Nepal’s ‘royal blooded’ to shave their heads for Gayatri Devi

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Scores of people who call themselves the clan of Rajmata Gayatri Devi, the daughter of the former royal family of Cooch Behar in India, began mourning her death in the traditional way in eastern Nepal Friday with a final Hindu rite scheduled Aug 9.

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The Rajbanshi community of Nepal, migrants who descended from the powerful 16th century Koch kingdom that had its capital in India’s Cooch Behar town, Saturday held a mass meeting in Jhapa district in eastern Nepal, where the community is concentrated.

“Since she was our queen, we have decided to perform her last rites here in accordance with our traditions,” said Avay Rajbanshi, a young journalist in Jhapa.

Nearly 300,000 Rajbanshis live in Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari near the Indian border and retain strong links with their clan scattered in India’s north Bengal and Assam state.

The clan also mourned the fact that the death of Gayatri Devi, described as one of the 10 most beautiful women in the world by Vogue magazine and considered an icon for her grace and charm, was virtually ignored by Nepal’s media.

“We downloaded her photograph from reports in the Indian media, framed it and put it up at today’s memorial meet,” said Rajbanshi, whose name means royal-blooded.

Hindus believe that on the 13th day after the passing away of a member of the family, last rites should be performed at a holy place when the departed member’s ashes are scattered in a river.

“We are going to take out a mourning procession in Birtamod town first,” Rajbanshi said. “After that, symbolic rites will be performed at the Biring river, following which those of us who attend the mourning will shave our heads off.”

According to Hindu rituals, men shave their heads as a token of grief and respect after the death of their parents and parent-like figures.

Gayatri Devi, who had a fairytale wedding to Sawai Man Singh, the then ruler of Jaipur, had planned to come to Nepal twice to attend the international Koch conference and learn more about the Rajbanshis in Nepal.

However, once she had to cancel her trip at the last moment due to illness and the second time, King Gyanendra’s coup in Nepal made the three-time MP’s visit inadvisable.

At the memorial meet Saturday, Phul Singh Rajbanshi, a social worker in his 60s who had visited her palace in Jaipur, paid her a rich tribute. He said the visit had enriched his knowledge of the clan’s history.