Gayatri Devi Biography

(Third Maharani Consort of Jaipur)

Birthday: May 23, 1919 (Gemini)

Born In: London, United Kingdom

Maharani Gayatri Devi, or the Rajmata of Jaipur, reigned as the third Maharani consort of Jaipur, India, in the 1940s, through her marriage to the Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Man Singh II. Gayatri was born into the royal household of the Maharaja Jitendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur of Cooch Behar and Maharani Indira Devi. Educated in England, Switzerland, and India, she was also a skilled equestrienne. She loved playing polo and driving, too. She married Sawai Man Singh after a long courtship, in spite of him having two Maharanis already. Gayatri Devi launched educational institutes, including Jaipur’s first all-girls school, and promoted Rajasthani handicrafts, too. She created a Guinness record by winning the Jaipur Lok Sabha seat in 1962, by the maximum number of votes ever, representing the Swatantra (Freedom) Party. Following a marked rivalry with the Congress Party, she retired from politics. Considered a fashion icon, she made the chiffon saree a trend and was known as one of the most beautiful women in the world.

Quick Facts

Indian Celebrities Born In May

Also Known As: Princess Gayatri Devi

Died At Age: 90


Spouse/Ex-: Man Singh II (m. 1940–1970)

father: Maharaja Jitendra Narayan of Cooch-Behar

mother: Princess Indira Raje of Baroda

children: Prince Jagat Singh

Born Country: England

Royal Family Members Indian Women

Died on: July 29, 2009

place of death: Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Notable Alumni: Visva-Bharati University

Cause of Death: Lung Failure

More Facts

education: Visva-Bharati University

Early Life & Education

Gayatri Devi was born on May 23, 1919, in London, England, to Maharaja Jitendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur of Cooch Behar (now in the state of West Bengal in India) and Maratha Princess Indira Raje Gaekwar of Baroda, the only daughter of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III and Maharani Chimnabai of the Maratha Gaekwad dynasty.

She was one of the five children of her parents. Friends and family called her by her nickname, Ayesha.

Initially educated by private tutors, she later attended Glendower Preparatory School and St. Cyprian's in Eastbourne, England. In 1936, she graduated from Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan, India. She then attended Brillantmont, a finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland, and then joined the London College of Secretaries.

Since her early days, Gayatri nurtured hobbies such as hunting and horse riding. She gradually grew up to be a master equestrienne and grew fond of playing polo, too.

Gayatri loved cars, too, and reportedly imported the first Mercedes-Benz W126 to India (later shipped to Malaysia). She owned an aircraft and several Rolls-Royces, too.

Gayatri was quite young when her uncle's death led her father to ascend the throne of their kingdom. In 1922, her father passed away, and left Gayatri in the care of her mother. She grew up being pampered in her royal household and surrounded by hundreds of servants.

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Marriage, Personal Life, & Family

Gayatri Devi met Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur when she was barely 12. Apart from being the maharaja of his 15,600-square-mile fief in the Rajputana Agency, Sawai Man Singh, also known as Jai, was a renowned and world-class polo player. He had apparently traveled to Calcutta to play polo, a sport Gayatri was fond of, and had stayed with their family.

The duo fell in love quickly. After a whirlwind romance of 6 years, she married Sawai Man Singh on May 9, 1940. However, at the time of their marriage, Man Singh was already married to his two queens, Maharani Marudhar Kanwar and Maharani Kishore Kanwar.

Soon after marriage, Gayatri settled into her luxury 60-room castle on the outskirts of Jaipur. However, after India gained independence in 1947, Man Singh had to give up his sovereignty and was reduced to a nominal head of the newly formed Indian state of Rajasthan.

Man Singh was thus unable to maintain their royal standard of living with his $378,000 government allowance. He thus converted their palace, the Rambagh Palace, into a luxury heritage hotel, and moved with his family, including Gayatri Devi, into the smaller Raj Mahal Palace. The former royal family of Jaipur thus maintained, in addition to other luxuries, hundreds of servants, a stable full of polo horses, about 100 cars, and six elephants.

The couple had their first and only child, Prince Jagat Singh, on October 15, 1949. Gayatri was also a stepmother to Bhawani Singh, Sawai Man Singh’s eldest son by his first wife, and his other children.

Sawai Man Singh passed away in June 1970, after collapsing while playing polo. Shortly after this, Jagat Singh, the only son of Gayatri Devi, too, passed away due to alcoholism in 1977.

Political Career

In 1961, Gayatri joined the Swatantra (Freedom) Party, which was established by C Rajagopalachari in 1959, as a right-wing rival of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi 's Congress Party. In 1962, she scripted history by creating a Guinness world record of winning the Lok Sabha seat of Jaipur, by the maximum number of votes ever (192,909 votes out of 246,516 cast). She also won in the 1967 and 1971 elections.

Gayatri often campaigned by jeep and delivered up to 20 speeches a day before the elections. She was greeted with flowers and fruit baskets by the people of Jaipur, who would gather to see their Maharani. She also often opened the palace grounds to the common people and granted private audiences to the ones who worked on her campaign.

During her first term, she focused on Rajasthan. However, with the 1967 elections approaching, she formed a coalition with the Hindu Jan Sangh (People's Party), to prevent the Congress from gaining a majority. She subsequently lost the assembly election but won the Lok Sabha poll.

In the ensuing violence between the Congress and its opponents, due to the return of the Congress in Rajasthan, many people were arrested, though she escaped arrest. During the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s, Gayatri was held in Tihar Jail due to a false accusation of tax evasion. After being released from jail, she distanced herself from politics.

Empowerment of Women & Other Social Initiatives

A champion for women's rights, Gayatri Devi, in 1943, built a school for girls in Jaipur, named Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School, which was the first all-girls school in Jaipur. Following the death of her husband, she built a co-educational school named Maharaja Sawai Man Singh Vidyalaya, in his memory.

She also worked for the Red Cross and had served the purchasing committee of India's National Museum. She also promoted art and craft and sewing, and revived the art of blue pottery.

Final Years, Death, & Legacy

In December 1971, both houses of the Parliament passed a bill to de-recognize all former rulers, thus abolishing all their privileges and titles. Gayatri, too, thus lost all her royal privileges.

She devoted her later life to the development of the City Palace Museum. She also launched a company to export cotton rugs made by local weavers, in association with her school of arts and crafts.

In 1976, she released her biography, A Princess Remembers, which was written by Santha Rama Rau. Director Francois Levie made the documentary film Memoirs of a Hindu Princess based on her life and times.

Eventually, she moved to Lillypool, a house located in the gardens of Rambagh Palace. On July 29, 2009, the Rajmata of Jaipur, aged 90, reportedly died of a lung failure.

She was once named to the list of Vogue magazine's Ten Most Beautiful Women in the World. She was considered a style icon in both India and Europe, mainly because of the way she draped her chiffon saris in pastel shades and teamed them with pearls and long-sleeved blouses. It is believed, her mother, Indira Devi was the first woman to bring the Parisian chiffon fabric into mainstream Indian fashion. Gayatri Devi was also one of the few women of her time to sport a bob haircut, while most of the women in her conservative land of Jaipur followed the tradition of the purdah.

See the events in life of Gayatri Devi in Chronological Order

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