Home / Politics / Policy /  Mysore prince Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar dies

The annual Dasara celebrations in Mysore will perhaps never be the same again. For many in my generation, who did not have the privilege of witnessing the grand Durbar of the last maharaja of Mysore Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, Dasara in the palace meant visuals of a bedecked scion ascending the resplendent throne that had been handed down the centuries to the dynasty, supposedly from the Pandavas.

This was perhaps one of the few occasions when the people of Karnataka and outside got a glimpse of the mild-mannered and laconic Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, who died of a cardiac arrest in Bangalore on Tuesday.

To family loyalists, he represented that last link with a dynasty that ruled over a significant part of southern Karnataka—the erstwhile Mysore State—for close to 600 years. The Karnataka government has declared a state holiday on Wednesday and two days of mourning as a mark of respect to the former maharaja.

To many people in this part of the country, the Wodeyar dynasty still symbolizes a standard of governance and administration that has been sadly lacking in many a democratic government of Karnataka. The high degree of industrial progress, social reform and the cultural melting pot that Mysore state became under the benevolent maharajas and their able dewans, laid the foundations of a modern state.

After all, it was under the Wodeyars that Bangalore became India’s first city to be electrified in 1905, the first province to provide a representative system of governance to people, extending voting franchise and education to women, reservations to backward castes, the largest reservoir of Asia created in the form of the KRS Dam—numerous such progressive measures that without doubt made modern Karnataka what it is today. So much so that even Mahatma Gandhi openly wondered if a province as prosperous as Mysore needed freedom and compared it with the mythical Rama Rajya—the ultimate utopian state.

Born on 20 February 1953 to Jayachamaraja Wodeyar (who had by then relinquished the throne to the Union of India and become the Raj Pramukh of independent Mysore State) and Tripurasundarammanni, Srikantadatta possibly saw the worst of the transition of the royalty from their hitherto exalted status to that of commoners under the new dispensation. The agony was furthered with the abolition of privy purses and titles by Indira Gandhi, a couple of decades later. Jayachamaraja Wodeyar possibly never recovered from a series of reverses that came his way following the end of the kingdom. Death of his eldest daughter and a few other murky family feuds that went straight up to the gates of the legal courts eventually hastened his demise in 1974.

It was under such exacting circumstances that young Srikantadatta took over as the head of the family—a ceremonial title of being the scion of a dynasty that was much admired and respected, but had little or no powers in the contemporary context. Straddling between these multiple worlds, his life became a perennial struggle for re-inventing himself and the relevance of the dynasty in modern times.

Love for the dynasty helped him win the Mysore parliamentary constituency four times as a Congress candidate. But successive denials of tickets saw him switch sides to the Bharatiya Janata Party and back, which led to his defeat at the hustings. Disillusioned with politics, he decided to explore other avenues. Always one for the fast life, Srikantadatta Wodeyar with the support of his wife maharani Pramoda Devi, from the Bettada Kote Urs family, tried his hand at fashion designing and promoting Mysore Silks under the “Royal Silk of Mysore" brand name and was a regular at several fashion shows in the city and outside. He also took a keen interest in restoration—an avid connoisseur of painting, he particularly strove to revive the distinct Mysore school of painting and several exhibitions of this were curated by him too.

After a long legal tangle, when control of the Bangalore Palace was restored to him, bringing back the past glory of a replica of a regal slice of medieval England in the heart of bustling Vasanth Nagar was his top priority. “It’s a matter of time. I will make this place every inch a palace… The palace has to look the way it was when I was young and growing up," he had declared to the media a couple of years ago and truly lived up to this promise. The palace got an unprecedented facelift and has become an important destination on the tourism itinerary of Bangalore.

A man of multiple interests, he had been the cricket team captain of Mysore University from where he received his post-graduate degree. In 2007, he was elected, for the first time, as Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) president for a three-year term, defeating former India batsman G.R. Vishwanath.

Picking on the Indian Premier League momentum of the times, he started the KPL series, which unfortunately did not take off in the manner he envisaged. Just 10 days back, he was back in the seat as KSCA president by joining hands with Brijesh Patel. And before he could assume office and put his dreams to action, he died following a massive cardiac arrest.

Speculation has been rife on the Wodeyar dynasty’s succession plans and the late scion added to this himself, attributing credence to the medieval myth of a wronged queen who cursed the dynasty to childlessness in 1610. Ever since, claim family loyalists, alternate generations of the family have remained childless necessitating adoptions from the collateral line to further the dynasty. Wodeyar too leaves without an heir, and that opens a new can of worms and challenges to a dynasty that has been sticking on to time-bound traditions.

After a life full of ups and downs, Srikantadatta Wodeyar would best be remembered by history as a prince who saw the collapse of royalty, the rough and tumble of Indian politics, straddled multiple worlds of fashion, race cars and cricket, making every effort to keep himself and his family relevant in the ever-changing times—failing in a few of them, but by and large successful.

Vikram Sampath is the Bangalore-based author of Splendours of Royal Mysore: the untold story of the Wodeyars.

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