This article was written by Shivangi Kaushik.
Born as Princess Gayatri Devi of Cooch Behar on 23 May 1919 to Maharaja Jitendra Narayan of Cooch Behar and Maharani Indira Raje (Maratha Princess of Baroda). She had two brothers Jagat Deependra Narayan and Indrajitentra Narayan and two sisters Ila and Menaka. She studied at Glendower preparatory school in London, Shantiniketan in West Bengal and later in Lausanne, Switzerland. She later studied secretarial skills at the London School of Secretaries.
Her father passed away when she was still a child. Her elder brother was appointed King, and her mother acted as regent. She was quite the tomboy in her teenagers and enjoyed shooting and hunting. She shot a tiger when she was just 12 years old. She was an avid equestrienne and enjoyed playing polo. She met her future husband when she was just 12 years of age. Sawai Mansingh of Jaipur, fondly called ‘Jai ‘by family and friends, had come to Calcutta for a Polo match.
He was many years older than her and already married (polygamy was a common practice of Indian royalty) with kids, but the young Princess was smitten by the flamboyant Maharaja of Jaipur. Many years later, she eventually became his wife. They married in a traditional Hindu ceremony in Cooch Behar. Life in Jaipur was completely different from what the young Princess was used to in Cooch Behar. It was quite orthodox, and women strictly observed ‘purdah’ (not appearing in front of outsiders without a veil). She was a ‘different’ Maharani, who had bobbed hair, she wore slacks, rode horses and played badminton and polo on the palace grounds. She was a trailblazer in many ways, and her husband completely supported her. Apart from the fact that she was very beautiful, she once featured in ‘Vogue’ magazine’s ten most beautiful women list. She also actively worked and participated in modernizing education for girls. She established the most prominent School for Girls in Jaipur.
She had a son, Jagat Singh. She also ran for parliament in 1962 and won by a record margin for which she held a Guinness World Record. When an emergency was declared in 1971 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, she was arrested and served a jail term for violating tax laws (which many claimed were politically motivated). After being released from jail, she retired from politics. She led a quiet life, working for the people of Jaipur and passed away on 29 July 2009 in Jaipur at the age of 90 after a prolonged illness.
For most of us Indians, she was the epitome of beauty and grace. She faced many personal tragedies but faced them bravely. She remains an icon of style and beauty who was noticed not just for her beautiful french chiffon sarees but for her love for Jaipur, its people and her work towards preserving the rich cultural heritage of the royal house of Jaipur.