Bhupendra Singh, 8th Maharaja of Patiala. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Bhupendra Singh, 8th Maharaja of Patiala. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In his book Rajas of the Punjab, author LH Griffiths says: Among the hills from which the Sutlej and Ravi flow, are chiefs who bear the name of Raja, mostly of Rajput descent and whose pedigrees stretch back in unbroken succession for several thousand years Dynasty after dynasty has ruled in Hindustan .. Griffiths explains that long before the advent of the Christian and Islamic doctrines, the little Rajput Principalities were existing in their quiet valleys; and when the day arrives that the name of little England shall be no longer a power in Hindustan, but only a vague memory, one leaf of her long and wondrous story, the Rajputs will still be ruling their ancient valleys and tracing back their ancestry to the sun.

The royal line of the principality of Patiala, one of the 565 independent Princely States of undivided British India, is said to have descended from one Jaisal, believed to have been the founder of Jaisalmer in 1156. The founder of the Sikh dynasty was Phul, born April 17, 1603, and later appointed as Chaudhari (Governor) of a country located at the south-east of Dihli. The descendants of Phul later established three states, Patiala, Jind, and Nabha. In 1763, the Emir of Afghanistan awarded the Chaudhari the dignity of Raja. The family motto eulogises Phul, thought to be an embodiment of the Sun: Phularka Kirana Prabha (the rays of the sun Phul are glorious).The royal personages of the house of Patiala were entitled to a 17-gun salute on state occasions. The first Maharaja of Patiala was Maharaja Ala Singh (born in 1691).

This narrative examines the life and times of the 8th Maharaja of Patiala, HH Farzand-i-Khas-i-Daulat-i-Inglishia, Mansur-i-Zaman, Amir ul-Umara, Maharajadhiraja Raj Rajeshwar, 108 Sri Maharaja-i-Rajgan, Maharaja Sir Bhupendra Singh, Mahendra Bahadur, Yadu Vansha Vatans Bhatti Kul Bushan, Maharaja of Patiala, to give him his full ceremonial name. Bhupendra Singh, the eldest son of the 7th Maharaja of Patiala, Rajinder Singh by his first wife, HH Maharani Jasmer Kaur Sahiba was educated at Aitchison College, Lahore, one of the most prestigious seminaries in South-East Asia, modelled upon the public-school tradition of Great Britain. The foundation stone of the institution was laid in November 1886, and in the early period, the college was known to cater exclusively to the sons of the elite families of the land.

The 7th Maharaja passed away on November 9, 1900, and Bhupendra Singh, barely 9, succeeded to the title. Initially under the guidance of a Council of Regency, Bhupendra Singh was invested with partial ruling powers when he came of age on October 1, 1909. About a year later, he was invested with full ruling powers by the then Viceroy of India, who did the honours personally on November 3, 1910. During World War I, Bhupendra Singh served in France, Belgium, and Italy in the honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was promoted as Honorary Major-General while serving in Palestine in 1918. He also served in the 3rd Afghan War of 1919, and was appointed as Honorary ADC to the King-Emperor George V in September 1922.

A full list of his honours, medals, and multifarious affiliations would fill a full page and is being regretfully omitted here. His biography mentions the fact that he was married for the first time on March 9, 1908. He was officially married nine more times. Four of his wives were all sisters and daughters of Rana Raghunath Singh of Darkoti, a Himalayan kingdom. There are reports of other (unofficial) consorts numbering in excess of 300. In all, Bhupendra Singh sired 88 children, 53 of whom survived him.

The 8th Maharaja was an imposing, larger-than-life, flamboyant sort of person, accustomed to leading a sybaritic, lavish lifestyle. A tall Sikh (his royal turban would invariably enhance his imposing height), he gradually acquired quite a substantial figure (palace reports mention that his daily consumption of food would amount to about 20 pounds or 9.07 Kg, all of which perhaps accounted for his 56-inch chest in later years).

He was the first Indian to own a personal aircraft, bought from the UK in the first decade of the 20th century, and had an airstrip built for it in Patiala. He maintained a collection of anything between 25 to 44 Rolls Royce cars, often bought in batches, and very often custom-built. An expert horseman and avid polo player, he owned the Patiala Tigers, one of the finest polo teams in India. It is said that it was his habit of maintaining a stable of about 500 of the finest polo ponies.

A far-sighted monarch in his time, he had a unique monorail system built in Patiala known as the Patiala State Monorail Trainways. Whenever he travelled by road, Bhupendra Singh would be accompanied by a motorcade of about 20 of his Rolls Royce cars. A man of refined tastes, he was known to be a connoisseur of fine Havana cigars, well-matured alcohol, expensive jewels, and beguiling ladies.

December 7, 1911 was an important date in the colonial history not only of India but also of England, as the 3rd Delhi Durbar was held just outside the city of Delhi to proclaim George V as King-Emperor of India (there had been two previous Durbars in Delhi previously, in 1877 and 1903). Representatives of the Indian princely houses fell over themselves in trying to impress the royal personages with lavish gifts, each more magnificent than the one before. The young 8th Maharaja thought it fit to make a present of a diamond encircled emerald brooch to her Majesty Queen Mary on the occasion through one of his favourite wives, Maharani Bakhtawar Kaur, on behalf of the ladies of India.

In 1889, the family had acquired a pale yellow 234.69 carat diamond from the de Beers mines. In 1925, Bhupendra Singh commissioned Cartier s of Paris to make a ceremonial necklace for him, sending them a large collection of loose gemstones, including the de Beers diamond. The Patiala Necklace, as it was called, was ready by 1928. A magnificent example of platinum jewellery, the necklace was reported to contain 2,930 diamonds, with a total weight of about 1,000 carats.

The reason why the 8th Maharaja s name crops up frequently in this narrative is that cricket happened to be one of Bhupendra Singh s various pastimes. When the Chail View Palace was built by the Patiala royal family in 1893, the grounds contained a private cricket field, the highest cricket ground in the world at the time, at a height of 2,444 metres above sea-level. The 8th Maharaja had his own cricket team, known as the Patiala XI.

The story of Bhupendra Singh s cricket career begins with the third Indian tour of England in 1911, the year of the famous Delhi Durbar, and of the first time that an Indian team won the IFA football shield when Mohun Bagan defeated East York Regiment on July 29.

The author is indebted to historian Prashant Kidambi for much of the information pertaining to the 1911 tour, Kidambi having done an exhaustive research project on it during his time as a Senior Lecturer in History at Leicestershire University. The results of the research were later presented in the form of a book called The 1911 All-India Cricket Tour of Great Britain.

The basic spadework for the venture seems to have begun in 1909 when a Parsee gentleman, JM Framjee Patel (who had tried, unsuccessfully, to organise tours to England twice before), began the process by contacting the titular heads of several princely states and several other wealthy persons of India in an attempt to explore the financial aspects of organising the projected tour.

A meeting was held in the office of Ratanji Tata, and the idea of the tour was floated to the gathering, Framjee Patel stressing the value of the tour in fostering good relationships with the British through the medium of their favourite sport. The response from England was encouraging and an organising committee was formed for the projected tour. The committee managed to raise Rs 53,000 from local donors, an enormous sum in the period. However, it was not until November 1909 that MCC gave the final nod for the tour through a letter written to the organising committee, even going so far as to assure an amount of 200 for the match that was to be played at Lord s.

Selecting a truly representative team for such an important tour was never going to be an easy task, given the great diversity of the country in terms of languages, customs, and the prevalent caste system, and the lack of proper co-ordination between the governing bodies of the various cricketing fraternities of India at the time. The selection process was also hampered by the presence of no less than seven selectors. Headed by Jungly Greig, an Englishman born at Mhow, the selection committee, showing an admirable spirit of ecumenism, comprised two members each of the Muslim, Hindu, and Parsee communities. The committee wrote to about 30 known cricketers enquiring about their individual availability for the tour.

The first choice for the captaincy role was KS Ranjitsinhji (having played 15 Test matches for England) and experienced in playing under English conditions. Ranji, reported to have considered himself an Englishman because of his cricket affiliation, refused. He might have just dropped a hint in the ear of his good friend, the 7th Maharaja of Patiala, Rajinder Singh, that the 8th Maharaja might be a suitable choice for the job. The selectors were amenable to the idea and the 19-year old Bhupendra Singh, the 8th Maharaja of Patiala, was selected as the skipper of the team.

The final tally for the team, released after the last Selection Committee meeting on March 1, read as follows: seven Parsees, five Hindus (including two members of the untouchable class in brothers Baloo and Shivram), and three Muslims, all being led by a 19-year-old royal member of the Sikh community, yet to make his mark in any form of senior cricket. Indeed, Bhupendra Singh was to make his First-Class debut on the 1911 tour.

The final squad was as follows (in alphabetical order): Bhupendra Singh (captain), Prince Manek Pallon Bajana, Maneksha Dadabhai Bulsara, HH Shivajirao Gaekwad of Baroda, Bangalore Jaya Ram, Dr HD Kanga, Mukundrao Damodarrao Pai, Baloo, Shivram, Rustomji Meherhomji, Col Kekhashuru Maneksha Keki Mistry, Hormasji Mulla, Salam-ud-din Khan, Kilvidi Sechachari, Shafqat Hussain, Syed Hussain, and Jehangir Warden. The team was coached by John Alexander Cuffe, an Australian by birth, who played for Worcestershire. The manager of the squad was JM Divecha. The three Muslims in the party, including the one-eyed bowler Shafqat Hussain (the first one-eyed player in a representative cricket team for India, to be followed many years later by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi), were students of the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh.

Writing in Wisden India, Mohandas Menon adds his interesting insights to many of the individual players. It seems that Bajana had played all his cricket in England, mainly for Somerset.

Gaekwad, not in the original team, appeared for the tourists after his Oxford term ended, having represented his University against the tourists earlier in the tour.

Jaya Ram, formerly a part of WG Grace s London County, was in the process of completing his post-graduate studies in England, and turned out for the tourists in 8 matches. He was another who played all his senior cricket in England.

Opening batsman Kanga had to take over the captaincy duties in many of the games in the absence of Bhupendra Singh. Baloo was easily the most successful bowler on the tour, and, with his brother Shivram, were prot g s of Greig.

The three wicketkeepers in the side were Sechachari, Mulla and Syed Hussain. Though Mistry, the private secretary of the skipper, was often busy with non-cricketing duties on the tour appearing in only a handful of the games, he gave ample proof of his sterling skills as a batsman.

The chosen squad was given a ceremonial farewell at the Orient Club on the evening of May 4, the event being presided over by Framjee Patel, who reminded the players that they should think of the tour as a pilgrimage to the Home of Cricket. In later years, Framjee Patel, in his book Stray Thoughts on Cricket, was to write: The coloured people may suffer many disabilities in their own Empire, but to some extent cricket may prove their sheet anchor. We are not, in their opinion, fit company for the Antipodeans and South Africans, but if we beat them at cricket, they will think better of us. A Cambridge Professor, while lecturing before a mixed assembly of English and Indian students, told them that if Indians beat Englishmen at cricket, as Ranjitsinhji was doing, they are sure to command the respect of Englishmen who love manliness and fair play, and eventually the door of social and political privileges will be open to them.

A large crowd was to be found congregated at the Ballard Pier of erstwhile Bombay on Saturday, May 6 to cheer the first official All-India cricket team to tour England, carrying the hopes and aspirations of the entire nation with them, as the 8,000-ton Peninsular& Oriental Steam Navigation Company liner RMS Arabia prepared to cast off for her onward voyage to Tilbury docks.As an aside, it may be mentioned that RMS Arabia, en route from Sydney to England via Freemantle, would torpedoed by a German U-Boat on November 6, 1916. The 8th Maharaja, however, was not among the cricketers who disembarked from the vessel on destination.

The skipper, in keeping with his exalted status, had preferred to journey across Europe in his luxurious and highly personalised railway carriage, with his retinue in tow. On reaching London, he took up residence in a posh bungalow and immediately plunged into the social life of aristocratic England. The hosts, however, were wary of his presence in the Mother Country, his father, Rajinder Singh, with his well-known predilection for fine wines and English women, having queered the pitch for him.

Despite the 8th Maharaja s tender years, his own activities with respect to alcohol and his preference for female company were not unknown to his hosts. With their characteristic resourcefulness, the British decided to plant a mole in the Indian camp, ostensibly in a liaison role, but mainly to keep a watchful eye on him.

The rest of the group were quartered at the less ostentatious Imperial Hotel, and resorted to cricket practice at the earliest opportunity in an effort to acclimatise themselves to the English wickets and the fickle English weather, both vastly different from what they were accustomed to. The skipper, however, was almost never seen at practice.

The business part of the tour began at Christ Church Ground, Oxford, on June 1, against Oxford. The undergrads won the match quite easily by 8 wickets on the second day. On the batting front, the bright spot for the visitors was the 74-run sixth-wicket stand in the first innings between skipper Bhupendra Singh (47) and Salam-ud-din (28). Baloo, with 5 for 87, gave an impressive account of himself in the University first-innings total of 242, bowling almost half the overs.

In a First-Class career spanning 1911 to 1937-38, the 8th Maharaja of Patiala played 27 matches, scoring 643 runs, with a highest of 83 (his only fifty) and an average of 17.37.

On the 1911 England tour, the Maharaja played only two more matches. He scored 0 and 10 against MCC at Lord s in early June, the visitors going down by an innings and 168 runs despite a fighting 78 from Mistry.

In his other match, Cambridge put up a first-wicket stand of 259 runs, both openers, New Zealander David Collins (111) and Irishman Henry Mulholland (153), scoring centuries. Despite the formidable total of 434, Baloo, with figures of 8 for 103 fired the imagination with his exemplary bowling skills and variations. The Indians lost by an innings and 71 runs, the skipper s contributions being 16 and 28. These 3 games were all there were to the 8th Maharaja s cricketing exploits on the 1911 tour.

With the Delhi Durbar of 1911 planned for December, the Maharaja busied himself with efforts to ingratiate himself with the powers that be in England in order to cadge an official invitation to the great event, leaving the humdrum tedium of playing out the remaining matches on the tour to his teammates. By virtually abandoning the tour almost as soon as it had begun, he did the team another great disservice by depriving them of the services of Mistry, one of the more distinguished batsmen in the squad. As the Maharaja s secretary, Mistry had no choice but to accompany his employer to numerous (non-cricketing) events during the tour.

The 1911 tour turned out to be chastening and heartbreaking experience for the visitors. They lost all of their first 9 First-Class games, and all by large margins. They even lost their 2 Second games up to early July, against South Wales and Staffordshire (Syd Barnes capturing 5 for 14 and 9 for 15 in the game), by substantial margins. Opining in the typically English preference for understatement, the 1912 edition of Wisden had this to say: The tour of the Indian cricketers was a complete disappointment.

With the succession of heavy defeats suffered by the visitors, public interest in their matches began to diminish. The situation, however, took an unexpected turn on 13 July at Aylestone Road.

The tenth First-Class match of the tour, against Leicestershire, appeared to be no different in a long line of reversals for the tourists as Kanga, deputising for the absent Maharaja, opted for first strike. Was there, perhaps, the hint of a smile on the usually inscrutable faces of the cricketing Gods that day, or even the mischievous glint in their eyes? In an almost unbelievable turn of events, the opening stand prospered that day, crossing the 100-mark, then 150, before finally being terminated at 178 when Meherhomji (86) was dismissed. The day ended with the Indians on 431 for 9. It was too good to last, of course, and the side was dismissed after adding 50 more valuable runs on the second day, Shivram contributing 85.

Then Baloo (5 for 92) and Salam-ud-din (5 for 79) uncle of Jahangir Khan combined to dismiss the home team for 283. Following on, they were bowled out for 248 in their second innings. Baloo (6 for 93) and Salam-ud-din (2 for 76) were at it again. The Indians won the match comfortably.

It was the first ever First-Class cricket match by a representative Indian team in England, the victory coming by 7 wickets. Sadly, the skipper was not on hand to celebrate the win with his team-mates that day.

The encouraging foundation having been set, the Indians approached their next game against Somerset at Taunton from July 17 with greater confidence and with a spring in their steps. Though Somerset batted first, the tried and trusted combination of Salam-ud-din (6 for 64) and Baloo (4 for 48) made short work of the home team, dismissing them for 157. The Indians were dismissed for 196 on the second day, Bajana (who was to enjoy a fruitful nine years with Somerset from 1912 onwards) scoring 108.

Somerset then scored for 303 despite a fine 125 from Len Braund. When the day ended with the tourists on 63 for 2, the winning target was still 202 away and there would have been the familiar feeling of despondency in the camp. Shivram rose to the occasion for the visitors on the last day, remaining undefeated on 113 (with 11 fours) as the rest of the team batted around him. The decisive feature of the innings was Shivram s 115 run seventh-wicket stand with Baloo (55), and the Indians reached the victory target for the loss of 9 wickets, winning the game by 1 wicket.

The First-Class matches for the tour ended with 2 draws (against Scotland and Gloucestershire) and one more comprehensive defeat, to Sussex (by 10 wickets). When the full figures for the tour were put together, then, the 14 First-Class games brought 10 defeats by large margins, 2 wins, and 2 draws. They also played 9 Second-Class games on the tour, winning 4 and losing 5.

There were three batsmen with more than 500 First-Class runs on the tour: Meherhomji (684 runs from 14 matches, with a highest of 102, an average of 24.42 and 1 century), Shivram (631 runs from 12 matches with a highest of 113*, an average of 28.68, and 1 century), and Kanga (617 runs from 12 matches with a highest of 163 (the highest individual score on the tour), an average of 28.04, and 1 century).

The only bowler with more than 50 First-Class wickets on the tour was Baloo (75 wickets from 14 matches with best figures of 8 for 103, a bowling average of 20.12, 7 five-wicket hauls, and a haul of 10 wickets in the match). Baloo was well clear of the three other bowlers with the number of wickets in double-digits: JS Warden (44), Salam-ud-din (32), and Bulsara (23 wickets). In all matches, Baloo captured a total of 114 wickets on the tour at an average of 18.86, an outstanding performance. Sechachari was the most successful wicketkeeper on the tour with 10 catches and 6 stumpings from 10 matches.

Major Freeman Freeman-Thomas, 1st Marquess of Willingdon, was appointed Crown Governor of Bombay on February 17, 1913. With World War I breaking out in Europe in 1914, India, as a part of the British Empire, became directly involved in the War effort. Willingdon threw himself whole-heartedly into ventures promoting the war endeavour. One of these was a 12-a-side First-Class game between an India team and an England team to raise funds for the Women s Branch of the Bombay Presidency War and Relief Fund in mid-December, 1915.

Patiala headed the India team while Willingdon led the England team. Batting first, the home team was dismissed for a mere 110 with Frank Tarrant capturing 9 for 35. Mistry top-scored with 33, the Maharaja contributing 18. The star of English innings, however, was Greig, with a superlative innings of 216. England declared at 568 for 10. The deficit proved to be too overwhelming for the home team, and they were all out for 195. England won the encounter by an innings and 263 runs, a substantial amount of money being no doubt raised for the worthy cause.

Another 12-a-side First-Class match, billed as India versus England game was played at Bombay, with the same skippers. It may be mentioned here that it was not until 1947 that MCC, custodians of cricket laws, made the stipulation that for a match to have First-Class status, there would have to be 11 players in a team.

India batted first and put up exactly 500. Vithal scored 149, Patiala 83, and a young CK Nayudu 122. England were bowled out for 158 and were 140 for 10 when time ran out and the game ended in a draw. SM Joshi got 6 for 44 and Abdus Salaam 4 for 37 in the first innings; Vajifdar was the bowling hero of the England innings with 9 for 43.

The supplement to The London Gazette, dated January 1, 1921, displayed an announcement from St James Palace under the heading Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood. The citation read: The KING has been graciously pleased to make the following appointments to the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, in recognition of the services rendered by the Native States of India daring the War.

The second name in that short list of two was that of our by now-familiar 8th Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupendra Singh, GCIE, GBE. The 8th Maharaja s cup of joy and ambition was at the point of brimming over.

The Maharaja continued to grow in stature, both in the political and cricketing sense, and gradually became a force to reckon with as a cricket administrator. As is well known, he had arranged for two trial matches at his own expense at Patiala to facilitate the selection of the squad for the 1932 tour of England. His initial selection as captain of the 1932 team and his subsequent declining of the offer are well-known to all. The episode of his vital and decisive intervention in the early morning of the first day of India s first ever Test, played at Lord s on that tour, an intervention prompted by the refusal of the team to take the field under Nayudu and the subsequent submission by the team to his forceful personality is now woven into the fabric of the folklore surrounding Indian cricket.

It was in July 1934 that Anthony de Mello, first secretary of BCCI, first mooted the idea of a national cricket tournament at a board meeting in Shimla. The idea was warmly received by the members, particularly, by Patiala, who suggested that the trophy be named after Ranji, the most famous cricketer produced by India till then. The suggestion sparked off an animated debate, mainly in view of the fact that Ranji had played most of his cricket in England and that his links with cricket in his native country were tenuous, to say the least.

Some sycophantic members, perhaps in an effort to gain political mileage out of the enterprise, suggested the name of Willingdon, then Viceroy of India. Ultimately, the issue of funds for the projected trophy proved to a decisive factor, Patiala generously offering to donate it to the nation. The magnificent silver prize was bestowed upon the Indian cricket fraternity in 1934, enabling the eponymous cricket championship to get underway from November 4, when Madras and Mysore faced off at Madras in the first ever Ranji Trophy match.

In the winter of 1937-38, an English team under the sponsorship and captaincy of Lionel Tennyson toured India to play 5 unofficial Tests. Although the tourists were without the services of Percy Chapman, Wally Hammond, Tom Goddard, and Maurice Leyland, the skipper was of the opinion that the side was probably the strongest ever to visit India till that time.

On December 7, the newly constructed cricket stadium of Bombay, named at the suggestion of the 8th Maharaja of Patiala after Lord Brabourne, who had laid the foundation stone of the structure on May 22, staged its very first First-Class game. Cricket Club of India took on the tourists.

During the opening ceremony of the Brabourne Stadium, Patiala had expressed the hope that the stadium will become to India what Lord s ground is to England. Alas, he was not to know then that the concrete arena known as the Wankhede Stadium was to usurp the heritage of Brabourne at a later date.

At his home turf, the Baradari Ground of Patiala, Maharaja Bhupendra Singh played his last First-Class game, against Tennyson s side, from January 11. He scored 5 and 3*.

In his later years he was afflicted with heart disease (his expansive lifestyle being a likely cause), and passed away from heart failure on March 23, 1938 in his 46th year at Moti Bagh Palace, Patiala. He was cremated with royal honours at Shahi Samadhan on the Palace premises. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Yuvraj Yadavindrasingh, nicknamed Ticky who had played a Test for India.

The chapter on perhaps the most colourful royal personage from India to grace a cricket field was thus drawn to a close.