The wife of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, who held the title of Mysore’s maharaja until he passed away abruptly in December 2013 at the age of 60, explained: “It was only during Dussehra celebrations when we had to perform certain rituals as per the custom, that we wore all the royal finery. Other than that, both my late husband and I, are just normal people.”
There may be more to it than she’s letting on. Chamaraja's appointment as head of the family has caused great bitterness in the Wodeyar clan because of the vast estates he will now control: by some estimates, they are valued at more than Rs 80,000 crores.
Chamaraja’s so-called coronation has been criticised most vociferously by Kanthraj Urs, the eldest nephew of Pramodadevi's husband. When Chamaraja was adopted in Feburary, Urs, 42, had told journalists that “people felt” he had been overlooked as the natural successor for his childless uncle.
He said that Pramodadevi had caused a lot of dissension in the family by the manner in which she went about the adoption. "Whether it was me or Yaduveer, the issue should have been handled properly," said Urs.
Pramodadevi, he claimed, “is the root cause of all the problems in the family. She was never in control of anything during her husband's lifetime. She probably chose Yaduveer thinking that I would not remain in her control."
Not all his relatives agree with him. Indrakshi Urs, the sister of the late titular king of Mysore, is firmly on Pramodadevi’s side in the controversy. “What Kanthraj did was wrong,” she said. “My sister-in-law is a an intelligent, strong and independent woman. We trust her to do the right thing.”
Roots of the problem
Pramodadevi, on her part, said that the bitterness started with her husband’s death in 2013. “I asked Kanthraj to perform the last rites for my husband as he was the eldest nephew whose parents had already passed away,” she said. “He did it at my behest. He agreed and performed all the rituals sincerely. He later accused me of using him. That hurt me the most, nothing else.”
Pramodadevi, 61, obviously misses her husband. Those close to her say that she has still kept his room as he left it and refuses to clear his things away. “I still talk to him, you know,” said Pramodadevi with moist eyes. “I can feel his presence here and I know he is still with me. My husband used to read a lot and tell me things. I liked to listen. I can sit for a very long time and just listen, without a lapse in concentration. He was my teacher in that sense, explaining complex theories in great detail. We were great friends, we always knew what the other was thinking without having to say it out loud.”
Playing the role of family head has not been easy in a clan that has a tradition that goes back almost 600 years. After her husband passing, Pramodadevi said that she had to take up the enormous job of looking after the clan's Mysore and Bangalore properties, matters in which she had not previously involved herself. Some of them were mired in complex litigations. “Many people laughed, thinking that I would not be able to handle it,” said Pramodadevi. “I decided I would learn – and I did. We have made some progress in many of the cases against us.”
With the appointment of Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja as the new titular king, Pramodadevi has a new set of tasks. Those close to her say that it is her duty to train the new king in the customs and traditions of the royal family of Mysore and to impart to him the family’s six-century history.
“Yaduveer is a very sweet boy, mature for his age, knowledgeable and responsible and has shown all the qualities required to carry on the legacy of the king,” she said. “It is now my duty to introduce him to a new responsibility. He may need guidance initially, since there are very few old-timers around now who know the intricate details of the customs and rituals.”
A staunch believer in karma, Pramodadevi feels that she has made her vulnerability her strength and learnt her lessons from life. She says that she is unafraid and confident that her decision is right. “At the end of the day, I have to live by my conscience, not by what people think of me,” she said.
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