Listed by Vogue as one of the most beautiful women, Gayatri Devi was a born royalty. She grew up surrounded by an unimaginable display of wealth in the kingdom of Cooch Behar, nestled at the foothills of the Himalayas. The world’s most stylish royal woman, who kept insisting that she was ordinary, Gayatri Devi is a legend that will live on forever. Born into a royal family and married into another, Maharani Gayatri Devi’s six-year courtship with Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur culminated in marriage. He proposed to her in the backseat of a Bentley in London. She was the third wife of Sawai Man Singh. One of India’s most elegant, independent and modern Maharanis, she was not ready to be confined to the regressive purdah, a custom that her two sister-wives followed. Remembering Jaipur’s ‘Rajmata’, here are some lesser known facts about Maharani Gayatri Devi-
- Maharani Gayatri Devi was a particularly avid equestrian and a brilliant Polo player.
- She had a good aim and enjoyed her days out on Shikars (hunting). Kingdom of Cooch Behar saw her shooting her first panther at the age of 12!
- Gayatri Devi was more commonly known as Ayesha to her friends and family. According to her, her mother decided to name her child Ayesha, after the protagonist in Rider Haggard’s novel. Some days after the birth of Gayatri Devi, an Islamic friend of Indira Devi, informed her that Ayesha is a Muslim name which is how she was named Gayatri. The name remained as a nickname since the family was already calling her Ayesha.
- She was really fond of cars and is known for importing the first Mercedes-Benz W126 to India. She also owned several Rolls-Royce and an aircraft.
- Focussing on female empowerment, she started schools in Jaipur, most prominent of which is the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School, founded in 1943.
- Maharani Gayatri Devi revived and promoted the then-dying art of blue pottery which is now become a prominent rajasthani craft
- Maharani Gayatri Devi was related to several royal families in India; however she herself was not from the Rajput community. She belonged to the dynasty native to Cooch Behar in Bengal and was daughter of Maharaja Jitendra Narayan and Maharani Indira Raje, who was daughter of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III and Maharani Chimnabai belonging to the Gaekwad dynasty of the Marathas.
- She moved far beyond the traditional restrictions and won the constituency in the Lok Sabha in the world’s largest majority of votes, winning 192,909 votes out of 246,516 cast. This win was also recorded by the Guinness Book of Records. She continued to hold the seat from 1967-1971 as a member of the Swatantra Party, founded by C Rajagopalachari, running against the Indian National Congress Party.
- It was her love for Maharaja of Jaipur, Jai Singh that changed her life forever. In her memoir,A Princess Remembers, she talks about how there was gossip as the news of a happy partnership between Jai and her got around. In fact, people warned her mother that life as a third Maharani would be tough. Looking back, I see that those times were much more ahead than an ordinary approved courtship would have been. There was the challenge of outwitting our elders, of arranging secret meetings… And every now and again, there was a marvellous, unheard of liberty of going for a drive in the country with Jai, of a stolen dinner at Bray, or of an outing on the river in a boat. It was a lovely and intoxicating time”, she quoted in a Times of India interview from 2009.