This is a fairytale that can certainly only be re-lived by poring over the pages of a magazine or book because they don’t make them like her any more— Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda was one of the most opulent, charming, and bold Indian Maharanis to have ever lived in the history of Indian royalty. She was a true connoisseur of luxury and the finer things in life. She lived a colourful and carefree life and was part of the international jet-set who adored her for her exoticism and bold personality. - Suneela
Born into the Southern royal family of Pithapuram, daughter of Sri Raja Rao Venkata Kumara Mahipati Surya Rau Bahadur Garu and his wife Sri Rani Chinnamamba Devi of Mirzapuram --- a huge zamindar family in Andhra Pradesh, Maharani Sita Devi was married off into another zamindari family at an early age, as was custom to her generation, to M.R. Apparao Bahadur of Vayyur.
Stroke of Destiny
As with almost everything in life, destiny plays a huge role in who one meets and it was no different for Sita Devi who happened to have caught the fancy of Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad of Baroda one fateful day at the Madras Races, which was the beginning of a life of extravagance and incessant worldly pleasures, where the world was her oyster.
The Maharaja was the eighth richest man in the world and a father to eight children, yet this did not stop him from vigorously pursuing Sita Devi. She eventually fell for his charm and made sure she put his money to good use in the form of jaw dropping diamonds and expensive attire.The couple had to flout a number of anti-bigamy laws and religious practices in order to get married. The Maharaja’s legal team even counselled them that in order to be able to marry, Sita Devi must convert to Islam, so as to dissolve her marriage with her first husband and be able to marry Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad. This was of course just a formality in order to be legally married, however, it didn’t go down too well with the British Viceroy.
New York, London, Paris, and Monaco
The couple frequently travelled to attend events of the international crème de la crème at various fashion capitals of the world; however, they chose a mansion in Monte Carlo as their base because of the privacy it gave them.
At a time when most Indian women and Maharanis were photographed with their heads demurely covered and erred on the side of conservatism, the bold and stunning Maharani Sita Devi went against the norm and was often seen at the Waldorf Astoria of New York or The Dorchester of London, with her hair thrown back to show off the stunningly grand earrings and necklaces, and hands posed so as to show off her bracelets and rings to best effect. The Maharani also enjoyed the occasional cigarette, and believe it or not, even her cigarette holder was studded with rubies.
Jewels and Clothes
Sita Devi was part of the international jet-set and when she travelled, she did so in style – with no less than a thousand French chiffon sarees and trunk loads of precious jewellery. The Maharani possessed a spectacular collection of jewellery, famous among which were the Baroda pearls – an unparalleled seven-strand necklace of priceless Basra pearls which were made famous on her neck at multiple international events, and a three-strand diamond necklace with the Star of the South, a 128.80 carat Pink Brazilian diamond, and the English Dresden: a 78.53 carat diamond. Since the Maharani was truly an international doyenne, she frequented world renowned jewellers like Harry Winston, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels. In fact, Van Cleef & Arpels endearingly referred to her as ‘Mrs. Brown’ because of her dusky complexion. The Maharani took her opulence and love for jewels so seriously that she also commissioned gold tongue cleaners from Van Cleef!
There is also an interesting story of the Maharani at a ball at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, and her reaction on seeing a pair of her former diamond and emerald anklets on the neck of the Duchess of Windor—Wallis Simspon. While everyone was oohh-ing and aah-ing at Wallis’s necklace, Sita Devi made sure it was known that that very piece looked great on her ankles in the past, to which the Duchess immediately returned the necklace to Harry Winston.
In spite of all the luxuries and money in the world, Sita Devi’s life ended rather traumatically. She divorced her husband in 1956, and although she continued to live lavishly, she was known to be lonely. The biggest blow of her life came on the night of her son, Princie’s 40th birthday, as he committed suicide in his apartment in Cannes. Her life in a gilded cage came crashing down, and soon after, Sita Devi also died at her apartment in Paris.