The following is a brief article I wrote for Sruti magazine for their issue commemorating the last Mysore Maharajah, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar on the occasion of his birth centenary –
The life of Jayachamaraja Wodeyar often reminds of me Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince where people assume that a gilded statue of a prince is really happy when it hides in reality so much of unhappiness within.
He may have been born in the lap of luxury but His Highness Sri Sir Jayamachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur, Maharajah of Mysore, was not blessed to have a happy life. There is an expression – uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. In his case he was not at peace even after the crown was removed from his head.
Jayachamaraja Wodeyar was the only son to his parents, his father being the younger brother of the ruling Maharajah, Nalwadi Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar. His accession was more or less a formality as his uncle had no male issue. He was privately educated and in due course of time was married to Satya Prem Kumari Ju, a princess of a minor principality in Central India, in 1938. The occasion was marked by a composition of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar set in five ragas – Kalyani, Bhairavi, Kamboji, Ananda Bhairavi and Sri. Notwithstanding the grandeur of the festivities, the marriage was not a success. First Her Highness it was rumoured, refused to consummate the marriage on discovering that the Wodeyars were of the Yadava caste, and therefore inferior to her. How and why she discovered this so late in the day is a matter of mystery. Divorce being unheard of, she was given a suitable allowance and a palace in Mysore where she lived. Jayachamaraja married again, in 1944, after he became Maharajah, his second wife being Tripura Sundari Ammani, daughter of a Mysore nobleman. The union was blessed and the couple had a son and five daughters.
His father, Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wodeyar, who as younger brother of the ruler was designated yuvaraja or crown prince, passed away under somewhat strange circumstances in Bombay in March 1940. This brought Jayachamaraja directly in the line of succession and he was made yuvaraja. He had very little time to train himself for his uncle the ruler, passed away the same year in August. He thus became the ruler of one of the largest Indian states, being entitled to a salute of 21 guns wherever he went, being part of a cosy club of five such rulers – Hyderabad, Kashmir, Gwalior and Baroda being the others. During the build-up to Indian Independence, Jayamchamaraja Wodeyar had to deal with considerable factionism in the durbar, the principal opponents being the Tamils and the Kannadigas. The prince struggled with them but there was never any question of compromising on his dignity and integrity. In that matter he was universally respected but it was agreed that his uncle had been a greater ruler to follow whom was a tough act.
As a ruler, he was a great patron of music. Books on music were dedicated to him.Songs were composed on him. Mysore Vasudevachar, who was a mentor, created several pieces in his praise. Dhira Shura budhajana mandara in Khamas/Chatusra Triputa is one. There is a pancharatnam that begins with Srimad Yadukulavaridhi Chandram set to Khamas, Behag, Hindolam, Saranga and Hindustani Kapi. Muthiah Bhagavatar has dedicated a varnam in Kapi and tillanas in Kapi, Behag and Hamsanandi to him. This apart, his Jayajaya Shri Karnataka Janadhara (Kalyani/Adi) was composed on Jayachamaraja Wodeyar becoming Maharajah. The ruler had a great fondness for Muthiah Bhagavatar and when the latter died, ensured that he was cremated on a pyre of sandalwood, in keeping with his love for fragrances.
Independence came in 1947 and Mysore acceded to the Indian union, Wodeyar ceasing to be Maharajah in 1950. He became the Rajpramukh of Mysore State, an office he held till 1956 when he was designated Governor. In 1964 he became Governor of Madras, in which capacity he served till 1966.
He was a man of many accomplishments. An author, a vedantin, a Sri Vidya upasaka, a wildlife enthusiast, a serious scholar of western classical music and an exponent of Carnatic music. It is therefore appropriate that in his capacity as Maharajah and later Rajpramukh and Governor, he was Chancellor of Mysore/Karnataka, Madras and Annamalai Universities. It is likely that all of these interests helped him tide over the loss of official position, something that must have hit him hard. It must have been difficult to lose the office that you were trained for from birth, at the early age of 27. The abolition of privy purses in 1971 was a huge blow to the Mysore finances. He did try his hand at various businesses, including the conversion of several of his palaces into hotels, none of which was successful. There were many demands on his money and unscrupulous people did take advantage of his gullibility. Tax demands were heavy. The Government mooted the takeover of the city palace in Bangalore and the matter is still sub judice. Many of the royal residences were closed in his lifetime. Letting go of trusted retainers and staff must have been difficult. The film-maker Stephen Weeks arriving in India in 1973 had the opportunity of witnessing the ‘collapse of the Maharaj of Mysore’ as he puts it in his book Decaying Splendour. The Mysore palace had no sentries, litter was blowing about on the dried-up lawns and as for the garage that had once read “like the catalogue of Montagu’s Motor Museum, was now bare.”
The last years were tough for there was litigation within the family as well, his first wife and son suing him. His health had never been good for a glandular problem had brought on an early onset of obesity, something that he passed on to his children as well. The last straw was the death of his eldest daughter Gayatri Devi from cancer in July 1974. The Maharajah died in September the same year. MA Srinivasan (not an entirely reliable chronicler) has in his memoirs, Of The Raj, Maharajahs and Me, written a moving account of his last meeting with Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. It was not a happy ending for a gentle and emancipated human being. Among his last projects was the building of a world-class gramophone collection, which he left unfinished.
In Chennai, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar is remembered for his having inaugurated the Music Academy’s auditorium in 1962 and also for having laid the foundation of the Mylapore Fine Arts Club’s venue. In 1963, he presided over the celebration got up to commemorate Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar completing 50 years of service to music. That was at Rajaji Hall and among those in attendance was my father, who till his end remembered the Maharajah’s speech, deep in its understanding of music.