Kingdom of Rajpipla
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The Kingdom of Rajpipla was a princely state of India ruled by the Gohil Rajput clan from around 1350 till 1948 when it was merged with the Republic of India. It is now part of the state of Gujarat. Its capital town of Rajpipla is now headquarters of the Narmada district.
The princely state was situated largely between two important rivers of western India—the Narmada and the Tapti, with the Satpura range in the south. Spanning an area of over 1500 square miles (4,000 km²), of which 600 mi² (1550 km²) were forests and the rest fertile agricultural plains and river valleys, Rajpipla grew to be one of the most prosperous princely states in Gujarat, second only to Baroda. It was also famous for its agate mines.
Chokrana, a Parmar Rajput prince, originally hailing from the ruling family of Ujjain in Malwa (now the western part of the state of Madhya Pradesh), was in the early part of the fourteenth century ruling over the principality of Rajpipla, with his capital at Juna Raj or Old Rajpipla high up in the western Satpuras and deep inside the forests. His daughter was married to the legendary Mokhdaji, the Gohil Rajput warrior chief of Ghogha in Gohilwar, Saurashtra. Chokrana, who had no male heir, adopted his grandson Samarsinhji, younger son of Mokhdaji. Mokhdaji's first wife was a Sarviya princess of Hathasani and their son Dungarsinhji succeeded as chief of Ghogha, part of which later became the princely state of Bhavnagar.
Samarsinhji acceded to the gadi (throne) of Rajpipla around the mid-fourteenth century, assuming the name Arjunsinhji. From then, Rajpipla was ruled by the Gohil Rajput dynasty. The Kul Devi (family deity) of the royal family of Rajpipla is Shri Harsiddhi Mataji.
The origin of the Gohil Rajput clan goes back to the sixth century AD when Muhideosur Gohadit or Guhil, born after the sack of Vallabhi and the only male survivor of the clan, went on to become chief of an area near modern Idar in Gujarat. His descendant Kalbhoj or Bappa Rawal seized Chittor and became ruler of Mewar in 734 AD. A little more than two-and-a-half-centuries later, Salivahan, the Gohil ruler of Mewar moved away with part of the clan from Chittor to Juna Khergarh in Marwar, leaving behind his son Shakti Kumar with the remaining members of his kin. Later, after Ala-ud-din Khilji ravaged Chittor, the Gohils of Mewar regrouped and assumed the name Sisodia.
Meanwhile the Gohils who had migrated under Salivahan ruled over Marwar for more than two centuries. Then after the formation of the Delhi Sultanate, when the Rathores travelled to Marwar in the early part of the thirteenth century, the Gohils were pushed out. They marched back to Saurashtra where they became governors of the Chalukyas, and then carved out their own principalities. The most famous of their chiefs during this period were Sejakji, Ranoji and Mokhdaji, and the princely states that their descendants carved out were Bhavnagar, Rajpipla, Palitana, Lathi and Vallabhipur.
Those were turbulent mediaeval times and it was not easy for the Gohils to retain their hold over Rajpipla. They had to face several invasions from the sultans of Ahmedabad, the Mughal emperors and later the Marathas, even losing their principality for brief periods, each time coming back to power by joining forces with the hill tribes (mostly Bhils) and carrying out guerrilla attacks. In 1730, with the weakening of the Mughal Empire, the 26th Gohil ruler of Rajpipla, Maharana Verisalji I stopped paying tribute to the Mughals, and his son Maharana Jeetsinhji wrested back Nandod taluka and shifted the capital to Nandod or new Rajpipla town, in the plains on the banks of the river Karjan, a tributary of the Narmada.
When the Marathas grew powerful in the 18th century, the Gaekwars of Baroda exacted tribute from Rajpipla. The stranglehold of the Gaekwars was cast aside with the intervention of the British and accession of the 33rd Gohil ruler Maharana Verisalji II on the gadi of Rajpipla. During the 1857 Mutiny, Rajpipla under Verisalji II rebelled, and for many months relieved itself of the sway of the British. It was not surprising, therefore, that the agitated English, having quelled the Mutiny and transferred power to the Crown, forced Verisalji II to step aside and make way for his son Maharana Gambhirsinhji in 1860 AD.
1900s and Maharaja Vijaysinhji
The golden period of Rajpipla during the modern era began when Maharana Gambhirsinhji's son Maharana Chhatrasinhji, the 35th Gohil Raja of Rajpipla came to the gadi in 1897 AD. Rajpipla witnessed rapid progress over the next half-century. Knighthood was conferred on Maharana Chhatrasinhji (KCIE) as a result of his efficient administration which included the laying of the 40-mile (64 kilometres) Ankleshwar-Rajpipla railway line, initiated in the first year of his reign, and massive famine relief during the period 1899-1902. But the builder of modern and affluent Rajpipla was his son, Maharana Vijaysinhji, who ascended the gadi in 1915 AD, and proved to be a great administrator, assisted by his karbhari Rasikbhai Dubla. Knighthood was also conferred on Maharaja Vijaysinhji (KCSI), and he received the hereditary title of Maharaja. The gun salute for the ruler of Rajpipla was increased from 11 to 13.
Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji introduced free primary education and scholarships, and only nominal high school fees were charged. He built a civil hospital, five dispensaries and a veterinary hospital in the State. A criminal-and-civil court was established, pensions were paid to public servants, and the salaries of the police and military were increased. Maharaja Vijaysinhji ordered the laying out of extensive public works and good motorable roads He added the Jhagadia-Netrang section to the 40-mile (64 kilometres) railway line, laid during his father's reign, which connected Rajpipla to Ankleshwar, a junction on the Dehli-Ahmedabad-Bombay line. He also set up a 19-mile (31 kilometres) steam railroad and tramway connecting the towns along the river Narmada with villages in the interior, and a power house supplying electricity and water to Rajpipla town. Even though taxes were reduced in terms of percentage, the revenue of the State increased from Rupees 1,300,000 to Rupees 2,700,000 per annum in the period 1915-1930, and peaked at Rupees 3,600,000 in 1948 when the State merged with the Indian Union. Maharaja Vijaysinhji regularised the land revenue system, and his relief efforts during droughts and floods drew wide appreciation. He had a keen interest in agriculture and improved the quality of cotton, grains and fruits grown in his territory. His town planning in 1927 was far-sighted, and builders were given permission to construct, conditional to leaving 3 to 4 feet (about 1 metre) space for future widening of roads. The designs of new buildings were well integrated and in harmony with the surroundings.
Sports were Maharaja Vijaysinhji's passion. He was a keen horseman and maintained one of the finest stables of race horses in India and England, marked by quality and not quantity. Maharaja Vijaysinhji won the first Indian Derby in 1919 when his horse Tipster led the pack at the finish. His horse Embargo won the Irish Derby in 1926 and Grand Prix in Belgium in 1927. Other horses, like Melesigenes, won him nearly all the big prizes in races at Bombay, Poona and other Indian courses, and in 1932-33 he topped the racing events in India. But, doubtlessly, his best horse was Windsor Lad, that won the coveted Epsom Derby of England in 1934. Maharaja Vijaysinhji is still the only Indian owner to have bagged the English Derby, considered the greatest horse race in the world, cheered on by an estimated half a million people on the course that day. King George V and Queen Mary of Britain, who watched the race along with other members of the Royal Family, invited Maharaja Vijaysinhji to the Royal Box and felicitated him on this brilliant victory. In the process the Maharaja completed a brilliant hat-trick of Derby wins: the first-ever Indian Derby, the Irish Derby and the coveted English Derby, making him arguably the greatest Indian racehorse owner.
Maharaja Vijaysinhji spent much of the sporting season in England, and returned to India in the winter when he encouraged outdoor sports like cricket, football and hockey. Sports were made compulsory for students of Rajpipla State. He equipped Rajpipla with a polo ground and gymkhana club. A unique feature of the Rajpipla royal family was its polo team comprising Maharaja Vijaysinhji and his three sons Yuvraj Rajendra Singhji, Maharajkumar Pramod Singhji and Maharajkumar Indrajeet Singhji.
One of Maharaja Vijaysinhji's dreams for Rajpipla, a 150-acre (0.61 km2) aerodrome, never saw fruition as he had to give up his powers in 1948 AD. But he did lay out an airstrip where aircraft landed in the 1930s and 1940s. He also had plans to build a dam across the river Narmada to facilitate irrigation and generate electricity, and was in the process of working out the investment for it. This was the precursor of the present-day gigantic Sardar Sarovar project.
Surprisingly, Maharaja Vijaysinhji who was known for his long sojourns in Europe and his loyalty to the British crown, started a nationalist movement in Rajpipla in the 1940s. Along with his fellow Gohil Rajput rulers of Udaipur and Bhavnagar, he was one of the first rulers to hand over his State to the Indian democracy in 1948 along with Rupees 2,800,000 (Rs.28 lakhs) that were deposited in the State treasury. He urged other Indian rulers to give up their States in the cause of a united nation at a meeting held at Palm Beach, his Napeansea Road residence in Bombay. The state was merged with the Indian Union on 10 June 1948, bringing to an end the 600-year rule of the Gohils over Rajpipla. Maharaja Vijaysinhji died at his estate at Old Windsor in England in 1951 AD, and was cremated at Rampura on the banks of the holy river Narmada, 18 kilometres from his former capital.
Rajpipla after 1971
The title of Maharaja of Rajpipla passed on to Maharaja Vijaysinhji's eldest son Rajendra Singhji, and after his demise in 1963 to Raghubir Singh. The Indian princely order was finally abolished in 1971. Raghubir Singh runs a heritage hotel at Vijay Palace in Rajpipla. His only son, the crown prince His Royal Highness Manvendra Singh Gohil caused a sensation when he openly declared that he is a homosexual. Raghubir Singh also has a daughter Minaxi who is married to Kunwar Digvijay Chand of Chenani. They have a son Ranajay Chand and a daughter Dharini.
Maharaja Vijaysinhji's second son Maharajkumar Pramod Singhji joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and served in the Orissa cadre.
Another scion of the Rajpipla family, Indra Vikram Singh, grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji and elder son of Maharajkumar Indrajeet Singhji is a sports writer and author of several books, including a collector's edition 'A Maharaja's Turf' on his grandfather's Epsom Derby 1934 triumph, 'Don's Century' which is a biography of Don Bradman and a panorama of batting from the 1860s to the present times, and 'The Big Book of World Cup Cricket'.
The well known cricketer K.S. Duleepsinhji, nephew of the famous H.H. Maharaja Jam Saheb K.S. Ranjitsinhji of Nawanagar or Ranji, married Maharaja Vijaysinhji's cousin Rajkumari Jayaraj Kunverba of Rajpipla.
The major part of the erstwhile princely state of Rajpipla now forms the Narmada district in Gujarat, with Rajpipla town as its headquarters, while some portions fall in Vadodara and Bharuch districts.