Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur

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Today marks the centenary of the Birth of Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur, who was born on this day in 1919. The fourth child and second daughter of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and Princess Indira Raje of Baroda, she was born Princess Gayatri Devi of Cooch Behar and known from childhood as ‘Ayesha’ after the heroine of a novel her mother was reading. After her father’s early death, her mother, the glamorous Maharani Indira Devi became the Regent for her young son, and the family lived an exciting life between Cooch Behar, Calcutta, Mumbai and the United Kingdom, often holidaying with their maternal grandfather, the progressive Maharaja of Baroda. Educated in the United Kingdom, India and Switzerland, Princess Gayatri Devi fell in love with the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur at the age of 12, when he stayed with her family to play polo. After a lengthy courtship with opposition, the couple got married in 1940, and she became the ‘third Her Highness of Jaipur’ after his first two wives. The couple had one son, Prince Jagat Singh, the Raja of Isarda, and remained devoted to each other until his death in 1970. Maharani Gayatri Devi (one of Vogue’s Ten Most Beautiful Women) came from a modern Royal Family into a more feudal Princely State, where she was required to be veiled under purdah. Like her progressive mother and grandmother, she established girls schools and eventually brought the women of Jaipur into the modern world, and also revived and promoted the dying art of blue pottery. After India gained independence from Britain in 1947, Jaipur acceded to the modern Dominion of India and the Maharaja became the Rajpramukh of the new province of Rajasthan. As they no longer ruled their territory, the magnificent Rambagh Palace was made into a Hotel and the Royal Family moved into historic City Palace, which they maintained using the Privy Purse given from the new Indian Government. In 1962, Maharani Gayatri Devi ran for Parliament and won the world’s largest landslide, but was arrested by the ruling Congress Party, particularly Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who reportedly harboured personal jealousy for the Maharani’s popularity, in 1975, serving 5 months in the notorious Tihar Jail, where she and fellow Princess-turned-Politician, the Maharani of Gwalior, ‘played badminton with the prostitutes and murderesses’. After her release, the Maharani retired from politics and supported her charities and patronages in Jaipur, still residing for a part of the year in London like she had for decades. In 2009, she passed away at the age of 90 in Jaipur.

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