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Princess Remembered at Rambagh Palace

Ipsita Ganguli

Dear Maharani Gayatridevi,

I visited your home the other day.
Stayed over.
A guest in what once used to be your home.
Beautifully done over. Graciously maintained.
An excellent example of heritage being restored, reused, democratized, so that the world can check in, into your doorstep, to get a slice of royal living till they check out.
Holidayers, honeymooners, and top honchos.

And yet, it once was just your home!

Photo Credits: Delhi Tourism;                                                                          Photo Credits: Trip Advisor

The foresty palace spread over 47 acres with an abundance of peacocks!
Where you came in as a blushing bride to The Maharaja of Jaipur Sawai Man Singh II,
The last Maharajah of pre-independent India.
A blushing bride deeply in love with her handsome husband.

Your beauty is legendary.
And what is also iconic is your work as the Maharani.
This was pre-independent India.
And being a Maharaja and Maharani was no easy business.
The kings then were not just titular but were the heads of executive, legislature, and judiciary as well as the head of defense forces for their states.
Running a state as prominent as Jaipur, constantly balancing the heart of the house and being the public figure that you required to be as your husband's wife!

Photo Credits: Pinterest;                                       Photo Credits: UnBumf

The third wife and the love of his life.
The picture of balance between tradition and modernity.
The Diva in chiffon and diamonds and pearls.
The Princess from Cooch Behar, Bengal.
Who gave her heart to Jaipur!

How did you feel when the state acceded to the Indian Union?
Proud? Happy to be part of this new noble nation?
Contemplative of the future?
How did you feel when the Privy Purse was abolished?
Home is never just brick and mortar!
It is home because of the people around you!
The legacy of Sawai Ram Singh II and Sawai Madho Singh II inherited by Sawai Man Singh II, Your husband and beloved Jai!

Photo Credits: Daily Mail;                                                           Photo Credits: Outlook India

And yet when state ceased to be on its own, but just another part of the glory of Rajasthan, your husband like many other Maharajahs converted your palace into a hotel in the year 1957.
The doors of a Palace are traditionally always open to its people.
And this therefore was also an almost organic development in Independent India where so many large establishments were suddenly rendered not quite so necessary anymore.

But you always knew how to move forward Maharani!
Never stuck in a time warp.
And that is the true essence of being Royal, being noble!
You moved on, true to who you were... balancing tradition with the contemporary.
Espousing forward thinking and beautiful causes, founding schools championing women's education, reviving blue pottery of Jaipur.
Fighting elections
Speaking your mind
And above it all remaining a revered and loved public figure.

Always Royalty
That no mere brick and mortar or title can shorn you off!

Photo Credits: Traveller Made;                                                                   Photo Credits: Agoda

And so here we were checking into your erstwhile home, The Rambagh Palace, amidst a shower of Rose Petals on a gray rainy day, welcomed in with a gold-rimmed Red Chhatri (umbrella) and a wonderful Red-hued litchi strawberry refresher and lovingly escorted to our palatial rooms.

The four-poster bed, the spacious seating and dining areas, the rose petals in the bathtub, the drapes with the royal crest and beautiful private balcony with the sit out arrangements were warm and befitting a royal welcome.
As we roamed around the beautiful hotel from the Polo Bar, to the Oriental Room, the library draped with oriental tapestry and furniture, to Suvarna Mahal, the dining room and to Steam, the lovely locomotive restaurant, famous for thin crust pizzas, to the gorgeous indoor swimming pool where you once swam... slices and bits of your life.. That used to be... now the epitome of luxury.

Photo Credits: Indian Hideaways;                                                              Photo Credits: Taj Hotels

Evening came with mellifluous sounds of the flute against the Gray clouds and the backdrop of the beautiful indoor gardens.
The palace lit up.

I soaked for a bit and floated with rose petals in the warm bath and then sat outside in the Verandah restaurant enjoying the lit up palace hues and the santoor tunes over dinner.

Morning rushed in with the sounds of the peacocks in full regalia. This had been a hunting lodge originally built in 1835. Through the many changes that Rambagh has seen it still retains a forest feel and the bounty of peacocks.
The morning is theirs.
And they are everywhere.
Jumping from garden to verandah to rooftop.
Calling out to each other...

Their calls through the times.
Your times beloved Maharani, the last of those times...
As the grand portrait of your father-in-law Sawai Madho Singh II looks at me with unforgettable eyes from the walls of the bedroom...
Reminding me of a bygone era...
Making me remember my own grandfather.

I suddenly see in my mind's eye a young boy, all of four years old, shaking hands with the Viceroy (I loved that photograph lost to times), I see a young boy lounging on his brass bed looking at the map of Undivided India as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's voice cracked over the Radio. I sense his simultaneous sadness at losing out his state and his pride of being part of building up the new nation of India. And I feel his unrest as his beloved state of Nadia, disputed between India and Bangladesh. Only a sliver of Nadia remains in India. He too was the last of the lot, the last Maharajkumar.
But that morning broke in a soft mellow hue.
You had moved on Maharaani
From Rambagh to Moti Doongri to Lilypool.
Homes change.
Memories Remain.
And so does a certain spirit.

The spirit of what is truly beautiful!
And noble!
The look in the eyes of that portrait of SawaI Madho Singh II from the bedroom wall, that looked back at me with eyes that spoke volumes.
The voluminous elegance of Rambagh Palace served out to one and all through the richness of the Tajness experience.

So you remain Princess,
There in your Palace and everywhere else Within the cacophony of peacocks Within the hues of elegance Within the truth of being noble Beyond titles
The Last Maharani!

An admirer.

Photo Credits: Banner Left – Booking.com; Banner Center – Wetu; Banner Right – Booking.com