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Baroda’s Adopted Ruler and a Connoisseur of Arts

Rarely does one come across a narrative about a young boy of 12 years, who wished to rule over a kingdom, rather than do anything else. Well, history has recorded one such boy, who went on not just to rule a kingdom, but also ensured its progress and prosperity.

This story can be traced back to Baroda, in present-day Gujarat, which was ruled by the Gaekwad family. Originally from Dawadi village near Poona (modern Pune), the Gaekwads hailed from a Maratha clan called Matre, meaning Minister. The Gaekwad rule of Baroda began when the Maratha General Pilaji Rao Gaekwad conquered the city from the Mughal Empire in 1721. They were granted the Kingdom of Baroda in fief by Peshwa Bajirao I.

The rule of the Gaekwad dynasty which began in 1721, came to a sudden end when their ruler Malhar Rao Gaekwad passed away leaving the widowed Maharani Jamnabai Sahib and their daughter in despair. The throne had no male heir. Jamnabai soon took matters into her own hands. She began her search for a king. She called the heads of the extended branches of the Gaekwad family and asked them to find a suitable heir to ascend the throne of Baroda.

Kashirao Gaekwad of Kavlana responded and he came forth with his three sons - Anandrao, Gopalrao and Sampatrao. The young Princes were presented before Jamnabai. She then went on to ask the boys one simple question. She asked them their reasons for being there, to which the young Gopalrao Gaekwad simply answered, “I have come here to rule.” This was a defining moment in the history of Baroda, as an heir had been finally found.

Shrimant Gopalrao Gaekwad ascended the throne on 16th June 1875, but was invested with full powers only on 28th Dec 1881, when he turned 19 years of age. Known as Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda, he brought about major social and educational reforms. Sayajirao was also a connoisseur and noted patron of the arts. During his reign Baroda became a hub for scholars and artists. He also commissioned the building of Baroda Museum and its picture gallery which showcases his prized collection of jewels. Some of the rare exhibits include the ‘Star of the South’ diamond, ‘Akbar Shah’ diamond and ‘Princess Eugenie’ diamond. This museum is acknowledged as one of the first museums commissioned in India.