Gayatri Devi (born as Princess Gayatri Devi of Cooch Behar; was the third Maharani consort of Jaipur from 1940 to 1949 through her marriage to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II.Following her husband’s signature for the Jaipur State to become part of the Union of India and her step-son’s accession to the throne in 1970, she was later known as ‘Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur.Ethnically born in a Koch Rajbongshi Hindu family, her father, Prince Jitendra Narayan of Cooch Behar, West Bengal, was the younger brother of the Yuvraja (Crown Prince) and her mother was Maratha Princess Indira Raje of Baroda, the only daughter of Maratha King, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III.
Following India’s independence and the subsequent abolition of the princely states, she became an extremely successful politician. Gayatri Devi was also celebrated for her classical beauty and became something of a fashion icon in her adulthood.She died on 29 July 2009 in Jaipur, at the age of 90. She was suffering from paralytic ileus and lung infection.Ethnically born in a Koch Rajbongshi Hindu family, her father, Prince Jitendra Narayan of Cooch Behar, West Bengal, was the younger brother of the Yuvraja (Crown Prince). Her mother was Maratha Princess Indira Raje of Baroda, the only daughter of Maratha King, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, an extremely beautiful princess and a legendary socialite. Early in her life, her uncle’s death led to her father ascending the throne (gaddi). Gayatri Devi studied at Glendower Preparatory School in London,Patha Bhavana of Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan, and later in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she travelled with her mother and siblings, then studied secretarial skills in London School of Secretaries; Brillantmont and Monkey Club London.She first met Jai (H.H. Saramad-i-Raja-i-Hindustan Raj Rajendra Sri Maharajadhiraja Sir Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur), when she was 12 and he had come to Calcutta to play polo and stayed with their family. She married Sawai Man Singh II Bahadur on 9 May 1940.
Maharani Gayatri Devi was a particularly avid equestrienne. Gayatri Devi was an excellent rider and an able Polo player. She was a good shot and enjoyed many days out on ‘Shikars’. Her Highness was fond of cars and is credited with importing the first W126, a 500 SEL to India which was later shipped to Malaysia. She also owned several Rolls Royces and an aircraft. Gayatri Devi had one child, Prince Jagat Singh of Jaipur, late Raja of Isarda, born on 15 October 1949, who was granted his uncle’s fief as a subsidiary title. Jagat Singh was the half-brother to Bhawani Singh, who was eldest son of his father born by his father’s first wife.Gayatri Devi was once included in Vogue magazine’s Ten Most Beautiful Women list.Gayatri Devi started schools for girls’ education in Jaipur, most prominent of which is the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School established in 1943. She also revived and promoted the dying art of blue pottery.After Partition and Independence Day in India in 1947, Gayatri Devi ran for Parliament in 1962 and won the constituency in the Lok Sabha in the world’s largest landslide, winning 192,909 votes out of 246,516 cast,confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records. She continued to hold this seat on 1967 and 1971, Swatantra Party founded by C. Rajagopalachari, running against the Indian National Congress party. In 1965 during a meeting with Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gayatri Devi was again asked to join Congress. This was the time when, despite the fact that her husband was being made ambassador to Spain, she struck to her principles and decided not to join the party. In 1967 the Swatantra party joined hands with Jan Sangh that was led by Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. The alliance won a large number of seats in the 1967 election. In the assembly election Gayatri Devi lost to Damodar Lal Vyas, in Malpura constituency, but won the Lok Sabha election. When the privy purses were abolished in 1971, terminating all royal privileges and titles. Gayatri Devi was arrested during the Emergency due to political vendetta on false accusation of violating tax laws, and served 5 months in Tihar Jail.She retired from politics and published her autobiography, A Princess Remembers, written with Santha Rama Rau, in 1976. She was also the focus of the film Memoirs of a Hindu Princess, directed by Francois Levie.
There were rumors that she might re-enter politics as late as 1999, when the Cooch Behar Trinamool Congress nominated her as their candidate for the Lok Sabha elections, but she did not respond to the offer.
She had one son, Prince Jagat Singh, late Raja of Isarda (15 October 1949 – 5 February 1997), who was granted his paternal uncle’s (father’s elder brother) fief of Isarda as a subsidiary title. Jagat Singh was married 10 May 1978 to Mom Rajawongse Priyanandana Rangsit (b. 1952) who is the daughter of Prince Piyarangsit Rangsit and Princess Vibhavadi Rangsit (née Rajani) of Thailand. The marriage produced two grandchildren:Rajkumari Lalitya Kumari (b. 1979) Maharaj Devraj Singh, now Raja of Isarda (b. 1981) Today, they are her only surviving descendants, and as such, have claimed to be heirs of their paternal grandmother. Maharaj Jagat Singh was thus half-brother to Bhawani Singh of Jaipur, the eldest son of the late Maharaja by his first wife, a Jodhpur princess.
Maharani Gayatri Devi was related to several other erstwhile royal families in India. She was herself not from the Rajput community, but from a dynasty native to Koch Bihar in Bengal and was daughter of Maharaja Jitendra Narayan and Maharani Indira Raje, who was daughter of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III and Maharani Chimnabai belonging to the Gaekwad dynasty of the Marathas. Her grand-nephew, along with his wife (Poonam Singh Mewar) and 2 sons deceased in a car crash 17 years ago.
Her grandfather-grandmother were the Maharaja Nripendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur and Maharani Suniti Devi of Cooch Behar. Maharani Suniti Devi was the daughter of illustrious Brahmo social reformer Keshab Chandra Sen.She had two brothers, Jagaddipendra Narayan and Indrajitendra Narayan of whom Jagaddipendra Narayan became Maharaja of Koch Behar in his infancy after death of their father in 1922.Thus she was closely connected maternally with Gaekwads of Baroda State. Further, her sister Ila Devi was married into the Tripura royal family, and her younger sister Menaka Devi was married in Dewas Jr. State. Thus through various inter connections, she was related to the royal houses of Kota, Sawantwadi, Akkalkot State, Jath State, Dewas Jr., Jasdan State, and Sandur, Tehri-Garhwal, Dhar State, Kolhapur, Lunawada State, Baria and also Raja of Burudwan and Raja of Payagpur, which was normal amongst the royalties of India.The Maharani developed gastric problems in London and was admitted to a hospital there. She was being treated for gastric disorder at the King Edward’s Hospital in London and had expressed her desire to return to Jaipur. Gayatri Devi was flown in an air ambulance to Jaipur. She was admitted at Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital (SDMH) on 17 July 2009. She died on 29 July 2009, reportedly due to lung failure.Maharani Gayatri Devi died on 29 July 2009 at the age of 90.