The word sends a shiver and thrill down every MGDian! For us, there is only one person who has earned this reaction. She is Rajmata Gayatri Deviji Sahiba, Queen Mother of the erstwhile royal state of Jaipur, the present capital of Rajasthan. Though she left us in 2009 she will continue to live in every breath we take, for generations …
This five post series is a tribute to the Rajmata, written to share with the world her immense grit, determination, strength of purpose and unconditional love for us ❤️ what she still represents for little girls from Rajasthan, a western desert of India, recognised for its valour, colour and cultural heritage. It is also a state that even today, nearly 75 years after India’s independence, has one of the highest crime rates against women, an alarming number of child marriages and dowry deaths and continues to practice the heinous crime of female foeticide (the killing of the girl child in the womb or immediately at birth, before they even take their first breath).
This post does not celebrate Rajmata’s magnetic beauty, recently more popularised on social media. It is sad when a woman, who was such a formidable force to reckon with, is reduced to an object of beauty and desire in the myopic world of fast fashion, invisible patriarchy and fragile memory! A lot of people have also monetised on sometimes made-up stories of the parties and lifestyle of the Jaipur royals.
So here is a small attempt to deconstruct that image, demystify the mystery and reveal the real Rajmata… This series narrates the story of Rajmata – our Rajmata – and the incredible challenge she took upon herself for female education and the school established for it – the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School – MGD. As our school song starts, “Come let’s sing of MGD…” ❤️❤️❤️
Part 1: From Ayesha to Gayatri and how
Rajmata Gayatri Devi was born on 23rd May 1919 as Ayesha to the highly respected dashing Bengali King Jeetendra Narayan of Cooch Behar whom her mother, the Maratha Princess Indira Devi of Baroda, had secretly fallen in love with and run away to get married more than a 100 years back!!!!!!!! 😳
Apparently Indira Devi had come to know of her marriage plans to the Gwalior King and she did not want to be his latest young wife, so she ran away! She definitely had a mind of her own due to her upbringing in the modern family of Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad and Maharani Chimnabai – renowned as champions of education and human rights. They were the first royal Indian state to ensure compulsory free education for their citizens and for laying the foundation of India’s first University for rural students, later known as the MSU or the Maharaja Sayaji Rao University, at Baroda/Vadodara, Gujarat. Maharani Chimnabai was at the forefront of education and upliftment of women and children. It took several years for the Gaekwad rulers to warm up to this marriage but they doted on their five grandchildren. You should read on Ayesha’s childhood and about her mother Indira Devi in her memoirs ‘A Princess Remembers’ ❤️
Rajmata lost her father as a child and knew of instability and being in the public censure from a tender age. Her mother was more than accomplished in running Cooch Behar so having a woman at the helm of affairs running a Kingdom wasn’t strange for little Ayesha. Though heartbroken at her beloved husband’s death, Indira Devi did not cave in to living like a widow. She soon became known for her lavish parties and feasts, luminaries from all over the world, especially the royal states of the Indian subcontinent were special invitees. Indira Devi wanted her three daughters and two sons to be adept at everything, from studies, politics to sports and ensured they were tutored well. They also travelled a lot.
In her childhood, Ayesha had studied for a few years at Patha Bhavan at Santiniketan, during Rabindranath Tagore’s lifetime. There girls were taught literature, science, maths, drama, music, dance, finer arts and martial arts!
The royal marriage of Jaipur
Ayesha married Maharaja Man Singh II of the Jaipur royal state as his third wife out of choice in 1940. She had madly fallen in love with him as a child when she had glimpsed him at one of her mother’s parties! A handsome modern young King, an accomplished Polo player, a charismatic personality, Man Singhji was one of the most popular Indian rulers, in his state, with other Indian rulers and with the British rulers. He already had three sons and a daughter from his first two wives. (His second wife, Kishore Kumariji, was renowned for her stunning beauty, some have even said she was more exquisite than Gayatri Devi.)
Ayesha was sceptical how she would live amidst the orthodoxy of Jaipur and remain in ‘purdah’! But on their marriage, Man Singhji told his young bride, now Gayatri Devi, that since she was a modern young woman of the world, having studied at Santiniketan, England and Switzerland, with an unorthodox upbringing, he would stand by her in every decision of hers to transform Jaipur into a modern state. Having travelled the world, he was especially keen on helping women find their own identity and space. He disliked ‘purdah’ and any other tradition which he felt was regressive to women as they were harmful to the development of society. How could his Jaipur mark a spot in the wide world if his women were silent and unseen? Ayesha came to Jaipur and as Gayatri Devi, changed everything, gradually, with her darling devoted husband by her side.
Their proof of Love is all over Jaipur!
Their love story is crazy and dreamy but for us from Jaipur it is physically evident in the schools, colleges, parks, museums, and other public institutions they built for each other. Even after more than 75 years, Jaipur still boasts of the Sawai Man Singh (SMS) medical college and hospital as one of the best in the country!!!!!! Its doctors compete with the best in the world! There are also MGD and SMS schools, the Maharani’s and Maharaja’s colleges and so on ❤️
To be continued… Part 2: The Gayatri Devi ‘Aandhi’
Photograph of: Chimnabai II, Maharani of Baroda; Sir Sayaji Rao III, Maharaja of Baroda, by Benjamin Stone Platinum print, 5 July 1905. Source – National Portrait Gallery, London
This series is dedicated to our beloved MGD – all students, teachers and staff – especially the batch of 1992 and our departed friends Swati Pareek and Aparajita Chauhan 🙏🏾
Thank you Dharmendra Kanwar Jija for your help and Sadhna Bohra Jija for encouraging me ❤️
Forever in deep gratitude to the family of Aarti Gupta Jija for starting the scholarship in her memory of which I was one of the first recipients, I would not have been able to complete my education at MGD without it. RIP Jija 🙏🏾