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Queen without last shade Royal feud first, cenotaph can wait

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  • Published 30.06.10
The Maharani Ki Chhatri, a royal crematorium built for one of the queens of the Jaipur royal family on Amer Road. Picture by Surendra Jain Paras

Jaipur, June 29: Wanted, a roof for the last maharani.

Her London friends didn’t forget to remember Gayatri Devi but her own family appears to have forgotten to build the traditional chhatri where she was cremated, almost a year after she passed away on July 29 last year.

The Jaipur royal family is more preoccupied with feuding over her legacy, said to be worth around $470 million.

Chhatris, basically memorials for kings, queens and other Jaipur royals, are carved cenotaphs with a canopy at the top. Built either of marble, sandstone or other local stones, these monuments are fine examples of the blend of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture and are said to reflect the character of the person in whose memory they are built.

But so engrossed is the royal family in the legal wrangle over her property that sources say there is no plan as of now to build the chhatri of the late queen, once described by Vogue magazine as one of the world’s most beautiful women.

Her London friends, however, didn’t forget to pay an affectionate tribute to the Rajmata of Jaipur, the third wife of Sawai Man Singh II who died shortly after collapsing during a polo match in England in 1970.

A moving service of thanksgiving, held at the picturesque Church of St Michael and All Angels in Berkshire on Sunday, was followed by a game of polo, a sport she was passionate about.

Royal observers say it is the duty of the sons to build the cenotaphs. Since Gayatri Devi’s own son Jagat Singh passed away in 1997, the onus now is on her grandson Devraj.

But the sources argue why the onus should just be on Devraj when Gayatri Devi’s stepsons are there, especially Prithiviraj Singh.

Prithviraj Singh, who was very close to her and also handled all her financial matters, could not be contacted.

The royal family is now polarised between Gayatri Devi’s stepsons Jai Singh and Prithiviraj and her grandchildren Devraj and Lalitya Kumari. Her eldest stepson Bhawani Singh is said to be siding with her grandchildren.

Sources say the problem is who will take the lead in the matter, though any of the trusts run by the royal family can easily finance the cenotaph.

Building a cenotaph, they say, would cost about Rs 15-20 lakh, a pittance for one of India’s wealthiest royal families. Moreover, they point out, a cenotaph to Gayatri Devi has the potential to become a major tourist site.

Sawai Man Singh’s first two wives, Maharani Marudhar Kanwar and Maharani Kishore Kanwar, both have tombs at the royal crematorium on Amer Road.

Jagat’s cenotaph was built by Gayatri Devi at Gaitore, a special place for the maharajas of Jaipur with its own charm that attracts tourists from India as well as abroad.

The tradition is to light a diya (lamp) every day at these cenotaphs, which is often done by ordinary citizens if the person appointed by the royal family is not able to.

Looking back at Gayatri Devi’s funeral, it doesn’t seem such a surprise after all that the cenotaph has not yet been built.

At the cremation, there were no raised platforms. Nor was any sandalwood used for the funeral of the last of India’s most famous queens.

Today, the site where she was cremated is a barren spot, a far cry from the spirited life she lived.

The site also has unfinished tombs of many other maharanis of the Jaipur royal family. One story about these cenotaphs is that if the queen died before the king, her tomb would have a roof. But if she died after the king, it would remain unfinished.

Gayatri Devi’s cenotaph looks headed that way, though ordinary citizens say “let it just begin”.