Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Political Princess: Gayatri Devi

Indian princess Gayatri Devi could have just relaxed in her life of luxury. Instead she won three elections, ran a stud farm and started schools for girls. She was also a campaigner for democracy and women's rights. The princess died aged 90 on July 29 this year.

Raised in an opulent palace with 500 servants, she spent holidays in London and Europe. There her family mixed with the British Royal family and the social elite.

At just 20 she married Sawai Man Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur, in a famous wedding in 1939. His family looked down on her Cooch-Behar connections and her family didn't like his already having two wives. The handsome young man had been practically forced to marry these wives so he spent most of his time with the princess who was called one of the ten most beautiful women in the world. A writer in Vogue called her 'a dream in sari and jewels.'

The Maharaji ruled over more than two million people until India's independence from Great Britain in 1947. The princess set fashion trends, met Jackie Kennedy and other important people, and held extravagant parties. She was painted by Cecil Beaton.

In 1962 she won a seat in parliament, gaining one of the largest majorities in Indian history. She won elections three times but eventually she had a conflict with Indira Gandhi over Gandhi's socialist policies. She was put in jail for five months on what many thought were trumped up charges of tax-evasion.

Her husband died on the polo field in 1970. In 1975 she retired from politics, but she continued to support charities, run her farm, and run the Maharani Gayatri Devi College, one of the schools that she started. The talented princess also wrote books, including her memoirs, A Princess Remembers.
She tragically had to face the death of her only son, Jagat Singh, who had abused drug and alcohol in the nineteen-nineties. She remained resilient, however, still entering society. She loved cricket and riding. The princess wanted to see the Keira Knightley film, 'The Duchess', according to actress, Sharmira Tagore, who married the cricketer, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi.
The princess, 'a picture of beauty and grace', will be greatly missed.


May said...

Interesting lady! Sounds like a very strong character.

Lucy said...

Wow! Her memoirs must be a fascinating read...Have you read them?

Viola said...

Thank you, Ms.Lucy and Matterhorn. She must have been a very strong lady. Her ghostwriter described her as 'autocratic and mercurial', but I think that it's probably pretty easy to fall out with ghostwriters!

I haven't read her memoirs, Ms. Lucy, but I certainly intend to. I'll look for them soon.

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