In many ways 1919 was a landmark year in the life of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla. The Maharana Chhatrasinhji Rajpipla State Hospital, built by him in memory of his father, was completed on 21st February of that year. The legendary Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwar of Baroda was invited to inaugurate it.
The foundation stone of the hospital was laid on 9th December 1915, a day before the official coronation of Maharaja Vijaysinhji. His father Maharana Chhatrasinhji had passed away on 26th September, and immediately he set about planning new works of public utility including the hospital, and the railway bridge over the River Karjan and new terminus right at the edge of Rajpipla town.
Exquisitely designed by Shapoorjee N. Chandabhoy & Company, Bombay, the imposing hospital with the best medical facilities then, and enough space for expansion, took more than three years to complete. Situated in the heart of Rajpipla town (earlier known as Nandod), the hospital continues to serve the people of the area after having completed its centenary.
Handed over to the government at the time of merger of Rajpipla State with the Union of India in 1948, it still remains the Rajpipla Civil Hospital. Only now is the Government of Gujarat planning another civil hospital in the suburb of Jeetnagar.
Maharaja Vijaysinhji was also well known on the turf the world over. He went on to win a hat-trick of Derbys. The first of these was the inaugural Indian Derby (then known as the Country-bred Derby) at Calcutta in 1919. His Kunigal bred horse Tipster, ridden by the famous Australian jockey ‘Bunty’ Brown, took the honours.
To use Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s own words, “From that day I always wanted to win the English Derby. That is the ambition of every racing man in the world.” He started buying a high class yearling every year, but he also observed, “People spent millions and were racing for generations and yet hadn’t won the celebrated race.”
In 1926 his horse Embargo won the Irish Derby. The Maharaja reflected, “My dreams were coming nearer. But still my ambition was not achieved. I would not give in.”
And then on 6th June 1934, “…..the day came and thank God I won the English Derby, the Blue Riband of the Turf and my ambition and dream were realised by the kindness of God.” His horse Windsor Lad won the coveted Epsom Derby of England.
The seeds of this brilliant hat-trick of Derbys were sown in 1919 with his victory in the Indian Derby.
The year 1919 brought to the fore the multi-faceted personality of the young ruler, one who worked assiduously for his people, and also strived diligently to achieve his sporting ambitions. A hundred years later he is still revered by the populace who regularly pay obeisance at his equestrian statue at one of the entrances to Rajpipla town.