OBITUARY:The Maharaja of Bharatpur

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Brajendra Singh was the last of the colourful line of Maharajas of Bharatpur in northern India.

An excellent shot and keen shikari or hunter, he hosted duck shoots for succeeding British Viceroys in the Thirties and Forties at the famous Keolado Ghana marsh in Bharatpur, which he later helped convert into one of the world's richest bird sanctuaries. A massive marble engraved "score- card" in the heart of Ghana records the daily tally of birds killed during the shoots he hosted. The day's average was never less than 20,000 birds, once going up to 100,000, mostly duck.

After India's independence and absorption of the 1,972-square-mile Bharatpur state into modern-day Rajasthan, Brajendra Singh flirted briefly with politics. He was MP for Bharatpur for a five-year term during which, like other maharajas, he vociferously opposed governmental moves to de-recognise hundreds of Indian rulers, abolish their privy purses and special rights like private hunting reserves, all guaranteed by a treaty after Independence in 1947. The government, however, prevailed and Indian royalty was abolished in 1970.

Soon after, Brajendra Singh lost the parliamentary election following a backlash against newly disposed maharajas but was elected to Rajasthan's state assembly. He resigned a year later, retiring to his stately home in Bharatpur, where he helped develop the Ghana sanctuary.

The royal family of Bharatpur, accorded a 19-gun salute by the Viceroy, trace their ancestry to the 11th-century Sinsiwa Jat clan, a fierce, warlike people from the dusty plains of northern India. They achieved prominence in the late 17th century under a Jat freebooter who harassed the armies of Aurangzeb, the last of the Great Mughal rulers, and carved out a swathe of territory for his clan between Delhi and Agra.

Brajendra Singh was born in 1918 in Bharatpur, the son of the newly installed Maharaja Kishan Singh, whose eccentricities and extravagance were legion. His grandfather had been declared insane and deposed, following his involvement in a murder. Kishan Singh was a spendthrift who beggared Bharatpur by spending 7.8 million rupees, more than twice its revenue, in 1924. Ultimately he himself was deposed in the early Twenties and died in exile.

But as Maharaja he amassed over 30 Rolls-Royces, two dozen custom-built Purdy rifles and a string of thoroughbred Arab polo ponies, and always had a private jazz band in attendance. He bought dozens of lions, elephants, leopards and rare animals at astronomical prices, releasing them into the thick jungles around Bharatpur.

Brajendra Singh was a minor, studying at a private school in England, when his father was deposed for "gross misrule" and for several years Bharatpur was administered by Cyril Hancock, a British civil servant. On returning home he underwent administrative training before being crowned, at 21, as Maharaja in 1939. Eight years later he signed the Instruments of Accession, merging Bharatpur within the Indian union of states.

A voracious reader with an excellent library, Brajendra Singh was by reputation quietly eccentric and temperamental.

Kuldip Singh

Brajendra Singh, maharaja: born Bharatpur, India 1 December 1918; crowned 1939 Maharaja of Bharatpur; MP for Bharatpur 1967-71, state legislator 1972-73; twice married (one son, four daughters); died Bharatpur 8 July 1995.