Our Muse... Gayatri Devi

Our latest collection ‘Maharani’ is inspired by our travels to India and more specifically the extraordinary life of Gayatri Devi, the third Maharani consort of Jaipur. A Maharani is a princess in India and a wife of a Maharaja (an Indian Prince). We have always been captivated by the highly ornate and regal interiors of India’s palaces. During one of our recent adventures in Jaipur, we stumbled across Gayatri Devi’s autobiography ‘A Princess Remembers’… Such an interesting read – we couldn’t put it down! The late princess was a remarkable woman – known as India’s most stylish, independent and modern of Maharanis. An educationist, a philanthropist, a politician and a sportswoman – Gayatri continues to be a role model to many Indian women (and is also the perfect muse for our collection!). We are so inspired by her determination to challenge traditional gender roles in India and all her achievements…

The daughter of Maharaja Jitendra Narayan of Cooch Behar and Princess Indira Raje of Baroda, Gayatri was born on May 23 rd 1919 in London. Gayatri’s name was somewhat influenced by Hindu astrologers who determined the Maharani’s auspicious letter to be ‘G’. To her friends and family though, Gayatri was known as ‘Ayesha’. Gayatri’s mother, Indira Devi, was reading a Rider Haggard’s novel and decided she would name her child Ayesha, after the heroine in the book.

Gayatri was raised in an opulent palace and came from a family where women were fiercely independent and refused to accept the age-old traditions that were forced upon them. Gayatri often looked up to her mother and her maternal grandmother, the Maharani of Baroda. Both these women believed Gayatri should be raised with strong ideas of her own. The princess spent her carefree childhood with her two brothers and sisters. When she wasn’t travelling the world with her family, Gayatri was an exceptional equestrienne and polo player. She believed she could do everything her brothers could. Not your stereotypical princess – she was a spirited tomboy at heart.

At the young age of twelve, Gayatri’s life changed forever. She met renowned polo player, Jai, the Maharaja of Jaipur (who was twenty-one years old at the time) at the Monkey Club finishing school in Knightsbridge, London. The two fell in love and unofficially became engaged, despite their romance arousing some opposition. Gayatri’s family was worried that she was condemning herself to a life of ‘purdah’ – being tied down to traditional customs of a married woman that would destroy her lively personality. Contrary to these beliefs, Gayatri married Jai – the exceedingly rich and handsome sportsman. At a very young age she began life at the City Palace, Rambagh Palace, of the ‘pink city' of Jaipur, where she had to adjust to unfamiliar customs and to life with Jai’s two other wives. Gayatri accepted her role as Jai’s favourite but youngest wife with good grace. She eventually adjusted to the formality and restrictions of life.

...Rambagh Palace, Jaipur...

There was something always very special about Gayatri. Everyone was amazed by her charisma and timeless beauty. Despite Gayatri’s tomboy past, she was listed by Vogue as one of the most beautiful women in the world. Her beauty was compared to the sensuality of Hollywood actresses. There was something very ageless and eternal about her and she was a celebrated muse for several prominent painters and photographers of the time, including the infamous Cecil Beaton. She had an incredible fashion sense that was admired by many. On an occasion in London, she got out of her car at Covent Gardens, wearing a pale blue sari with a full length blue Madame Grès cashmere cape. The wind blew back her hair and a spectator was so overwhelmed by Gayatri’s beauty that she gifted her a bouquet of violets. Always humble, Gayatri was so appreciative of this that she placed the violets in a small vase by her bed.

Not only beautiful, Gayatri was also very intelligent and determined to live beyond the traditional limited activities of a Maharani. A very highly educated woman, she founded several progressive schools and had much unprecedented success in the political arena. Her biggest triumph was winning a seat in Indian Parliament. After Partition and Independence Day in India in 1947, Gayatri Devi ran for Parliament in the 1960s and won the constituency in the Lok Sabha, in the world’s largest landslide. President John F. Kennedy introduced Gayatri at a banquet at the White House as “the woman with the most staggering majority that anyone has ever earned in an election”. Gayatri’s life became synonymous with the welfare of the state of Jaipur. She went on to serve quite a few terms and during this time, made some significant changes, particularly in regard to equality and the welfare of women. During her political career, in 1970 Gayatri was devastated when her husband passed away. He unexpectedly collapsed while umpiring a polo match in Cirencester. Despite this, Gayatri pursued her political career until she was imprisoned due to false accusation of violating tax laws and served five months in jail. Still mourning the loss of her husband, Gayatri eventually retired from politics and published her autobiography.

...Extraordinary Gayatri Devi...

Gayatri’s widowhood was not spent in seclusion. Gayatri always had a fondness for travel. She spent her summers in a small flat in Knightsbridge and her winters in Jaipur. When she was in London, she would mingle with aristocracy, and while she was back home in India’s ‘pink city’, she would host extravagant parties on the lawn for the likes of Mick Jagger and Michael Caine.

Eventually, Gayatri Devi’s only son Prince Jagat Singh, also known as Maharaja Jagat Singh of Jaipur, predeceased her. In old age, Gayatri Devi became very sick and was admitted to hospital in London. While she was being treated for a severe gastric disorder, Gayatri expressed her desire to return to Jaipur. She was flown by air ambulance back to India. In her home country, she passed away in July 2009 at the age of 90, reportedly due to lung failure.

A woman of immense strength and versatility, Gayatri faced many tragedies and triumphs… Martin Bauxbaum’s quote is often associated with the Maharani’s life story: “some people no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty – they merely move it from their faces, into their hearts…”.

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