Obituary: Pupul Jayakar

Pupul Jayakar, better known as India's "cultural tsarina", presided colossus-like over the country's cultural scene for nearly 40 years, exposing its many facets overseas through expensive promotional extravaganzas in the 1970s and 1980s.

Jayakar's closeness to three succeeding prime ministers - Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv - helped firmly establish her cultural suzerainty. And by the early 1980s Jayakar's immense talent, unchallenged haughtiness and arrogance, which she made little effort to hide, made her a formidable force, often hated and feared in New Delhi's incestuous power circles. But when the face-off with Rajiv Gandhi finally came, following court intrigues in the late 1980s, she quietly relinquished power and retired to her flat in Bombay, busying herself with writing and advising on cultural matters.

Jayakar had an unerring eye for excellence. She talent- spotted people long before they blossomed and encouraged several painters and artists who are today household names in India. She was a good organiser, tirelessly promoting local hand-loom and handicraft products and establishing the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), primarily to preserve decaying monuments, in the early 1980s.

She also opened several design workshops, devised marketing strategies to develop traditional crafts and started the National Crafts Museum in the late Eighties and, in 1990, the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi.

But Jayakar used India's cultural vastness as a lever of power. She began by organising cultural festivals during the internal emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in the mid-1970s, to divert attention from the suspension of civil liberties which was brutally imposed. These were followed by the grandiose and hugely expensive Festivals of India in London, Paris and America lasting several months in the early 1980s and the politically correct Apna Utsav or "Our Festivals" in Rajiv Gandhi's time which earned the silver-haired and plump Jayakar the sobriquet of "cultural tsarina".

She travelled extensively to remote places in India, seeking out local handicrafts and traditional skills and was a cultural chameleon, at home in contrasting milieux. Convinced she could do no wrong, she said once, "I do not have to justify my actions to anyone. I can look back with satisfaction that I have lit a few lamps in this country."

Born in 1915 into a Brahmin family from the western state of Gujarat, Jayakar was tutored privately at home by an Irish governess employed by her father, who was a member of the Indian Civil Service. She attended Bedford College in London before graduating from the London School of Economics in 1936.

On returning home she married Manmohan Jayakar, a barrister, and settled down in Bombay where she launched Toy Cart, an English-language children's magazine illustrated by Jamini Roy and M.F. Hussain, two of India's best- known painters. In 1940 she was appointed to the National Planning Committee headed by Nehru and came into close contact with Indira Gandhi who, on becoming prime minister in 1966, appointed Jayakar as her cultural adviser.

During the late 1940s Jayakar had become an ardent follower of the philosopher and theosophist J. Krishnamurti and wrote his biography which was published in Britain in 1986. She also wrote Earthen Drum (1981), an illustrated book on India's mural art forms, and The Buddha (1982), a philosophical treatise for young people. A gracious and charming conversationalist and host, she had impeccable taste in clothes and was a graceful mixture of Indian and Western traditions.

Kuldip Singh

Pupul Mehta, cultural adviser: born Etawah, India 11 September 1915; married 1937 Manmohan Jayakar (died 1972; one daughter); died Bombay 29 March 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003