In the last blog, we had started on the journey of the discovery of the creations of the illustrious ruler Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III. We saw him turn into a full fledged king, soon he will prove he is a ruler above excellence, a beloved of his citizens whom he never considered his subjects.
Sayajirao was so grounded in reality that instead of immediately organising lavish ceremonies, parties, trips to exotic lands he first worked towards reforming the Baroda judiciary, agriculture and society. His reforms included banning child marriage, legalising divorce, alleviating the status of women, attempting to remove untouchability, and most importantly creating a deep-rooted educational system. He not only arranged for the funding of spread of various languages and professions, he also paid a lot of interest in the education in the finer arts of painting, music and dance.
He took personal interest in the purchase and order of books from all over the world and most of these still exist in the Central Library of Baroda. He enforced primary education throughout his state in 1906, believed to be the first Indian ruler to do so.
Sayajirao was so enamoured by the architecture of the countries he visited in his lifetime that it is believed that he got each university department constructed in a different architectural style. And the dome in the Arts faculty area is the second largest dome in the country!
The father of Indian Constitution, Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the poet, littérateur and freedom fighter Aurobindo Ghosh, the grand old man of Indian politics, Dadabhai Naoroji, and the painter Raja Ravi Varma all shared their patron in Sayajirao. He personally invited these personalities and even before they became famous provided them with respectable positions within his state. Can you imagine a similar situation where a wise leader can value a person’s creativity even before the rest of the world is able to realise it?
Have you seen the beautiful murals inside Kirti Mandir? These were created by Nandalal Bose, on special invitation of Sayajirao. But who was Nandalal Bose? He was the artist who helped Rabindranath Tagore set up Kala Bhavana, the Arts college at Santiniketan. He was one of the founding fathers of the Bengal School of Art.
After the Kala Bhavana, the Fine Arts Faculty, Baroda, became the most significant educational and dynamic space for artists in India. Some of the most noteworthy Indian artists and art educators, like K G Subramanian, Haku Shah, Bhupen Khakkhar, Vivan Sundaram, N S Bendre, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Gulam Shiekh, Neelima Sheikh, Dhruv Mistry have been associated with this Faculty. Have you ever been lucky to attend the Fine Arts Fair at this Faculty?
On his persuasion, the Academy of Indian Music (Gayan Shala) was founded by Ustad Maula Bux in 1886. Along with him, Ustad Inayat Khan and Ustad Faiyyaz Khan were the state’s musical treasures. As early as 1916, the first All India Music Conference was held at Baroda.
Sayajirao also actively took interest in the administrative and financial matters of the state. He founded the Bank of Baroda in 1908, which still exists with the new fangled ads with an animated character called BOB. He also encouraged the textile and gem and jewellery industry of the state. And, do you know that the state got its first railway network as early as 1862?
It is popular knowledge that when he saw a clock tower he got so intrigued by its technology that he requested for a similar tower to be built in Baroda, you can still see it in the older part of the city.
Since Gujarat did not have a self-sustaining water system, he got the Ajwa dam constructed in 1892. You might have visited the theme park near it. Even today that dam provides water to a large chunk of Baroda. I remember once when there were floods in Baroda how the entire city could hear the alarm bells when excess water from the dam would be released to prevent a breakage in the dam. On hearing a series of these alarms people from near Ajwa would vacate the surrounding area.
The huge Kamati Bagh or garden with the toy train running through it at Fathehgunj was built by Sayajirao. You would have seen it in the video link in the previous post, and in some Hindi film songs. The garden houses the Baroda Museum with not only rare textiles and paintings but a large page from the Hamzanama, the painting on cloth of one of the adventures of Amir Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet.
Through these various reforms and innovations, the Maratha ruler in the Gujarat state with a Gujarati majority, kept everyone happy, safe and at peace. Sayajirao was such a powerful ruler that though he was courteous to the expanding British rule they were never too critical of him. To me, he resembles the sun in a galaxy of his own creation, attracting the best of all people from all over the country. The 20th century was a tumultuous period for India searching for her freedom and her identity and Sayajirao provided a strong foundation to her.
The beautiful Gayatri Devi was a direct relative of this family, her mother Indira Raje Gaekwad was married to the Maharaja of Cooch Behar in present West Bengal. Gayatri Devi was not only married to another visionary Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of the royal state of Jaipur, she was also a lady who knew more than 10 languages, could ride a horse, drive a car and was a good hunter. She started educational institutions for women to bring them out of the purdah or veil, your author has been lucky to study in a school and college started by the Rajmata Gayatri Devi. She is mostly renowned as one of Vogue’s 10 most beautiful women of all times, eclipsing her other achievements by this.
Next time you visit Baroda or Vadodara, do go definitely to our MSU and try to remember with humility and respect the infinite contribution of a man from non – royal lineage who made his state one of the most important states in the history of India. Next time, when your parents smile at the name of their beloved city and their eyes moisten in memory of their beloved university, feel honoured to be a part of the erstwhile Sayajirao family. The legacy lives on in each of you.