The Maharani of Jaipur, India

Gayatri Devi, a fairy-tale life


I discovered her before I felt asleep.

In her palace, the Rambagh.

As I was switching from channel to channel, a documentary caught and held my attention. Perched on the neck of an elephant was an Indian girl of gentle birth. The narrator was saying that, at twelve, she had killed a tiger that had been distressing the villagers who worked her father’s lands, and here she was, photographed with her shotgun in her arms and her prey lying at her feet! This tomboy grew into a very beautiful young woman and married the equally attractive young Maharajah of Jaipur, all in the name of love. Chronographers of the time said they were the most beautiful couple in the world.

This was exactly the kind of story I needed to lull me to sleep, but my eyes wouldn’t close because I was asking myself where I had seen the Maharani’s palace before, watching her walk gracefully through an inner, marble courtyard wrapped in a gauzy sari. When I realized it was the Rambagh, and that I was happily lying in one of its rooms, I ran over to Marsha’s bed to tell her the good news. Something held me back, though. I wasn’t yet ready to share the energy that was bursting within me, and I didn’t know where it would lead me.

Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, India

Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, India

My favourite time to wander around the Rambagh was just before dinner. For as long as I was walking, I could feel myself sinking deeper and deeper into its magic. It was a curious amalgam of domes, verandahs and gazebos, open to the sky – a collaboration of Old Europe and Oriental refinement, with elegant English furniture dressed in lush Indian silks. I asked myself if there was any place more beautiful for a sunset stroll.

“What made your marriage so wonderful?” Simi Garewal, the beautiful journalist from Bombay, asked her in an interview.

“There was great love, mutual respect and understanding,” she replied, “But we had fun too,” and her eyes danced playfully.

“And much companionship.”

“Yes, much companionship…it was a complete marriage.”

She left this world in 2009, at the age of 90, with the title of Marahatma, the Queen Mother, but in the hearts of the people here she will always be the Queen of Jaipur...

Αn excerpt from the book: India and my Persian garden

A portrait of Gayatri Devi, Jaipur, India

A portrait of Gayatri Devi, Jaipur, India

Barbara Athanassiadis