Rajmata Gayatri Devi, who died on July 29 aged 90, was an Indian princess of renowned beauty whose life encapsulated the glamour and romance of the Raj.Gayatri Devi — the grand queen mother or ‘Rajmata’ of the Jaipur royal family in Rajasthan who was listed as one of the most beautiful women in the world by Vogue — remained spirited until the end of her colourful life.
Gayatri Devi, who was Maharani of Jaipur state from 1939 to 1970, was an excellent marksman, a tennis player and a keen rider, with a deep knowledge of horses. She was attached to all her children, fond of flowers like lilies and gladioli and birds.
She spent the last three decades of her life after her husband’s death in 1970 at the picturesque Lilypool — an elegant sprawling bungalow surrounded by greens and a lily pond that she had built with her husband on the premises of Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace.
The Maharani, who spent the early years of married life in luxury hunting, partying and holidaying in Europe, forayed into politics in 1962 by contesting and winning Lok Sabha elections from Jaipur. She took interest in social activities, built an exclusive school for girls in Jaipur and promoted the traditional blue pottery of Rajasthan.
The coming of the war helped to speed up this process of emancipation. The Maharani organised various forms of war-work, and in 1943 opened the Gayatri Devi School for Girls with 40 students and an English teacher. It became known as one of the finest schools in India.
Following Independence in 1947, Jaipur was merged with 18 other princely states to form Rajasthan State, with Jaipur City as its capital.
Although Maharaja Man Singh was appointed State Governor, it soon became apparent that all power lay with the ruling Congress Party.
Concern at what they judged to be misrule and abuse of power drew an ever-increasing number of former rulers or members of their circle into politics in opposition to the Congress Party. Many joined the Swatantra Party, among them Maharani Gayatri Devi.
In 1962 she made her first public speech and contested her first election, winning an overwhelming victory over her Congress opponent as well as a place in The Guinness Book of Records by securing a majority of 175,000 votes. The success of princely candidates in this and subsequent elections, however, virtually ensured their extinction as an order. She won the Jaipur seat again in 1967 and 1971 on a Swatantra Party ticket against the Congress party. This angered Indira Gandhi, who hit back by accusing the queen of breaking tax laws. Gayatri Devi was arrested and spent five months in Tihar jail.
She subsequently quit politics and wrote her memoirs jointly with Santha Rama Rau in 1976. She was also the central character in a movie, Memoirs of a Hindu Princess directed by Francois Levie.
Gayatri Devi was related to a number of erstwhile royal families in India. Her maternal grandparents were Maharaja Sayajirao and Maharani Chimnabai of Baroda and she was related to the royal families of Jodhpur, Dewas, Tripura and Pithapuram.