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Death of a Princess

Joe Holley

A fabulously wealthy, stunningly beautiful Indian princess, married to a fabulously wealthy, stunningly handsome maharaja, is not someone we usually write about in the obit pages of The Washington Post, but Gayatri Devi, was so intriguing and her life so exotic that we just couldn't resist.

Her grandfather, Elizabeth Bumiller reported in The Washington Post in 1987, kept trained parrots that rode little silver bicycles. Her mother had a gold tongue scraper and also a live turtle encrusted with diamonds and rubies that she used as a good-luck charm at the gambling tables of France. Here's a PDF of the article.

Devi told Bumiller that she grew up as the daughter of the Maharajah of Cooch Bejar, in northeastern India, in a palace with 400 servants. The palace had fruit orchards, vegetables and acres of flowers -- hollyhocks, poppies, amaryllis and orchids, just to name a few -- all tended by 120 gardeners. Each morning they delivered 2,000 oranges to the kitchens for fresh juice and arranged 300 vases of roses for various rooms.

Devi was raised as a liberated princess who never lived in "purdah," cloistered away in the traditional women's quarters. She shot her first panther at age 12, went to finishing school in London and Switzerland, then fell in love with the young Maharajah of Jaipur, Sawai Man Singh II. "Jai" was 21 at the time and one of the world's finest polo players.

They married, and stayed married until his death in 1970. Meanwhile, the young tomboy grew up to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. "She had an athlete's figure, dark eyes, lustrous hair, full lips and great cheekbones," Bumiller wrote. "She almost never wore makeup."

She died July 29 at age 90.

By Joe Holley  |  July 30, 2009; 10:34 AM ET
Categories:  Joe Holley  
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