'Maharaja Rajendra Singh Deo: A Man Among Princes' book review

A painstakingly researched book on the life of Maharaja Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo of Odisha
that establishes him as a dutiful and compassionate ruler

Published: 02nd April 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st April 2023 02:20 PM   |  A+A-

Maharaja Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo with his wife

Express News Service

Maharaja Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo, born to a royal family in the Bihar and Orissa Province of British India, was adopted by the Maharaja of the princely state of Patna and served diligently as its last monarch. What is even more impressive is that he became the first ruler of a princely state to sign the merger agreement for accession into the Union of India, indicating a measure of dignity and grace that seemed to have characterised his political and personal life as well.

His is a story of duty, temperance and compassion that makes for interesting reading, thanks to the painstaking efforts of authors Pabitra Mohan Nayak and VR Singh. 

The reader is treated to a fascinating glimpse of the turbulent history of Odisha in the aftermath of Independence, the bloody upheaval and the intermittent power struggles in its wake, which  came to define the political and cultural landscape as we know it today.

The Maharaja’s ascent to the throne itself was not without drama. A particularly harrowing passage outlines the palace intrigues that plagued this highly desired seat of absolute power, the path to which seemed driven with bloodlust, betrayal and unspeakable tragedy. The authors eschew unnecessary sensationalism and steer clear from scandal, which is a tasteful touch, preferring to let their subject’s meritorious conduct and exemplary record speak for itself.

Affectionately addressed as the Maharaja, even after he stepped down, Rajendra Narayan was a progressive thinker who worked hard for socio-economic and cultural reforms in his state. He continued to serve his people by entering politics and eventually becoming the chief minister, a hugely popular and effective one at that. What is even more impressive, as narrated by the authors, is the Maharaja’s earnest appeal to lend his voice in support of the most downtrodden in society, including poor farmers, exploited women as well as the untouchables. It is to his credit that while addressing the rights of a Brahmin widow, he went on record to state: “The harshness of the social laws on the weaker sex is so obviously inequitable that one cannot help wondering whether these are laws of a civilised nation or narrow prejudices.” He similarly believed that “if man was indeed the temple of the living God, there was no place for discrimination”.

The Maharaja was also a man of action. It was he, who welcomed the Harijans into Patna and threw open the gates of Raghunath Temple, the main palace temple, to let them in, in a move that was the first 
of its kind in the state. In addition to this, he worked to eradicate child marriage and was instrumental in implementing better healthcare services, quality education for all, modern infrastructure and farm reform among other things.

Based on the existing evidence, Rajendra Narayan appears to have been a man of sound principles and good sense. Despite his erudition and determination, however, he wasn’t always successful in his endeavours. 

A particularly painful defeat was the failure to restore the broken limbs of Odisha, which was the loss of the districts of Seraikela (where he was born) and Kharsawan, which had formally been merged with Bihar, though many felt that historically, culturally and linguistically, it made more sense to integrate them with Odisha. The Maharaja worked hard to restore these lost districts to his state and made a powerful case, but all efforts by him and others like former Odisha CM, Biju Patnaik, were in vain and to this day, they remain outside the state and come under the jurisdiction of Jharkhand.

In their bid to do justice to this remarkable person, the authors tend to treat the Maharaja with a level of reverence that makes this a hagiography. An unflinching portrait with the warts and all might have perhaps served the Maharaja better. Even so, there is no denying that he clearly was a legend.

Maharaja Rajendra Singh Deo: A Man Among Princes

By: Pabitra Mohan Nayak, VR Singh

Publisher: Rupa

Pages: 200

Price: Rs 495

India Matters


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