Jaipur, India – Rajmata Gayatri Devi—formerly the Queen of Jaipur, a member of India’s Parliament, and a celebrity christened one of the most beautiful women in the world—passed away on Wednesday, July 29 at the age of 90. For devotees of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), she will be especially remembered for her hospitality to the early Hare Krishna devotees visiting Jaipur and her gift of large Radha Krishna deities to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, ISKCON’s founder-acarya.
“Hearing news of the passing of Srimati Rajmata Gayatri Devi, the famous Queen of Jaipur, made me think of the significant contribution Gayatri Devi made to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness,” Ramabhadra Dasa, president of ISKCON’s temple in Brooklyn, New York. The New York temple worships the deities of Sri Sri Radha-Govinda, whom the Queen famously gifted to Srila Prabhupada.
In 1972, Gayatri Devi personally hosted Srila Prabhupada and an entourage of ISKCON devotees at the royal property in the center of Jaipur, which also houses the original Govindaji deity of the 15th century Vaishnava saint Srila Rupa Goswami. At this time, Gayatri Devi also presented Prabhupada with large marble deities of Radha and Govinda, exquisitely carved in white and black marble respectively, as a gift.
Sri Sri Radha Govinda of ISKCON Brooklyn, New York
Prabhupada and his disciples used the opportunity to hold a massive outdoor festival for the public, and began the worship of the deities on the stage. The deities also presided over the sannyasa initiation of the late Tamal Krishna Goswami, held during the festival. After the festival, Srila Prabhupada had the deities sent to New York to be worshiped in ISKCON’s temple there, and have remained there ever since.
Srila Prabhupada spoke fondly of Gayatri Devi and her family, appreciating their hospitality and generosity, and glorifying them as exemplars of Hinduism’s kshatriya (royalty) tradition.
Born in London to Bengali Royalty, Gayatri Devi married Sir Sawai Man Singh Bahadur, the King of Jaipur in 1940, and they ruled over more than two million subjects in India’s historic desert country before India won its independence from the British in 1947. She remained the ceremonial Queen of Jaipur until 1956, when the post was abolished. By 1961 she joined the Swtantra Party and, in order to address the grievances of her former subjects, ran for election as a member of Parliament.
“She was idolized by the lower-caste Indians who elected her to Parliament by an overwhelming margin, and she was a special inspiration to Indian women of all castes,” Gayatri Devi’s obituary in the New York Times described. “She started a school for girls in Jaipur, aiming to encourage young Indians to reject the tradition of purdah, the social and intellectual ostracism of women perpetuated for centuries even among the aristocratic classes.”
Although she became more reclusive in later years, Gayatri Devi continued to travel the globe and visited New York several times. While it is unlikely that the celebrity monarch would have been able to pay her respects to Radha-Govindaji in person, she received Their blessings. ISKCON New York devotee Nayanabhirama Dasa visited her luxury hotel suite and presented her with Radha Govinda’s photograph, flower garland, and maha prasadam (sanctified food).
ISKCON New York plans to have a feast sponsored and offered to Sri Sri Radha Govinda in the memory of Gayatri Devi, respectfully addressed as Rajmata (the Queen Mother), on Sunday, August 9.
“Personally, I will always have gratitude and deep appreciation for the magnitude of Gayatri Devi’s wonderful gift, as my good fortune in this life has always been linked to the service of Sri Sri Radha Govinda,” Ramabharda Dasa said. “May Sri Sri Radha Govindaji and Sri Sri Radha Govindadeva bless Rajmata Gayatri Devi and ultimately deliver her to peace, bliss, and love.”
An appreciation by ISKCON New York Temple President Ramabhadra Dasa is here.
The New York Times obituary for Gayatri Devi is here.
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