kind of mental framework.
It was certainly not love at first sight or anything like that in our case. I don't believe in love at first sight. It was only after three months, when he left, that I realised I wanted to meet him more often. We would meet, whenever he was in Jaipur, at a common friend's place.
Up to this time it was just a very nice, strong friendship. It was only when I accompanied my parents on a trip abroad, when I missed him unbearably, that I realised things went deeper than a mere friendship. I wanted him to be with me always. That was when I realised how serious my feelings for him were.
When I told her about Narendra, mum was shocked and quite upset too.
She wanted me to get married into a set-up similar on the one I was brought up in and was probably even sure I would get over him, for she did not tell my father about it.
But I did become a little more cautious after this and we were very careful about where we met. We'd always try to meet outside Jaipur, generally in Delhi. We visit Delhi very often as we have a house there. So whenever I was in Delhi, I used to meet him at a friend's place. His parents too got to know about us only recently and when they did, they were, I believe, just as appalled as my mother was. They, in fact, even reprimanded Narendra for getting involved with me.
After I had told my mother about Narendra, I did go through my share of guilt pangs. I did feel that I had in some obscure way let them down. That's what happens when you are an only child. You do have a certain responsibility and anything that makes a your parents unhappy sets you off on a guilt trip. I did not really want my parents to be unhappy on my account so I did try to get over him.
My parents introduced me to people whom they thought were right for me. I did meet many men. I must say they were all wonderful guys and I didn't have anything against them except for the fact that I just wasn't interested in anyone else.
When you are faced with a situation like this, the turmoil, the struggle just gets too much at times. Your heart and your instincts are totally obtuse to what your brain says.
Though I did understand and appreciate my parents' concern, there were times when I literally wanted to bang my head against the wall, just shake some sense into everybody's head -- after all, I am not a child. I am a woman who has her basic sensibilities intact. Surely, I have some idea as to what and who is right for me.
We decided that if we stopped talking to each other, give one another some space, things might just fizzle out...
Still, I did try to get over my relationship with Narendra. God, how I tried! I even broke off with him for about six to seven months. We decided that if we stop talking to each other, give one another some space, things may just fizzle out. But then, that was not to be. The fact is, I was in love with him and I wanted to marry him. Those six months were hell. I used to do all sorts to stupid things like making blank calls to him just so I could hear his voice. I think back now and feel so stupid! Finally, one day, I got more than fed up and I just could not bear being away from him anymore, so I called him up.
We got married without informing our parents
By 1994, I had reached the end of my tether. We had been with each other for six years. And six years is no joke. Since my parents still harboured the hope that I'd somehow get over him, I decided it was time we did something rather that wait for our parents to come to a conclusion which might never be. For how long could we keep waiting? We had a commitment towards each other and both of us felt it was time we honoured it. So we went in for an Arya Samaj wedding in 1994. Later, we even got the marriage registered in court.
Initially, we decided that, after the wedding, we would tell our parents and convince them that we were sure of ourselves. But before we could do so my father, who was posted in Brunei those days as the high commissioner, suffered a stroke. Mother and I were immediately flown to Brunei and thereafter to Singapore, where he was hospitalised for a while. My father later returned to India with us. He was to resume duty after a year of recuperation.
When we returned to India, I told mum and dad very firmly that this was the person I wanted to marry. To agree to that or not was their wish, I had made my choice.
However, I had still not told my parents that I was already married. I kept it a secret for two years and those two years were nothing short of being a nightmare. Not just because I was hiding such a vital fact, but I also found the torture of living away from my husband, knowing fully well that we had the right to be with each other, unbearable. We wanted to live together but what could we do? I could not ditch my parents just when they needed me the most -- at a time when my father was recovering. Besides, the doctor had advised us not to upset dad.
Finally, it was only in November, 1996, that I actually got around to telling my mother that I was married. My husband was getting impatient. He naturally doubted my sincerity since I was not telling my parents. And it is not as if his side of the family was thrilled by the prospect. They were rather annoyed with him when he broke the news to them. They have a lot of regard for my father and the family, so his father was horrified that his son had fallen for me!
A couple of months later, in January, 1997, mum told my dad that I was married. When I told my parents that Narendra and I were already married, they were more hurt than furious
Thankfully, after that first about of anger, my parents did come to terms with the fact that I had already chosen my life partner and were understanding enough to see my point of view. What would I have done if my parents had refused to accept us? Well, perhaps I might have waited for some more time and then would have broken away from them. After all, Narendra and I are husband and wife and my husband was earning enough to support us
I get threatening calls everyday
Narendra and I were publicly married on August 6, 1997. It was basically a family affair. We did not invite too many people as it was put together at very short notice but still there were 250-300 people present Relatives from both my father's and mother's sides, relatives from the royal families of Jodhpur, Kishangarh, Nahan, Sonepur, etc. Also present were the Scindias, Dr. Karan Singh and his family, my close friends, my parents' close friends. People from the thikana families of Jaipur such as Sewar, Samode, Bissau, Barwara and others. We had a formal reception after that.
And, ever since, we have been receiving all sorts of threats from people we know and those we don't. In fact, we had started receiving threats immediately after the wedding date was formally announced in Jaipur -- mainly from this Narendra Singh Rajawat, ironically, my husband's namesake, and his henchmen -- telling us that we will be harmed, that they will send suicide squads. They have threatened to kidnap my husband and me and to not let us enter Jaipur. This same Narendra Singh and his wife has promised to help me when they met me last year!
Narendra Singh Rajawat is the working president of the Rajput Sabha while my father is the permanent president. But that does not give Rajawat the right to ostracise anyone or to make the kind of statements he is making. I still recall clearly, they had asked me about my involvement with my husband and had asked me if I wanted to marry him. When I replied in the positive, they asked me if my parents knew about what was happening. I told them that I had not yet revealed the facts to my parents as I did not know what their reaction would be.
Narendra Singh had then assured me that he would 'handle the rest of the Rajput community' provided I got my father to agree to the marriage. He even told me that the marriage was fine as we were both not related to each other over generations. And now he has the gall to barge into my father's office and tell my mother to convert to Islam in order to conduct the wedding! And that's not all, before leaving my father's office on August 27, he went into the ADC's office and told them 'now you see what I can do'! He even told one of them that if my father adopts Jai Singh's (my father's stepbrother) son Ajit Singh and gives him the title, everything will be all right. If my father were to do, so it would mean that the title and the wealth to which I am the rightful heir will all have to be divided between him and me, as per the Hindu succession act. Why should dad adopt anybody?
Narendra Singh Rajawat even threatened that he would blacken our (my husband's and mine) faces if my father does not step down. The President of India recognised my father as the Maharaja of Jaipur, so who is he to dethrone him? He is absolutely no authority at all! And all that talk of blackening our faces -- in this day and age such talk is shocking. I mean, is my marriage the prime issue facing the community today? There have been instances where girls have really been harassed -- they have been driven to their death. Why don't they do something for those girls? There has been a rape in Jaipur for heaven's sake! Do something about that. Have any of them done anything apart from sitting at home and merely wondering at the injustice of it all?
Traditions cannot rule your life.
These same people who have vented so much negative energy can channelise their energies into something more beneficial. And if my affairs are all that concern them, then I say this -- if I have done anything that is not according to the law of the land, then by all means prosecute me. But I have not committed a crime and, secondly, I feel Narendra Singh Rajawat must have some vested interest. There is no other reason I can attribute to his behaviour. This is a man who says he will support me one minute, says no the next and makes an issue out of nothing.
My father is the head of the Rajput community in Jaipur. Nobody asks him what they should do when it comes to their private lives. So what gives them the authority to interfere in his private life or be concerned about what his daughter is doing? Within the Rajput community , there have been so many inter-caste and sagotra marriages, so why pick on me?
Besides, sagotra marriages are allowed. My husband and I do belong to the same gotra -- he is a Rajawat and my grand-father was adopted from a Rajawat thikana. But we are not blood-related. As for breaking tradition, yes, I do believe traditions must be followed and kept alive. But traditions cannot rule your life. They change with times. Having more than one wife was a Rajput tradition, but can anyone do it today? I honestly never imagined that they'd make such an issue of it all. One of Narendra Singh Rajawat's henchmen, Kamlendra Singh, has faxed a threat to us, one of them threatened to kidnap us and bring us dead or alive and one man insists that we should remain celibate and not have children! It is ridiculous.
I am sure there is much more to all this than meets the eye.
And the best part of it all is that it is just these few people who are creating the whole hungama. The jagirdars of Jaipur and the prominent Rajputs are least affected. They have been ringing us up to tell us that they do not support all this.
All these threats had me rather stupefied at first. But I am determined not to cower down. What I do with my life is my own business and nobody else's. I am not some poor little rich girl who can't live her life the way she wants to and I will not let a handful of people turn my life topsy-turvy. They want to keep us out of Jaipur and I will make sure that they don't succeed in their motive. My husband and I plan to stay at the palace itself as all my work I there. As for the people who want me ostracised -- let them do what they want. I have been patient in the relationship for the sake of my family and, now that I have my man and my family by my side, I refuse to be daunted by these people.
Rajputs Snap Ties With Royals
Tuesday, August 12, 1997
From: The Indian Express
JAIPUR, Aug. 11: The Rajput Sabha here yesterday ``ostracised'' former ruler of Jaipur, Bhawani Singh and stripped him of the permanent presidency of the Sabha, following the controversial marriage of his daughter, Diya Kumari Singh, at Delhi on August 6.
Three hundred of the 400 delegates of the Sabha were present at the meeting. The decision will be placed before the general House on August 17 for its approval.
The Sabha also ``ostracised'' the immediate family of Bhawani Singh, besides that of Budh Singh of Kotda, father of the bridegroom, Narendra Singh.
The delegates appealed to all Rajput bodies and trusts to remove Bhawani Singh from all honorary positions. They called upon the government to acquire all trusts and properties controlled by the members of the former ruling family of Jaipur. They also demanded that the former ruling family be prevented from using historical buildings for commercial purposes.
The meeting also decided to take action against those who attended the marriage and who still maintained social relations with the family.
An agitation will also be launched to condemn the marriage. Sawai Sing Dhamor claimed at the meeting that Diya Kumari Singh and Narendra Singh shared the same ancestry. He said men and women belonging to the same clan could not marry each other according to the custom and laws propounded in Manusmriti.
Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd
Jaipur Royals Crown Padmanabh as New Crown Prince
Friday November 23, 2002
From: The Hindustan Times
Five-year-old Padmanabh Singh became the crown prince of Jaipur on Friday, with Maharaja Brigadier Bhawani Singh adopting his little grandson in a royal ceremony at the City Palace.
The event marks a new progressive thinking in feudal Rajput families, for it is his daughter's son that the Maharaja has adopted as his heir.
Princess Diya Kumari and Kunwar Narendra Singh formally handed over Padmanabh to Maharaja Bhawani Singh amid chanting of Sanskrit shlokas and hymns.
As the little prince made himself comfortable on his grandfather's lap, the entire durbar stood up. An 18-gun salute marked the occasion.
An emotional Princess Diya later told journalists that it was a moment of pride for her. "My husband and I are proud to be honoured by His Highness' grace," she said. She brushed aside the Rajput Sabha's allegations that the adoption was "unconstitutional".
"Daughters are as much a part of the parents as the sons. By adopting his daughter's son, the Maharaja has taken a progressive decision which has opened avenues for our community's women," she said.
Maharani Padmini Devi said the adoption was legally valid and that the state was happy to have its crown prince.
The morning was chilly in Jaipur, but the splash of colours at the royal ceremony filled it with rich, warm undertones.
The most prominent colour was red: The turbans, the lehanga-cholis, the carpets and flowers. The entire ambience was filled with warm colours, till the temple peethadishwars and royal priests draped in white took the centre stage.
The guest list was a who's who of north India's royalty: Maharana Arvind Singh of Mewar; the Nawab of Loharu; Maharaj Kumari of Alwar and Maharajas of Kishangarh and Nahan in Himachal Pradesh. Rajasthan Governor Justice Anshuman Singh and several members of the state cabinet were present.
The most prominent absentee was Gayatri Devi, Brigadier Bhawani Singh's stepmother and certainly India's best known "maharani". Royal staff in her exclusive Lillypool Palace said she was at her parental home in Cooch Behar.
Prince Padmanabh's adoption fills the void for a successor in the Jaipur dynasty. Sawai Bhawani Singh is the eldest son of the late Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II, who was adopted by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II.
Jaipur's Royal Family Finally Has an Heir
by: Kamla Bora
Saturday November 23, 2002
The Kachawas clan, which ruled the Dhundar region, now called Jaipur, since 996 AD, on Friday got a new prince when the erstwhile ruler Sawai Bhawani Singh adopted his grandson at a gala ceremony inside the palace in Jaipur.
The event may also go down in history as the one which brought together the erstwhile rulers of Jaipur and Mewar, who had been at odds for a few centuries.
Bhawani Singh, who has only a daughter, adopted Padmanabh Singh in deference to his family's tradition, which allows only a male to occupy the throne.
Amidst chanting of Vedic hymns by priests Bhawani Singh's daughter Diya Kumari and her husband Narendra Singh Rajawat placed their five-year-old son Padmanabh Singh on the lap of his grandfather, who declared the tiny tot his heir.
The Durbar Hall of the palace was jam-packed with courtiers and former jagirdars wearing traditional attire and colourful headgear.
Rajasthan Governor Anshuman Singh, Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, former chief ministers Shiv Charan Mathur and Heera Lal Devpura and Public Relations Minister Jitendra Singh were among those present at the ceremony.
A notable absentee was Maharani Gayatri Devi, who is said to be not on good terms with Bhawani Singh.
However, a good deal of the attention was centred on the former ruler of Mewar Arvind Singh, who was present at the ceremony.
The rulers of Mewar are successors of the legendry Maharana Pratap. They never forgave the Jaipur rulers for accepting the superiority of Mughal emperor Akbar and leading his forces against Pratap.
Seen in this context, Arvind Singh's presence may have just opened a new chapter in Rajasthan's history.
Incidentally, this is not the first time that a ruler of the Jaipur family has resorted to adoption in pursuit of an heir.
Bhawani Singh's father Sawai Man Singh II was born in a jagirdar's (landowner's) family from Isarda, but was adopted by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh and became the ruler of Jaipur in 1922.
The person most overwhelmed by the event was Padmanabh's paternal grandfather Thakur Buddha Singh of Kotda village in Tonk district.
He had earlier served as a guard at the city palace. Narendra himself was on the staff of the city palace when he and princess Diya Kumari fell in love and decided to marry.
After initial hiccups, Bhawani Singh and his wide Padmini Devi had agreed to the match.
Like the love marriage of Diya Kumari and Narendra Singh, the adoption ceremony also was not without controversy.
President of the Rajput Sabha Narendra Singh Rajawat, who had earlier opposed the marriage of Diya with Narendra on the ground that both belonged to same gotra (lineage), again put a spook in the wheel.
He wrote to Bhawani Singh that although as a ruler he could give his property and throne to anyone, as per tradition, he could not proclaim his daughter's son as his heir.
He also objected to the ceremony being made public as, considering the democratic traditions of independent India, it would only encourage feudalism.
Maharaja Sparks Family Feud By Making Grandson Heir to $1bn
by: Rajeev Syal
December 30, 2002
From: The Sydney Morning Herald
The Maharaja of Jaipur, the flamboyant owner of some of Rajasthan's most spectacular palaces, has sparked a feud over his family's assets, which are worth more than $A1billion, £ by naming his five-year-old grandson as his heir.
Bhawani "Bubbles" Singh, 71, formally adopted his daughter's son, Padmanabh, and named him as his heir two weeks ago at a lavish Hindu ceremony in which he said he was exercising his legal right to leave his fortune to whomever he wished. His brothers Jai, 69, and Prithvi Raj Singh, 67, responded by issuing a High Court writ claiming that the family's wealth should be shared.
They alleged that the maharaja had broken an ancient Rajput tradition by failing to name an heir from the male line of the family. Now the two sides will argue over the royal family's succession in the High Court.
Narendra Singh, the maharaja's son-in-law, said the feud was damaging the family.
"There is no reason for this fight, and no reason for the constant accusations. The maharaja has chosen his successor, and that should really be the end of the matter, but some people will not let it go. It could have terrible consequences."
Family members say both sides will lay claim to Jaipur's spectacular palaces and forts, which have been transformed into lucrative five-star hotels.
Bhawani Singh, nicknamed Bubbles by his nanny because of the many litres of champagne consumed at his birth, counts Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger as friends, and is among the richest of India's 600 maharajas.
The present maharaja has no son and, as tradition dictates that his title can pass only to a male, he was expected to name one of his brothers or one of their sons as his heir.
However the maharaja stunned his family by declaring: "After much thought and deliberation, I have decided to adopt my grandson. I do not have a son, and the dynasty needs a male heir to inherit the family's assets."
Gayatri Devi, the maharaja's stepmother, pleaded with him not to go ahead. "Dear Bubbles, I have given much thought to the ceremony of adoption," she wrote. "I would like to remind you that in your position you have an obligation to live up to and with the traditions and customs of the House of Jaipur. I want you and your family to seriously reconsider your plans."
The High Court case will focus on the will of Sawai Man Singh, the previous maharaja, who was known for ostentatious parties including tiger shoots for the British royal family. He had three wives who bore him four sons.
The High Court writ claims that Sawai Man Singh wanted each son to be given an equal share of the family's fortune, and that Bhawani Singh took over the estate on behalf of the whole family.
| MILLENNIUM SPECIAL
The Nation's Icon Names The 10 Women He Admires
by: Amitabh Bachchan
November 15, 1999
From: Out Look India
#1 GAYATRI DEVI
I consider the Maharani of Jaipur one of the most beautiful women of this century for her looks, her presence, the way she carries herself and the clothes she wears. In the latter part of her life, she has done a lot for Jaipur in setting up institutions of education and improving the lot of women.
I visit Jaipur often. When I once stayed at the private palace which has now been converted into a hotel, I saw a picture of the Rani of Cooch Behar, Gayatri Devi's mother, in the main corridor.
I am not sure whether it was a painting or a photograph but she was even more beautiful than Gayatri Devi. In the picture, she is sitting on a chair and yet the grace, dignity, poise and the presence about her comes through.
I also happened to see the erstwhile maharani of Patiala when I was a kid, at Teen Murti House. When she walked into the room, it was as if the whole room had lit up. Although a brief encounter, the memory of it has remained with me.
#2 WAHEEDA REHMAN
She has a very raw Indian look about her. In my mind, she has just about the perfect Indian look. Add to that her excellent cinematic performances - not just creatively good but trend setting in the realm of subtlety and softness, which in her era one didn't find. Or didn't look for in artistes.
#3 AISHWARYA RAI
In today's time, she has just about the most perfect face. It is difficult to find any defect in her face, her body. She is truly deserving of the titles she has won and has now accomplished herself by being a very fine creative artiste on celluloid as well.
#4 NASEEM BANU
Saira Banu's mother. She is a woman of great beauty. There is a certain softness about her in the way she talks and behaves. A lady with great charm who during her prime was perhaps the most beautiful Indian actress.
#5 SAVITRI DEVI
Gemini Ganesan's wife, this south Indian actress had looks that were similar to Meena Kumari's or Suraiya's. But she had a certain kind of youthful bubble which lent her vivacity and exuberance. She was one of the first actresses with unbelievable spontaneity. If one epitomises natural acting with Geeta Bali, another extremely beautiful woman, Savitri Devi, had the same quality about her.
#6 SUCHITRA SEN
The classic Bengali beauty, sublime yet powerful. She will always be remembered for the quality of her voice and the expression of her eyes.
#7 MADHURI DIXIT
By far one of the most brilliant smiles that has ever been seen in any of the leading ladies or some of the women talked of earlier. Her smile is so unique that she does not have to say anything after that. She has the most expressive smile and eyes.
#8 LEELA NAIDU
Another classic beauty, with the most perfect oval face. Sadly, one didn't see much of her in films but there was a gentleness about her that was attractive.
#9 MEENA KUMARI
Another very dignified, beautiful person, she is one of the finest actresses India has produced. She was a great artiste but it was her voice that was the most important ingredient of her persona. It was endearing, almost vulnerable, yet correct and firm - difficult qualities to be found in one voice. She also had beautiful eyes and literally spoke with them.
She is my grand-daughter and I am going to be a bit biased. She will be two in December and I have yet to meet a more aware, conscious, intelligent little lady as herself. She has an unbelievably strong and intelligent mind and is the most loveable ingredient in any kind of assembly. Her lips and her eyes are the most expressive that I have ever seen among children of her age.
And then, there is my mother Teji Bachchan is the embodiment of a lot of strength. She is a Sikh from an aristocratic upper class family who married my father, a Hindu from a lower middle class family, in 1942. She had the strength of belief in my father, supporting his creative instincts and those which were to come in smaller measure in myself. She has a very strong mind, is optimistic, fearless, full of joy and energetic. Although she is in her eighties, her mind is the same as it was in her thirties.
Festivities Mark Birthday of Former Jaipur Ruler
by. Special correspondent
Monday, October 29, 2001
From: The Hindu: India's National Newspaper
JAIPUR, OCT. 28. Festivities marked the 71st birthday of the former ruler of Jaipur, Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh, on Saturday.
The brightly lit Pritam Niwas Chowk in the City Palace in the Walled City of Jaipur found thakurs, raj gurus and the subjects of the former Kachchawa rulers of Amber and Jaipur gathered to greet the former ruler and the former queen, Padmini Devi.
Traditional rituals performed by mahants of Govind Deoji and other historical temples in the City followed by dance performances of local artists captivated the audience who included a good number of invited guests.
The occasion had also a touch of sentimentality as Maharani Padmini Devi acknowledged the contribution of the commoner son in law of the family, Kunwar Narendra Singh, for his efforts to `carry forward the illustrious traditions of the Jaipur royal family.'
It was the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust which took initiative last year to observe the birth day of the former ruler with a function and a ceremony to give away awards to those who excelled in various fields falling in the territory of the former kingdom of Jaipur-Amber.
A book authored by Dr. S. K. Misra on the Jaigarh Fort's unique water management was released by Brig. Bhawani Singh on the occasion. Dr. Misra, an expert on water management in the heritage buildings, was also awarded the Raja Kakil Dev Award.
The other winners included the late lensman of international repute, Raghubir Singh Khatu, who was bestowed upon the Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh Award - named after the photographer prince - and Mr. Rajendra Shankar Bhatt, eminent author and editor, who received the Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II Award.
Rajkumari Bhuvanesh Kumari of Alwar, a champion of the game of squash, was awarded the Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh Award for excellence in sports. Another sportsperson, Kunwar Vishal Singh, was awarded Maharaja Sawai Man Singh Award for polo.
Two war heroes, one of the recent Kargil war, the late Capt. Amit Bhardwaj and another, the late Lt. Gen. Sagat Singh of the 1971 war, were awarded posthumously the Raja Man Singh Award and Mirza Raja Jai Singh Award respectively.
Dr. Girendra Pal, a pioneer in homeopathic medicine in Rajasthan, was awarded Raja Pajvan Dev Award. Pundit Kalyan Datt Sharma, who re-created instruments in India's astronomical observatories at different places, was awarded the Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh Award.
Mr. Laxman Singh Khangarot, a young environmentalist who helped the rural people of Dudu in Jaipur district to harvest rainwater, was chosen for the Raja Dulha Rai Award. The newly introduced Maharani Marudhar Kanwar Award for excellence in the field of environmental science was given to Mr. Harkirat Singh Sanga, an ornithologist.
The Maharaja Sawai Ishwari Singh Award for excellence in performing arts went to the kathak exponent, Giriraj Maharaj, who also led the evening's colorful dance performance. The meenakari expert, Padma Shree Sardar Kudrat Singh, was the recipient of the Raja Bhagwant Das Award while Mr. Dwaraka Prasad Sharma was given the Maharaja Sawai Jagat Singh Award for excellence in the filed of art and painting.
Mohan Singh Kanota, the co-author of the `Reserving the Gaze' a book based on the famous diary of Amar Singh of Kanota, was awarded the Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh Award. Mr. Yaduendra Sahai, historian and director general of the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust, was chosen for this year's Maharaja Sawai Bhawani Singh Award. Mr. Deen Singh Shekhawat received the Maharani Padmini Devi Award.
The Years Are Short, The Days Are Long
By: Alka Pande
Sunday November 10, 2002
From: The Hindu: India's National Newspaper
The online additon of Indina's national newspaper
India's grey population was the theme of `Ageless Mind and Spirit ... '. Alka Pande reviews this creation of Samar and Vijay S. Jodha, at a recent exhibition in Delhi.
The brothers Jodha - Samar and Vijay - embarked on a project more than four years ago. Finally, on October 1, the "Day of the Aged", the results were there for all to see - an image text based exhibition entitled, "Ageless Mind and Spirit - Faces and Voices from the World of India's Elderly".
Through evocative black and white images, Samar had zoomed in on the world of India's elderly, while Vijay had provided the poignant and insightful text.
Old people are not the most popular, the most romantic or the most coveted muses photographers choose to capture. However, for Samar there was something inimitable, unique, and timeless about them. The lens can be harsh and objective, yet it is through the photographer's sensitive eye that the pictures became imbued with restrained emotion.
India's senior citizens are becoming a forgotten segment of the population, especially at a time when traditional family structures are gradually being eroded and the gap between generations is increasing.
Each photograph, of the 40 subjects had an accompanying tale - the story of the subject and how each one felt about being old. Poignant, touching, and sometimes even distressing were these unique tales. What was really interesting were the first person accounts. Says Ameen Sayani, whose magical voice captivated India's millions of radio listeners in the 1960s and 1970s with the "Binaca Geetmala", "I think one must not use the word `elderly' but `elder'. Anyone who is elder and is more experienced has a lot to give. I feel that ageing has to do with one's frame of mind, apart, of course, from the physical condition. In both mind and body, it is not necessary that use and productivity be always linked with age." The individuals featured in the exhibition and in the book were from across the board - well known celebrities of yester years like the actress Nadira, the actor Jagdish Raj, painters B.C. Sanyal, Paritosh Sen, Akbar Padamsee, politician scholar Karan Singh, the legendary beauty and the perfect photographer's muse Maharani Gayatri Devi, to the last devadasi, Shashimoni Mahari.
The bold and the beautiful always draw attention and have their own enticing quality ....
But what was equally enthralling were the little known, and not so powerful, voices which turned the exhibition and the book from being a mere voyeuristic delight into a thought provoking enterprise - Ram Swarup, a refugee, Bhuggo, a domestic maid, the octogenarian sisters, Gujari and Banthi, who apparently were "bad characters", even though infirm.
While Samar S. Jodha is an internationally reputed photographer, his brother Vijay S. Jodha has been a writer and researcher in numerous film and multimedia projects. Together they have always made a formidable team.
Royal Vignettes: Jaipur In Touch With Reality
By: Kausalya Santhanam
Sunday, October 20, 2002
From: The Hindu: India's national newspaper
"The titles may be gone, the privileges no longer there, but to family members and staff, the scion of Jaipur is still His Royal Highness and very much a figure to be treated with awe." KAUSALYA SANTHANAM writes.
He is quite a Prince Charming and this is a love story with a happy ending. Young, handsome and intelligent, Narendra Singh, is the son-in-law of Sawai Bhawani Singh, 72-year-old head of the royal House of Jaipur. Bhawani Singh's and his queen Padmini's only daughter, Princess Diya Kumari, fell in love with Narendra Singh, a commoner, and married him amid controversy in 1997. But does blue blood not make for royalty? Charismatic and capable, Narendra Singh has won over the sceptical with his organisational abilities and his sure reins over the family fortunes.
That morning, Narendra Singh is busy. It is Princess Diya's birthday and poojas are on in Chandra Mahal, the part of the City Palace at Jaipur which the royal family occupies. Outside in the courtyard, tourists wander in clusters, stopping to gape at the enormous jars, the largest silver objects in the world, which are displayed in the Diwan-i-Khas, the Durbar Hall, or making forays into the museum to admire the exhibits. More than five feet high, the jars were used by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II in 1902 to carry Ganga water on his visit to England to attend the coronation of King Edward VII. The grand arches of the pink-hued City Palace are among the most recognisable tourist landmarks in the country while the latticed windows of the Hawa Mahal are a symbol of Indian tourism.
"The beauty of Rajasthan owes itself to its rulers," says Narendra Singh offering you a seat in the gracious room of the Chandra Mahal which serves as his father-in-law's office. An autographed photograph of Prince Charles and Princess Diana can be seen in the background for they were guests of the Jaipur royals during their famous visit to India in 1992 when the world realised their growing apartness. There are several other reminders and snapshots of celebrity guests - Jackie Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth, President Clinton.
"Take away the palaces and forts of Rajasthan and what do you have?" asks Narendra Singh. "The architecture, culture and administrative structure were all provided by the rulers. The people are nostalgic for the past and wherever we go, they greet us warmly. Every day, at least 20 people come to meet my father-in-law with some request or the other. He is in the office promptly at 10 every morning."
Brigadier Bhawani Singh, recipient of the Mahavir Chakra, suffered a stroke a couple of years ago. After schooling at Doon and Harrow, he joined the Indian Army and distinguished himself during the Indo-Pakistan War in 1971. He helped train the Mukti Bahini before the Bangladesh war. Bhawani Singh was Indian High Commissioner to Brunei in the 1990s. Though he contested in the elections in 1989, since Rajiv Gandhi wanted him to, there was a wave and we lost badly," says Narendra Singh.
A brilliant polo player like his father, Bhawani Singh is also a patron of the arts.
The first child to be born in the Jaipur royal family in 100 years (successive rulers were adopted since 1880), Bhawani Singh's birth saw the popping of champagne bottles by the hundred and won him the nickname "Bubbles".
Bhawani Singh is the eldest son of Marudhar Kanwar, Princess of Jodhpur, and seniormost among Maharaja Man Singh II's three wives.
Famed among the three former queens is of course the charismatic Gayatri Devi, the Princess of Cooch Behar. Celebrated in her prime as one among the 10 most beautiful women in the world, the princess, in pearls and chiffon, is the defining picture of Indian royalty for many in the West. She contested as a candidate of the Swatantra Party during the 1961 elections and entered the Guinness Book of Records winning by the largest number of votes in any election in history. A great deal of public sympathy was generated when she was imprisoned during the Emergency along with the Rajmata of Gwalior. The "age cannot wither princess" is a much sought after figure to grace social do's and functions even at the age of 80. Efforts to interview the Rajmata prove futile. Very much interested in women's education, she started the Maharani Gayatri Devi School for Girls in Jaipur.
Princess Diya is a product of this institution and now runs a nursery school within the palace premises.
Man Singh II was the earliest among the princes in Rajasthan to turn his palace into a hotel in 1958. His intuitive acceptance of change led him to become the Raj Pramukh of Rajasthan after Independence.
A number of hotels are now run by members of the royal family in the various palaces since the property has been divided among them. But property disputes seem to remain an inevitable part of life.
The City Palace, built by the founder of Jaipur, attracts as many as 3,000 tourists a day. At the museum are invaluable manuscripts and precious miniature paintings, such as the "Ragamala" series of the 17th Century.
Changing times have loosened the royals' ties with the people but the former make an effort to keep up the bond, according to those close to them. All the major festivals - Teej, Gangaur, Dussehra and rath yatras - start from the palace, as they have for centuries and weekday visits to the temple of Gobind devji are mandatory for the family. But Narendra Singh admits candidly that royals do not play a major role today except in social life.
Narendra Singh and his princess have two adorable children - a three-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. The official photograph of the family, with the members decked in their regal finery (as in the case of the other royal houses) seems to belong to an ornamental page of history.
But it is obvious Narendra Singh has his feet firmly in the present. He feels it is time to look ahead. "We have depended on tourism for 50 years, it has now reached its peak. We have to think of some parallel source of income and of exploring new avenues."
In the major royal houses of Rajasthan, tourism managed cleverly has helped maintain the huge properties. "But the Government has not used our expertise well. They forget the contribution of this family which ruled for several hundred years," Narendra Singh.
Asked about a typical day in the life of the royals, he smiles, "We are like any other ordinary working people. We are also human beings like the others. You can't help looking sceptical. In most of the former leading royal houses of Rajasthan, which have managed their properties well, the lifestyle is still opulent. The wealth and social standing and the lovely palaces, crammed with priceless artifacts, ensure that.
The titles may be gone, the privileges no longer there, but to family members and staff, the scion is still His Royal Highness and very much a figure to be a treated with awe. You certainly do not know anyone whose lifestyle bears the faintest resemblance to those belonging to this charmed, rarefied world.
The Pink City and the Dynasty
THE Kachhawaha dynasty is a 1,000 years old. With its capital at Amber, it flourished, especially after it forged links with the Moghul rulers. Jai Singh I and then Man Singh I distinguished themselves as generals in the Moghul Army.
The strategic location made it advantageous for the rulers to ally themselves with the Moghuls as they were constantly wary of their neighbouring kingdoms.
Two emperors of Hindustan, Jehangir and Shahjehan were sons of Kachhawaha princesses.
Jai Singh II shifted the capital from the impressive fort of Amber to Jaipur which he built in 1728. Jai Singh, who was a skilled astronomer, scholar, architect and scientist, had the city planned perfectly and the blueprint was made after studying some of the best cities in the world. Surprisingly, it was not painted pink when it was first built. Man Singh I (1835-1880) was the ruler who gave it the roseate hue.
The Kachhawahas, like the other dynasties of Rajasthan, were patrons of the arts and lovers of architecture.
The city's buildings and beautiful handicrafts - the tie and dye (Bandhini) fabrics, the gems and semi-precious stones and jewellery, the blue pottery, the lacquer work - make Jaipur a paradise for aesthetes and tourists.
Those Were the Days of Splendor, but They Had to End
By Deepshikha Ghosh
January 10, 2003
From: News India Times Online
Maharani Gayatri Devi says "the only royal family we have in India now is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty"
New Delhi: "What royalty? The only royal family we have in India now is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty," Maharani Gayatri Devi told News India-Times dryly as she tries to avoid yet another journalist seeking to take her down memory lane.
Not entirely unexpected bitterness from the Rajmata of Jaipur. The silver-haired queen, renowned in her heyday as one of the most beautiful women in the world, had lived six months in a musty prison cell after being charged by the Indira Gandhi government of "illegal" possession of foreign exchange worth less than £19 (then about $30).
All of 82 and retaining the timeless beauty that made her the cynosure of all eyes during her prime, Gayatri Devi still manages to outshine everyone in any gathering in a simple chiffon sari sans any royal finery.
The daughter of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and the widow of the Maharaja of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi's life seems to be the stuff dreams are made of. The young princess grew up with 500 servants. She shot her first panther at the age of 12, when most of her peers would have still been playing with dolls.
When she married the Maharajah of Jaipur, Sawai Man Singh, in 1940, she slept in an ivory bed and refused to live in the women's quarters of the palace. Her bathroom was pure marble and the steam bath was disguised as a chaise lounge. To snuggle her toes, she had a 14-skin leopard rug by Schiaparelli. She was attended to by a Swiss maid, and she ordered shoes by the hundreds from Ferragamo in Florence.
Gayatri Devi is one of the first royal women to step out of the andarmahal (inner chambers to which women were restricted) and plunge into politics. And she easily achieved electoral success, winning over voters with her natural charm and the conviction that it was her duty to represent her subjects.
The Maharajas of Jaipur, belonging to the erstwhile Kachhwaha clan of Rajputs, trace their ancestry to Kush, the son of Rama, hero of `Ramayana.' The clan migrated to Rajasthan in 1093 after the founder, Duleh Rai, defeated the local Mina tribesmen. The hereditary title of the Jaipur rulers, Sawai, meaning one-and-a-quarter, was conferred by Moghul emperor Aurangzeb on the young Maharaja Jai Singh II.
Gayatri Devi's husband, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II, succeeded to the throne in 1922 at the age of 11. Two years later, he married the sister of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. In 1931, he was given full powers and in the same year, the maharani gave birth to the heir to the throne - Bhawani Singh. A year later, the king married Kishore Kunwar, the daughter of Maharaja Sumer Singh of Jodhpur, she was known as the "Second Her Highness." In 1939, he married Gayatri Devi, who went on to become the "Third Her Highness."
The Maharaja of Jaipur was also one of the early princes to convert his palace into a commercial proposition after the princely privileges were abolished, retaining a small section for his family. Was the withdrawal of privileges a big shock? "Well, these were changes that were inevitable, and one had to accept them gracefully along with time," Gayatri Devi sighs.
Her true struggle came when then prime minister Indira Gandhi, who had always thought the Jaipurs far too wealthy, sent her tax officials to swoop down on the rajmata.
Even when she was in the dark, musty cell, friends showered her with affection and support in the form of jars of Beluga caviar and copies of Vogue and Tattler from London.
She was finally released when Lord Mountbatten and other friends from the golden days pressed for her pardon.
After quitting politics years ago, she now prefers to stay out of the public eye, but is spotted every now and then at art openings or state functions. One may catch a glimpse of the well-coiffured silver head of hair half covered under light green chiffon, at a upmarket bookshop in Delhi.
"A copy of the `Rajmata' (her autobiography) please?" says the lady, causing most eyes to turn to her by habit. As the shopkeeper mumbles something about having run out of copies and getting a copy ordered for madam, she declines. "I will just go to the next shop, thank you!"
But asked what she misses most about her royal past, the Maharani, replies, without missing a beat, "my youth!"
Whatever Happened to the Indian Royalty?
By Sunrita Sen and Deepshikha Ghosh
January 10, 2003
From: News India Times Online
Romance with the royalty continues 30 years after privy purses were abolished in 1972
GROWING UP TO BE A ROYAL
New Delhi: Children read fairytales and temporarily live in a fantasy world -- when Santa comes through the chimney, sleeping beauty wakes up with a kiss from a prince. Pretend world is such fun! Pretend world with princes and princesses is even more fun!
Adults indulge in their pretend world by creating celebrities, but the best of all is the fascinating world of royalties.
Princess Diana's butler has been all over the networks. Chelsea Clinton spent her Holi at the Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur in March 2000. Patiala's necklace created crowds at Cartier's 5th Avenue showroom in New York.
But what must it be like to be royalty? And even more interesting, what must it be like to have been born a royal and live like a commoner?
In India, 562 royals are said to have ruled over 90 million people before World War II, while the British were still in India.
In India, 562 royals are said to have ruled over 90 million people before World War II, while the British were still in India.
Aug. 15, 1947, it was apocalypse of sorts. Overnight, they were powerless, with most of their wealth taken away.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel drew up a blueprint, by which the independent royal enclaves had to accede to the Union, which promised a United India.
In exchange, they got a privy purse, described as an annual maintenance allowance, like prodigal children.
But the punishment of the naughty children was not over. Privy purses were abolished in 1972. The royalty accepted the new reality as a fait accompli.
They had a taste of what was to come during the British Raj, when most of their powers were removed. “The changes were inevitable and one had to accept them gracefully,” was what Gayatri Devi, the octogenarian rajmata of Jaipur, told News India-Times.
The state could take away their title and the flags they flew on their vehicles, but they were still left with the unswerving loyalty of their erstwhile subjects, a relic of several hundred years of feudalism.
Many like Gayatri Devi, Karan Singh of Kashmir, Vijayraje Scindia and Madhavrao Scindia of Gwalior, turned to politics.
They contested elections as candidates of the political parties and the devotion and respect of their former subjects translated into votes that saw them win with massive margins, allowing them to recover some degree of the power, prestige and authority they had lost.
Some, like Karan Singh of Kashmir and Shahrayar Khan, a descendant of the royal family of Bhopal, who moved with his mother to Pakistan as a young child soon after the partition of the subcontinent, have served their countries as diplomats.
Others, especially scions of the warrior kings of Punjab, like Sukhjit Singh of Kapurthala, or the current Chief Minister of Punjab Amrinder Singh, the erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala, opted for a career in the armed forces.
Many of them tried their hand at business, the most obvious and sometimes necessary option being to tie up with corporate hotel chains to turn their glamorous palaces into heritage resorts. Gaj Singh, former Maharaja of Jodhpur, has turned his Umaid Bhavan palace into one of India's finest luxury hotels.
Aug. 15, 1947, it was apocalypse of sorts. Overnight, they were powerless, with most of their wealth taken away.
Gaj Singh claims that is was the only way to ensure the upkeep of the huge mansion designed in the art deco style of the 1930s and built during the time of his grandfather Umaid Singh in the 1940s.
Others like Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad, former maharaja of Baroda, have distinguished themselves as managers in industry. Many set up trusts for the maintenance of dependents and employees, and established institutions for research, education and social welfare.
According to Karan Singh, the transition was smooth for most former princes. “We knew the feudal order was coming to an end and we had to make a transition to democracy.” Singh, who became a lawmaker and joined Indira Gandhi's cabinet, was one of the first princes to voluntarily relinquish his Privy Purse.
But even he maintains the transition could have been easier. “Looking back, it may not have been necessary to abolish the Privy Purse. It was a breach of commitment,” he says.
But Aditya Mukherjee, who teaches Indian economic history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, feels that while continuing the Privy Purse would not have ruined the annual exchequer - it cost the government about Rs. 50 million annually (about $5 million in 1971) - there was nothing wrong in expecting the erstwhile rulers to look for an alternative livelihood, instead of living off the “fat of the land.”
The state could take away their title and the flags they flew on their vehicles, but they were still left with the unswerving loyalty of their erstwhile subjects, a relic of several hundred years of feudalism.
But to find an alternative livelihood was not easy for some - brought up as they were as kings-in-waiting. “We were taught neither business nor politics. We used to live an easygoing life,” says Amar Urs, nephew of Srikanta Dutta Narasimha Raja Wodeyar, the head of the Mysore royal family.
The Wodeyars found a large part of their vast property confiscated by the state. The family is still embroiled in protracted and expensive legal battles with the government to retain possession of two of its most prized palaces in the cities of Mysore and Bangalore.
The financial travails of the family have been compounded by tax arrears slapped on the erstwhile king, who is a lawmaker in the current Lok Sabha.
Most of Wodeyar's present income comes from his property. The Mysore royals had the reputation of running one of the best-administered states in pre-independence India, but business is not a sport the royal was familiar with.
Wodeyar tied up with the state-run Indian Tourism Deve-lopment Corporation (ITDC) to turn his summer palace, Lalit Mahal, into a premium hotel, but another project to turn the royal gun house in his Bangalore palace grounds into a restaurant failed.
“The Mysore kings were trained to be good administrators. But we were not taught business tactics and its dirty tricks,” Urs told News India-Times.
In some cases, unable to reconcile with the loss of past privileges, younger members of families continue to depend, like their elders, on income from property. The worst off are families with several claimants to an inheritance which does not quite match that of the wealthier royal families. Embroiled in endless litigation, they eke out a miserable existence in portions of once grand havelis.
Arvind Singh of Mewar, who successfully converted his assets into viable business ventures - his Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur is on the international tourist map - has no sympathy for former rulers who have failed to reconcile with the changed circumstances. “On what ground do former royals expect special treatment in the Indian democracy?” he asks, adding, “It would not be justified.”
But then, even when they live in infra-digs in New York, “home” may well be a palace in Rajasthan. A royal past steeped in tradition - the glitter and glory - has its advantages even in this modern day and age.
Gaj Singh of Jodhpur may insist that he is but part of a transition phase, part businessman, part royal relic whom former subjects still address as “Baapji” (father) and come to for aid and advice, and that his son, Shivraj, will be “just a businessman.”
In a family photograph in `The Maharaja & The Princely States of India,' published by Roli Books in 1999, Gaj Singh and his son sit with their ceremonial swords and turbans, accompanied by the former king's mother, his wife, and daughter Shivranjani, who has read anthropology and archeology at Cambridge University. Portraits of ancestors look down benignly at the descendants.
(With reports from Madhu Soodan in Bangalore, Mohammed Shafeeq in Hyderabad, Binoo Joshi in Jammu and S. Manchanda in Jodhpur)
The Silver Jars In Which Ganges Water Was Taken To London
By: K.R.N. Swamy
Sunday, October 27, 2002
From: Tribune India Online
NOW-a-days, whenever any VVIP visits a foreign land, he invariably carries his own drinking water and other beverages as a security measure and nobody takes umbrage at that. Hundred years ago, in 1902, the Maharaja of Jaipur carried two large silver urns (largest silver artifacts in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records) full of Ganges water to London, so that he, as one of the pillars of Hinduism, could avoid the penalties imposed by Hindu priests, for his crossing the ocean (Kalapani, as it is called). An atmosphere of old world theology surrounds this incident.
It happened thus. Few months after the demise of Queen Victoria in January, 1901, a select group of Indian maharajas received invitation from her successor, Edward VII, King-Emperor of India, to come to London and attend his coronation. While the chosen few were happy to be so invited, one of the most important of the invitees. His Highness, Maharaja Madho Singh of Jaipur, was in a dilemma. It was one of those periods, when the traditional Hindu community had not taken kindly to co-religionists cross the kalapani, as the oceans were called. The authoritative religious heads had decided, that the Hindu scriptures had banned its adherents traveling across seas and the Maharaja was not given any exemption. (It is important to note here that, even Mahatma Gandhi had faced a similar ban, after his return from London in the 1890s.
But flouting the invitation of his suzerain would have meant insolence and Madho Singh did not want to risk it. The worried ruler called a conclave of religious heads and after much discussion they decided that he could go to London for the coronation provided he traveled in a ship in which no beef had been cooked or served. They decided that he would go to London with idols of his family deity, everyday spread earth from Jaipur's hallowed soil below the deities thrones and his bed to symbolise that they were on Indian soil. That he would take as his daily food, only the prasad I (religious food) that was offered to his family deity during the prayer sessions and would not drink any water other than Ganga jal (Ganges water) during the two months he was to be away.
Greatly relieved the Maharaja of Jaipur ordered his court officials, to ensure that all these conditions would be observed during his travel to and sojourn in Great Britain.
The silversmiths of Jaipur were asked to make three huge silver jars, that could hold each 9000 litres of water. Meanwhile, the Maharaja's travel agents were asked to charter a ship, in which no beef had been ever served. Knowing the western world's taste for beef, this was a tall order. Happily for the Maharaja, the agents were lucky to get the passenger ship Olympia, which had just been completed and had not yet done a voyage. The to and fro chartering of the ship (including a wait in the UK for a month) cost the Jaipur ruler, a princely sum of Rs 1.5 million Rs 450 million in today's money value) an he was to be the sole passenger in the ship.
Six luxurious suites were prepared in the ship. The first and the most lavish one was for the family deity of the Jaipur royal family, Gopalji, whose idols were to accompany the Maharaja. The second was for the ruler himself, the third one for the royal priest, the fourth suite was for one of the Maharaja's close relative known as "Tazmi" Sardar and the other two suites for the different members of the group.
In the palace, the three silver jars, each weighing 357 kg were completed, by silversmiths Govind Narai and Mahadev. They measure 1.6 metres in height (nearly five feet and three inches) and have a circumference of 4.5 metres or 14 feet and 10 inches. Today, in 2002, the mere silver required for the urns would cost Rs 9 million. The Ganges water, piously stored in the jars was for the exclusive use of the ruler, and for preparing prasad for the family deity. As each jar could hold 9000 litres of water, the 27000 litres were supposed to be sufficient for the two months the Maharaja would be away from India.
Two days before the departure from Bombay, a group of 25 Hindu priests were sent on board the ship and conducted religious ceremonies, in order to keep Varuna, the presiding deity of the ocean in Hindu religion, propitiated and symbolic gifts of pearls, diamonds and gold coins were ceremoniously dropped into the sea. Soon the three huge silver jars full of holy water and seventy-five tonnes of the Maharaja's personal baggage were loaded in the steamer and the whole party started on their voyage to Britain. But at the Red Sea, days after the ship left Bombay, it encountered heavy storms and the agitated Brahmin priests advised the Maharaja that he should permit one of the huge silver jars to be dumped into the sea, to calm down Varuna, who, obviously was not happy to see such an important Hindu as the Maharaja crossing the oceans, in violation of Hindu scriptures. It was done and the seas calmed down. According to Sahai, the present Director of the Sawai Man Singh Museum in Jaipur, the coordinates of the place where the treasure was dumped to propitiate the ocean, have been recorded.
Anyhow the voyage ended without any further mishap and the British public, Jaipur chronicler claim, was puzzled at the Maharaja carrying these two huge jars and Edward VII even made a personal visit to see these treasures. Obviously the King-Emperor did not know that after shaking hands with him, the Maharaja felt "impure" and washed his hands with the holy water kept in the historic silver jars! Today, these two huge silver jars are on display in the Sawai Man Singh City Palace Museum, Jaipur, and are its star exhibits. MF
Royal Past an Asset in Politics, Business
By Deepshikha Ghosh
New India: Desi Talk
March 15, 2002
NEW DELHI: Once upon a time, 562 princes ruled over 90 million people in undivided India. They levied taxes, administered land, built luxurious palaces and indulged in royal pastimes like polo, shikar (wildlife hunting) and patronage of the arts.
That was before World War II, when the British still held sway over Delhi. On August 15, 1947, while the sun rose over independent India, for the country's 500-odd princely families, however, it meant sunset.
In their effort to forge a united nation, the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel drew up a blueprint, which demanded that the once independent royal enclaves that lay scattered around the country should accede to the union. The royals were deprived of their administrative powers, and in most cases, of a major portion of their property.
In exchange, they were given the privilege of a Privy Purse - an annual maintenance allowance. But that too was abolished in 1972 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter.
The royals accepted the new reality as a fait accompli. “The changes were inevitable and one had to accept them gracefully,” said Gayatri Devi, the octogenarian rajmata of Jaipur.
The former royals tried to adjust to the new dispensation. If they were deprived of much of their assets in terms of power, privileges and property, they found that they had other invaluable resources upon which they could draw on, to begin a new life - as politicians, diplomats, officers in the armed forces and businessmen.
The state took away their titles and the flags on their vehicles, but they were still left with the unswerving loyalty of their erstwhile subjects, a relic of several hundred years of a feudal past. Many like Gayatri Devi, Karan Singh of Kashmir, Vijayraje Scindia and Madhavrao Scindia of Gwalior, turned naturally to politics.
They contested elections as candidates of the political parties of their choice. The devotion and respect of their former subjects translated into votes that saw them win with massive margins, allowing them to recover some degree of the power, prestige and authority they had lost.
Their training as kings-in-waiting - they learnt the classics, both Eastern and Western, religious instruction, training in court etiquette, there was special emphasis on sports like archery, horse riding, shooting and cricket, and, they learnt the rudiments of good administration - prepared the would-be princes well for certain specialized line of work.
Some, like Karan Singh of Kashmir and Shahrayar Khan, a descendant of the royal family of Bhopal, who moved with his mother to Pakistan as a young child soon after independence, have served their countries as diplomats.
Others, especially scions of the warrior kings of Punjab, like Sukhjit Singh of Kapurthala, opted for a career in the armed forces.
Many of them tried their hand at business, the most obvious and sometimes necessary option being to tie up with corporate hotel chains to turn their lavish palaces into heritage resorts. Gaj Singh, former maharaja of Jodhpur, has turned his Umaid Bhavan Palace into one of India's finest luxury hotels. Jodh Singh claims that this was the only way to ensure the upkeep of the huge mansion, designed in the art deco style of the 1930s, and built during the time of his grandfather Umaid Singh in the 1940s.
Arvind Singh of Mewar also successfully converted his assets into viable business ventures - his Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur is on the international tourist map.
Gaj Singh insists that he is part of a transition phase, part businessman, part royal relic, whom former subjects still address as “Baapji (father)” and come to for aid and advice. He added that his son, Shivraj, will be “just a businessman.”
In a family photograph in `The Maharaja and the Princely States of India,' published by Roli Books in 1999, Gaj Singh and his son sit with their ceremonial swords and turbans, accompanied by the former king's mother, his wife, and daughter Shivranjani, who has studied anthropology and archeology at Cambridge University. Portraits of ancestors look down benignly at the descendants.
Clearly, more than half a century after independence, for the erstwhile royals, the past is still an asset which can give them a head start on the future.
Rajasthan's Royal Affair
February 3, 1998
From: The Rediff Online
Winning at the hustings has been a habit with the former rulers and their scions in Rajasthan.
Barring the 1977 Janata party wave and the 1984 Indira Gandhi sympathy streak, as many as 17 former royals have made it to the Lok Sabha since the first general election in 1952.
The very first battle of the ballot in Jodhpur was unique in that Hanuwant Singh, the former maharaja of Jodhpur, was declared elected posthumously. Hanuwant Singh, who contested as an Independent, died in an air accident even as counting of votes was in progress.
Former Bikaner ruler, Karni Singh, also entered the record books, by winning the Bikaner seat five times in a row, again as an Independent. He represented Bikaner from the first to the fifth Lok Sabha when he called it a day.
The former maharani of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi, had the distinction of becoming the first woman to make it to the Lok Sabha from Rajasthan in 1962 by winning the Jaipur seat. She in fact performed a hat-trick by retaining the seat in 1967 and 1971 as a Swatantra Party nominee.
In the 11th Lok Sabha poll, the former maharani of Dholpur, Vasundhara Raje (BJP), joined the former maharani of Jaipur by performing a hat-trick in Jhalawar.
Election records reveal that in the 1952 general election, four royals were elected to the Lok Sabha -- Karni Singh (Bikaner), Ajit Singh (Pali-Sirohi), Giriraj Saran Singh (Bharatpur-Sawai Madhopur) and Hanuwant Singh (Jodhpur). All the four contested as independents.
In 1957, Karni Singh won the Bikaner seat again. The 1962 general election saw three former rulers -- Karni Singh (Bikaner), Maharaja Brijraj Singh (Jhalawar -- Congress), Jaipur's Prithvi Raj Singh (Dausa -- Swatantra Party) and Gayatri Devi (Jaipur) making it to the Lok Sabha.
Gayatri Devi (Jaipur), Karni Singh (Bikaner), Brijendra Singh (Bharatpur -- Jan Sangh) were elected in 1967.
In 1971, besides Karni Singh (Bikaner) and Gayatri Devi (Jaipur), the former rajmata of Jodhpur, Krishna Kumari, was returned to the Lower House.
In the 1977 Janata Party wave, no royal contested the election.
In 1980, only Bhim Singh Mandawa won the Jhunjhunu Lok Sabha seat on the Janata Party ticket.
The 1984 election saw no royal representative in the fray.
Former yuvaraja of Bharatpur Vishwendra Singh (Bharatpur-- Janata Dal) and Hamendra Singh (Bhilwara -- JD), former maharana Mahendra Singh (Chittorgarh -- BJP) and Vasundhara Raje (Jhalawar -- BJP), were elected to the ninth Lok Sabha in 1989.
In 1991, former yuvarani of Alwar, Mahendra Kumari (Alwar -- BJP), Vasundhara Raje (Jhalawar -- BJP), and the daughter of Raja Mansingh (Deeg) Krishnendra Kaur (Bharatpur -- BJP) made it to the 10th Lok Sabha.
The 1996 poll returned the former maharani of Bharatpur, Divya Singh (Bharatpur -- BJP), and Vasundhara Raje from Jhalawar.
The current Lok Sabha poll has two former maharanis and a princess in the fray. Krishnendra Kaur is being fielded in Bharatpur by the Samajwadi Party while Vasundhara Raje is contesting the Jhalawar seat again on the BJP ticket. Mahendra Kumari is also in the fray as an Independent in Alwar after being denied a ticket by the BJP.
Rajasthan Ki Shaan, Rajmata Gayatri Devi.
Considered by Vogue to be amongst the Ten most beautiful women in the world in her hey days Rajmata of Jaipur, Maharani Gayatri Devi's charm hasn't diminished one bit.
Gayatri was born a princess, and came of age in the modern era, the 20s and 30s, in British India. Her childhood reads like a fairy tale: running free in the palaces of her mother and grandmother, shooting panthers in the forests while riding on elephant backs, spending months in London shopping and being educated.
She married the Maharaja of Jaipur as his third wife, as the one he chose--his first two wives were chosen for him.
With a flawless beauty that is not classic Indian, the Maharani's sense of style and grace has been the subject of many drawing room conversations. The Maharani studied for some time at Shantiniketan and speaks fondly of Rabindranath Tagore. She has been the favourite of society columnists and photographers for years -- since she shot her first panther at the age of 12, to her love affair and first date with the Maharaja of Jaipur and the release of her book, A Princess Remembers. Till today, the Maharani remains an ideal subject for portraiture.
She was raised by a woman who did not hold the custom of purdah. Jaipur did practice purdah when she first moved there. Gradually she broke out of the women's palace and moved more freely in the world. This was a movement that she and Jai planned together before their marriage.
During the second World War, she stayed in barracks and acted as a military wife for her husband. After the War, when the British left the country, her husband voluntarily stepped down from his role as prince, as the country converted to democracy. When the single ruling party turned out to be corrupt, Gayatri stood for office for the opposition party, and won with what was at that time the largest majority anyone had ever accomplished.
Jaipur has an unmatched polo tradition and it gives Gayatri Devi great pleasure to see the Jaipur Polo and Riding Club bringing the thrill of polo back to Jaipur, she personally coaches the polo teams there.
She served on her country's Parliament for a number of years. After her husband's death she withdrew from active public life. Five years later she wrote her autobiography, A Princess Remembers. This book is a must read. It's a very personal etch of an historic moment. Gayatri embodies those qualities most admired: courage, vision, leadership, service, and faithfulness in love.
| Rambagh Palace Built By A King, Fit For God!
By: Farzana Contractor
Jan-Mar 2001 edition
From: The Upper Crust
If I could make one wish of mine come true, I would want to be married all over again with the grandeur of a traditional royal wedding at the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. Fancy taking wing? Not really, there are people who do it for the sheer experience of the traditional Rajasthani custom. Like James Lindsay of London's aristocracy married Arabell Tait in a Jaipuri wedding ceremony at the Rambagh on Valentine's Day in 1995, he wearing a bright turban and she a colourful odhini. And the couple celebrated their honeymoon at the Rambagh Palace, which is a Taj Group property, and one that is a feast for body and soul.
I can tell you about the palace hotel, I stayed there, and it is a hotel quite unlike any other in my experience. The Taj people say the Rambagh was a palace built by a king, but fit for God. I believe them. The king was Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II. And the Rambagh (it was named after him, naturally) was built as a modest four-room pavilion in 1835 for the queen's favourite hand-maiden, with picturesque gardens and neatly manicured lawns. The Maharaja's grandson, Prince Sawai Man Singh II, was brought here on his accession. A private school was set up for the young prince, his brother and a few chosen sons of Jaipur aristocracy. And in 1925, the Maharaja elevated Rambagh to the status of a palace.
It was the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II who decided to make Rambagh his royal residence. He swiftly set about changing the 47 sprawling acres of estate with amazing verve and prevision. The gardens were enlarged, three new wings were added in exactly the same pattern as the earlier ones, and that itself became an architectural masterpiece. Elegance personified, art mirrored by reality. And the Maharaja married the beautiful Princess Gayatri Devi of Cooch Behar and brought her to Rambagh as his bride in 1940.
She writes in her memoirs, "The Maharaja had rooms specially decorated for me by his favourite interior designer, Hammonds of London. Pale cream fitted carpets, light pink walls, beautiful chandeliers, pale pink brocade curtains embellishing wide windows, my bedroom was the prettiest in the palace, furnished with a bed of soft silk satin with light brocade bed spreads, a colourful divan, two armchairs with silver legs and a mirrored dressing table trimmed with pleated silk satin."
I stayed in the luxurious Sheesh Mahal suite, the glass theme reflecting itself in thousands of intricately cut glass pieces that form interesting patterns around the dome-shaped ceiling and on the walls of the room. It also had a kingsize bed and exquisite Indian furniture. Out of curiosity, I peeped into the former personal chambers of the Maharani Gayatri Devi. They are now known as the Maharani Suite. Rich red colours, silks, brocades, these were my first impressions.
A canopied ceiling over the sitting area lent a certain flair to the suite. The parlour was adorned with antiques from all over Rajasthan. Two dressing rooms with highly polished mahogany furniture provided ample space for vestments. The oval bathroom, done in white and yellow Jaisalmer marble, was fitted with lion heads that spouted water. It was endowed with recessed lighting. I found the bathroom just another paean to good taste, exemplifying the Rambagh tradition.
But coming back to the sepia toned history of the palace, with the passage of time, and with the abolition of the institution of Rajpramukh in 1956, there came many changes in the lives of the Indian princes. And Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II, with his customary foresight, decided to convert Rambagh into a hotel. He reasoned that Jaipur badly needed a first class hotel whereas he no longer needed to live in such a vast palace, especially after the household troops and guards were absorbed in the Indian Army and there was a shortage of staff.
So trained managers were hired to run the property and when the need was felt for professional expertise of the highest calibre, the Taj Group was asked to step in. The Maharaja was the first Indian prince to convert his palace into a hotel. He was strongly criticised by other Indian princes for this. But before the deal with Taj was struck, the Maharaja passed away in 1970 while playing a polo match in England.
The Taj took over the management of Rambagh in 1972, and the palace since then has blossomed into an incomparable experience, an experience so far reserved for royalty. I was given a welcome that inspired visions of the glorious past and recaptured the lifestyles that royalty enjoyed. I believe when you make a special request, the Rambagh rolls out the red carpet.
The central pathway leading right upto the main steps is decorated with fresh flower patterns, a group of mounted guards armed with spears and bedecked with regalia stand at hand while caparisoned elephants and camels wait patiently near the ramps of the palace. You are greeted with shehnai music and a cooling sherbet, girls in traditional Rajasthani finery welcome you with a tikka and garlands, and the Rajmata Gayatri Devi, whose palace it is and who lives in the Lily Pool, an adjoining mini-palace, all but comes to say, "Welcome to my home!"
I will not attempt to describe any more rooms, for there are too many of them, and also suites, like the Maharaja suites, the Royal suites, the Potikhanas - luxury bed-sitting rooms, the Luxury rooms, Safari rooms, all of which encourage you want to revel in the romance of stately living. And most of which have exquisitely carved antique furniture, small gurgling fountains in the living rooms, private terraces that overlook the gardens, Rajput paintings, deep-cushioned sofas and hand-knotted carpets, teak-panelled walls and brass lanterns.
But I can do the gardens, all of which are featured in Peter Coats's book, The Most Beautiful Gardens in the World. There are five, all equally enticing. The Front Lawns are abloom with Ashoka and Lantana trees, while small bushes of Mandarin Oranges, Fish Tail Palm, Cannas and Bamboo groves contribute to the ambience of the Oriental garden. The Naksha gardens are a labyrinth of geometrical patterns and seasonal flowers.
The Mughal Gardens, for want of suitable description, are another horticultural wonder, and the Sunken Lawns complete the delicate balance between man's ingenuity and nature's abundance. This is how the Rambagh's green man would put it, and if I were to add something of my own, it would be about the resplendent peacocks preening on the lawns and the flocks of migratory birds that frequent the gardens. They transport the palace into something else.
Finally, the food. Ah! the Rajasthani food. My colleague, Mark Manuel, has described both the disciplines of Rajasthani cooking in this gourmet section, so I will not touch upon Marwari and Rajput cuisines. Instead, I will give you the stately dining rooms at the Rambagh Palace, the venues of royal repasts in the past. Executive Chef Sandeep Kalia has been with the Rambagh Palace for six years, and what he does not know about Rajasthani food is probably not worth eating at all. He explained to me that the Indian hospitality philosophy "atithi devo bhava", which means in Sanskrit that a guest is like God, is best exemplified in the Rambagh's dining rooms.
I do not know if you can describe them as restaurants, though they have names and proper menus and lunch and dinner hours. The pride of place is taken up by Suvarna Mahal, which literally means the palace of gold, a high-ceilinged and breath-taking room with Florentine-style paintings, large gilt-framed mirrors that give the hall depth, and majestic chandeliers that envelop the room in a golden glow.
In the morning, the sun enters through the floor-to-ceiling windows, lighting up your orange juice and making you feel reluctant to disturb the pretty picture by taking a sip. My advice, drink coffee instead. Jaipur is not coffee country, but at Rambagh, they make one of the finest cups I've ever had. Better even than Mysore. At Suvarna Mahal, the menu is Indian (Rajasthani, naturally), Continental and Chinese. I don't know about the foreign cuisines, but Rajasthani food is the food of kings. The fact that the Rajmata Gayatri Devi has most of her meals sent from here, is good enough for me.
Rambagh also has the Neel Mahal, what in most other hotels (palace and otherwise) would be called a coffee shop. It is open 24 hours (though Jaipur goes to bed by 9.30 p.m.), a soothing blue, iridescent blue, dazzling blue eating place in which almost every shade of blue is explored. The walls of Neel Mahal are adorned with specially designed blue pottery, and blue, green and white tiles, done in the traditional Shekawat style.
In this soothing mix of design and colour, you can order and have light meals, snacks and refreshments. Outdoors in the Mughal Gardens, there is the Panghat, which the Rambagh describes as its amphitheatre. I found it to be like a traditional Rajasthani village. Cultural shows are held here taking you back in time, folk artistes in traditional finery regale diners with music and dance. While under a canopy of trees, genuine Rajasthani food is cooked on mud platforms.
And they have the Polo Bar, which Malvinder Narang, the Taj's head honcho in Rajasthan, told me was the only room in the palace that had been left untouched and retained its originality to the core. You enter the Polo Bar and your attention is arrested by a fountain in the centre. Rajiv Khanna, the Rambagh's general manager, said it is one of the finest examples of the famous blue pottery style of architecture of the region.
This fountain was commissioned personally by Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II. The bar is also testimony to the Maharaja's passion and proficiency at polo. Ancient sepia tone photographs, trophies and memorabilia. The magic spun by this ambience, blended with the bar's fine wine list, its spirits and liquers, cannot be explained. It must be experienced. I am told that the Polo Bar is rated as one of the finest in the world.
Although I didn't check it out, I know that somewhere in this magnificent edifice recreational activities like tennis, badminton, squash and table tennis. There's also an indoor swimming pool, a fitness centre with sauna, masseur, steam bath and a jacuzzi. There's a circuitous jogging track, and if you are inclined to it, the Rambagh will also organise horse riding and golf for your pleasure. I wouldn't recommend it, however.
My idea of exercise was to lie back in the shade with a cooling drink in my hand (late afternoons, a mug of that excellent coffee), and listen to the Rajasthani folk musician flitting in and out of the hallowed corridors of the palace, and beneath the trees of the garden, with his ancient violin. When he gave voice and invoked the Sun God with a song, his feet tapping out an accompaniment with musical jhungroos, it was like a gentle sandstorm riding the desert.
| Those Were The Days...
By. Mark Manuel
Jan-Mar 2001 edition
From: The Upper Crust
She reminded me, a little sadly, of a lioness in winter. The Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur, at 82, has grown beyond being one of Time magazine's most beautiful women of the world. And the handsome face has grown with the body, almost leonine in its looks, the hair still thick and lustrous, but now silver-grey and pushed back. Barefooted, she softly padded around the Lily Pool, her apartment block in the Rambagh Palace of Jaipur, and led me to the dining table where lunch and her step-grandson, Vijit Singh, waited.
It was a Rajasthani lunch, half Marwar, half Rajput, prepared by Chef Sandip Kalia of the Rambagh Palace. He is a Taj man, so I was confident the food would be good, even if I were to regret its richness later on. Apparently the Rajmata dislikes rich, oily food too. Delicately she broke a piece of roti, dipped it in Papad Ki Sabzi, and nibbled. Then she scowled, and ticked off Chef Kalia who was standing respectfully behind. "Chef, jyada tel dala hai Papad Ki Sabzi mein! Kaun sa tel hai? Vegetable oil! Kiya nam kai? Vital! Pahle bar suna!"
"Would you say you are a gourmet," I asked, coming to the poor man's rescue. "Not a gourmet. I'm no longer interested in food. Or what I eat. Any old thing the cook in this house makes will do," she replied. This is the Princess who in 1969 brought out a compilation of royal recipes called the Gourmet's Gateway to raise funds for Indian soldiers wounded in wars against Pakistan and China. I reminded her about it.
The Rajmata clicked her tongue irritably. "Of course, I enjoy a good meal. I'll tuck into it! But I'm saying, I don't eat as much as before. As you grow old, food does not matter. And if you're going to ask me whether I like cooking, I don't! I cannot cook. I learnt how to cook at this Lausanne finishing school in Switzerland, but I'm hopeless. I'm not gifted."
Perhaps she could not cook. And maybe age had robbed her of her interest for good food. But the Rajmata had happy memories of the royal banquets and shikars she had attended in the past. I guessed she was a colourful raconteur. Only this was not the proper occasion to get her to open up. There are some members of Indian noble families who love to talk about themselves and their royal habits, and will do so happily anywhere.
And there are others who will give Trappist monks a complex if the decorum is not correct. So I asked the Rajmata about her favourite cuisine. "Bengali," she replied promptly. "Why Bengali? Because my home was Cooch Behar in West Bengal, that's why, and Bengali cuisine is good. It's not just hilsa and bekti, that's uppercrust, there's so much more."
She made a valiant attempt to recall the menus of her youth. "There was this dish of tiny, tiny prawns (she held up her little finger to show how tiny) that used to be cooked in mustard oil... can't remember what it used to be called." After crinkling up her eyes and staring into the distance, the Rajmata had a brainwave. "I know," she told her step-grandson Vijit. "Get your mother on the 'phone!" We left the dining room and trooped into the Rajmata's office.
When you dine with royalty, you do as Her Highness does, I thought sourly. A phone call was made to Cooch Behar. Fortunately, the connection came through and the line was clear. "Devika," the Rajmata said, coming to the point, "what's that fish we used to have at what-you-call-its house? Ilish something in mustard oil? Paturi Macch... no! That's different. This is made out of dal, its nice and crispy, dal ka banta hai... You don't know! What else we used to like, Bengali mein? Sandesh, yes that's it! Thank you, my dear, you've done my interview for me!"
I had heard enough not to quiz her further on her eating habits of the past. Or to want to have too intimate a look into the extraordinary life of one of the world's most fascinating women. Looking at her now seated at her desk, a cigarette between her fingers and lunch forgotten, I thought back to what little I knew of the Rajmata. That she was the daughter of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and the widow of the Maharaja of Jaipur.
She was raised in a magnificent palace with 500 servants and had shot her first panther when she was 12. After she had won a seat in parliament (for the Swatantra Party) in 1960, John F. Kennedy (yes, JFK!) had described her as the woman with the most staggering majority that anyone had ever won in an election. That she has appeared on lists of the world's most beautiful women. And has had to face tragedies as great as her former triumphs.
There was much more, of course, because the Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur is also one of the world's most written-about women. But I brought her back to the dining room gently. Chef Kalia was serving out Murg Mokul and Gatta Curry and the Rajmata looked at the food disfavourably. The chef's heart must have sank. "What other cuisines do you like," I quickly asked, before she could start on him again. "In the olden days, paya in Bombay.
I used to eat so much! But now, hmnnn... let me think, Chinese, no Thai, yes, more Thai. Though I cannot bear coconut in my food. Life was such a whirl of socialising and entertaining earlier. I don't do it anymore. I've become lazy. My cook has also become lazy! Kuch bhi bana dalta hai! I order the food from Rambagh Palace now. It's less of a hassle. And I have fewer guests. A party for Diwali, sometimes not. But I select the menu. I'm particular about that."
The Rajmata's dinners at home used to be the talk of Jaipur. I remember Subir Bhowmik of the Taj Group of Hotels telling me how she planned to have a party at the height of Indira Gandhi's Emergency, when she was not in favour and shortly about to be clapped in prison. Mr. Bhowmik was then the general manager of the Rambagh Palace. Gently, he tried to persuade the Rajmata not to have the party. "It is not the right time," he warned her.
"People are watching you." And the Rajmata had drawn herself up and said scornfully, "These people are watching me! And to think I had the power to send a man to the gallows not so very long ago!" She pulls the grande dame act even now occasionally, she told me. "I slap and kick my cook, Mohan, if there's too much oil in the food," he said with a glint of mischief in her eyes. Chef Kalia was fortunate to get off with only a reprimand, I thought.
I knew this was a silly question, considering she had expressed a loss of interest in food, but I wanted to know what rated as a first class meal in her book. What satisfied her. "I like some Rajasthani food, like 3-Minute Partridge, but few people cook this anymore. That's game food, you know." I said, "Do you miss game food?." And the Rajmata asked back, eyebrows arched imperiously, "Why should I? I can have it anytime.
But partridge, not duck, and certainly not wild boar. Rabbit? I hate rabbit! Am I health conscious? No, I care two hoots! No diets and discipline. What else do I like? Well, I like a peg or two of whisky. Any whisky. I will not go to a party and ask the host, 'Tell me what you've got.' I'm not exactly Khushwant Singh. And I don't like wines and champagnes, either."
This was the stuff I had been waiting to hear, the Rajmata's likes and dislikes about food, her eating and drinking habits, but she had pushed the lunch aside and was standing up to go. Once again I thought, when you dine with royalty... "This is all wrong," she said as she led me out. "I like a light lunch, something European, and I only eat Indian food at night. Besides, I've had breakfast this morning. Boiled desi eggs!
Not my museli with a cup of tea. Would you care for coffee? Ardha cup? No. If you ask me, my favourite drink after a meal is water! Cognac! Whatever gave you the idea! Chalo, chalo, it's getting on. I'll have to get on my bicycle and work this off." And she came to the door to see me off, softly padding in her bare feet, like any other woman might have done in India.
Diamond Trading Company Pays Tribute To
Rajmata Gayatri Devi
Launches exclusive limited edition diamond jewellery from its ARISIA collection of solitaires
November 11, 2003
ARISIA, the distinctive collection of solitaire diamond jewellery from Diamond Trading Company (DTC) is proud to be associated with the epitome of royalty in India, the remarkable Rajmata Gayatri Devi. DTC paid tribute to the Rajmata yesterday by unveiling an exclusive limited edition collection of diamond jewellery from its premium ARISIA range of solitaires in Mumbai yesterday at a glittering function. What makes the collection very special is that it is a limited edition of 200 of the finest solitaires, all sourced by DTC.
The impressive guest list read like the who's who of Mumbai- from the corporate bigwigs to Bollywood stars, leading sportspersons and other prominent personalities, which included Sir Ratan Tata, Harsh Goenka, MS Banga, Kunal Dasgupta, Leander Paes and Mahima Chowdhury, Sita Thompson, Vinod Advani, Tarun Tahiliani, Rashmi Uday Singh, Aleque Padamsee, Tara Sharma, Dino MOrea, Sunil & Marshneil Gavaskar, Mike Khanna, Nusli, Mareen, Jeh and Ness Wadia, Tara Sharma, Dino Morea, Vijendra Ghatge, Sangeeta Kathiawada, Queenie Dhody, Sathya Saran, Jagjit and Chitra Singh and Farzana Contractor amongst others.
"I feel happy and honoured", said the Rajmata, amidst a standing ovation from all the guests who raised a toast to the enchanting royal lady. "After all, diamonds are a girl's best friends", she humoured on. The invitees enthusiastically participated in an auction of the first sparkling piece from the collection, as well as that of an exquisite painting of the Rajmata especially created for the occasion by celebrated artist Jaideep Mehrotra.
Named by Vogue magazine as one of the most beautiful women in the world, Rajmata Gayatri Devi has always enchanted people all over the world with her charm and grace. She truly radiates not just the core qualities of a solitaire - those of classic beauty and timeless elegance; but also has proven to possess invincible courage, vision as well as leadership qualities.
Arisia now offers women across ages the opportunity to experience the radiance and beauty of these highly exclusive solitaires from the Rajmata's very own personal collection. You can feel the light dance with unhurried grace as it reflects off a diamond solitaire that sits resplendently on a golden throne of intricately crafted designs- reviving our royal era again in its full glory. The collection comprises six ring, two earring and two pendant designs. The solitaire in each of the designs weighs one carat and is set in classic yellow gold with an antique finish. What is special is that initials of the Rajmata are engraved in the girdle of the solitaire diamond. This range has been inspired by the royal patterns and motifs from the Victorian, Edwardian and Mughal eras; which have been incorporated into the shank / gold band leading up to the solitaire in each design. Each piece from this collection is uniquely packaged in a sterling silver jewellery case with exquisite filigree work and comes with its own certificate of authenticity.
Since time immemorial, royalty has cherished diamonds as the ultimate symbol of love, power and wealth. Diamonds have always perfectly complemented the radiant personality of Rajmata Gayatri Devi, who until today continues to be the defining picture of Indian royalty. Said Devika Gidwani, Director, Diamond Trading Company, "We are proud to unveil Rajmata Gayatri Devi's signature collection from our ARISIA range of solitaire diamond jewellery. Similarities are often drawn between the elegant Rajmata and the most precious of gemstones, the diamond. Diamonds have always been objects of wonder and awe; symbols of strength, courage and invincibility- just what the revered Rajmata stands for. The select few women who will purchase pieces from this exclusive collection are sure to radiate the aura of royalty that each piece exudes impeccably".
Diamonds unquestionably have had a special place in Gayatri Devi's life, both before and after her marriage. Born the princess of Cooch Behar, Gayatri Devi became the Maharani of Jaipur after her marriage to Raja Man Singh (whom she called Jai). At the age of 19, she fell in love with the heir to the Jaipur throne and an internationally renowned polo player. On her secretive engagement to Jai, Gayatri Devi says, "He gave me a beautiful diamond ring and told me that I should not let anyone know it was a gift from him, but that I should wear it all the time. I laughed and said that nobody in his right mind would think that I had gone out and bought such a ring for myself. He started to laugh, too, and we decided that I should wear it only at night when I went to sleep... I even found a special pleasure in keeping it to myself and admiring it on my finger when I was alone."