Listed as one of the most beautiful women in the world by Vogue, Maharani Gayatri Devi, the third Maharani of Jaipur from 1940-1949, has often been admired for her fashion, charm and elegance. But her attributes extended far beyond beauty. Not only was she one of the most outspoken, bold and compassionate queens of the country, she was also a social worker and a politician.
Maharani Gayatri Devi was born in London, UK on 23rd May 1919. She was the princess of Cooch Behar in West Bengal. Her father was the king of Cooch Behar of the Koch Rajbongshi dynasty while her mother was a Maratha princess of the Gaekwad dynasty. She studied at the Glendower Preparatory School in London and Vishvabharti University in West Bengal. She fell in love with Sawai Maan Singh II of Jaipur on a family visit and got married at the age of 19. While he already had 2 wives through an arranged marriage, they had a loving relationship till the end.
During freedom struggle, Gayatri Devi always supported the Congress Party and post-independence, she contested the Indian Parliamentary elections in 1962 and won the constituency in the Lok Sabha with record-breaking 192,909 votes as recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records. Her liberal outlook took her well beyond the traditionally limited activities of a queen and was the envy of even former US President John F. Kennedy who called her “the woman with the most staggering majority anyone has ever earned in an election”. She won thrice in the same seat.
Maharani Gayatri Devi also built the first all-girls college in Jaipur in 1943, known as the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls' School. Sprawled over 26 acres of land, the school today has over 3000 students from all parts of India, with a residential facility of up to 400 pupils. Besides that, she was one of the reformers who brought about a significant change to the orthodox 'pardah' system, ushering in a new way of life for several women. An avid supporter of culture and arts, she is known to have revived and promoted the then-dying art of blue pottery. The Maharani spent five months in Tihar jail in 1975 during the Emergency and retired from politics after her release.
More commonly known as Ayesha to her friends and family, Maharani Gayatri Devi was a force to be reckoned with that in every way embodied the fierce feminine. She was an avid equestrienne, polo player, hunter and a car enthusiast who owned multiple Rolls Royces and is known for importing the first Mercedes-Benz W126 to India. Though in her life she was often criticized and reduced to a pretty face and a 'diva' as any trailblazer is, the Maharani was and still is, a larger-than-life role model. Horse riding, love marriage, liberating women, calling out leaders in a patriarchal, post-colonial India, all while being a fashion icon? She's so mother for this.
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