03 Sep 2010

His Highness Shri Shaktimant Jhaladipati Mahamandleshwar Maharana Sriraj Sir Mayurdwajsinhji Meghrajji III Ghanshyamsinjhi Sahib Bahadur, Raj Sahib of Dhrangadhra Halvad, KCIE, FRAS, FRAI, FRHistS (3 March 1923-1 August 2010)

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The Telegraph remembers Meghrajji III, the last ruling Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad, and the last surviving knight of the Order of the Indian Empire.

Meghrajji III was the 45th and last ruling descendant of the Jhala clan of Rajputs, of the Suryavanshi lineage, claiming descent from Surya, the Hindu Sun god. They were a warrior clan who originated in Baluchistan and arrived in India during the eighth century. The clan name derives from a miraculous feat by its founder Harapaldev’s wife, Shaktidevi, who caught up her children through an open window when they were charged by an elephant in must. Jhalvan is Gujarati for ‘catching’ and her children and descendants thus began to be called Jhala.

[I]n 1952, he opted out of what he described as “that rare and gubernatorial prison” for the freedom of a commoner at Christ Church, Oxford. There was some grumbling about his lack of academic qualifications, but he enjoyed the friendship of the House’s senior censor Hugh Trevor-Roper. When it was objected that Raj (as he signed himself in private correspondence) had not done any military service, Trevor-Roper pointed out that he had been commander-in-chief of the Dhrangadhra armed forces for six years.

The prince drove a sky-blue Jaguar at great speed around Oxford, and in 1953 received an invitation to the Coronation in Westminster Abbey. Over a period of six years he read Philosophy, took a diploma in Anthropology, and earned a BLitt with a thesis on the Brahma Samskâras (sacraments) as well as finding time to study drawing at the Ruskin School of Art and design ties as part of his heraldic studies. He also played the flute.

At his parties the champagne flowed freely. Allotted a set of four rooms, he had a retinue that included an ADC, a secretary and two servants dressed in dove-coloured coats and black caps. In deference to his age and position, he was made a member of the senior common room.

Dhrangadhra and his fellow princes had governed 565 states that covered almost half of the subcontinent, and at first they kept themselves aloof in the new republic. But on returning home from Christ Church he found that his fellow former rulers were gradually taking to democratic politics, proving an increasing irritant to the Congress government.

In 1967 he was elected to the legislature in Gujarat, the western Indian state into whose Saurastra peninsular Dhrangadhra-Halvad had been amalgamated. He subsequently became a member of India’s Lok Sabha (the country’s lower house of parliament), where he introduced measures to safeguard the constitutional rights of former rulers, particularly against the proposed abolition of the princes’ titles and their privy purses. Together with the Maharaja of Baroda and the Begum of Bhopal, he led the “concord of princes” which conducted a bitter battle over three years.

Interviewed by Harold Sieve of The Daily Telegraph, Dhrangadhra was agreeable to letting slip princely trappings, but his fellow princes were proud of their titles and didn’t see why they should no longer be permitted to fly their flags on cars while every lorry and taxi driver could do so. There was a brief reprieve when the Constitution Amendment Bill, stripping them of their titles, was declared illegal. As a result parliament was dissolved. But on the day of the subsequent election Dhrangadhra was ill in University College Hospital, London, and narrowly lost his seat.

Under the new government the chief justice was replaced and the Constitution Amendment Bill was reintroduced. After it became law Dhrangadhra was most exasperated by his fellow princes’ failure to back the compromise he had proposed.

Born Mayurdwajsinhji on March 3 1923, his birth was celebrated with the beating of war drums and the release of all Dhrangadhra-Halvad’s prisoners. Although small in comparison with its neighbours, the state comprised 1,157 square miles with a population of about 250,000, and rated a 13-gun-salute.

Tika, as the eldest son was traditionally known, was allotted apartments with his two brothers and eight sisters, and they had limited contact with their parents apart from a meal on Sundays. They were educated at the palace’s royal school, where he learned to recite Kipling’s poem If, and started his day either riding or doing drill at 6.30am. Scouting, carpentry, ploughing with bullocks and tinkering with cars as well as academic work followed. The feudal atmosphere was tempered by the headmaster, Jack Meyer, a tough member of MCC. Meyer was pleased when he asked Tika whether, when he was rich, he would buy cars or dig wells, and the boy replied: “Dig wells.”

In 1933 the royal school moved to England, where it became the public school Millfield in Somerset. But although Tika was one of the first seven boys in the school, he soon left to end his English school days at Haileybury before returning to India in 1939. He next went to St Joseph’s Academy at Dehra Dun and started at the Shivaji military school in Poona before becoming the maharaja.

After the princes’ parliamentary defeat, Dhrangadhra abandoned politics for scholarship, concentrating on the history of the Jhala family, a warrior clan whose proudest boast was that eight succeeding generations had died in battle against the Mughals. While declining to send his historical work to academic journals, he set up a small palace press to disseminate his work to friends, and obtained software to re-create tartans worn by Dhrangadhra soldiers in the 1940s.

The Maharaja of Dhrangadhra was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1948, and was the last surviving KCIE. He was president of Rajkumar College in Rajkot; and a life member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; of the World Wildlife Fund; the International Phonetic Association; and the Heraldry Society. He was also a member of the Cricket Club of India, the Fencing Association of Great Britain and the Bombay Masonic Lodge.

Hat tip to Rafal Heydel-Mankoo, who has since published a very nice tribute to Meghrajji III on his own blog.

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