Saturday, May 24, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Passion royale for pampering pets
Roshni Johar

The Nawab of Junagadh
The Nawab of Junagadh

THE Indian royalty was known to pamper their dogs, and went to strange limits doing that. While some intensely loved them, others hated them with equal candour. The Maharaja of Junagadh, Nawab Sir Mahabet Khan Rasul Khan, invited Lord Irwin to grace the occasion of marriage of Roshanara with Bobby. But the Viceroy refused. Understandably so. After all, Roshanara was the Maharaja’s favourite pet dog, while Bobby, a royal golden retriever, belonged to the Nawab of Mangrol, and Lord Irwin was in no mood to indulge the eccentric Maharaja in this unprecedented and frivolous pastime. Films and photographs were taken of this widely world-reported unique three-day event, where no less than `A3 22,000 were spent.

A number of ruling royals and dignitaries attended the marriage. Shampooed, perfumed, bejewelled and decked in brocade, Roshanara was carried in a silver palanquin to the Durbar Hall. Earlier 250 dogs attired in brocade, a military band and a guard of honour had received the groom Bobby, bedecked in gold bracelets and necklace, at the railway station. This had been followed by a grand wedding feast.


After this, dog weddings were much in vogue among rulers in North India. Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Jind and Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala celebrated the weddings of their dogs in a pompous manner.

The Maharaja of Junagadh owned 800 dogs, each with its own room, a telephone and a servant. A white-tiled hospital with a British vet attended to their ailments. When a dog died, Chopin’s funeral march was played and a state mourning was declared.

"To annoy the Raj whose airs and graces he resented," the Maharaja of Junagadh had his liveried staff dress his dogs in formal evening suits, mount them on rickshaws and drive them on British summer capital Shimla’s fashionable Mall. "The women were infuriated, often feeling a dog’s breath on their pale powdered faces as the rickshaws jostled for space on the way to Cecil Hotel for a dance. The Maharaja had a stormy meeting with the Viceroy and promised to keep his dogs locked away. He had to agree but waited until there was a ball at the Viceregal Lodge and ordered his servants to round up every crazed, lunatic pi dog in Simla. He set them loose in the grounds and was rewarded by the sound of horrified memsahibs shrieking like peacocks," writes Ann Morrow in her highly readable Highness.

While the Maharaja of Junagadh adored dogs, the Maharaja of Alwar intensely hated them. He accepted an invitation from Lord Willingdon to stay with him in Viceregal Lodge in Shimla, an invitation very keenly sought by Indian rulers. Through his Military Secretary, the Viceregal Lodge staff was made aware of his dislike and instructions were issued that dogs be kept chained during the Maharaja’s visit. At a banquet in the Viceregal Lodge, somehow Lady Willingdon’s pet Pekinese got loose and ran to the Vicereine under the dining table and then licked the feet of the Maharaja, who being the principal guest, was seated at the right hand of Lady Willingdon. Infuriated the Maharaja left the banquet without a word of apology, dashed to his suite to take a bath to purify himself. Wearing another dress, he returned to the table. This incident earned him a black mark in the political department’s files.

Maharaja Paramjit Singh of Karputhala, who is said to have married a cabaret dancer called Stella Mudge, went into a stupor when he was told to marry a simple Indian girl. It was Stella who woke him up with her endearments, "My doggie darling, mon petit chou, mon bien aime, I love you".

In the Rambagh Palace of Jaipur, servants sporting starched pugrees and golden cummerbunds walked Scot terriors, St. Bernards and Danes. Everything had to be divided during the Partition and, the princes were much relieved when the prestigious Kennel Club went to India.