Obituary: Maharaja Martand Singh of Rewa

Martand Singh was the last Maharaja of Rewa, the erstwhile princely state in central India, and earned international fame for discovering and breeding the rare white tiger. A wildlife enthusiast who worked hard to preserve the dwindling population of tigers in the area, he also represented Rewa in parliament for 15 years.

But it is for discovering the existence of the white tiger in Rewa's jungles in 1950 that Singh is renowned. He conclusively proved that Rewa's white tigers were not freak albinos but an esoteric strain which had evolved only in this region. All white tigers in zoos around the world can trace their ancestry to the thick jungles around Rewa.

Martand Singh was born in Rewa state in 1923, the son of the maharaja, Sir Gulab Singh, a formidable shikari or hunter who had shot over 500 tigers. With an area of 13,000 square miles, Rewa was the largest princely state in central India (now the Madhya Pradesh) and well known for its huge tiger population.

Sir Gulab Singh, who hosted scores of shoots for senior British officials, had devised a novel way to shoot tigers which did not quite meet the sporting standards of many shikaris. He would take a book and a monkey on a long string with him into the machan or shooting platform high up in the trees, order the beat to begin and settle down to read.

As soon as the tiger approached, the monkey would sense its presence and instinctively alert the maharaja with a warning cough. Sir Gulab would then casually lay aside his book and nonchalantly shoot dead the animal before repeating the exercise at least one more time on an outing.

Martand Singh was educated at Daly College at Indore in central India, before graduating from Mayo College in Ajmer in Rajasthan in 1941. Both Daly and Mayo were Chiefs colleges, founded in northern India for the sons of the maharajas. There the young princes lived in palace-like boarding houses surrounded by retainers and strings of polo ponies. Some princes even kept their own elephants.

In the early Forties Singh married Princess Pravina of Kutch, in western India, and succeeded his father as Maharaja of Rewa in 1946. He officially retained the title until royalty was abolished by the Indian government in 1970.

Soon after becoming maharaja, Singh set about conserving Rewa's forests and tigers, which he believed, more than any other animal, link environmental issues with India's religious and mythical beliefs. It was during these conservation efforts that he came across a cub and began his investigations into the white tiger. Singh's efforts at conservation contributed towards the recent designation of Madhya Pradesh, home to around 900 tigers, a "Tiger State" to protect the animal against poachers.

Eccentric, gentle and well-read, Singh was a good raconteur, especially when it came to jungle and tiger stories.

Kuldip Singh

Martand Singh, politician and conservationist: born Rewa, India 1923; succeeded 1946 as Maharaja of Rewa; MP for Rewa 1971, 1980, 1985; married Princess Pravina (one son); died Rewa 20 November 1995.

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