With the death of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, the eighth ‘king’ of the Wadiyar dynasty, one of India’s most enduring and benevolent empires comes to an end. In democratic terms, the state has lost a cultural ambassador, politician and fashion designer.
With a passion for heritage, Wadiyar ran palace hotels and created the Ganda Berunda brand of saris. (Ganda Berunda is the Kannada word for the two-headed bird that served as the insignia of the Mysore kings).
Mysore and its erstwhile empire sank into mourning as news of Wadiyar’s death spread on Tuesday. Called ‘His Highness’ and ‘Maharaja’ by many, Wadiyar was the only son of Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, the last ruling king of Mysore, and Maharani Tripura Sundari Ammani.The dynasty ruled the Kingdom of Mysore between 1399 and 1950, and was praised by Mahatma Gandhi for its enlightened governance.
The Mysore kings were the first to introduce reservation for the underprivileged, take up ambitious power projects, start schools, colleges and a univeristy, and launch industries.
After then prime minister Indira Gandhi abolished princely states in 1971, ending 360 years of Wadiyar rule, its pomp and ceremony took a severe beating. Chief minister Gundu Rao resumed the Dasara celebrations. After the death of Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar in 1974, Srikantadatta Wadiyar stepped in and conducted the private durbar, continuing an age-old tradition. The practice continued till October this year, when Wadiyar officiated again. A soft-spoken man known for his human qualities, Wadiyar enjoyed immense respect in the Mysore region.
The Wadiyars were respected by Indira Gandhi and other national leaders, and Wadiyar won four elections. But he lost twice as a BJP candidate and once as a Congress candidate, unable to cash in on the goodwill. He was a potential chief ministerial candidate, but when the big parties denied him a ticket during the 2009 Lok sabha elections, he took a break from politics.
Living at the Bangalore Palace, he had plans to contest from the Bangalore Central Lok Sabha constituency. He had recently won the elections to the Karnataka State Cricket Association.
Wadiyar owned hotels in Ooty (Udhagamandalam) and Mysore, and was keenly interested in the heritage property business. The scion was planning on renovating the Rajendra Palace atop the Chamundi Hill by next year. He held a fashion show on his birthday every year to showcase his products and designed his own brand of silk saris called Royal Silk.
Srikantadatta Wadiyar had a huge collection of books and musical instruments, and was thinking of opening an e-library to help readers across the world access the Mysore Palace library.
He was keen on starting online courses from the proposed Mysore Maharaja University and had done some paper work to start an airline. However, the economic slowdown had forced him to shelve plans.