Sunday, December 27, 2015

Vadia Palace, Rajpipla - The Taj of Gujarat - in its heyday in the 1940s.....and now. Restoration of this priceless heritage should begin in 2016

Vadia Palace, also known as Indrajit-Padmini Mahal, was built on a 150-acre estate by the last ruler of Rajpipla, Maharaja Vijaysinhji, between 1934 and 1942. Often referred to as the Taj of Gujarat, it is the final symbol of the 600-year rule of the Gohil Rajput dynasty over this principality lying in the lap of the western Satpuras, and hemmed in by the rivers Narmada and Tapti. 

Despite decades of neglect, the majesty of this iconic monument is still evident. It's potential is enormous in these days of liberalisation and globalisation, of the awareness to preserve heritage, of the keen interest in history, and of the endless possibilities for promoting tourism.

One of the last palaces to be built in India, and one of the most expensive at Rupees 4,00,000, a huge sum in the 1930s, it was centrally air-conditioned, a novel concept in those days. Exquisitely designed with great taste in Indo-Saracenic style, the grand palace was built using the finest Italian marble and Burma teak. There are beautiful frescoes on the walls by the Italian painter Valli. 

It is expected that work on the restoration of this great heritage will begin in early 2016, It is planned to put the property to appropriate use by setting up an international class resort therein.

It should, hopefully, not be long before the world begins to marvel once again at this work of art, at the same time enjoying the enchanting natural beauty of Rajpipla. The wheel does come a full circle sometimes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My forthcoming coffee-table book 'The Ancient Gohil Rajput Dynasty of Rajpipla'

My forthcoming coffee-table book 
'The Ancient Gohil Rajput Dynasty of Rajpipla' 
will commemorate a landmark year for my family.

Homage to Maharana Chhatrasinhji, 
the 35th Gohil Rajput ruler of Rajpipla
on the centenary of his demise (26th September 2015)

Celebration of the 125th birth anniversary (30th January 2015)
and centenary of coronation (10th December 2015) 
of Maharaja Vijaysinhji,
 the 36th and last Gohil Rajput ruler of Rajpipla

This exclusive coffee-table edition, 'The Ancient Gohil Rajput Dynasty of Rajpipla', profusely illustrated with rare photographs from the Rajpipla royal family archives, charts the 1400-year history of the Gohil Rajput clan from 542 A.D. till merger with the Indian Union in 1948, tracing their migration from Saurashtra to Mewar and Marwar, then back to Saurashtra, before carving out a new kingdom in Gohilwar in the south of the Kathiawar peninsula, and finally establishing their rule over Rajpipla around 1340 A.D.

The book then brings forth the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the valiant Gohil dynasty during its 600-year sway over the principality of Rajpipla with its capital in Junaraj (Old Rajpipla) deep in the western Satpuras, and flanked by the rivers Narmada and Tapti, warding off attacks by the sultans of Ahmedabad, braving the invasion of Emperor Akbar’s army, reconquering their territories after the weakening of the Mughal empire and shifting their capital to Nandod or New Rajpipla, only to be confronted by the forays of the Gaekwars before reaching a settlement through the mediation of the British East India Company, and leading to rebellion against the British during the Mutiny of 1857.

The final glorious 90-year period of the dynasty from 1858 witnessed far-reaching reforms and development, which led to the emergence of modern Rajpipla. It was also a glamorous era for princely India before the winds of democracy wafted in.

The specifications of the book are as follows:         
Size:  8.25 inches x 11.75 inches
Paper: 130 gsm imported art paper
Cover: Hard cover with jacket 170 gsm imported art paper laminated
Printing: Colour
Binding: Perfect with section stitching

A limited number of two-page advertorials are being offered in this exquisitely designed book at Rs. 75,000/- (Rupees seventy-five thousand), with write-ups of up to 750 words (without photographs) on the left-hand page and advertisements on the facing right-hand page. This offers a wonderful opportunity to top brands for associating with historic events

To place advertorials in the book, or for purchase of overseas rights and other details, please send email to

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A time to celebrate. Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’

Festivities after the victory of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla’s horse Windsor Lad in the Epsom Derby 1934

Many ambitions were fulfilled. It was a night of celebrations. Maharaja Vijaysinhji already had a dinner booking for twelve guests at London’s Savoy that evening. Now there was a Derby triumph to celebrate. The delighted Maharaja simply changed the booking to a hundred.

So it was a big supper party at the Savoy that night. Maharaja Vijaysinhji was always immaculate in the way he entertained his guests, and as The Evening News recounted, “He had gone to no small trouble to find something new for last night. Each woman guest as she arrived was offered an orchid which reproduced the purple in her host’s successful racing colours.”

Daily Mail focussed on another scene: “A young elephant wearing a garland in the purple and cream colours of Windsor Lad’s owner, the Maharaja of Rajpipla, played a prominent part in last night’s Derby Night festivities in London. Shortly after midnight the elephant and her trainer made their appearance on the rising floor of the Savoy restaurant, where the Maharaja was entertaining guests to celebrate his horse’s victory. Proceeding in solemn measure round the floor, the elephant made obeisance opposite the table where the Indian Prince and his guests were sitting, and then marched off, amid cheers.”

Also privy to the celebrations was The Leader. In an article entitled “What Prince ‘Pip’ Said After Derby Victory”, the publication elaborated, “Last Wednesday night I had the honour of attending H.H. The Maharajah of Rajpipla’s Derby dinner. The Savoy can never have accommodated more people, and I have seldom seen more celebrities gathered under one roof. Opposite me was His Highness, or ‘Pip’ as he is known to his best friends, and on either side of him were his trainer, Marcus Marsh, and his jockey, Charlie Smirke. A little further away was Steve (Donoghue) in just as good form as if he had won the Derby himself, George Duller and his wife, Mrs. Smirke, Mrs. Marsh (Marcus’s proud mother), and a host of others. It was a memorable evening, and from time to time His Highness remarked: ‘Is it really true or shall I wake up to find I’ve been dreaming?’ Never has the Derby been won by an owner who more appreciated the honour of winning the greatest race in the world. As he said to me before he left Epsom, ‘I have realised my life’s ambition’.”

Nottingham Guardian also had its say in its issue dated 7th June 1934

Derby prophesy of 1868 fulfilled

Crowd cheer “Good old Pip” after Windsor Lad’s win

Bookmakers hard hit

The Maharajah of Rajpipla, who gave a party at a London hotel last night, said to a reporter: “I am proud to have won the Derby with Windsor Lad, but I am prouder still that I should have won this great race before such a sporting public. Windsor Lad is a great horse and I hope he will add still further to the stable’s triumph this summer, for he will run in the Eclipse Stakes and the St. Leger, all being well. Don’t forget that he had a great little jockey riding him in Charlie Smirke,” Smirke and his wife were guests at the Maharajah’s table at the party.

A film of the race was already at hand at the Savoy, as The Leader recounted: “You all know the story of the race, of how Colombo was baulked, of how he failed to come down the hill, and, finally, most important of all - of how he failed to stay. At the Savoy I watched the film with Charlie Smirke, and how the film confirmed what Charlie had told me, that Colombo actually headed him, and led the field for a few strides about a furlong-and-a-half from home. His stamina then gave out, and Windsor Lad, a dead stayer, ran him out of it, and withstood the challenge of Easton.” 

“Directly he had passed the post we made a mad rush from the stand to the unsaddling enclosure,” The Leader went on, recalling the post-race scene, “I find myself jammed on the staircase against Marcus Marsh, and we shout, ‘Make way for the trainer,’ and somehow we find ourselves by the unsaddling ring. In a minute or two a burst of cheering announces the arrival of the winner, being led by his owner bare-headed, with a look of joy on his face I have seldom seen on any man. ‘Smirkey’ too is, of course, all smiles, and there is the usual amount of congratulatory pats on the back, until Brig.-Gen. Tomkinson comes along and takes the Maharajah away to be presented to the King. ‘His Majesty was charming,’ the Maharajah told me, ‘and insisted on having a glass of champagne together. He told me how pleased he was my horse had been trained by Marsh, the son of his own old trainer, who had trained Derby winners for his father’.”

About the victorious jockey Charlie Smirke, The Leader had nothing but admiration: “What a wonderful day in the life of this young man, even more wonderful when one realises that for five long years Charlie was prevented from earning his living. No man ever paid more dearly for the follies of his youth, and it was not until last autumn that he was allowed back on the Turf he loves so well. It speaks volumes for his pluck, ability, and general self-confidence that he should win the Derby, in his first year back in the saddle. My remarks that not even Steve Donoghue himself had a finer knowledge of the Epsom gradients than Smirke appear to be bang on the mark, for never have I seen a better ridden Derby winner than Windsor Lad.”

Colombo’s failure was as much a talking point and The Leader appeared to assess the situation perfectly, “After the race a number of people, talking through their pockets, blamed Johnstone, but save for the fact that he went a little wide rounding Tattenham Corner I thought he rode a perfect race. Colombo did not have the luck of the race, but the primary cause of his failure was that he failed to stay as well as either Windsor Lad or Easton. Hard-luck stories can always be anticipated after a hard-fought contest over this most tricky and trying mile and a half, and certainly, had Colombo met with the same good fortune in running as the winner, he would have given the ‘Lad’ a hard race.”

Commending the winning horse’s performance, The Leader said, “Windsor Lad handsomely justified the strong recommendations given him as the soundest each-way bet in the race. No colt could have run in gamer fashion to stall off the desperate efforts of Easton and the favourite, Colombo, and it was just that extra bit of sticking power that stood him in good stead when the others were waning. To see a horse punch it out in that fashion and refuse to be beaten is a never failing test of condition, and, whilst Smirke can well be congratulated upon riding an admirable race, it should not be overlooked that the colt’s trainer, Marcus Marsh, was responsible for sending the winner to the post fit to run for his life.”

It had been a memorable day, and night, for the jubilant Windsor team.

It was estimated that more than 10,000 people of a score of nationalities celebrated Derby night in the West End hotels of London.

The King gave his usual Derby Day dinner at Buckingham Palace to members of the Jockey Club. About fifty guests, all men, attended. The Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester, Prince George, and the Earl of Harewood were among the members of the royal family present. Lord Lonsdale, the steward of the Derby, was present and felt no ill-effects from the mishap which occurred when he was on his way to the race.

The Queen - who in former years had dined at a friend’s house on Derby night - drove to the Queen’s Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue to see “Old Folks at Home” accompanied by her brother, the Earl of Athlone and Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh - grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla - can be contacted on email and His other blog is

A Maharaja’s Turf  
Published by Sporting Links
ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6

Distributed in India by :  
Variety Book Depot, 
AVG Bhawan, M-3, Middle Circle, Connaught Circus,
New Delhi - 110 001.  Tel. +91 11 23417175, 23412567.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

How they managed massive traffic comprising royalty, celebrities and commoners for the Epsom Derby back in 1934. Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’

The huge crowd at Epsom Downs on 6th June 1934
Derby Day has been a huge occasion for Britons right since the last two decades of the 18th century. Not only is it their greatest race – arguably the greatest horse race in the world – it is a wonderful occasion, a day of fun and frolic. There was no way of knowing how many people, from the King and Queen to the common citizens, converged on Epsom Downs that first Wednesday of June, 1934. Various newspapers drew up estimates between a quarter and a half million people. So how did they manage this mass of humanity moving from dawn to dusk?    

Lincolnshire Echo reported, “Elaborate arrangements had been made by the police to deal with the thousands of people who arrived by car. All along the roads to the course policemen were on duty controlling the traffic and directing the cars to the many parking places. Overhead an auto gyro, with a traffic officer in it, directed by wireless messages the control of the long moving line of vehicles. The pearly ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ moved through the crowd carrying collecting boxes on behalf of charity. The famous hill resembled a gigantic fair ground with roundabouts and cocoanut shies. The great trek to Epsom began very early, as with the break of dawn people were already arriving on the Downs. Picnic breakfasts on the Downs were indulged in and itinerant vendors of comestibles found early and eager buyers. The flow of motor coaches carrying loads of passengers and motor-cars set in at an early hour and there was keen competition for good parking positions on the rails from which to obtain a good view of the race. The gipsy encampment on the hill had awakened very early and race cards were being sold to buyers an hour or so after dawn. People arriving by cars provided their own amusement. In one of the car parks a party of fashionably dressed women breakfasted to the strains of a gramophone; while nearby another party sat in a car and played bridge. While the roads to Epsom were filled with cars the Southern Railways carried their quota of racegoers from the London terminal, more than 130,000 passengers having been conveyed by train at ten minutes’ intervals before 11 o’clock. Lord Derby, who always entertains on a lavish scale on Derby Day engaged a special train from Victoria for his guests.”

The Maharaja of Rajpipla, on his part, gave a holiday to thirty of his employees and chartered special motor-coaches for them and their friends so that they might see his horse win, leaving just five behind to look after his estate. Commercial Daily Mail reflected the mood at Windsor on Derby Day, June 6, 1934, “The Maharajah of Rajpipla, owner of Windsor Lad, has arranged for all the employees of his Old Windsor riverside residence to witness the Derby, and has arranged motor-coaches for their conveyance to Epsom. The majority of inhabitants of Old Windsor are ‘having a flutter’ on Windsor Lad, for the Maharajah has made no secret of his confidence in his horse.”

There was no dearth of celebrities either. Greenoce Tele noted, “From where I stood in the crowd below the Royal Box, all the leaders of what is called the “sporting world” could be seen going up the stairs to their places in the stands. Mr. Tom Walls, the actor (“Good old Tommy”, they shouted), and Lord Lonsdale seemed to evoke the most enthusiasm, and the Aga Khan the most interest.”

Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla leading Windsor Lad after the exhilarating victory, with trainer Marcus Marsh beside and Charlie Smirke astride
In his book Pageant of Life (Wilfred Funk, Inc., New York, 1941), Lowell Thomas wrote, “They had a big time in England. The three things that solid Britain took most seriously were the King, the Empire and horse racing, and the jockeys rode the galloping ponies in the Saint Leger Stakes, one of England’s major racing classics. The winner was Windsor Lad. As Windsor Lad had also won the Derby his victory in the Saint Leger Stakes made him England’s greatest horse. It also made an Indian Maharajah England’s greatest horseman. The Maharajah of Rajpipla, the wealthy prince of India who owned Windsor Lad, was the toast that night of England’s horsey millions. He was the ruler of a kingdom not far from Bombay, with powers of life and death over a quarter of a million people. He spoke perfect English and played polo. When he was in England, he lived next door to the King's own Windsor Castle.”

The Aga Khan, who had three runners in the race Umidwar, Alishah and Badruddin, was among the first to congratulated his good friend the Maharaja of Rajpipla on his splendid victory
In the aftermath of the race, Manchester Dispatch observed: “Within the special enclosure one ran across all the known men in the horsey world. Lord Derby, whose ancestor was responsible for establishing the most famous of all races, beaming amicably as usual; Lord Rosebery, who told me it was the grandest race he had ever seen; Lord Glanely, not at all down-hearted, who said that as he had won the Derby once he must not be greedy; Lord Crewe, Lord Lonsdale, Sir Walter Gilbey, wearing his funny curl-brimmed hat, and others with their pretty ladies - as fine a gathering of English gentle folk as you can find.” The Times of India reported that, “Among the notables who watched the race were General Bahadur Sham Shere Jung Bahadur Rana and other members of the Nepalese Mission.”

One of the few accidents of the day befell the 77-year-old Earl Lonsdale, the uncrowned king of British sportsmen, whose car skidded into a ditch in Ewell, Surrey, outside of Epsom. Lord Lonsdale was not hurt and continued his journey in a friend’s car which overtook him immediately after the accident. He was soon in the royal box being congratulated by the King and Queen and their entourage on his escape. Two buses collided while on their way to Epsom and five people who were in them were injured.

The Daily Mail described the ingenuity of people yearning to see the big race but unable to get leave from office: “You do not need to steal a day from your work to see the Derby nowadays. A city friend yesterday did all the morning’s work at his office. He left in his car at 1.15 p.m., when all the crowds had already arrived at Epsom. He found the roads almost empty and was in the stand before 2.30 p.m. He left as soon as the Derby was over, again met little traffic on the road, and was back in his office by 4.30 p.m.” That is how important the Derby is to the people of Britain and racing fans the world over.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh - grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla - can be contacted on email and His other blog is

A Maharaja’s Turf  
Published by Sporting Links
ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6

Distributed in India by :  
Variety Book Depot, 
AVG Bhawan, M-3, Middle Circle, Connaught Circus,
New Delhi - 110 001.  Tel. +91 11 23417175, 23412567.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When the entire British royal family saw an Indian prince win their greatest race at the height of the Raj. Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’


At the head of the great cosmopolitan assembly on the Epsom Course were King George V and Queen Mary. Their Majesties left Buckingham Palace by car at 12.20 p.m. Just before the King’s car drove out of the garden gate, Prince Albert and Princess Elizabeth - the Duke and Duchess of York - who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, parents of the present Queen Elizabeth II; and Princess Mary - the Princess Royal - and her husband Lord Harewood, drove into the palace quadrangle. Their cars waited at the side of the forecourt and then as the royal car drove out, followed in procession. Prince Henry - the Duke of Gloucester - who was staying at Buckingham Palace, was in one of the cars. One of Queen Victoria’s great-grandsons, King George II of Greece - then in exile but destined to become monarch again the next year - also travelled with the royal party. The King and Queen led the procession of royal cars from London to Epsom, each of which had a crown on the front for the guidance of traffic police. 

A large crowd assembled at the back of the stands to witness the arrival of the King and Queen who received a tremendous ovation. Some had been waiting more than an hour. The royal party arrived at the stands at one o’clock and as their Majesties alighted amid light rain a great cheer went up. The royal visitors were received by the stewards Lord Lonsdale, Lord Rosebery and the Marquess of Crewe. They immediately walked to the royal apartments in the grandstand, where lunch had been prepared for them. The Prince of Wales, who succeeded his father just about a year and a half later as King Edward VIII, but abdicated within eleven months, choosing marriage to the twice-divorced American Mrs. Wallis Simpson; and Prince George - Duke of Kent - motored to Epsom from Fort Belvedere, Sunningdale, reaching just in time to see the second race. Interestingly, the Prince of Wales, after his abdication as King in 1936, became Duke of Windsor. Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught, and Prince and Princess Christian of Hesse and their young daughter, Princess Augusta, also attended. 

The King wore morning clothes and a silk hat. The Queen was in a dress of delicate pearl grey wool georgette with a vest of chiffon - on which a large aquamarine and diamond brooch were pinned - with a toque to match.

Stafford Sentinel reported: “The King raised his hat again and again to the cheers, and the Queen bowed. The Duchess of York was a smiling figure in blue with a white fox collar. The Princess Royal wore a broad-brimmed green hat with a costume of the same colour. Mounted police and other officers had some difficulty in clearing a path along the road for the royal cars.”

When he entered the royal box, the King, without a single detective to guard him while he watched the race, congratulated Lord Lonsdale on not being hurt. Glasgow Bulletin observed, “During the proceedings, the King, the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and most of the royal party had gazed down from their high vantage point, observing the great demonstration and appearing extremely pleased with all they saw.”

* * * * *

One of the first newspapers to report this glorious win was The Evening News of that Wednesday, 6th June 1934.

Owner, Jockey, Trainer Say

EPSOM, Wednesday,

Trust the London crowd to find a name they can pronounce for someone whose name presents a little difficulty! Thus His Highness The Maharaja of Rajpipla became “Good old Pip” to the crowd on Epsom Downs this afternoon. “Good old Pip” shouted a thousand voices as the Maharajah led in his horse after the race. His dark face was all smiles, and he waved his hat gaily to the crowd. “… very, very happy indeed,” he said to me in the unsaddling enclosure. “I knew the horse was good, and said so from the beginning. I am glad that he has won, not only for my own sake, but also for all the people who had faith in him. Since I came to England the British public have given me a wonderful reception. Now I am glad to be able to give them something in return.” The Maharajah was then escorted to the Royal box by Lord Lonsdale and was heartily congratulated by the King and the Royal party.

“Winning All The Time”

Charlie Smirke, the jockey, was delighted with himself and with Windsor Lad. He said to me: “I felt that I was winning all the time. From Tattenham Corner I was sure. Tiberius was the only horse in front of me, and I knew I could go to the front when I wanted to. Once I had taken the lead Windsor Lad went on to win.”

Mr. M. Marsh, Windsor Lad’s trainer, had just one thing to say, and he said it with a grin, “I told you so. In fact I’ve been telling you for weeks. Windsor Lad is a great horse, he won a great race, and I’m not a bit surprised.”

Just a word from Johnstone, Colombo’s jockey: “I was not unlucky. I had every chance, but it couldn’t be done.”

There will be great rejoicings in Old Windsor at Windsor Lad’s victory. The Maharajah of Rajpipla has an estate there, and they say that every man, woman and child in the village had “a bit on” Windsor Lad. Most of the people of Old Windsor were at Epsom to see the race. Their cheers when “their” horse won was the loudest of all.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh - grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla - can be contacted on email and His other blog is

A Maharaja’s Turf  

ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6

Distributed in India by :  
Variety Book Depot, 
AVG Bhawan, M-3, Middle Circle, Connaught Circus,
New Delhi - 110 001.  Tel. (011) 23417175, 23412567.

Friday, September 25, 2015

How Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla relentlessly chased his dream and finally triumphed. Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’

This story begins in the early years of the 1930s. “Steve Donoghue (the famous jockey) tipped me on the shoulder, ‘Marcus,’ he said, ‘I’d like you to meet the Maharajah of Rajpipla’,” so wrote Marcus Marsh, the future trainer of Windsor Lad, in his book Racing with the Gods (Pelham Books Ltd., London, 1968). Marsh continued, “The Maharaja was small and dark and handsome and possessed of considerable charm. He steered me into a quiet corner. ‘I would like you to train for me,’ he said. I came to know him very well in the months and years that followed. He was very kind-hearted and you couldn’t help liking him. The racecourse crowds were particularly fond of him and referred to him affectionately as ‘Mr. Pip’. He had a big Victorian mansion outside Windsor and lived in a romantic twilight world of the Charleston, champagne, and the like. Whenever I think of Pip, I see him in my mind’s eye emerging from his chauffeur-driven Rolls, beautifully turned out, a cigar in his hand.”

By then, of course, Maharana Shri Sir Vijaysinhji, KCSI, Maharaja of Rajpipla, had already come a long way. When he was born as Kumar Shri Vijaysinh on 30th January 1890, his grandfather Maharana Gambhirsinhji was the 34th Gohil Rajput Raja of Rajpipla, the British Empire was at its zenith and Queen Victoria was in the 53rd year of her momentous reign. Automobiles were just about being invented, and kings, warriors and men of means still rode horses. Infant Vijaysinh’s parents, the then Yuvraj Chhatrasinhji and Yuvrani Phul Kunverba, daughter of the ruler of Wankaner, could not have realised at the time that their son’s reign would turn out to be the pinnacle of the 600-year sway of the Gohils over the principality, and Rajpipla would appear indelibly on the map of the racing world.    

Like his father, young Vijaysinh received his schooling at Rajkumar College, Rajkot, and like all princes learnt to ride and shoot at a very early age. As The Illustrated Weekly of India noted many decades later in its Coronation Supplement dated May 9, 1937, the prince “even as a boy, showed great skill as a sportsman having himself ridden a horse to victory and won a reputation as a marksman when not much over 10 years of age.” By then he was already Yuvraj, or heir apparent, of Rajpipla. He went on to become head boy of Rajkumar College in 1908, a recognition of his allround excellence. Military training followed at the Imperial Cadet Corps, Dehra Dun.

When his father Maharana Chhatrasinhji passed away suddenly in 1915, Vijaysinhji succeeded to the gadi or throne of Rajpipla at the age of twenty-five. His accession took place up above in the hills of the western Satpuras, and deep in the forests, in the mediaeval fort at Juna Raj or Old Rajpipla. Even as he carried out several reforms and initiated numerous works of public utility in his 1,518 square miles (nearly 4,000 square kilometres) first-class State in the Rewakantha Agency of the Bombay Presidency, lying largely between the rivers Narmada and Tapti, Maharana Vijaysinhji’s fascination for horses only grew stronger. The end of the First World War saw the young ruler come into his own.

At a very early stage, Maharaja Vijaysinhji decided to follow his passion, horse racing. Success on the turf came to him early. His horse Tipster won the first-ever Indian Derby, held in Calcutta in 1919. On 1st January 1921 the British bestowed on him the hereditary title of Maharaja, and increased the permanent gun-salute from 11 to 13-guns.

In 1922 Maharaja Vijaysinhji set sail overseas and extensively toured the United Kingdom, Europe and United States of America. He saw his first Epsom Derby, which kindled in him the intense desire to one day bag this blue riband of the turf. He registered his colours in England in 1924. Soon, on 1st January 1925, he was knighted (Order of the Star of India). He was barely thirty-five years of age then.

Triumphs abroad too did not take long to come. His horse Embargo won the Irish Two Thousand Guineas, and the Irish Derby at Curragh, in 1926, ridden by the famous Steve Donoghue. Embargo next won the City and Suburban, and the Grand International of Belgium at Ostend, in 1927. He also ran second as a three-year-old for the Royal Hunt Cup. The Maharaja’s eyes were now set firmly on Epsom.          

And the ambition of every owner of thoroughbred racehorses is to win The Derby, the pinnacle of triumphs at the courses. It is a remarkable story of a man pursuing his goals relentlessly, with patience and perseverance, intelligence and commonsense, and with single-minded determination. He sought the advice of everyone who mattered. As a consequence he bought a thoroughbred yearling colt or two each year. He even started a small stud farm in England with his Irish Derby winner Embargo as sire.  

As Marcus Marsh observed in his Racing with the Gods: “In the state of Rajpipla, Pip ruled a-quarter-of-a-million subjects and his every wish was their command. They would fight for him, and, if need be, they would die for him. So naturally enough, his outlook differed from ours. Racing success had come to mean a great deal to him. He had the desire for it. He had the money for it and he could not understand why the rest shouldn’t follow. I only wish it could have been that simple.”

Sure, it was not that simple. Maharaja Vijaysinhji always spent his money wisely even when he was chasing his dream, and notwithstanding the fact that he earned sizeable sums from the sport. He did not own hundreds of horses like some other Indian princes. Rather, he chose experts to pick out colts that could win the big races. In addition to his ambition to win classic races, Maharaja Vijaysinhji knew that thoroughbreds make a very good investment. As Michael Seth-Smith wrote in Country Life, “…..bloodstock is accepted as an international currency on a par with gold, silver and diamonds.” Like his collection of Rolls-Royce cars and priceless properties, a part of Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s fortune was stables of some of the finest horses one would ever find anywhere.

A Maharaja’s Turf  

ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6

Distributed in India by :  
Variety Book Depot, 
AVG Bhawan, M-3, Middle Circle, Connaught Circus,
New Delhi - 110 001. 
Tel. (011) 23417175, 23412567.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Indrajit-Padmini Mahal (Vadia Palace), Rajpipla…..a marvel of architecture

Front view of Indrajit-Padmini Mahal (Vadia Palace), Rajpipla.

Indrajit-Padmini Mahal - also known as Vadia Palace - is a marvel of architecture and one of the iconic palaces of India. Located in the erstwhile princely town of Rajpipla, now the headquarters of Narmada district, Indrajit-Padmini Mahal was dubbed as ‘The Taj of Gujarat’ in its heyday in the 1940s. 

It was in the spring of 1934 that His Highness Maharaja Shri Sir Vijaysinhji, the last ruler of the 4,000 square kilometres first-class princely state of Rajpipla, decided to take over 150 acres of land on the eastern outskirts of Nandod, as the capital of the State was known at the time. He decided to name it Indrajit Park after his then eight-year-old son Prince Indrajitsinh.

The same summer, on 6th June, Maharaja Vijaysinhji achieved a feat that no other Indian racehorse owner had earlier, nor has anyone managed it since. His horse Windsor Lad won the coveted Epsom Derby of England, which is considered the world’s greatest horse race, dating back to 1780. The jubilant Maharaja, affectionately known as ‘Pip’ in the UK and Europe, was cheered by a mammoth crowd estimated to be between a quarter and a half million people on the Epsom Downs that damp afternoon. Present in the royal box high above the finishing post was the entire royal family of Britain led by King George V and Queen Mary, and royalty from Europe. Minutes later, the King invited the Maharaja to the royal box and raised a toast to the exhilarating triumph.

In the euphoria of this brilliant victory, and buoyed by his huge earnings from the race, Maharaja Vijaysinhji decided to build a magnificent palace in Indrajit Park. He commissioned the renowned architect Burjor Sohrab J. Aga of Shapoorjee N. Chandabhoy & Company to design a palace like no other. After visits to many palaces, and several detailed discussions with Maharaja Vijaysinhji, Burjor Aga planned the most exquisite monument of his life. And so Indrajit-Padmini Mahal was built in a predominantly Indo-Saracenic Revival style with a few western features. Some of the famous examples of Indo-Saracenic or Indo-Gothic style of architecture in India are the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata; Victoria Terminus (now renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai; Central Secretariat in New Delhi; High Court Building in Chennai; Mysore Palace; and Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, among others.

The finest Italian marble of various colours was used in different geometric patterns, such that no two rooms or galleries are floored alike. The 1,000 doors and windows, and the two large spiral staircases in either wing of the Palace winding right up to the terrace, have been crafted in the best Burma teak. The breathtaking pristine white palace was ready in 1939, having cost around Rupees forty lakhs or four million to build, a huge sum in those days, one of the costliest and last palaces to be constructed in India.

Rear view of Indrajit-Padmini Mahal (Vadia Palace), Rajpipla.

Indrajit-Padmini Mahal has a unique shape, and is built in a manner that the two private porticos on either side are not visible as one approaches the Palace, subtly guarding the privacy of the royal family. The main portico in front was meant for guests and other visitors. The original palace buildings cover an area of almost an acre - 4,320 square yards, including the outhouses comprising a large circular kitchen complex and a small secretariat on the other side. The kitchen is partially sunken, so that it did not disrupt the view of the enchanting estate from the galleries, or of the intricate facade of the Palace from the grounds. A 30-yard long insulated underground passage took food in trolleys from the kitchen to the pantry in the main building.

Inside, the palace retains much of the European character that one would expect from one erected during the 1930s and 1940s. It is an awe-inspiring reflection of Art Deco design, which was the trend in those decades between the two World Wars, There are marble globes, which were filled with exotic perfumes, and a water circulation system in them spread the pleasant aroma all around. At the rear is a marble fountain with intricate patterns matching the flooring of the piazza in which it is situated. Much of the palace was centrally air-conditioned, with ducts still visible on the walls. The lavish bathrooms had towel rods with heating elements. An elevator took the royal family and their guests to the first floor and the terrace. 

The various rooms of the palace are adorned with frescoes by Italian painter Valli, whose depiction of even Indian devotional and local themes is flawless. Every room has its own unique character. The reception behind the portico is painted with floral and faunal subjects. The drawing room has concealed lighting in the ceiling and beautiful paintings from Lord Krishna’s life. The dining room has paintings of wildlife, while the bar has murals of drunk monkeys. The ballroom has Burma teak flooring, and the sitting room is done up in frescoes of dancing girls. The puja or prayer room has a series of wall and ceiling murals.

The sprawling estate of Indrajit-Padmini Mahal had well laid out gardens, fountains, and mango and lime orchards. The Rajpipla State band would play near the main gate.

Indrajit-Padmini Mahal is indeed an architectural marvel that houses many delightful features, and an enchanting heritage of princely India. It became the final symbol of the 600-year rule of the valiant Gohil Rajput dynasty over Rajpipla State since the 1340s. The Gohil or Guhilot dynasty was founded by Muhideosur Gohadit or Guhil, who was born in 542 A.D. It ruled over both Mewar and Marwar during ancient times.

Merger of princely states with the Union of India led to the fading away of the royal way of life. For a long time Indrajit-Padmini Mahal became a lost heritage. Over the last few years, however, Prince Indra Vikram Singh, grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji and elder son of Maharajkumar Indrajitsinhji, on behalf of himself and his younger brother Prince Indra Vadan Singh, the only two surviving original owners of this magnificent legacy, has taken up the task of rehabilitating it. The work of restoration of Indrajit-Padmini Mahal should begin soon in order that it can be put to appropriate productive use and showcased as an authentic Gohil Rajput and Rajpipla royal heritage. The goal is to create one of the finest heritage resorts in India. It should not be too long before people from around the world will be wonder struck by the grandeur of The Taj of Gujarat.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

“Good old Pip”. The moments after the Epsom Derby 1934 win

A familiar face on the English racecourses for over a dozen years already, extremely popular with the racing crowds and well-liked by friends and acquaintances alike, the ever-smiling and amiable Maharaja, generous to a fault, drew rousing cheers from the multitude estimated to be anywhere between a quarter and a half million that exhilarating afternoon on the Epsom Downs.

As soon as the dapper prince, in his tail-coat and top-hat, stepped on to the course after Windsor Lad had blazed past the finishing post, the spectators were on their feet, calling out “Good old Pip” over and over again. It was a memorable ovation that only a few Indians like the immortal cricketer Prince Ranjitsinhji would have ever experienced in England. Countless people stepped forward to congratulate him, among the first being his good friend the Aga Khan.   

The media flocked to Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, to photograph and film him and get quotes and reactions for the morning papers. By the time he led his gallant colt to the unsaddling enclosure, there was a great melee around him.

Just then a gentle word was whispered in his ear that the King wanted to see him. People recalled those moments, “In the unsaddling enclosure the smiling Indian simply got ‘lost’ under his emotions. It took him some time to realise that General Tomkinson (manager of the King’s stable) was calling him to go to receive the congratulations of the King and the Royal Family. The words were not heard for a moment or two. This Indian ruler has given the lead which can well be emulated by others. He took the public into his confidence from the earliest moment by his open declarations of confidence in Windsor Lad’s chance.”

Up above to the royal box did the victorious ruler ascend to receive the felicitations of King George V and Queen Mary and all the members of the royal family present. The King raised a toast to this brilliant triumph, crowning an unforgettable day in the life of Maharaja Vijaysinhji.

(Except from Á Maharaja's Turf'' by the Maharaja's grandson Indra Vikram Singh)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Princely Hospitality of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla

Born in 1890, Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla ascended the gadi of the 4,000 square kilometres Rajpipla State in 1915. During his nearly 33 years of reign until merger of the State with the Union of India in 1948, Maharaja Vijaysinhji was not only a sagacious and benevolent ruler who carried out several reforms and development works, but also a man of great taste and a gracious host.

In his magnificent palaces and guest houses in Rajpipla, his seaside mansion on Nepeansea Road in Bombay, his valley-view house in Mussoorie, and his riverside Victorian manor at Old Windsor in England, the Maharaja would often host memorable parties with every little detail attended to. His kitchen had chefs for different cuisines, Indian, Continental and Chinese, and even some who specialised in non-vegetarian dishes. They would surprise guests with exotic menus.

The Maharaja would host royalty and aristocracy from India, UK and Europe; viceroys and governors; racehorse owners, trainers and jockeys; and celebrities of various hues. Among his many close friends were Aga Khan III Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, Maharaja Man Singh of Jaipur and the author of the James Bond series Ian Fleming.  

Being such a generous host and connoisseur of food, Maharaja Vijaysinhji was fond of cooking and devising his own delicious recipes. His most famous recipe is the Rajpipla Chicken which has been a favourite of family members and friends for nearly a hundred years. While on picnics or out camping, the Maharaja would invariably get down to preparing a dish or two. I had a film from the early 1930s where one could see him cooking in a jungle camp, dressed in khaki shirt and trouser, smiling at the camera, enjoying stirring the huge pot. 

After Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s horse Windsor Lad won the Epsom Derby of England in 1934 (still the only Indian owner to win this coveted race in its history going back to 1870), his friend V.C. Buckley wrote in the Sunday Graphic and Sunday News: “He is the kindest, simplest and most hospitable person one could wish to meet. When the Maharajah of Rajpipla says, Come out to India and stay with me,’ he means it – not like many people who have a habit of issuing invitations which are not really meant. The Maharajah often comes to have meals at the guest house, and once or twice during a visitor’s stay will invite him to dine at the Palace. On these occasions the host wears white jodhpur breeches and a brocade coat buttoned up to the neck and reaching below the knees. In England, which he loves to visit, he only dons such clothes on State occasions, preferring for everyday wear, a well-cut lounge suit with usually a red carnation in his button-hole. At his Windsor house he entertains informally, partaking in a game of tennis or croquet, or a run in the motor-launch on the Thames, which flows beside the grounds. The long dining-table is adorned with racing trophies, and on Saturdays and Sundays one may be sure to find at least twenty people seated around it, as I did only last Sunday.”

Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla was indeed a most charming person to meet, always delighting his guests, and quick to cook a delectable dish at the first opportunity, a very popular figure in India and abroad for much of the first half of the 20th century.