Never-say-die spirit was his hallmark

Never-say-die spirit was his hallmark

I will have everything done the way it was. From the artistry on the walls to the roofing, wood work, furniture, upholstery, painting.

The palace has to look the way it was when I was young and growing up.” That was Wadiyar declaring to journalists in 2005 on his plans to restore the Bangalore Palace to its old glory. In fact, his eventful life has been a story of just that—multiple reinventions and restorations.

It must have been a tumultuous boyhood that witnessed the loss of power of his father on a province that his dynasty had held sway over, for close to 600 years, since 1399, when they established themselves as chieftains of Mahishuru and grew in strength successively. He had fond memories of his ‘Daddy’.“Whenever my mother went to Bangalore, Daddy would spend a lot of time with us. He would take us all to Chamundi Hills in the yellow and red Rolls-Royce car, which he himself would drive. The other special moments that I can recall are when I used to ride piggyback on him.”

Besides the loss of power and changed political realities caused by an abolition of privy purses and titles by Indira Gandhi, a series of personal tragedies struck Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, including the death of his eldest daughter and a murky family property tussle. He died a broken man in 1974. It was under these circumstances that Srikantadatta took over as ceremonial head of the family.

He was elected MP from Mysore several times by the voters who held the dynasty in reverence, even after loss of power. However, his switching sides from the Congress to the BJP and his general aloof, laconic and detached nature won him a lot of detractors. It was not before long that he bid a final adieu to electoral politics.

The one constant feature of Wadiyar’s life has been his never-say-die attitude in the face of failures. When politics failed him, he took to fashion designing. Along with his wife Pramodadevi, he strove to market the Mysore silks and ‘premiere collection of the Royal House of Mysore’.

Many including fashion designer Prasad Bidapa credit him with single-handedly reviving the silk-weaving industry of Karnataka, bringing back to life 100-odd silk units and recreating the designs of several women characters of Ravivarma’s paintings. He had keen interest in restoration – of properties like Fernhill Palace in Ooty, Rajendra Vilas atop Chamundi Hills or the Bangalore Palace; and also restoring several paintings of the distinctive Mysore school of painting.

Always the one for the fast life, Srikantadatta turned his attention to cricket which had always been a passion with him. He was captain of the Mysore University cricket team. In 2007, he was elected president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association and is credited with starting the Karnataka Premier League series, which sadly flopped.

His death opens a can of worms for the Mysore dynasty that believes that it has been plagued by the curse of Rani Alamelamma in the 17th century, rendering every alternate generation childless and necessitating an adoption from the collateral line.

While who ‘succeeds’ might just be a matter of academic interest and for purposes of carrying on with the time-tested family traditions, the issue has surely and certainly come back to haunt the dynasty. A family that found unique and ingenious solutions to succession woes, even when it was under the thralldom of the usurpers in the 18th century (Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan), is sure to find a way out of this too.

Whether history will judge him kindly or not is a matter of conjecture and left to objective assessments of multiple chroniclers. But none would be able.

- The writer is a Bangalore-based historian, who has authored among other books, the definitive account of the Wadiyar dynasty: ‘Splendours of Royal Mysore: the untold story of the Wodeyars’.

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