Maharani Gayatri Devi
May 23, 1919 to July 29, 2009
Ranked as the “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” in the 60’s, by Vogue Magazine. Late Rajmata Gayatri Devi was the Maharani of Jaipur from 1939 to 1970. She was the epitome of true royalty and effortless style.
Educated in Europe, the Maharani was a striking beauty in her youth and grew up to become quite a fashion icon.
Passionate about horse-riding, she was an able Polo player and a good shot, often indulging in hunting, a royal pastime, in her youth. Gayatri Devi also harboured a passion for automobiles and imported the first Mercedes-Benz W126, a 500 SEL to India.
She dedicated all life to philanthropic efforts, building schools for girls’ education and reviving and promoting the floundering art of blue pottery.
Maharani Gayatri Devi has been mentioned in The Guinness Book of Records for having the most expensive wedding in the 1940’s. She received a blue Bentley, a two-seater Packard and a mansion in Himalayas as wedding present. Her wedding trousseau boasts of sheets from Czechoslovakia, shoes from Florence, and nightgowns in mousseline de soie from Paris.
Indira Raje of Baroda
February 19, 1892 to September 6, 1968
The strong-willed princess’ personality shone through when she was a very young woman. She was engaged to the Scindia of Gwalior, but in defiance of her parents’ wishes and royal protocol, at 18 she eloped with her sweetheart, Prince Jitendra of Cooch Behar.
As fate would have it, her husband became the Maharaja of Cooch Behar a short while later, but passed away leaving his Maharani a young widow with five children. She accepted her circumstances with grace and served as regent till her eldest son, then a minor, came of age to ascend the throne.
Indira loved the high-flying life and often spent months on end moving in posh international circles and holidaying in Europe and she is even rumoured to have had an affair with Prince George, Duke of Kent.
Sita Devi of Baroda
May 12, 1917 to February 15, 1989
This daughter of the Zamindar of Pithapuram married the Zamindar of Vayyur and bore him three children. But in 1943, she met and was smitten by Maharaja Pratap Singh Gaekwar of Baroda. Using legal loopholes and unmindful of the scandal it caused in those days, Sita Devi left her first husband and married the Maharaja, embarking upon a jet-setting life that saw her spend millions on shopping abroad, mingling with royalty from across the world and setting up a second home in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
In the years that followed, the royal couple were plagued with further controversy when it emerged that the Maharaja had taken several large interest-free loans from the Baroda treasury and helped himself to many of its most priceless jewels, bringing them to Monte Carlo and having their custody transferred to the Maharani. As a result of these indiscretions, Sita Devi and Gaekwar were deposed by the Indian Government in 1951 and their divorce followed soon after, in 1956. Despite the circumstances, Sita Devi still insisted on being referred to with her royal title; even her Rolls-Royce sported the armorial insignia of Baroda.
She lived the rest of her days in luxury, hobnobbing with her European upper-crust clique, but the last four years were fraught with grief following the suicide of her only son with Gaekwar.
Sita Devi of Kapurthala
1915 to 2002
Born the daughter of a zamindar, she was married at the age of 13 to a younger son of the Sikh Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala. As a young woman, she quickly gained a reputation as one of the most beautiful Indian women of the day and like her namesake and contemporary Sita Devi of Baroda, she quickly became part of Europe’s elite fraternity.
The Rani was fluent in several European languages and had couturiers across the Continent falling all over her in fact, Italian couturier Elsa Schiaparelli was so taken with her that her 1935 collection was inspired by Sita Devi’s saris. What she wore one day was the hottest trend on the next. At the age of 19, Vogue Magazine called her a ‘secular goddess’ and Look counted her among the five best-dressed women on earth.
Sita Devi impressed one and all including her husband, who lavished his royal wife with resplendent jewelry by some of the biggest names like Cartier Van Cleef & Arpels. As befitted her status, she was always decked out in jaw-dropping jewels and was showered with attention and praise wherever she went.
Princess Niloufer Of Hyderabad
January 4, 1916 – June 12, 1989
Born in Istanbul, Princess Niloufer of Ottoman ancestry became an Indian royal by virtue of marriage – she wed Prince Moazzam Jah, the second son of the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1931 (they divorced in 1952).
A remarkably beautiful woman, Niloufer was the perfect princess in many ways, attending social dos and inaugurating events decked out in the latest fashions of the day. She was considered among the 10 most beautiful women in the world and movie offers came her way often.
There was, however, more to her than the popular social and public image. She was a champion of women’s rights and during World War II, she received training as a nurse and carried out relief duties. Niloufer also established a hospital for women and children in Hyderabad, after losing one of her maids in childbirth.
Despite her love of children, the princess was tragically unable to conceive and it is rumored that behind the glamorous facade was an empty, unhappy woman. Post her divorce she moved to Paris, where she died in 1989 and they named another hospital after her.