Gayatri Devi (23 May 1919 – 29 July 2009), often styled as Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur, was born as Princess Gayatri Devi of Cooch Behar. She was the third Maharani of Jaipur from 1939 to 1970 through her marriage to HH Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II.
Following India’s independence and the subsequent abolition of the princely states, she became an extremely successful politician. Gayatri Devi was also celebrated for her classical beauty and became something of a fashion icon in her adulthood. She has been counted in ‘The Ten Most Beautiful Women of the World’ along with actress Leela Naidu by the Vogue Magazine.
Gayatri Devi, who was once listed among the ‘World’s Ten Most Beautiful Women’ along with actress Leela Naidu by the Vogue, was placed sixth after Princess Grace of Monaco, Queen Rania of Jordan, Kate Middleton, Princess Diana of Wales and Princess Charlotte of Monaco. and ahead of Princess Madeleine of Sweden, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Princess Margaret and Princess Masako of Japan.
She died on 29 July 2009 in Jaipur, at the age of 90. She was suffering from paralytic ileus and lung infection.
Ethnically Bengali her father, Prince Jitendra Narayan of Cooch Behar, West Bengal, was the younger brother of the Yuvraja (Crown Prince). Her mother was Princess Indira Raje of Baroda, the only daughter of Maratha King, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, an extremely beautiful princess and a legendary socialite. Early in her life, her uncle’s death led to her father ascending the throne (gaddi). Gayatri Devi studied at Glendower Preparatory School in London, Patha Bhavana of Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan, and later in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she travelled with her mother and siblings, then studied secretarial skills in London School of Secretaries; Brilliantmont and Monkey Club London.
She first met Jai (H.H. Saramad-i-Raja-i-Hindustan Raj Rajendra Sri Maharajadhiraja Sir Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur), when she was 12 and he had come to Calcutta to play polo and stayed with their family. She married Sawai Man Singh II Bahadur on 9 May 1940.
Maharani Gayatri Devi (as she was styled after marriage) was a particularly avid equestrienne. Maharani Gayatri was an excellent rider and an able Polo player. She was a good shot and enjoyed many days out on ‘Shikars’. Her Highness was fond of cars and is credited with importing the first W126, a 500 SEL to India which was later shipped to Malaysia. Gayatri Devi had one child, Prince Jagat Singh of Jaipur, late Raja of Isarda, born on 15 October 1949, who was granted his uncles’s (father’s elder brother) fief as a subsidiary title. Jagat Singh was thus half-brother to Bhawani Singh of Jaipur.
Gayatri Devi was once included in Vogue magazine’s Ten Most Beautiful Women list.
Gayatri Devi started schools for girls’ education in Jaipur, most prominent of which is the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School established in 1943. She also revived and promoted the dying art of blue pottery.she was also known as kutti(little) devi.
After Partition and Independence Day in India in 1947, Gayatri Devi ran for Parliament in 1962 and won the constituency in the Lok Sabha in the world’s largest landslide, winning 192,909 votes out of 246,516 cast, confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records. She continued to hold this seat on 1967 and 1971, Swatantra Party of C. Rajagopalachari, the second Governor-General of Independent India, running against the Congress Party.
When the privy purses were abolished in 1971, terminating all royal privileges and titles, Gayatri Devi was accused of violating tax laws, and served 5 months in Tihar Jail. She retired from politics and published her autobiography, A Princess Remembers, written with Santha Rama Rau, in 1976. She was also the focus of the film Memoirs of a Hindu Princess, directed by Francois Levie.
There were rumors that she might re-enter politics as late as 1999, when the Cooch Behar Trinamool Congress nominated her as their candidate for the Lok Sabha elections, but she did not respond to the offer.
Her father Jitendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur was the second son of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur and Maharani Sunity Devi of Cooch Behar. After the death of his elder brother Maharaja Raj Rajendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur, a bachelor, he ascended the throne of Cooch Behar in November 1913, few month’s after his marriage with Princess Indira raje Gaekwad of Baroda. Maharani Sunity Devi was the daughter of illustrious Brahmo social reformer Keshab Chandra Sen.
She had one son, Prince Jagat Singh, late Raja of Isarda(15 October 1949 – 5 February 1997), who was granted his paternal uncle’s (father’s elder brother) fief of Isarda as a subsidiary title. Jagat Singh was married 10 May 1978 to Mom Rajawongse Priyanandana Rangsit (b. 1952) who is the daughter of His Serene Highness Prince Piyarangsit Rangsit and Her Royal Highness Princess Vibhavadi Rangsit (née Rajani) of Thailand. The marriage produced two grandchildren:
- Rajkumari Lalitya Kumari (b. 1979)
- Maharaj Devraj Singh, now Raja of Isarda (b. 1981)
Today, they are her only surviving descendants, and as such, have claimed to be heirs of their paternal grandmother. Maharaj Jagat Singh was thus half-brother to Bhawani Singh of Jaipur, the eldest son of the late Maharaja by his first wife, a Jodhpur princess.
The Maharani had three stepsons through her husband’s first and second marriages, of whom the eldest is the present Maharaja of Jaipur, who has an only daughter (whose son Kumar Padmanabh Singh has been adopted the next heir, somewhat contrary to the tradition and customs of Jaipur, where a sonless Maharaja almost always adopted a son from the next line patrilineally junior to him, or next in succession). His younger half-brothers were given family fiefs, and have one son each. One of the stepsons, Prithviraj Singh (b. 1935), married the Maharani’s niece (see below) in 1961 (later divorced) and had a son Vijit Singh (married in 1991 to a princess of Lunawada) with her.
Cooch Behar and Tripura
Maharani Gayatri Devi was related to several other erstwhile royal families in India. She was herself not from Rajput royalty, but from a dynasty native to Koch Bihar in Bengal, and maternally of Maratha stock.
A younger sister of the Maharani, and two nieces married into the main line of princely houses.
- Kota a princely state in Rajasthan (princely family genealogy) married to Uttara, a princess of Cooch Behar, as his second wife in 1963). The Maharani of Kota (b. 1942), a niece of the late Maharani Gayatri Devi, has one son (married, with one son), and one daughter (Bhawani Kumari) married 1991 to the son and heir of the Maharaja of Burdwan, a notable zemindar, with issue two daughters. They are great-nephew and great-niece of the late Maharani.
- Dewas Jr. (princely family genealogy), whose ruler married Menaka Devi (b. 1920), youngest sister of the Maharani, and had issue 2 daughters. The elder daughter (b. 1950) married the late Raja of Payagpur (d. 2005), and had issue, one son the present Raja, who married in 2006. The Raja of Payagpur is thus a great-nephew, and the Rajmata a niece of the late Maharani.
Her eldest sister Ila Devi (1914–1945) married into the Tripura royal family; her widower later married his cousin, a daughter and sister of Maharajas of Tripura. Their father is Bharat Dev Varma (a distant kinsman of a noted composer Rahul Dev Burman) and their mother a Tollywood starlet Moonmoon Sen, herself the daughter of a famous actress Suchitra Sen; his daughters are the Bollywood starlets – Riya Sen (b. 1981) and Raima Sen (b. 1979) – who are her great-nieces. Their paternal aunt, the late Devyani Devi (1938–2009, a few months before her aunt), a niece of Gayatri Devi, was the former wife of Prithviraj Singh (b. 1935), one of Gayatri Devi’s stepsons. (That marriage produced one son).
Baroda and descendants houses
The most significant royal connections are through Baroda. Her maternal grandparents were the remarkable Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III (1863–1939) and his second wife Maharani Chimnabai II of Baroda. Thus, the next Maharaja Pratap Singh Gaekwad of Baroda was her first cousin, and his heirs Fatehsinghrao, Gaekwad of Baroda (1930–1988) and the current Gaekward Ranjitsinh, Gaekwad of Baroda (b. 1938) were her first cousins once removed. (A Baroda princess, Priyadarshini, niece of these men, is currently married to Jyotiraditya Scindia, Maharaja of Gwalior, a great-grandson of the man rejected by Gayatri Devi’s mother. Her brother, born 1970, is the eventual heir if the present Yuvaraj fails to produce a son).
Other relatives, also descended from her maternal grandfather Sayajirao, included the rulers of Kota, Sawantwadi, Akkalkot, Jath, Dewas Jr., Jasdan, and Sandur. Of these, the most significant connections are:
- Sawantwadi, a 9-gun-salute princely state in Bombay, now part of Maharashtra (princely family genealogy) linked by three marriages to Baroda princesses: firstly, Tarabai, the daughter of the Maharaja prior to her maternal grandmother married the ruler in 1899. Secondly, Laxmibai (1907–1961) a cousin of Gayatri Devi also married another Maharaja in 1922, with issue one daughter. The present Maharaja is the son of the third marriage, of the late Maharaja to the second daughter (b. circa 1935) of Pratap Singh Gaekwad of Baroda.
- Jasdan, a tiny princely state in Saurashtra (princely family genealogy); the present ruler, 11th Chief of Jasdan, and his father the 10th Chief (d. 1989) married two Baroda princesses. The 11th Chief married his cousin, a daughter of the present head of the Baroda house). His sister (b. 1955) is named for the late Maharani.
More tenuous connections exist to Dhar and Kolhapur:
- Tehri-Garhwal, an 11-gun-salute princely state in Uttarakhand (princely family genealogy), where a cadet married a Baroda princess, and has issue.
- Dhar, a 15-gun salute Maratha princely state in Madhya Pradesh (princely family genealogy): the late Maharaja (1920–1989) was married to in 1951 and divorced (date unknown) from a living Baroda princess, without issue.
- Kolhapur, one of the two Maratha princely states descended from Shivaji (princely family genealogy): a previous Maharaja (d. 1940) married as his first wife a cousin of the late Maharani in April 1918, but apparently had no issue with her. (He had a daughter by his second wife). His wife Indumati Devi (1904–1954) apparently had no issue.
Maharani Gayatri Devi was also indirectly related to the former royal families of Lunawada (a daughter of the house married her great-nephew Vijit Singh) and Baria.
Family relationships by marriage
The late Maharani had an indirect relationship with the Maharajas of Pithapuram in Andhra Pradesh. The daughter of a previous Maharaja, the glamorous divorcee Sita Devi (1917–1989), was the controversial second wife of her first cousin Pratap Singh Gaekwad) from 1943 to 1956. Another daughter Kamala Devi (1920-1980s) married Gayatri Devi’s maternal uncle Indrajitendra, the second son of Maharaja Jitendra of Cooch Behar and Indira Devi, and had issue one son and one daughter. (The daughter Uttara Devi is now Maharani of Kota).
Through her marriage to Man Singh II, she was related to Maharaja Hanuwant Singh of Jodhpur (1923–1952). His aunt Marudhar Kanwar and cousin Krishna Kumari (daughters of previous Maharajas) were married to Sawai Man Singh II as his first and second wives. The Maharaja’s elder son Gaj Singh (b. 1948) is the present Maharaja of Jodhpur, and as such, a first cousin once removed of Maharaj Bhawani Singh of Jaipur; his only son Shivraj Singh is the heir apparent.
Other relatives by marriage include the Maharaja of Dewas, and the Maharaja of Tripura (whose kinsman married her eldest sister Ila Devi)
The Maharani developed gastric problems in London and was admitted to a hospital there. She was being treated for gastric disorder at the King Edward’s Hospital in London and had expressed her desire to return to Jaipur. Gayatri Devi was flown in an air ambulance to Jaipur. She was admitted at Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital (SDMH) on 17 July 2009. She died on 29 July 2009, reportedly due to lung failure.
Her death came a day after the passing away of actress Leela Naidu, both of whom were named by Vogue as amongst the 10 most beautiful women in the world. Maharani Gayatri Devi died on 29 July 2009 at the age of 90.