His Highness Sayajirao Gaekwad III
(Son of Kashirao Dadasaheb, adopted by Matushri Jamnabai Sahib, widow of Khanderao Gaekwad)
Maharani Jamnabai, the widow of Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad adopted Gopalrao, son of Kashirao Dadasaheb to be the heir apparent to the throne of Baroda.
The first question that Maharani Jamnabai asked Gopalrao was “Why do you think you have been brought here?” and the answer that followed made her decision and one among the three selected boys were chosen to be adopted. Gopalrao’s answer “Why, to be made the Maharaja, of course!” He was born March 11th, 1863 and adopted as Sayajirao Gaekwad on May 27, 1875. He was placed on an enormous brocade covered cushion that takes the place of the gadi.
A salute of a hundred and twenty-two guns was fired. Sugar was distributed all over the state, the poor fed and prisoners released. His first of many titles to follow “His Highness Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad, Sena Khas Khel, Shamsher Bahadur.”
How ‘The Maharaja’ was Trained
A spacious room was set aside in the palace for the prince in training who was trained to read and write Marathi the mother tongue and Gujarati, the language of the subjects. The prince in training was introduced to satmari, cheetah hunting and pig sticking. Dewan Madhavrao was to play a very important role in the life and reign of Sayajirao.
Sir Elliot who arrived in Baroda on the 10th of December set the rigorous curriculum and teaching standards for him. Sir Elliot too turned out to be Sayaji’s friend, philosopher and guide in the several years that followed.
Lines of a verse which Elliot made young Sayajirao learn by heart: "Love thyself last, cherish those hearts that hate thee; Corruption wins not more than honesty. While in thy right hand carry gentle peace; To silence envious tongues. Be just and fear not; Let all the ends thou aim’st, be thy country’s, Thy God’s and Truth’s."
Sayajirao’s day began with being awakened at 6, a quick wash and sometime in the wrestling pit followed by traditional Indian strength-building exercises. A shower, light refreshments, followed by horse riding, classes from 10:30 to 5 and princely meals that were hearty and spicy. After school, he played with his cousins who also went to school with him and lived with him and his adoptive mother Jamnabai. The other popular games were cricket, football and hockey. Khokho, atyapatya, hututu were also popular. Sword play was also introduced on days when there were no games.The respect, glitter, excitement, wealth beyond anything and a world that centered around him made Sayaji cautious and reserved in his approach.
The Early Influence
Elliot was one of the most extraordinary officers in the Indian Civil Service who devoted complete and positive attention to Sayaji in his growing years. He, along with Dewan Madhav Rao worked tirelessly towards helping Sayaji complete his nine year formal education in six years because the Indian Government was to give him ‘ruling powers’ at the age of nineteen.
Raja Sir T Madhav Rao has been described as soft-spoken, round-faced and plump. He was a learned Brahmin, a linguist who spoke 6 languages, a poet and a steadfast loyal official to the Raj. He also happened to be the father of nine children, “clever, conceited, a hard task master and a glutton for office routine” as quoted by Fatehsingrao Gaekwad in his book ‘The Prince and the man.’ He worked very hard towards making Baroda State as well administered as any British District.
He also helped Jamnabai earnestly in the search for an eligible bride for Sayajirao.
The Early Years of Rule
Sayajirao Gaekwad was married to Lakshmibai , the daughter of Haibatrao Mohite who was given the new name of Chimnabai after marriage. Sayajirao’s first daughter Bajubai was born on July 14th, 1881.
Sayajirao’s investiture ceremony took place with pomp and show on December 28, 1881 which consisted of presentation of robes to Sayajirao on behalf of the British government, proclaiming him as the ruler. At the age of 19, Sayajirao was a full fledged ruler, his title being : His Highness Sayajirao Gaekwad II, Sena Khas Khel, Shamsher Bahadur, Farzand-i-khas-i-Inglishia, Maharaja of Baroda.
For seven years, Dewan Madhav Rao, having been the tutor who exercised absolute powers was faced with the clash of two ‘absolute wills’ in the late summer of 1882. The issue was overruling the life sentence of a criminal and Sayajirao changed it to a death sentence. The incident signified the growing up of the Prince into an assertive ruler. The cracks in a relationship based on closeness and dependency were beginning to show and grow. These incidents and occurrences grew over the years inexorably ended in the Dewan putting in his resignation amicably and the Prince accepting it somewhat relieved.
The Baroda state as inherited by him was comprised of fifty odd bits of land spread all over Gujarat and Kathiawar which were grouped into five subhas or district. Sayaji proceeded with the tour of his own state since he had become the ruler of this large and prosperous state without having seen anything of the state outside its capital city.
The early years of Sayajirao’s rule were the most significant in terms of setting a pattern and a direction. By the age of twenty, he was a father of two daughters. On August 3rd, 1883, his first son was born who would actually be the first direct born heir to the throne of the Gaekwads in four generations. He was named Fatehsingrao. By then he had almost five times as much territory to cover and he remained busy with his circumscribed touring which began from December 1884 until February of the following year when he lost his wife Maharani Chimnabai to tuberculosis. Overcome with grief and chronic insomnia after the loss, he withdrew into himself and it was a while before he resumed his touring. His mother and relatives decided upon a remedy for this struggle and helped him remarry on December 28, 1885. She was Gajrabai, the daughter of Bajirao Amritrao Ghatge Sarjerao and she was renamed Chimnabai and they proceeded to live in the Makarpura palace.
At the age of twenty three, he had been a ruler for only four years and could handle English, French and using Marathi words when the exact English equivalent eluded him. He knew exactly how to deal with the officials of the Raj. His drive to initiate reforms and his tact in dealing with older experienced employees in challenging situations are well known and apparent in letters found during the year 1886.
He also began the agonizingly slow process of bringing about social reforms such as inviting people from England, religions prejudices, women’s education and purdah. He also broke the superstition of death befalling those who were interested in travelling the ocean. He planned a trip to Europe. Trips to Europe and other cities in search for a cooler climate took up a good two years of his rule.
In due course, Chimnabai gave birth to another male child who was named Jaisinhrao.
Sayajirao crossed the Black Waters and proceeded to Europe for a few months again. In a span of twenty months, he had barely spent 20 days in his domain. And doubts about his commitment and health started to make its rounds. Shivajirao Gaekwad was born to Chimnabai on 31st July of that year.
The following years were marked by a visit by the Prince of Wales, the filling up and ‘opening ceremony’ of the Ajwa reservoir, the formation of the large expertly landscaped park around Lakshmi Vilas palace, 118 miles of race track, colleges, Dufferin Hospital, Baroda Middle school, study of handicrafts, agriculture, law, school of music, special schools for girls and the underprivileged castes, markets museums, settlement of thousands of disputed claims, drastic reductions in import duties, conservation of state forests, undertakings of geological surveys to maximise utilisation of mineral resources and the introduction of wide ranging reforms . There were cash reserves instead of the public debt. Sayajirao’s ultimate aim had him working towards decentralising the administration as much as possible. He wanted to retain supervisory powers, set up small courts, panchayats and separate the judiciary from the executive.
Undercurrents between the Residency and Sayajirao continued to grow and when the Indian National Congress was formed in 1885, the Residency came to the conclusion that Sayajirao was in league with the Congress.
Colonel Biddulph from the Residency, was the AGG, who was piling up evidence to plot the downfall of Sayajirao Gaekwad. He worked hard at it for five long years before he could make any kind of an impact for his efforts to bear rewards. He capitalised on the enemity between the Gujaratis and the Maratha subjects. Aiming at Sayajirao and Elliot, Biddulph created a fair amount of mischief before his term ran out.
Travels and Tragedies
From 1896 to 1900, Baroda faced an onslaught of tragedies such as the bridge collapse during fireworks, the bubonic plague, a revolt and a famine.
But his departure on his sixth trip to Europe in thirteen years created a negative impact. Negativity against Sayajirao continued to add up with related incidents. It was during one of these trips to Europe when Sayajirao found out that the Viceroy who was carrying a tour of famine affected areas in Gujarat would be using the Gaekwad’s railway station. It was virtually unthinkable that the ruler himself should not be available to receive His Excellency. His Excellency communicated to Sayajirao via letters that he refused to be received by the Dewan and was postponing his trip to November. Sayajirao could not be in Baroda in November due to Maharani Chimnabai being operated upon and for admission of his two sons too for an English education. This led to His Excellency cancelling his trip to Baroda.
In 1901, Queen Victoria died after which the time passed was marked with a Sayajirao locking horns with Lord Curzon. He was officially engaged in a long standing running feud with the Lord and the Residency. He deliberately stayed away from the country when the Prince of Wales visited Baroda. Sayajirao had started to find the custom of paying respect to the official from the British Raj more and more demeaning. Fortunately for Sayajirao, the king never misunderstood as much as some of the Residency officials expected and wanted it to. This created even more frustration in the minds of the Officials of the Raj.
Sayajirao made a visit to Free America in 1904. He was impressed by the American Management techniques and the results of hard work and a hard nosed business attitude to everything in life. It spawned the spirit of liberalism. Sayajirao set up village panchayats and municipalities in towns and established a legislative council in which six out of seventeen seats were filled by elections.
Sayajirao’s tryst with Aurobindo Ghosh was short but meaningful. Even though he left before Sayajirao returned to Baroda. Aurobindo, being an obvious revolutionary had written fiery articles denouncing the British rule. Sayajirao knew that it was a grave risk to harbour a well known extremist in his service but secretly helped by providing training to one of Aurobindo’s friends in the Baroda Cavalry and defying a ban imposed by the British Government against employment of Bengalis in the army. He even communicated with the Dewan to persuade him to not leave Baroda knowing very well that any other ruler would have been thankful to get rid of a man whose presence had been a major cause of strife with the government. As the years passed by, it was hard to conceal Sayajirao’s obvious attempts to disengage from the residency and its dominating expectations.
His Silver Jubilee
In the year 1906 began the Silver Jubilee of Sayajirao’s reign. By then he had been invited to speak in many national gatherings. His acceptance of Indians outside of Baroda grew, he openly praised America’s development indirectly suggesting through several speeches that England repressed the industries of her colonies in order to bolster those of her own.
His speeches ranged from topics such as administration, industry, public health, education, social reforms, history, theology and arts. There was a growing stiffness in the relationship with the Residency. His life went on as before but he was then faced with one of the biggest disappointments in life when his eldest son Fatehsinhrao was sent down from college in Balliol. His company, habits of self indulgence ended his formal education. His second son Jaisinhrao and Shivajirao who were in England too disappointed him by cultivating extravagant and dangerous habits.
In March 1907, the silver jubilee celebrations of Sayajirao’s reign brought about more reforms and benefits for the subjects: free primary education, new hostels for students from underprivileged classes, hospitals, orphanages, public parks in the capital. Sayajirao’s first grandson Pratapsinh rao Gaekwad was born on June 28th 1908 after which Fatehsingrao died on 14th November at the age of 25. Desolate Sayaji took solace in war . The anti British movement picked up steam in all parts all over India and however careful Sayajirao was in concealing his nationalistic sentiments, the British were aware of them and were looking for proof of seditionist activities. He made trips to go around the world as a deterrent to the focus on Baroda.
When Sayajirao became Maharaja, Baroda had 180 schools and 18000 students. Ten years later, both schools and students had gone three times over. In the district of Amreli in 1893, he tackled the problem of education still not reaching the classes that needed it. All children at the age of seven had to be sent to school and free education was provided until they were 14. By 1907 it was made applicable to the entire domain.
Elliot’s demise made Sayajirao feel like he was losing a member of his own family. Over the years, Sayajirao depended on him for political as well as personal advice. He is also known to have stretched the rules to be able to have Elliot accompany him on his travels to Europe in the capacity of an advisor. When he was away, the Residency continued to receive disturbing remarks about his activities in America ad Europe. He is also reported to have said that he had no intention of being in India when the king visited as he was not interested in paying the customary homage. During this course Sayajirao was also dragged in the midst of a sex scandal created by a husband and wife team to extort money for him. This anguished Sayaji. Lord Hardinge who was now in power was watching him closely.
The World War
A series of events which directly or indirectly earned the wrath of the British officials seemed to take place right before the durbar incident which caused a major furore. Several versions exist even today.
Sayajirao broke every rule. He dressed in white, without jewellery, sash and the sword. He stood before the king, made a cursory bow from the waist and took a couple of steps backward before turning around fully and leaving the court. On being advised by close friends, Sayajirao tendered an apology and a gesture had been made. The Raj seethed with anger. To the world outside, Baroda was becoming a pocket of sedition in the Raj.
More than a year after the durbar incident, the ‘insult’ to the raj was as fresh as ever. The officials now thought it necessary to have Sayajirao’s activities in Europe spied upon and the file belonging to the Foreign and Political Department of the Government of India, bearing the title ‘Visit of H.H the Gaekwar of Baroda to Europe in 1913’ was created. After a long series of events spawning from this, the file was closed because of the shift of priorities dictated by the advent of the Great War.
Sayajirao and Chimnabai were still in Europe when the First World War started. Chimnabai’s miraculous escape and the first four years of the First World War were considered to be India’s honeymoon with the Raj. Sayajirao was generous with war funds for the officials of the Raj as three decades of canny financial policies had made the Baroda assets quite full. He plunged into his work with new found enthusiasm. He inaugurated the water supply system for the township of Patan in Mehsana. He revived Study of Sanskrit by opening the Sanskrit conference in his capital and mostly travelled to Ooty for the summers. His frugality in matters of regime management had drastically reduced wasteful expenditure that had become the norm during the years of Khanderao and Malharrao. Disappointed with the maintenance of the school of music in Baroda that was set up during Ganpatrao’s time, he made a conscious effort to understand and reform the world of music. He encouraged and supported artists, set up a department of music to his household, send promising musicians from Baroda to Europe to pick up skills that could be grafted on to Indian music, planned the Music Conference in Baroda every March during Holi and took special pride in allowing his troupe to be ‘Under the patronage of Maharaja Sayajirao of Baroda.’
He collected Indian paintings and his library of Sanskrit manuscripts from Vithal Mandir and was revered as one of the best public speakers in his times. He made Baroda one of the first territories in India to embark/change words upon campaigns against social evils such as untouchability, purdah etc.
When the war ended with the defeat of Germany, India celebrated Britain’s victory as her own. The visits from the Viceroy were treated to the usual durbars and receptions and adulatory speeches. It was challenging for Sayajirao to keep up the appearances and the diplomacy when the Satyagraha and the Jalianwala massacre were barely three weeks away.The struggle and the undercurrents to get back Okhamandal from the British also existed at that time.
The Struggle for Independence
The year 1919 was devastating to Sayajirao as he lost his daughter in law Padmavati and his son Shivajirao at the age of thirty. His other son Jaisinhrao Gaekwad was in a clinic and not responding well to treatment and the doctors had lost hope. The summer of 1920 was spent quietly in England in the company of several members of his family.The struggle for independence picked up steam in other parts of the country.
The Baroda Art Gallery had the collection of ‘the best Indian paintings in the world.’ Even before the turn of the century he had invited Raja Ravi Varma to come to Baroda and he painted fourteen scenes from Indian epics and seven full length portraits of the members of Sayajirao’s family. Artists from all over India began to come to Baroda to sell their art, by 1912, Sayajirao had to add a European section to his gallery.
Being in his sixtieth year, in 1922, Sayajirao had made up his mind to stay away from Baroda as much as possible and spent most of his time in Europe, returning to India in winter for a couple of months to ensure implementation of his long term plans.
The Golden Jubilee of his accession was celebrated with fanfare on the 3rd of January in 1936 in a huge stadium built especially for this occasion and was capable of seating fifty thousand people.
At a time when the municipality of Wadhwan passed a law in 1925 banning untouchables to draw water from the little pits dug in the sands along the river bank, Baroda had thrown all wells open to all communities. When social reformers in India were still figuring out ways to go about educating the untouchables, Sayajirao had already opened separate schools for them. He had pushed through the Divorce Act, the Widow Remarriage Act and the Caste Intermarriages Act too.
The editorial comment by Allahabad’s pioneer put it in perspective:
“The most remarkable thing about Baroda is that she is much in advance of British India in the matter of social legislation.”
Sayajirao’s health took a turn towards worse as time passed and he died on 6 February 1939 in Bombay following a heart attack. His body was taken by a special train to Baroda and an era had ended. Thirteen days later his ashes were immersed at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers.
Sayajirao’s thirty year old prophecy strangely had rung true “World conditions are bound to change so fundamentally that nothing will be able to save it from total disappearance.”.
The Raj had folded up, India was swept into democracy and the first thing the new rulers proceeded to do was to wind up the princely states.