Early Life of Sayajirao Gaekwad III
Sayajirao Gaekwad III was born as Shrimant Gopalrao Gaekwad on 10th March, 1863 at Kavlana. He was the second son of Meherban Shrimant Kashirao Bhikajirao Dada Sahib Gaekwad and Shrimant Akhand Soubha
gyavati Ummabai Sahib. Sayajirao Gaekwad III descended from a cadet branch of the Gaekwad dynasty from a morganatic marriage of the original Maharaja of Baroda. This system of marriage is usually conducted between people of uneven social rank and therefore the wife and any children have no claim or right to the privileges and titles of the royal husband. Hence, Sayajirao was not expected to succeed to the throne.
Accession of Sayajirao Gaekwad III
After the death of Sir Khanderao Gaekwad, the Maharaja of Baroda, in 1870, his brother Malharrao was expected to take over the throne. But he was infamous for his vile character and was imprisoned for attempting to murder Khanderao. Maharani Jamnabai, Sir Khanderao Gaekwad's widow, was pregnant with a posthumous child. The queen eventually gave birth to a daughter on 5 July 1871 and Malharrao became the Maharaja. He profusely spent money and almost emptied the Baroda coffers.
Malharrao was overthrown on 10th April, 1875 and exiled to Madras, current day Chennai. Consequently, Maharani Jamnabai and the British Governmentselected Shrimant Gopalrao Gaekwad as worthy successor. On 27th May 1875, he was adopted by Maharani Jamnabai and was named as Sayajirao. Thus, Sayajirao Gaekwad III took over the throne at Baroda on 16th June, 1875. But as he was still a minor, Sayajirao reigned under a Council of Regency and was provided total authority and ruling powers on 28th December, 1881.
Sayajirao Gaekwad III as a Ruler
During his early years, Sayajirao Gaekwad III was trained in administrative skills by Raja Sir T. Madhava Rao. He was also tutored by F.A.H. Elliot, whose guidance made the new Maharaja a great ruler, educator and statesman.
After Sayajirao Gaekwad III assumed the reins of government, he took several initiatives like improving the state of education of his subjects, uplifting the conditions of the oppressed and deprived people and various other agricultural, social and judicial reforms. Sayajirao played a vital role in the expansion of textile industry in Baroda. He primarily focused on social and educational reforms such as spread of education, removal of untouchability, ban on child marriage, advancement of Sanskrit, legislation of divorce, religious education and ideological studies and the improvement of fine arts as well.
Sayajirao Gaekwad III also undertook various initiatives for economic development like the establishment of the railroad. During his reign, a large narrow gauge railway network was established in the state of Baroda with Dabhoiat its central point. This network is still the largest narrow gauge railway network in the entire world. He prioritised development of projects for public works which included development and building of roads, ports, dams, reservoirs and irrigation facilities.
Being a Maratha ruler of Gujarat, Sayajirao Gaekwad III identified himself with his subjects and formed a cosmopolitan attitude and progressive, reformist fervour. Starting in 1893, he introduced free and compulsory primary education and by 1906, it covered his whole state. All his efforts placed Baroda far ahead in advancement of contemporary British India. In the year 1908, Sayajirao Gaekwad III established the Bank of Baroda, which has now successfully developed as one of the leading banks in India.
Sayajirao also founded and developed a prominent library which later became the core of the present Central Library of Baroda. The original library had a network of libraries in all the towns and villages in his state. Other than his social reforms, Sayajorao was also a noted patron of art. Under his reign, the state had become a hub for artists and scholars. He promoted jewellery, classical music and dance.
Personal Life of Sayajirao Gaekwad III
Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III got married to Chimnabai, also known as Chimnabai I, of Tanjore on 6th January, 1880. The couple had two daughters, namely Shrimant Maharajkumari Bajubai Gaekwad and Shrimant Maharajkumari Putlabai Gaekwad; and a son Lieutenant Colonel Shrimant Yuvaraja Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad.
After a few years, Chimnabai I died from tuberculosis and Sayajirao Gaekwad III got married for the second time with Shrimant Lakshmibai Mohite, a Maratha lady from Dewas on 28th December, 1885. She became Chimnabai II after her wedding to the ruler. The couple had a daughter and many sons.
Sayajirao Gaekwad III ruled the state of Baroda, modern day Vadodara, for around 63 years. He died on 6th February, 1939 and Pratap Singh Gaekwad, his grandson became the next Maharaja of Baroda.
Honours of Sayajirao Gaekwad III
Sayajirao Gaekwad III was honoured several times, mostly by the British administration. Some of his honours are listed below as follows:
• Prince of Wales's Gold Medal (1875)
• Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal (1877)
• Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India (1887)
• Delhi Durbar Gold Medal (1903 and 1911)
• Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (1919)
• Hon. LLD- Benares Hindu University (1924)
• Bailiff Grand Cross of the Order of St John (1932)
• King George V Silver Jubilee Medal (1935)
• King George VI Coronation Medal (1937)