Before indepedence, India was a land of several kingdoms, big and small. Ruled by rajas, these kingdoms were immensely wealthy even during the British rule.
But gradually, their power, fame and wealth, withered away and the descendants of once royal families, lived a life of commons. Here are some of their stories.
1. Descendants of Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of Hyderabad
With a wealth of $236 billion equivalent to ₹17,49,80,07,600 (inflation-adjusted), the Nizam was ranked the 6th richest person in the world and the all-time richest Indian, in 2012.
He reportedly had 18 sons and 16 daughters. Prince Mukarram Jah, who was crowned the eighth Nizam of Hyderabad in 1967 following the death of Mir Osman Ali Khan currently lives in Turkey.
As per the latest reports, around 120 descendents of the last Nizam of Hyderabad are now fighting a legal battle to get their due share in 36 million pounds deposited in a London bank seven decades ago.
2. Raja Brajraj Kshatriya Birbar Chamupati Singh Mohapatra of Tigiria
Once known as a playboy prince of colonial India, the Raja of Tigiria used to live in a palace, hunted big game and travelled by elephant when he wasn’t racing one of his 25 vintage cars.
Once his kingdom was merged with the Indian republic in 1947, he lost his state’s tax revenues and instead was given an annual income of Rs.11,200 by the state. Short of funds, he was forced to sell his palace, that has now been turned into a girls' high school.
Later, when the Indira Gandhi government withdrew the last remaining royal privileges, he lost his annual income and was left to the mercy of the local villagers until he passed away in November 2015. He lived in an impoverished state in a mud hut, away from his family.
He is survived by his wife, Rasmanajari Devi who is also an MLA, and three sons.
3. Sultana Begum, wife of the great grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar
Sultana Begum, wife of late Prince Mirza Bedar Bukht, great-grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar today lives in a 2-room house in Kolkata, West Bengal. Reports suggest that she used to run a tea-stall until the government granted her a monthly pension of Rs. 6000.
Her plight has been brought to fore by several campaigners. Sultana has five daughters and one son, all of whom belong to the lower middle class.
4. Descendants of the Travancore royal family
Travancore was the second richest kingdom in India after Hyderabad when it acceded to the Indian republic after independence.
Utharadom Tirunal Marthanda Varma became the head of the royal family after his elder brother and the last princely ruler of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, passed away in 1991. Marthanda Varma and his family led a humble life. He passed away in 2018.
He was the Chairman of the trust running the famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple that shot to fame in 2011 after jewellery worth Rs. 90,000 crores was discovered in its vault. At that time, Varma had said the wealth was in the vaults for centuries and the royal family was aware of it.
It is the wealth of Lord Padmanabha and we never ever felt any interest in it. It should be preserved as God’s wealth in future also.
5. Descendants of Tipu Sultan, the 'Tiger of Mysore'
After Tipu Sultan's demise, the British shifted them to Kolkata and made sure they did not return to the south.
When the East India Company took possession of the jewellery of Tipu Sultan’s eldest daughter Fatima Begum, it needed six bullocks to carry them. Today, her descendants live in hutments in Kolkata.
Sahebzada Syed Mansoor Ali, who is married to Tipu's great granddaughter, Sahebzadi Raheemunnisa, has been campaigning to get financial help to the Sultan's family members. Most of them are engaged in odd jobs like pulling rickshaws, repairing cycles, or as electricians or tailors.
6. Descendants of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last king of Awadh
The great grandson of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, Dr. Kaukab Quder Meerza used to live in a 1-storey building in the bylanes of Kolkata. He recently passed away in September 2020 after contracting COVID-19. A former professor with the Aligarh Muslim University, Meerza is survived by his wife, Mamlikat Badr from Lucknow’s renowned Shia cleric family, and six children.
Meerza’s family are direct descendants of Birjis Quder, the son of Wajid Ali Shah and his wife Begum Hazrat Mahal, a courtesan who became the second official wife of the Nawab.
You can read the Indian Express story about him and his family here.
While many royal families are now into big businesses and politics, these lesser known stories need to be told.