Sita Devi of Baroda – An extravagant Maharani

sita devi baroda
Keystone Press / Alamy Stock Photo

This article was written by Shivangi.

Sita Devi Sahib was born on 12 May 1917 in Madras, India as the daughter of Maharaja of Pithapuram Sri Raja Rao Venkata Kumara Mahipati Surya Rao Bahadur Garu and his wife Shri Rani Chennamma Devi of Mirzapuram. She has gone down in history as the Indian Wallis Simpson.

Sita Devi first married Meka Rangaiah Appa Rao Bahadur, the so-called Zamindar (landlord) of Vuyyuru. She had one child by her first husband, a son named Raja M Vidyut Kumar Apparao. She met her future second husband, Pratap Sinh Rao Gaekwad of Baroda(a princely state in British India), at the Madras horse races in 1943. He would be the last ruling Maharaja of Baroda.

The Maharaja was the second richest Indian prince and the eighth richest man in the world. He was instantly mesmerized by Sita Devi’s beauty and charm, but she was already married, making a marriage with the Maharaja impossible. The legal team of Prince Pratap Sinh Gaekwad suggested that she should convert to Islam which would automatically dissolve her marriage to her first husband under Indian law. She converted to Islam and again to Hinduism once her first marriage was dissolved. He, too, was already married to Maharani Shantadevi (with whom he had eight children), but he decided to break the anti-bigamy laws enacted by his father in order to marry Sita Devi. It is unclear what Shantadevi’s feelings were.

On 31 December 1943, Sita Devi married the Maharaja of Baroda, becoming the Maharani. They went on to have one son, who was born in 1945, whom they named Sayajirao Gaekwad, nicknamed Princey. Although the British government accepted the second marriage of Maharaja of Baroda, they didn’t refer to the new Maharani as “Your Highness” as was the protocol for the princely states.

The Maharaja and the Maharani went on a tour of Europe in 1946 and bought a mansion in Monte Carlo to be their second home. The Maharaja would often visit, bringing many of the treasures of Baroda to Monaco. They also went on a trip to the United States, and it was reported that they spent $10 million during a shopping spree. The royal couple transported large amounts of jewellery from the Baroda treasury, including a 7-strand necklace of pearls famously called ‘Baroda pearls’ and The Pearl Carpet of Baroda.
The couple was also in possession of the Empress Eugenie diamond. The Maharani attended some of the most exclusive events around the globe. She also reportedly smoked $30 cigars in holders studded with rubies.1

In 1953, the Maharani sold a pair of diamond and emerald anklets to Harry Winston. The jeweller set these anklets into a beautiful necklace for the Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess wore the necklace to a party in New York which was also attended by Sita Devi. When other guests were admiring the necklace, the Maharani exclaimed, “After all, those emeralds used to be one of my anklets.”2 The embarrassed Duchess reportedly returned the necklace to Winston the very next day. At the 1969 Ascot Gold Cup, Sita Devi famously invited guests to touch her 30-carat sapphire on her right hand for good luck.3

The Maharaja of Baroda was deposed in 1951, owing to financial discrepancies and possible fraud. His eldest son from his first marriage succeeded him in the titular title. He and Sita Devi were eventually divorced in 1956.4 Even after the dissolution of the marriage, she maintained her lifestyle in Monaco and clung to her titles. Her extravagant lifestyle exhausted her finances. She told the New York Times, “I’m used to a kind of living, and if you are used to it, you need it. I would not know how else to live.” She went on, “I never go to bed before 6 or 7. I wake up at 2, sometimes 3. First is my massage. Afterwards, I answer my phone calls and see my bankers, racing managers and lawyers – the usual daily chores.” At 4, she has lunch with Princey, has her hair done at 7.30 and then dinner at 9.30. Princey “works eight hours for me and then stays up all night. [..] Of course, he’s a playboy. But he’s up at 3 and working – working very hard.”5
Her son Princey reportedly committed suicide shortly after his 40th birthday. On 15 February 1989, Sita Devi passed away due to natural causes.
  1. New York Times
  2. New York Times
  3. The Maharajahs by John Lord p.151
  4. New York Times
  5. New York Times

About Moniek Bloks 2124 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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