Gayatri Devi: Rajmata of Jaipur

Gayatri Devi, the Queen

As I was transported to the Jaipur of the 80s and 90s, my most memorable years in the city, I recalled how life had been one big celebration with never a dull moment with the larger-than-life Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur, always at the heart of it.

My first interaction with the Royal House of Cooch-Behar happened in the late 60s when I met Maharaja Jagaddipendra Narayan at Babina, a quaint army cantonment near Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. The extremely charming Maharaja was an honorary officer of the 7th Light Cavalry, one of the oldest regiments of the Indian Army. He had come to attend the Zojila Day celebrations commemorating the incredible feat of the regiment’s tanks going into battle at the dizzying heights of 11,578 ft of the Zojila Pass during the Indo Pak war of 1948. They were hailed as the ‘Saviours of Srinagar’. 

Pic 1: Maharaja and Maharani of Jaipur at the Polo Ground Pic 2: Rajmata of Jaipur and Brig KK Deva at the Bicentennial of 7th Light Cavalry Pic 3: Hon Lt. Col. Sir Jagaddipendra Narayan, 7th Light Cavalry, Maharaja of Cooch Behar Pic 4: Brothers in arms, Maharaja of Jaipur and Maharaja of Cooch Behar

After the celebrations, the Maharaja had lunch with us and recounted amazing stories from his days in Cooch-Behar. I listened attentively, hoping to tell them someday to my grandchildren, little imagining that a decade later I would get several opportunities to meet his sister Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur and add many more colourful chapters to the tales that he told us.

The first time I met the Rajmata, is still vividly etched in my memory. She walked into the room, a veritable cloud of vibrant sea-green, in her trademark French chiffon sari and striking jewellery, exuding an ethereal radiance that can barely be described. It was a small dinner party at an army officer’s home. My husband Keshav was not in town, and the host introduced me as the wife of a Brigadier of the 7th Light Cavalry. She was so happy to learn about my husband’s regiment that she spent a large part of the evening asking me about it, my life as an army wife, and my work in tourism. Suffice to say, I was overwhelmed by her warmth and completely mesmerised by her charm. 

The regiment held a special place in the Rajmata’s heart, so in 1984 when the 7th Light Cavalry was celebrating its Bicentennial at Babina, she graced the occasion, thus making the event all the more memorable for all those present. A photograph of the Rajmata in a pink chiffon, with my husband Keshav in his ceremonial Blue Patrols, taken on the occasion, has pride of place in our home. 

Gayatri Devi: Rajmata of Jaipur

In the early 90s when the regiment was stationed in Jaisalmer, the Rajmata decided to attend Zojila Day. It was a great joy for my husband that she asked him to accompany her to the celebrations. During the trip, she mentioned to him that I had never invited her home. Now, I hadn’t been remiss, just worried about inviting her home! But since she had now practically invited herself in such a beautiful expression of her affection for us, it gave me the courage to arrange a dinner party for the Rajmata. 

As we only served vegetarian food at home, the menu for her dinner became a bit of an issue. My husband insisted we include some non-vegetarian dishes, but I did not budge. Instead, I told him to open the bottle of King’s Ransom whisky that he had been saving for our daughter’s wedding – after all, who knew the groom may turn out to be a teetotaller (he didn’t, but I’m sure he agrees that the precious whiskey was put to good use)! 

We invited a few common friends and my son, daughter in law and our Swiss friend Andy Zgraggen drove down from Delhi. It was a very pleasant and informal evening with a lot of laughter. When Rajmata took out a cigarette from her bag, Andy took his lighter out to light it for her but told her I did not allow him to light a cigarette in the room so they should sit out on the terrace. I will never forget the expression on Andy’s face as he followed the Rajmata out on the terrace to enjoy a smoke! She so enjoyed the simple meal that our daughter had cooked that a few months later at her birthday party at the Rambagh Palace, the Rajmata generously told one of the guests there that I served very nice vegetarian meals at home.

While the Army, and parties were a big part of her life, few would know that she was not averse to walking through the small, crowded streets of the ‘purana shehr’ or the old city, of her beloved Jaipur. I saw this side of her thanks to her chronic frozen shoulder and Vaid ji (a very renowned Ayurveda practitioner). Rajmata had suffered in pain for many years and heard me praising Vaid ji so often that she asked me to bring him to Lily Pool, her residence so he could help cure her. I had to tell her it was not possible for Vaid ji to come to her because he ran a charitable clinic where he saw more than a hundred patients daily, some of whom waited days to be seen by him. The Rajmata then asked if I could instead take her to meet him at his clinic. 

I did manage to fix an appointment with him, but was a nervous wreck. I worried about taking her through the narrow lanes of the old city, with heaps of garbage lying all over and stray cows occupying most of the space, but she didn’t seem to be concerned by it at all. While Vaid ji worked on Rajmata’s shoulder, she sat through the painful manipulation stoically. Two sessions with him, and she playfully announced that she was good enough to try a game of tennis right away!

While people have seen and heard a lot about her beauty, glamorous life, and the parties she threw, I was privileged to see a very different side to her personality. Her love for the Army brought us in contact with each other, but it was her interest in lives outside the palace that built a relationship that lasted many years. For some reason, she took to me and was so kind and welcoming that over the years many friends and family asked me to help meet her. I was very careful not to burden her with too many requests, and she was gracious enough never to turn down any of my requests. As we all knew well, Rajamata Gayatri Devi was a true queen of hearts.

Gayatri Devi: Rajmata of Jaipur and Tara Deva at Rambagh Palace
Tara Deva
Tara Deva

Life changed for Tara Deva the moment she fell in love with a tall, dark and handsome army officer. Along with the immense happiness, there were also the broken family ties and the unending non-family stations. However, she didn’t fall apart and went on to complete her education. A quirk of fate gave her the opportunity to promote tourism in her home state, Rajasthan as the Manager for Sita World Travel and Travel Corporation of India for over two decades; travel the ends of the earth; meet the best and the worst of humanity; and evolve and celebrate womanhood in its most beautiful hues. As she celebrates her 77th year in the salubrious climes of the blue mountains, the Nilgiris, she is counting her blessings for a wonderful life.


Picture Credit : Tara Deva

22 thoughts on “Gayatri Devi: Rajmata of Jaipur”

  1. So beautifully penned by Mrs Tara Deva. I was lucky to have served in the same station as 7 Cav in Babina and can relate to the Traditions of the Regiment and those imbibed by its Officers and the Ladies. Loved the no smoking and vegetarian bit too.

  2. Those were the days! The true royalty was clearly very gracious and there is so much we all (specially our current leaders) can learn from them! And does the vaid ji’s clinic still exist – did he pass on his expertise?

  3. Beautiful story of such a beautiful relationship… Both strong ladies ,you either have it or you don’t. Wishing Tara a very Happy Birthday.

  4. What a beautiful walk with you Mrs Deva and of course nostalgia being from the same regiment.l remember both occasions when We had the honour of Maharani Gayatri Devi visiting the regiment. We were so awestruck with her beauty and elegance and she literally swept us all with her gorgeous charm.
    We were in Jaisalmer And there was lunch for the ladies at the Commanding officer residence.Jaisalmer did not have a proper accomodation And We didn’t have running water in our homes.. She had no airs and was just so comfortable that it was hard to imagine one of the most beautiful women on Earth could be like this.
    Thank you for bringing back such lovely memories

  5. So beautiful to get to know the other side of one of the most graceful royal ladies of India…. Enjoyed the piece immensely…

  6. So beautifully penned, felt like reading more .Beautiful story shared so well. Absolutely loved reading it.

  7. What a delightful tale of yore and an intriguing peek into the enigmatic life of the erstwhile Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur.
    My compliments for a beautiful write-up.

    1. Beautiful story and the way it has been penned , make it more interesting..
      This may be one of the few moments of Maharani Gayatri devi life but clearly shows what an amazing personality she was, and we can learn so much from her life…

  8. An absolute embodiment of grace and poise. A wonderful story that makes you feel a part of the time gone past. A royalty so down to earth and accommodating. Thank you for sharing such a beautifully penned memory. Loved it.

  9. So very well narrated by Tara.She reminds us about Rajmata’s relationship with the Regiment including her two memorable visits to Babina and Jaisalmer.She continued being associated with Gayatri Devi at Jaipur to learn the personal side of this very charming royalty.A great tribute to the Queen of Heart of Jaipur by yet another Queen of Heart of the Regiment.I had the privilege of being the Adjutant for a short while to her husband Brig Keshav Deva,excellent bonding thereafter whilst in Service.Royalty and the old Cavalry never fade away…they gallop to the setting sun

  10. Loved reading this article, a wonderful walk down memory lane penned down beautifully by Mrs. Tara Deva. Maharani Gayatri Devi had us all spell bound by her beauty, grace and tales. Thank you for showing us this simple down to earth side of hers Mrs Deva. I really admire you sticking to your house rules. A lovely read.

  11. Mesmerising and very well narrated ma’am, tells much about the association and simplicity of Rajmata with the regiment & Army. The part narrating about Veg food & elegance of the lady is awesome. Kudos to you and the best regiment of Indian Army.

  12. Very nicely penned story. Maharani Gayatri Devi is such an epitome of grace and elegance. Meeting her in person would have been a beautiful experience, treasured moments, memories that last a lifetime..

  13. What a sweet story and the sweet nostaligia!! Mrs. Deva herself is the epitome of grace and beauty. I remember her on Holi in a pristine white sari and me a little girl sprinkling her with color. What followed is worthy of another article but enough to say that Holi stayed etched in my mind.

  14. Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories with a wonderful person. You have a treasure of experiences, Mrs Deva and really hope we get to read more of them in the future. Your write up literally took us back in time and now even I feel that I have met the Rajmata.

  15. I was commanding 7 Cav when Rajmata visited us , accompanied by Brig Deva, in Jaisalmer. In fact he was instrumental in bringing her to the regt. Her grace and down to earth approach towards the regimental officers and ladies was heart warming. Kiran, my wife organised ladies lunch in our 2 rooms ONGC appt !

  16. Very proud of you dadi. Loved reading the article. It was very interesting to learn about your relationship with Rajmata and the way you have shown the real Rajmata beyond the glitz and glamour. Wish I was there to attend the dinner party. I can visualise Andy uncles mischievous smile as he walked out on your terrace for a smoke with Rajmata. I wish Rajmata Gayatri Devi was still here. I would have loved to meet her with you. It also brought back such fond memories of dada.

  17. 7th Light Cavalry is one of our finest and among our oldest Regiments. My Cavalry Regiment was in Babina too and neighbours to the We Lead Seventh.
    Earlier I was a young staff officer in Jammu where 7th was one of our Armoured Brigade units; a distinguished one one may add.
    One of the Commanding Officers was then Lt Col KK Deva…a fine CO. One saw him and his gracious lady at social get togethers making a fine pair though I claim no acquaintance with either beyond formal social or professional courtesies.
    I did see the Maharani once though…her beauty…elegance…regal bearing…femininity…the mist of Chanel surrounding her and her pearls and chiffons is a special ode to grace and stunning soorat…seerat that I rarely share…
    Have read the books on her as they are odes too…about a lady who was our past and in her remarkable school has created one of the finest girls schools in India…MGD Jaipur…
    That school is the Maharani’s bow to strong women needed to guide strong India of the future.

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