Royal families tend to be under the limelight with every little bit of their lives being scrutinized by the press, media and what not. Their flamboyant lives or the ways they seem to be are sometimes even exaggerated and blown out of proportion. Kings and queens, princes and princesses, all seem to have their own peculiar ways. But in the case of Gayatri Devi, previously known as Maharani, it was different.
Born as Princess Gayatri Devi of Cooch Behar, she was the third Maharani of Jaipur, through her marriage to His Highness Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II. Known as Ayesha amongst close family and friends, her mother Maharani Indira Devi decided to name her after the heroine in Rider Haggard’s novel whose name was Ayesha. Her family consisted of very independent women. Gayatri Devi’s grandmother, Chinnabai who didn’t accept a confined life, Gayatri Devi’s mother, Indira who didn’t accept an arranged marriage and Gayatri Devi who championed the liberation of women from purdah, opened a girl’s school and won a seat in the Indian Parliament.
Gayatri Devi was a remarkable marksman, rider and a tennis player. She knew a lot about horses and at the age of 13, she shot her first panther. She often went on adventurous trips to Europe and London.
At the age of 19, she married Prince Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur. As reported by the New York Times, “Gayatri and her husband, the Maharaja of Jaipur ruled over a fief of some two million peasants in India’s north western desert country before the nation won its independence from Britain in 1947.”
She took a keen interest in politics and in 1962 she contested and won the Lok Sabha elections in Jaipur. Thrice she was elected to Parliament from 1962 to 1975. In 1975, when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, Gayatri Devi was one of the political opponents of the Congress who were arrested. The charges were based on breaking taxes and she spent five months in Tihar jail.
This educationist and philanthropist was a model Indian woman and people’s politician who was worshipped by Indians who belonged to the lower caste. They elected her to Parliament and won by a landslide. Once, President John F. Kennedy introduced her as “the woman with most staggering majority that anyone has ever earned in an election”. This win was by far the world’s largest win and was even recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records. She as one of the most modern of Maharanis and had a peculiar charisma that was eternal. Once she was included amongst the ‘Ten Most Beautiful Women’ list in Vogue magazine.
This woman of substance withdrew from politics after her release from prison. She died at the age of 90 after suffering from a series of respiratory and stomach ailments. Gayatri Devi continued to carry her poise and charm till the end of her life and will always be remembered as queen mother.
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