Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 17:14 UK

Jaipur funeral for Indian royal

Gayatri Devi as a guest at the Jaipur Polo Ground in 2007
Gayatri Devi was one of the last royals of India

The funeral of one of the last Indian royals, Gayatri Devi, has taken place at the Jaipur cremation grounds used by the former royal family.

Gayatri Devi, once described as one of the most beautiful women in the world, died on Wednesday at the age of 90.

She was admitted to hospital in Jaipur about 10 days ago with stomach and respiratory problems.

Born into a royal family, she became the third wife of Sawai Man Singh, the Maharajah of Jaipur, in 1939.

Thousands of people gathered in the Rajasthani city of Jaipur for part of the funeral ceremony.

Her body was laid out in the City Palace in Jaipur on Thursday for public mourning.

After a rifle salute from troops, the wood pyre was lit in a low-key all-male ceremony, according to Hindu tradition.


Gayatri Devi was born into the royal family of Cooch Behar in 1919.

She supported education for women and founded a prestigious school in Jaipur, now the capital of Rajasthan state.

In an interview with The Times of India, she recalled as a young girl going out hunting, sitting on the neck of an elephant.

She became the third Maharani of Jaipur in 1939, marrying into a lavish lifestyle.

The family, in effect, ruled the city of Jaipur and the surrounding area in the western Indian desert kingdom.

They spent the summers in Europe and educated their children at elite schools in England.

Gayatri Devi, with her husband, the Maharajah of Jaipur, at a London airport in 1956
Gayatri Devi and her husband spent the summers in Europe

Gayatri Devi loved tennis and polo, and was a talented horse rider, while her taste in saris and jewellery, inherited from her mother, made her a glamorous fashion icon.

Vogue magazine once listed her among the "World's Ten Most Beautiful Women".

The fashion icon broke with tradition and won popular support when she was elected to parliament in 1962. She was re-elected twice.

During the 1970s, the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi abolished the last royal privileges, and Gayatri Devi was jailed for five months for violating tax laws.

In later life, Gayatri Devi became known affectionately as Rajmata, or Queen Mother, still greatly admired for her natural grace and beauty.

She is survived by two grandchildren.

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