Friday, 24 February 2017

A Right Royal Do

When India's royalty lost their official powers in 1947, it was because the Indian nation gained independence from the British, who had maintained much of the local rulers powers as a cheap way of leaving locals in charge under them. In fact the number of Indian princes - as rulers were now termed by the British administrators - grew enormously under the Raj, as the British bestowed titles on landowners and chieftains.

Raja Bhaiya (Royal Big Brother) .... Just Like Granddaddy Did it

But since independence, the fates of these modern-day Maharaja's, Raja's, Rana's, Maharana's, Nawab's, Nizam's and Princes have varied. Some have sunk into genteel poverty, which has forced them to turn their old forts and royal residences into hotels to attract tourists from Europe and the US. Some like the five tribal kings of Gujarat state's Dangs region, have not ascended the political and economic ladder, as many of India's ex-royals have done, but in fact now live in huts in the jungle, with just a political pension of 2,000 to 3,000 rupees a month (about $40-60).

Another, perhaps more illustrious example of a royal dynasty that fell on hard times is that of  Madhu, the illiterate great-great-granddaughter of the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who now lives in a Calcutta slum with her mother, and has been employed to run errands in Coal India's offices. 

While yet many others retained all their lands and money, and so are still wealthy and influential. For instance the family of the fabulously wealthy Harinder Singh Brar, Maharaja of Faridkot, who died on the 16 October 1989 leaving a fortune of  a $4bn (£2.6bn) which included a 350-year-old royal fort, stables and a private aerodrome ... it was subject of a 21 year long legal battle before a judge ruled in favour of his daughters.

These great riches are in fact more often the norm than not, as the families had vast inherited wealth to fall back on when they lost their official status, and so those that played the new system by becoming feudal 'elected' politicians, carried on in much the same manner as before 1947. Some such as Raghuraj Pratap Singh, a member of the former royal family of Kunda, are known as Raja Bhaiya (Royal Big Brother), and still run their lands in much the same way as their ancestors, but just as politicians.

Modern Maharaja's Marriage ....

What's more those who have flourished, still know how to arrange a lavish, fairytale wedding when they want to impress their own people. A recent wedding between Prince Jaideep Jadeja (son of Prince Mandhata Sinh Jadeja of Rajkot) in the former princely state of Saurashtra (in the same Gujarat State as the five distressed tribal kings of the Dangs region), and and Princess Shivatmika Kumar (the princess of the former princely state of Dungarpur, in Rajasthan), was an expensive affair .... in fact it was described as 'Possibly the most opulent wedding in the history of independent India'.

Amongst the attractions of the pre-marriage ceremony were a grand 8km procession - 5,000 people, including 30 princes in their regal attire, walk alongside the camels and elephants, one of which carries the groom in a golden throne. All while musicians play popular Bollywood tunes to the crowds. In the week leading up to the procession, the 'Royal family' helped feed about 17,000 people in Rajkot, and the end of procession party was hosted in Ranjit Villa, the 100-room home of the royal family of Rajkot which was built in 1870.

So how did the family afford this? Well they have invested in hydro-power, mining, bio-fuel and other sectors. It had enough spare cash (more than $500,000, £330,000) to buy back the Star of India Rolls Royce - a car it had once owned but sold 40 years ago.

India may be changing, but in many ways its timeless ..... of course eventually, even in feudal India, there is some sort of backlash.


  1. The whole sub continent is corrupt and run on feudal lines. There may be 25 million middle class but there are still over 500 million peasants. Democracy is just a thin veneer over a land unchanged in its views.

    1. That's a very astute observation. Thanks for the comment.


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