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A leaf from history: Rajpipla State defeated Aurangzeb in 1705, its rulers were precursor to Narmada dam

Celebrations after Epsom Derby 1934 victory of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla
By Dr Hari Desai*
The Rajpipla State of Gujarat is better known, even abroad, for its gay Prince, Manvendrasinh Raghubirsinhji Sahib. But there are other reasons, too, why the history of the Princely State of the Gohil dynasty should be made known. There are several records, which show Rajpipla as an area of resistance to the Sultans, Mughals, Marathas, and the Gaekwad of Baroda. The records suggest, the king of Rajpipla was always able to regain his independence, and maintain a relative autonomy from regional and sub-continental powers.
Judith Whitehead, for instance, records in the book, “Development and Dispossession in the Narmada Valley”, “The Rajpipala Rajas faced several attempted invasions during the medieval period, from the Sultan of Ahmedabad, the Mughal Emperor, and the Marathas. During the 18th century, the Gaekwad of Baroda also encroached upon the border region of the State. However, the Rajapipla Rajas were generally successful in preventing a takeover of the kingdom, or in reestablishing their independence in the rare cases in which they were conquered.”
Recently, when I visited Rajpipla to interact with Prince Indra Vikram Singh (Teddy), the very first thing that touched me was, he introduced himself as just Indra Vikram, instead of Prince or Rajkumar Indra Vikram Singh. He has authored several books on sports. National and international media have written about them or reviewed them. But he sounded keener to speak on his upcoming book on the history of Rajpipala and his ancestors, the Maharanas or Maharajas.
Indra Vikram told me something about which few know. “Rajpipala forces”, he he told me, “Under my ancestor Maharana Verisalji I, in alliance with Maratha Damaji Jadhav, defeated Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s forces in 1705 at Ratanpur, which was in Rajpipla State, and lies on the Rajpipla-Ankleswar highway.”
Grandson of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji, the last ruler of Rajpipla, he also claimed that while his “research is still on”, he is sure, the defeat of Aurangzeb by Rajpipla was proved to be unbearable to the Mughal Emperor, who died in 1707.
Incidentally, Aurangzeb was born in Dahod of Gujarat, not very far off from Rajpipla! The history of Rajpipla conveys the message that Empires fall only to rise again. We may have many more interesting stories about Rajpipla State of Gohil dynasty when Indra Vikram Singh comes out with his book on his ancestors.
Indeed, I found Indra Vikram to be a keen researcher. Calling Rajpipla a first-class princely state, the largest in the Rewa Kantha Agency of the Bombay Presidency, he told me how it was ruled by the Gohil Rajput dynasty for 600 years, before it was “merged” with the Union of India in 1948.
The history of Rajpipla dates back to around 1340, when Kumar Shri Samarsinhji Mokhdaji – the second son of Thakur Mokhdaji Ranoji Gohil (reign 1309-47) of Ghogha of south Saurashtra – was adopted by his maternal grandfather Rao Chokrana, a Parmar Rajput prince of Ujjain (Malwa), which included Rajpipla then.
Aurangzeb
Chokrana Parmar’s daughter was the younger queen of Mokhdaji Gohil. When Chokrana died without a male heir, Samarsinhji succeeded to the seat or gadi of Rajpipla at Junaraj (Old Rajpipla) Fort, deep in the forests of the Satpura hills, and assumed the name Arjunsinhji. The rule of the principality of Rajpipla, thus, passed on to the Gohil Rajput clan. Mokhdaji’s first son Dungarsinhji by his elder queen succeeded him to the gadi of Ghogha (later Bhavnagar) with its capital at Pirambet Island in the Gulf of Cambay.
Rajpipla – with its hills and rivers, forests and streams, waterfalls and meadows – is often referred to as “seven steps from heaven”. For its enchanting landscape the region is also described as ‘mini Kashmir’ and ‘Switzerland of the East’. The old capital atop Devchhatra (Devastra) Hill in the Western Satpuras was where the ancient Gohil Rajput dynasty began its 600-year sway over the 4,000 square kilometres principality of Rajpipla around the year 1340.
The fort there, located 2,000 feet high, was almost inaccessible. It could be approached by narrow footpaths, which with a little effort could be made impossible to traverse even for infantry. The 13-gun salute Rajpipla State would largely take place between the rivers Narmada and Tapti. Inscribed in Gujarati on the coat of arms of Rajpipla State was ‘Revaji ne kanthe’, which means ‘On the banks of the holy Narmada’. Rajpipla grew to be one of the most prosperous princely states in Gujarat, perhaps next only to Baroda.
During the reign of Maharana Gambhirsinhji (reign 1860-97), the road from Rajpipla to Ankleshwar was built, it was during this period that Rajpipla State developed own postal system. Maharana Chhatrasinhji (1897-1915), the 35th Gohil ruler of Rajpipla, laid the 60 kilometres Ankleshwar-Rajpipla railway line. He carried out massive famine relief during the period 1899-1902. He was one of the pioneers of motoring in India.
The next ruler Maharaja Vijaysinhji (reign 1915-48) carried out massive reforms and infrastructure works spanning agriculture, health, education, administration, police and judicial system. He ordered the laying of good motorable roads, and added the Jhagadia-Netrang section to the Rajpipla Railways. He also set up a 31 kilometres steam railroad and tramway connecting the towns along the River Narmada with villages in the interior, and a power house supplying electricity and water to Rajpipla town. His town planning as far back as 1927 was far-sighted.
As Yuvraj of Rajpipla, young Vijaysinhji moved into Vijay Palace in 1911, a home built for him by his father Maharana Chhatrasinhji. Later, Maharaja Vijaysinhji bought a splendid seaside property called ‘Palm Beach’ at Nepeansea Road, Bombay. The Maharaja spent much of the summer months at ‘The Manor’, his 27-roomed Victorian mansion at Old Windsor, Berkshire, England, having acquired the sprawling estate on the banks of the River Thames in 1922.
Maharaja Vijaysinhji is still the only Indian to have bagged the English Derby, considered the greatest horse race in the world,. He was cheered by an estimated quarter to half a million people, including King George V and Queen Mary of Britain and other members of the royal family. Back in India, he built the magnificent Indrajit-Padmini Mahal or Vadia Palace between 1934 and 1939.
Sports like cricket, football and hockey were made compulsory for students by Maharaja Vijaysinhji, who equipped Rajpipla with a polo ground and a gymkhana club. Vijaysinhji, who ascended the seat or gadi in 1915, carried out massive reforms and infrastructure works. He laid an airstrip in Rajpipla, where aircraft landed in 1930s and 1940s. During World War II, he donated three Spitfire fighter planes, named ‘Rajpipla’, ‘Windsor Lad’ and ‘Embargo’, and a Hawker Hurricane aircraft ‘Rajpipla II’.
Significantly, Vijaysinhji also had plans to build a dam across River Narmada to facilitate irrigation and generate electricity. This way, he could be called the precursor to the present-day gigantic Sardar Sarovar project, for which in the process of raising investment in 1948.
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*Senior journalist and independent researcher based in Ahmedabad. A version of this article first appeared in Asian Voice

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