One of the celebrated icons of Indian beauty, grace and strength, Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur royal house, breathed her last at the Santokkba Durlabhji Hospital in Jaipur Wednesday following prolonged illness. She was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday after she complained of breathing problems. Gayatri Devi was 90. Her cremation will take place around four this afternoon in Jaipur with full state honours.
Gayatri Devi was the daughter of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and widow of Maharaja “Jai” Man Singh of Jaipur. Sawai Man Singh was an international polo player and he already had two wives when Gayatri Devi married him. Gayatri Devi married Sawai Man Singh against the wishes of her near and dear ones in view of the age difference and the fact that her suitor was twice married. But, soon after Gayatri Devi’s marriage to Sawai Man Singh, his earlier wives were relegated to the background and she occupied the centre stage of Jaipur royalty.
Maharaja Sayaji Rao III was Gayatri Devi’s paternal grand father and Maharani Chimnabai of Baroda was her maternal grand mother.
Gayatri Devi was a ravishing beauty. She figured in the list of the “World’s Ten Most Beautiful Women” put out by Vogue magazine.
When Gayatri Devi won the Lok Sabha elections for the first time on a Swatantra Party ticket in 1962 defeating her congress rival with a record margin, she was described as “the woman with most staggering majority that anyone has ever earned in an election” by President John F. Kennedy of the USA. She was again elected to the Parliament in 1967 and 1971.
During her early childhood as Princess of Cooch-Behar, Gayatri Devi was a tomboy of sorts. She shot her first panther at the age of 12. Gayatri Devi was educated at Shanti Niketan and then in London. The royal family of Cooch Behar was highly westernized.
Gayatri Devi was born to Maharani Indira Devi and her father was Maharaja Jitendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur in London on May 23, 1919. She was named Gayatri Devi on the advice of Hindu astrologers. However, her friends knew her as Ayesha, the name of the heroine of the novel her mother was reading at the time of her birth.
Gayatri Devi did not see eye to eye with Indira Gandhi who abolished privy purses a privilege extended to the royal families of erstwhile princely states. During the emergency when rights of the citizens were curtailed, raids were carried out at Jaipur palaces and Gayatri Devu was subsequently imprisoned for several months in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
Gayatri Devi’s autobiography entitled “A Princess Remembers” ghost written by Santha Rama Rau was well received in the market and has gone into several print runs.
Gayatri Devi was widowed when Sawai Man Singh died in the polo field. Thereafter, his son Colonel Bhawani Singh became the Maharaja and his wife Padmini became the Maharani.
As Rajmata, Gayatri Devi, continued to hold sway over the people of Jaipur and she applied herself to social welfare activities. Education of women was a matter of prime concern for her and she has financed several schools and other educational institutions in Jaipur. The Maharani Gayatri Devi College for Girls stands out as a premier institution of her educational projects.
Whatever she did, Gayatri Devidid in style. She had an air of aristocracy around her and she left her indelible impression on everything she did. I think that is how Gayatri Devi would have liked to be remembered.