Sawnet - Bookshelf -
was born on 23 May 1919 into a royal family, the daughter of the
Maharaja of Cooch Behar. She was known as Ayesha within the family. The principality of Cooch Behar covers 1318
square miles in what is now West Bengal, India, and has been in existence
1511. Gayatri Devi's mother,
Maharani Indira Devi, was a famous beauty and socialite, who
travelled extensively with the family in Europe. Gayatri Devi studied
at Shantiniketan and abroad, and speaks several languages.
At the age of 19, she fell in love with Man Singh, the heir to the
Jaipur throne. Their marriage was initially opposed by her parents, as
Man Singh (whom she called Jai) already had two wives, the daughters
of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. However, they
gave in to her determination, and she was married in 1939. The Jaipur
royal family lived a lavish life with hunting, summers in London,
children educated in England, and streams of famous visitors, which
was normal for rulers of principalities at that time. Man Singh was
the last ruler of Jaipur and oversaw its transition to a secular part
of Rajasthan state in independent India. He served as India's first
ambassador to Spain. The Maharaja died in 1970 while playing polo.
|Gayatri Devi in the early '50s with her husband, Maharaja Jai Singh of
Jaipur, and her son Jagat Singh
Gayatri Devi was listed by Vogue as one of the world's most beautiful
women, and was a favourite of society columnists and photographers.
She started schools for girls' education in Jaipur, and promoted the
dying art of blue pottery. In 1962 she entered politics, and won an
astounding majority to become the Lok Sabha representative. (She still
holds the Guiness record for this electoral majority).
the seat again in 1967 and 1971 from the Swatantra party,
running against the Congress Party.
This enraged Indira Gandhi, who retaliated in 1971 by abolishing the
privy purses, and stopping all royal privileges, breaking the treaties
agreed upon in 1947. Gayatri Devi was accused of breaking tax laws,
and served 5 months in Tihar jail. She retired from politics after this
experience, and published her autobiography A Princess
written with Santha Rama Rau, in 1976. She was also the focus of a
film called Memoirs of a Hindu Princess, directed by Francois
- A Princess Remembers
Rupa & Co (1995)
- The autobiography of Maharani Gayatri Devi, daughter of the Maharaja of Cooch-Behar, wife and later the widow of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Raised in sprawling palaces, she shot her first panther when she was twelve. She was famous for her beauty, celebrated by Vogue, and won election with the largest majority ever recorded in a democracy.
- Review in the Indian Express, comparing this memoir with that of the Maharani of Kapurthala.
South Asian Women authors