When Queen Victoria passed away in January 1901, she was succeeded by Edward VII. For his coronation, a number guests which included prime ministers of British Dominions and rulers of the Indian princely states were invited. On the guest list was the Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Madho Singh II.
Kala Pani- The offense of crossing the seas
Back then, crossing the seas was considered a taboo among the Hindus for the fear of losing their varna (social class). The reasons behind the proscription include the inability to carry out the daily rituals of traditional Hindu life and the sin of contact with the uncivilized mleccha creatures of the other lands. Madho Singh was filled with apprehension at the prospect of crossing the ocean and personally becoming defiled by the journey.
On the other hand, along with the Maharajas of Gwalior and Bikaner, Singh was considered loyal to the Empire. His absence would be seen as a breach of protocol and etiquette.
When confronted with this dilemma, Madho Singh summoned a council of religious advisers and conjured up a solution.
The Maharaja’s chief priest ordained that he could travel in a ship, provided no beef was cooked aboard. In addition, the only permissible form of water for all his needs, both mundane and divine, during his two-month-long stay in London should be Gangajal. He chartered a brand new ship, SS Olympia for Rs 1.5 lakh from the travel agency Thomas Cook, and transformed one of the rooms below the deck into a shrine. Containing the requisite amount of Gangajal, were two enormous urns, each capable of holding 4000 litres of water. The vessels were originally fashioned in 1894 by melting 14000 silver coins.
The Maharaja departed with his procession from Jaipur. Men and women, old and young thronged to the streets to take a darshan of their King. After three days he arrived at the Colaba station in Bombay. There he was escorted by the British resident of Jaipur to the Apollo Bunder, from where he set sail for London. When the ship encountered rough weather near Aden, Madho Singh, after consulting a priest on board, ordered one of the urns be tossed overboard to placate an angry Lord Varuna.
Arrival and Coronation
The Maharaja’s arrival in England evoked much curiosity in the British press. The coronation which was originally planned for June got postponed to August as Edward VII underwent an Appendicitis operation. After presenting the new King with a diamond-studded sword worth Rs 15 lakhs, Madho Singh departed for home, content in the knowledge that he had satisfactorily performed his duties as a subject and as a Hindu.
The urn has a pride of place at the Diwan-i-Khas of City Palace in Jaipur. The other one, meanwhile, is still somewhere at the bottom of the Red Sea.
Written By: Anurag Nayek