Brajraj Mahapatra, Indian king - obituary

Pleasure-loving ruler of the small Indian state of Tigiria who later lived happily in poverty


Braraj Mahapatra outside his home in Tigiria Photo: Ranjit Kumar Patnaik

5:19PM GMT 11 Dec 2015
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Brajraj Khyatriya Birabara Champati Singh Mahapatra, the former Raja of Tigiria, who has died aged 94, was the last surviving Indian king from the days of the British Raj.

His heavily forested kingdom, Tigiria, in the eastern Indian state of Orissa was, at just 45 square miles, the smallest princely state in India. But according to LEB Cobden-Ramsay, in his book Feudatory States of Orissa (1910), “thanks to the good governance of its kings [it] had a high population density”.

As well as building and maintaining a network of schools, the rulers of Tigiria were remarkably lenient in matters of law and order. Tigiria’s “jail” consisted of a small roof with four pillars with no walls, and the severest punishment was ostracism by the king, who would not speak to a convicted felon.

Brajraj was born on October 15 1921, the son of Sudarshan Kshatriya Birbar Chamupati Singh Mahapatra, Raja of Tigiria. After taking a diploma from Rajkumar College in Raipur in 1940, he married Rani Rasmanjari Devi, a princess of Sonepur, with whom he had six children.

He came to the throne in 1943 and became known for his hedonistic lifestyle. “I would often visit Calcutta with my friend, the former king of Puri, and stay at the Majestic and Great Eastern Hotel there,” he recalled in an interview with the Indian Express in 2013. “I would drink to my heart’s content and have a good time. I liked Black Label, White Label and smoked 999 and State Express 555 brand of cigarettes. If a new car model came to the market, I had to buy it. I owned 25 cars and jeeps, including a Roadmaster, Chevrolet and a Packard. We had 30 servants.”

He was also known as a keen shikari – a big game hunter – and claimed to have shot 13 tigers, 28 leopards and a “tusker” (elephant) which was eating villagers’ crops.

Braraj Mahapatra inside his home Photo: RANJIT KUMAR PATNAIK



In 1947, however, along with other heads of princely states of Orissa, Brajraj signed the instrument of accession to an independent India. Deprived of his state’s tax revenues, his fortunes began to decline and in 1960 he sold his palace to the state government for 75,000 rupees (900) on condition that it be turned into a school. Later he separated from his wife.
Brajraj continued to receive a small stipend from the Indian government until Indira Gandhi abolished the payments in 1975. While many of his fellow ex-royals recouped some of their losses by becoming involved in politics, he refused, saying that he did not know how to “bow to people”. After living for some years with his elder brother, the one-time king of the state of Mandasa in Andhra Pradesh, he returned to Tigiria.
When a journalist visited in 2013, he described finding the 92-year old living in “a mud hut with some plastic chairs. The asbestos roof is leaking, so a torn tarpaulin sheet covers his wooden cot. There are a few books, a plastic saline bottle, a torch, some raw tomatoes and lots of cobwebs.”
Asked if he was happy, Brajraj replied: “Then I was the king. Now I’m a pauper. But I have no regrets whatsoever.” Although he relied on the help of local villagers, when he did have money himself (as a life member of the governing council of Rajkumar College, he received a small stipend), he gave much of it away .
He is survived by three sons and two daughters. Another daughter predeceased him.
Brajraj Khyatriya Birabara Champati Singh Mahapatra, born October 15 1921, died November 30 2015

Brajraj Mahapatra, Indian king - obituary - Telegraph