Visalakshi Devi – Princess of Mysore!

Philip John

Before leaving the Mysore Royals behind I feel compelled to tell you the amazing story of  Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiar’s youngest  daughter Visalakshi Devi and her husband Gajendra Singh. I met them in the 90’s through a common interest we shared – Dogs and Dog Shows. I was judging a Show in South India and a 7 month old Doberman came up in the Puppy Class. The Dobe’s name was Argus of Rajputana. He won the Class, then beat quite a few dogs to win Best of Breed and was finally placed in the top four!

I was introduced to the owners – Visalakshi Devi and her husband Gajendra Singh. What struck me immediately was Visalakshi’s amazing simplicity. She was dressed in very ordinary clothes, did nor wear any jewellery, and appeared very approachable and warm. The last picture I had of Mysore royalty was her father the Maharaja, ascending the throne amidst the blowing of trumpets, and conch shells, reaching a crescendo before the Dussehra festivities started. 

Our meeting at the Dog Show was the start of a two decade long friendship. Gajendra Singh was a prince from Auwa, Rajasthan. His relative Mahendra Singh was a Tea Planter and a friend of mine.     

Incidentally the Doberman puppy was bred in India and went on to be the Dog of the Year, after winning several Best in Show awards! I was delighted to see some new entrants to the dog game in India. Later, they imported Afghan Hounds and some other breeds but nothing could equal Argus’ record!

Their real interest was however in Wild Life. And this led them to acquire and develop a wonderful resort in the Bandipur forest in Karnataka called Tusker Trails.

So passionate were they about Wildlife that the Karnataka Forest department entrusted orphaned cubs of many animals to Visalakshi’s care as their trust developed in her ability to be a foster parent and her unconditional love for all animals especially those in the wild.

In 2000 we made a visit to Tusker Trails to meet two baby elephants. They were super cute but the boy was already weighing about 400 pounds. He had no idea how strong he was!

Visalakhshi and Gajendra Singh had two children. The older is a young man now named Rudra Pratap Singh (Baba to close friends). His sister is called Shrutikirti Devi (Shruti to friends).

Princess Vishalakshi Devi tragically passed away in October 2018 after a short illness. Her husband continues to live in the forest resort while Baba and Shruti live in Bangalore.

Since I wanted to write about the Princess, I contacted Shruti in Bangalore. This is how our conversation went….

Philip John: Hi Shruti! Thank you for the pictures…What were the baby elephants called?
Shruti: Prithviraj, Mrityunjai and Padmaja
Shruti: Padmaja is the female

Philip John: What were the leopard cubs called?
Shruti: Bully and Baby. Bully was male and Baby was female.
Shruti: Cub climbing the tree is Baby. I am sending some video clips.

Shruti: And that devilishly handsome Doberman is Hawk 😆😆😍😍

Philip John: How long did you have the elephants?
Shruti: 12 years
Philip John: Wow! And then?

Shruti: Padmaja was about 2 months old when she came, Prithviraj was 5 months old and completely traumatised as his mother had died and he stood over her body for about a week before the Forest guards found him. To get him to trust us took nearly a month.

Another baby elephant, who we named Mrityunjai, walked back to a village with the cattle. At the time the Forest Rangers couldn’t locate his herd, so they brought him to us. I remember it was on the 31st of December!

A few days later a Tribal tracker named Keechanna, who lives in a settlement close to Tusker Trails heard Mrityunjai’s mother calling out for him and the entire herd was headed to the Resort! Keechanna ran to my parents to inform them that the mother elephant was coming, by which time Mrityunjai had started responding to his mom. She finally arrived at Tusker Trails and we let Mrityunjai out.

He went to his mother and there was a lot commotion and trumpeting. We were happy that he had finally got back to his family. No one believed when after 15 minutes Mrityunjai came back to Padmaja and Prithviraj!!

Philip John: Came back? He did not go back to his mother and the herd?
Shruti: Nope
Shruti: I think Mrityunjai is from a different planet
Shruti: Like Mars or something
Philip John: Wow. And the mother left him there and pushed off?
Shruti: I think she waited for a while and left..
Shruti: This goof didn’t go back!

Philip John: I have seen Prithviraj and Padmaja when we visited your parents at Tusker Trails. Enjoyed playing with them!
Shruti: Ok
Shruti: So Padmaja now is 19 and has a baby of her own.
Philip John: Where is she now?

Shruti: And Prithviraj is 20 and still very possessive of Padmaja and Mrityunjai, no one is allowed to check them in his presence, he goes for the mahouts if he thinks they’re being rough with either of them.

Philip John: She was 2 months and Prithvi was 5 months old when we saw them at Tusker Trails.

Shruti: Nothing much has changed in Mrityunjai’s life! Still the same nonsensical elephant

Shruti: Except he’s become very tall.

Philip John: Where is he now?
Shruti: The three of them are with the forest department
Philip John: Ok
Shruti: In a camp in the middle of the jungle.
Shruti: They are let out to graze and brought in for feed twice a day

Philip John:  Are they worked (used) in any way?
Shruti: Yes sometimes.. when the department faces issues with man – animal conflict.
Shruti: They’re taken to either chase the animals back into the forest or capture them.

Philip John: Thanks Shruti. Send me the Leopard video when you get hold of it.
Philip John: By the way, I have seen the video at Tusker Trails….  The story has stuck in my mind!

The Leopard cubs’ story was even more amazing. Two cubs were brought by the government Forest guards. They were very young, probably the mother was killed. 

The cubs soon accepted Visalakshi as their mother and she hand reared them. The male was called Bully, and the female was named Baby. They had a pleasant upbringing, always well fed but care was taken to see that they were not domesticated beyond getting used to a handful of people. They were taken on walks in the jungle of which a large area was cordoned off. They were not ready to face the big bad world of the jungle. From the age of one they started being accustomed to doing their own kill rather than being fed. Finding water sources to drink but at the same time being kept under the watchful eye of Visalakshi and team. 

When they turned two it was time to turn them loose in the forest to roam on their own. The male disappeared into the jungle and never returned. 

Baby, the female Leopard would return each day to a particular spot where Visalakshi would be waiting. They would spend time together and Baby would then disappear into the forest. 

But one day she stopped coming altogether. A broken hearted Visalakshi reconciled herself to not seeing her again. But she was happy that her efforts were not in vain and the Leopards were now part of the Jungle. 

Then after three or four months one of the tribal people in the area talked about sighting a leopard from time to time. 

Early one morning Visalakshi and a few others went by Jeep in the direction of their meeting place. She got down and walked the last 500 metres to the specific spot. But there was no Baby in sight. Visalakshi decided to wait. She waited and waited. After some three hours or so Baby appeared. She stopped and hid behind a thicket and peaked through at the visitor. Visalakshi called her name softly. Baby emerged and walked over to her ‘mother’ and rubbed herself against Visalakshi’s legs.  

After some time of bonding Baby began to walk away but indicated that  Visalakshi should follow. They walked a while till they came to a thicket. Baby stopped and looked around to see if the coast was clear. Then walked some more and in a thicket she heard the tiny sounds of cubs whimpering, missing their mother. There were 3 cubs waiting to be fed by their mother. Baby did not mind Visalakshi picking up the cubs.

After a few minutes Visalakshi knew that the meeting was over. It was time for Baby to feed her cubs. And she turned and made her way back to an anxious driver and helpers waiting for her in the Jeep. 

The leopard would take Visalakshi and the family to her den everyday for around 9 days. Then she stopped! 

Baby wanted Visalakshi and her family to see the cubs she had given birth to. This was the peculiar but intense bonding between the mother who brought the leopard up and helped to start her own family. 

Do you have a lump in your throat? I do! 

National Geographic heard of this story and interviewed Visalakshi and Gajendra Singh. I don’t know what became of this project, though a lot of video footage had been shot!

6 Responses

  1. I’ve been to Tusker Trails and met Mr Singh , an amazing man , very kind a great animal lover. He played cricket with his staff every day in the evening. We were not allowed to see the leopard cubs. The Maharani was a real princess dignified , graceful and knowledgeable. We will miss her.

    1. Thank you, Phillji, for writing about my little girl! She was amazing.
      Baba, Shruti, Prithviraj, Padmaja and Mrytunjay are still with me – though some are forestdwellers! Among the others you mentioned I’ve lost Visha, Argus, Bully and Baby, and another elephant girl – not mentioned – Padmini.
      In the meantime, I’ve gained a beautiful daughter-in-law, Deval, a handsome son-in-law, Arvind, and two amazing grandchildren, Shiv Pratap and Simhasthita. Life must go on.
      Once again, thank you,
      Gajendra Singh.

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