Maharani Gayatri Devi

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Gayatri Devi (Narayan (Cooch Behar))

Also Known As: "Maharani Gayatri Devi", "Gayatri Devi"
Birthplace: London, Greater London, United Kingdom
Death: July 29, 2009 (90)
Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
Place of Burial: Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Maharaja Jitendra Narayan and Princess Indira Raje
Wife of Sawai Man Singh II
Mother of Jagat Singh
Sister of Ila Devi; Jagaddipendra Narayan Narayan; Indrajitendra Narayan and Maharani Menaka Devi Narayan (Cooch Behar)

Managed by: Dev Khare
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Maharani Gayatri Devi

Gayatri Devi was once included in Vogue magazine's Ten Most Beautiful Women list. After Partition and Independence 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.

Maharani Gayatri Devi , often styled as Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur, was born as Princess Gayatri Devi of Koch Bihar. She was the third Maharani of Jaipur from 1939 to 1970 through her marriage to HH Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II.

From the New York Times:

Gayatri Devi, formerly the Maharani of Jaipur, who was born into fairy-tale wealth as an Indian princess and who became known internationally for her beauty and known in India for her opposition to the Congress Party of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, died Wednesday in Jaipur, in northwestern India. She was 90.

Her funeral was held Thursday, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported. Her doctor S. C. Kala told The Associated Press that Ms. Devi had been in the hospital for about 10 days with respiratory and stomach ailments.

One of the last remaining symbols of India’s feudal past, Ms. Devi and her husband, the Maharajah of Jaipur, ruled over a fief of some two million peasants in India’s northwestern desert country before the nation won its independence from Britain in 1947.

But she also participated in her country’s burgeoning democracy, being elected to Parliament three times and serving from 1962 until 1975. She advocated free enterprise and closer ties with the West, positions opposed to those of the socialist-leaning Congress Party. In 1975, after Prime Minister Gandhi declared a state of emergency owing to a threat of “internal chaos,” Ms. Devi was among the many political opponents of the Congress Party who were arrested. The charges were tax related and involved allegedly undeclared caches of gold and jewelry the government said it had found buried on the family’s property in Jaipur. She spent five months in prison.

She led a life of novelistic dimensions, part E. M. Forster, part Jackie Collins. Born into royalty and married to royalty, she had almost unimaginable wealth, and she spent her early life, as a girl and a young woman, in palaces in India and estates in England. Routinely referred to as one of the world’s most beautiful women — Vogue magazine once described her as “a dream in sari and jewels” — she was a cosmopolite with a scrutinized wardrobe, a frequenter of elegant European resorts. She was well acquainted with American society and was a frequent visitor in New York City, where she was once robbed at gunpoint returning to a Sutton Place address after a party. She and her husband entertained Jacqueline Kennedy on a visit to India in 1962, during which Mrs. Kennedy was famously photographed riding an elephant.

Yet the maharani was idolized by the lower-caste Indians who elected her to Parliament by an overwhelming margin, and she was a special inspiration to Indian women of all castes. She started a school for girls in Jaipur, aiming to encourage young Indians to reject the tradition of purdah, the social and intellectual ostracism of women perpetuated for centuries even among the aristocratic classes.

Her personal magnetism was indisputable and, for most, irresistible.

“The meeting had begun when the Maharani made her entry, giving everyone a whiff of expensive French perfume,” a reporter for The New York Times Magazine wrote of her in 1966, as she attended a government briefing on a serious matter, an uprising by a hostile tribe fighting for independence from India. “She was dressed in a turquoise-blue chiffon sari with silver sequins sparkling like stars on a moonless night. She looked around with her large almond eyes. Everyone stood up. As Hillaire Belloc once described someone, ‘her face was like the king’s command when all the swords are drawn.’ ”

Gayatri Devi was born in London on May 23, 1919, the daughter of the Maharajah of Cooch Behar, a district of what is now West Bengal, close to the Himalayan foothills of India’s far northeast. In her 1977 autobiography, “A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur,” she wrote of the exotic privileges of her childhood, which included a shopping spree at Harrod’s, by herself, as a toddler (with the assistance of the store manager); trained parrots who rode bicycles; and her mother’s pet turtles, which had emerald-encrusted shells. She told of shooting her first panther when she was 12.

Educated at home by tutors, as well as in Switzerland and at Shantiniketan University in India, she also attended the London College of Secretaries, where, she once recalled, “I learned shorthand, to type and to write decent letters.” In 1940, she became the third wife of the maharajah, Sir Sawai Man Singh Bahadur, a renowned polo player. He proposed in the back seat of his Bentley as it circled Hyde Park in London. Unlike his other wives, she refused to be confined by purdah, and though her life was largely one of entertaining visiting dignitaries, mostly from England, or being a visiting dignitary, she advocated the liberation of women from purdah and opened the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ School in Jaipur. Her husband died on the polo field in 1970. They had a son, who died in 1997.

After India became independent in 1947, the princely states were abolished and Jaipur was integrated with other former autocracies into the state of Rajasthan. The maharajah was still the ceremonial head of state until 1956, when the post was abolished, but he and his wife lost their sovereignty, their right to tax and several of their palaces. They were compensated by the government with an annual stipend, estimated at $378,000, but ended up turning one of their palaces into a luxury hotel and running a sort of adventure travel business, staging tiger hunts for wealthy tourists.

In 1959, the Swatantra Party was founded to promote free enterprise in India. The maharani became interested in politics, she said, because after the displacement of India’s nobility, she was unable to address the grievances of her former subjects. Two years later, she joined the party and ran for election to the lower house of Parliament.

After her release from prison, she withdrew from politics and spent the remainder of her life in relative seclusion, in Jaipur and in England. She had not had an official title since 1971, when the government abolished the princely titles. Nonetheless, for many years afterward, she was often referred to as maharani, though that eventually gave way to the less glamorous but more respectful title of rajmata, the equivalent of queen mother.

After Partition and Independence 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.

Gayatri Devi was once included in Vogue magazine's Ten Most Beautiful Women list.

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Maharani Gayatri Devi's Timeline

May 23, 1919
London, Greater London, United Kingdom
October 15, 1949
July 29, 2009
Age 90
Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
July 30, 2009
Age 90
Jaipur, Rajasthan, India