Today is the 124th birth anniversary of Maharana Shri Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, my grandfather. Born on 30th January 1890 at Chhatravilas Palace, Nandod (New Rajpipla), Maharana Vijaysinhji succeeded his father Maharana Shri Sir Chhatrasinhji on the gadi of the principality of Rajpipla at the Fort, Junaraj (Old Rajpipla) in the Western Satpuras on 26th September 1915, and invested with full ruling powers on 10th December 1915.
Descendant of the ancient Gohil Rajput dynasty which traces its origin to Muhideosur Gohadit or Guhil, who was born in 542 A.D., and much beyond, Maharana Vijaysinhji was the 36th and last ruler of the 4,000 square kilometres kingdom, which lay largely between the Rivers Narmada and Tapti.
Young Kumar Shri Vijaysinhji was educated at Rajkumar College, Rajkot, being head boy in 1908, and Imperial Cadet Corps., Dehra Dun. He became Honorary Captain in the Indian Army on 14th October 1919, and Honorary Officer 27th Light Cavalry, promoted to Honorary Major on 8th September 1932, and Honorary Lt. Colonel on 10th September 1943. Having inherited the British title of Raja of his father Chhatrasinhji, and a permanent salute of 11-guns, Vijaysinhji was given the title of Maharaja and a permanent salute of 13-guns on 1st January 1921. He received knighthood (Knight Commander Star of India) on 1st January 1925, and GBE (Knight Grand Cross) on 1st January 1945.
Maharana Shri Vijaysinhji was an enlightened ruler, and his mark is still in great evidence all over Rajpipla even today. He began construction of a modern civil hospital in the very first year of his reign, which was inaugurated in 1919 by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda. Maharana Vijaysinhji also built a maternity home, five regional dispensaries, and a veterinary hospital. The Maharaja extended the railway line from the old station to the new station by building a magnificent iron bridge over the river Karjan, which was inaugurated by Governor of Bombay Presidency Lord Willingdon in 1917.
He set up a 19-kilometre railway line between the Narmada bank near Jhagadia – on the Rajpipla-Ankleshwar line – and Netrang, which was completed by the year 1932, increasing the network to 94 kilometres. He constructed a 30-kilometres steam railroad, and a tramway connecting the towns along the river Narmada with villages in the interior. He oversaw the laying of an extensive network of good motorable roads, and put up an airstrip on which small planes began landing in the early 1930s. He had plans to convert this into a 150-acre aerodrome on the banks of the Karjan, south of the town of Rajpipla. A power house was set up for supplying electricity and water to the town.
The gigantic and stately high school was constructed on a hillock opposite the main bazaar in the early 1930s. The far-sighted ruler introduced town planning methods, and the main bazaar was built on either side of a wide avenue leading from the Rajpipla railway station, and entrance to Rajpipla through the highway leading from Ankleshwar, to the older parts of the town. Maharana Vijaysinhji constructed a town hall and adjacent public garden, and wadis or congregation centres for different communities. All these public amenities are still being used by the people of Rajpipla. The impressive state guest house that he built is now a college.
Under the Maharaja’s benevolent rule, free primary and affordable secondary education were introduced, and scholarships of Rs.6,000 per annum were awarded for technical and collegiate education, He set up a widows fund as well. Agriculture and animal husbandry improved substantially through the implementation of drought and flood relief programmes. In the scarcity year 1918-19, the Maharaja granted liberal remissions and suspensions amounting to Rupees 3,00,000. Another Rupees 4,00,000 were spent on relief works and gratuitous doles. Farm yields grew with modern farming methods, introduction of new varieties of seeds and improved quality control. The quality of cotton, grains and fruits was upgraded. Short-stapled Ghoghari cotton was eliminated, and long-stapled 1027 A.L.F. (Farm Cotton) was introduced. As a consequence, the reputation of Rajpipla cotton was built in Bombay and other cotton markets. The land revenue system was regularised.
The civil and criminal justice systems were reformed, and a salaried civil service was introduced, together with a system of retirement pensions, which did much to eradicate corruption. Salaries of the army and police were increased. During the First World War, Rajpipla State supplied many recruits. The Maharaja donated Rupees 2,00,000 for mechanical ambulances, subscribed to many war charities, and took war loans amounting to Rupees 8,00,000. During the Second World War he presented three Spitfire aircrafts named ‘Rajpipla’, ‘Windsor Lad’, and ‘Embargo’, and a Hawker Hurricane night fighter ‘Rajpipla II’, all of which did good work for the Allied forces.
Sports were promoted and made compulsory for students in Rajpipla State. The dhaba ground hosted several sports like cricket, football and hockey. He built a gymkhana, named Rajpipla Club, which was inaugurated on 26th February 1917 by Lord Willingdon, with tennis and indoor badminton courts, facilities for table tennis, and a polo ground. He had his own family polo team comprising himself and three of his sons Yuvraj Rajendra Singhji, Maharajkumar Pramod Singhji and Maharajkumar Indrajeet Singhji.
Maharana Vijaysinhji was one of the most famous racehorse owners in the world, being the only Indian owner ever to win the coveted English Epsom Derby in 1934, and earlier clinching the first-ever Indian Derby at Calcutta in 1919, and Irish Derby at Curragh in 1926, thereby completing a rare hat-trick.
The Maharaja was planning to build a dam across the Narmada to generate electricity, supply drinking water and for irrigation throughout his territories. He was in the process of raising finances for the project but the State was merged before this dream could be realized. This, though, was a precursor to the modern Sardar Sarovar Dam, which has become a lifeline for the people of Gujarat and south-west Rajasthan.
Despite reduction in the level of taxation, state revenues had exceeded Rupees 46,27,000 when the State was merged with Bombay in 1948, as against Rupees 13,00,000 at the time of his accession in 1915. Even though allied to the British crown through his reign, sensing the march of the forces of Indian democracy, the Maharaja lent support to a nationalist movement in his State in the 1940s. He handed over the administration to the Praja Mandal in the last few months, and was one of the first rulers to merge his State with the Indian Union along with a sum of Rupees 28,00,000 that was lying in deposit in the State treasury. He signed the instrument of accession on 19th March 1948, and merged Rajpipla State with the Union of India on 10th June 1948.
Following his demise at his estate The Manor, Old Windsor, Berkshire, England, on 29th April 1951, he was cremated at Rampura, Rajpipla, on the banks of the holy Narmada. A bronze statue of Maharana Vijaysinhji on horseback adorns the main square of Rajpipla town. The reign of Maharana Vijaysinhji was the pinnacle of the 600-year rule of the Gohil Rajput clan over the kingdom of Rajpipla, and it brought down the curtain on a long and valiant struggle, setting the area on the path of modernisation and progress.
(Indra Vikram Singh, grandson of Maharana Shri Sir Vijaysinhji, Maharaja of Rajpipla, can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com).