History throws open unanswered questions on Rajmata Gayatri Devi’s vast property and treasure.
News about the claimants to the 1000-acre estate of late Rajmata Gayatri Devi has been making headlines. Apart from the wealth she brought as a princess from Cooch Bihar, the wealth bequeathed to her by Maharaja Man Singh was considerable and has a rich history with a Mughal connection.
Travelling by road from Delhi to Jaipur, the gradual transformation of the land from a fertile one to a rocky and sandy terrain with little tree cover is noticeable. There are many hillocks en-route, almost all crowned with a fort. One wonders how such a sparse land could throw up surplus labour to afford these forts. Surely, the land must have been more fertile in earlier centuries, before the desert encroached.
As one approaches Jaipur, a hill range looms offering an obstacle to an invading force. The road runs through a pass in the hill range. At the end of the pass is Amber, the original capital of the Jaipur family. Overlooking Amber to the West is a hill on which Jaigarh fort was constructed. If Amber was threatened, the inhabitants could retreat into the fort to withstand a siege. While on a visit to Amber Emperor Akbar saw Jodha Bai, sister of Maharajah Man Singh. The marriage of Akbar to Jodha Bai cemented the ties between the Mughals and the Jaipur family and Man Singh was trusted with the office of Commander-in-Chief of the Mughal army. History tells us that Akbar ordered Man Singh to subjugate the Afghans. Jaipur folklore has it that Man Singh plundered Afghanistan and returned with a lot of treasure. It also alleges that he did not share the treasure with Akbar but hoarded it in Jaigarh fort.
Fast-forward to Aurangzeb’s era. History tells us that Man Singh’s counterpart in Jaipur was Jai Singh. During one of Aurangzeb’s campaigns, Jai Singh was summoned. But he arrived late as he had a love affair on the way. Jai Singh saved the day by conjuring up a smart excuse that led Aurangzeb to remark, “You are more than one; you are one plus a quarter.” Since then the title Sawai stuck and to this day the Jaipur royal family flies two flags: a full-sized one and a quarter flag below it. It was Sawai Jai Singh who planned and constructed Jaipur city with broad and straight roads to form a grid across the town.
Fast-forward to pre- and post-Independence days. Just before Independence, the Maharaja of Jaipur was another Man Singh who married Gayatri Devi. In 1955, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip stayed in Jaipur as Sawai Man Singh’s guests during their tour of India. A tiger hunt was arranged and Prince Philip bagged a tiger causing a furore among conservationists. After Maharajah Man Singh passed away, relations between Indira Gandhi and Rajmata Gayatri Devi soured.
During the Emergency, the Rajmata was imprisoned and an income tax raid conducted. Rumour has it that four quintals of gold and many priceless gems were seized. An old document from Sawai Jai Singh’s time, which mentioned the existence of treasure in the Jaigarh fort, was discovered. Curiously, all forts in Jaipur were under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, except Jaigarh fort, which was in the custody of the Jaipur Royal family. The fort was not open for tourists.
The Government of India dispatched an Army unit to Jaigarh fort to investigate if the treasure existed. After a three-month search, nothing was found. Could Sawai Jai Singh have used the treasure to construct the city of Jaipur?
C.N. Anand is the author of Tarbela Damned – Pakistan Tamed.