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.
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