The Wadiyar Princess Who Cared Deeply For Mysore’s Wildlife

Harsha Bhat

Sep 24, 2019, 10:41 PM | Updated 10:41 PM IST

Wadiyar princess, Vishalakshi Devi with Padmaja, the Dasara elephant.
Wadiyar princess, Vishalakshi Devi with Padmaja, the Dasara elephant.
  • An aunt to the current Yuvaraja of Mysuru, the youngest daughter of Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar, Vishalakshi Devi, was known for her love for wildlife and the legacy she has left behind nurturing and raising elephants and leopards among other animals.
  • Vishalakshi Devi passed away last year during Dasara and will miss seeing one of the elephants she raised walk proudly in this year’s Dasara procession.
  • As Karnataka gears up to celebrate its Naada Habba (state festival) Dasara, and all eyes are on the grandeur of the royal city, its heritage and its mighty tuskers, the gentle giants of Mysore will miss their ‘royal mother’ who cared for them like her own children.

    Vishalakshi Devi, who passed away last year on the day of Vijaya Dashami, was a Wadiyar princess whose passionate involvement with the wildlife of Mysore is fondly remembered by everyone — from family and friends to the forest department.

    Princess Vishalakshi Devi was born in 1962 to H H Dr Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar Bahadur, Maharaja of Mysore, and H H Smt Tripurasundarammani Avaru, Maharani of Mysore.

    Like her father, she devoted much of her life to the preservation of wildlife. Her contribution in this field is immense, having helped not only raise but also restore several leopards back to their wild habitat. She also raised several elephants that are now at various elephant camps in the forest.

    “My best memories of our jungles are of time spent with her. My favourite memories are listening to her wildlife stories by fireside in Bandipur...” wrote the scion of the royal family Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar on her death last year.

    Vishalakshi Devi with her elephant
    Vishalakshi Devi with her elephant

    The youngest daughter of the last ruler of Mysuru, Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar, Vishalakshi Devi’s penchant for the pachyderms, in particular, was such that just before she passed away she had also procured blanket permission to look after orphaned elephants.

    But she took no credit for any of her work nor did she look for any limelight. ‘Which is why she chose to work with the Karnataka forest department and not have an NGO or any such organisation of her own because all she wanted to do was care for animals,” reminisces daughter, Shrutikirti Devi.

    Vishalakshi Devi with her daughter Shrutikirti Devi and elephant, Prithviraj.
    Vishalakshi Devi with her daughter Shrutikirti Devi and elephant, Prithviraj.

    Every time the department found orphaned elephants they would seek the help of the Wadiyar princess who took them home and cared for them like her own children.

    “She never saw any difference between her babies and the animal babies. We were all brought up the same way. In fact, she would give her animal babies a lot more attention than us — be it puppies, or a pigeon being sick she would be up all night taking care of them,” says a nostalgic Shrutikirti Devi.

    The Forest Department had also sought her help to foster two leopard cubs, who, even after being returned to the forests, would come running to her when she visited them. Shrutikirti, who was then a teenager, remembers how her mother would wake up every hour to feed the leopard cubs — whom she had named Bully and Baby — and how she had pampered them.

    Vishalakshi Devi with a leopard cub Bully
    Vishalakshi Devi with a leopard cub Bully

    The leopards were looked after by Vishalakshi Devi until they were fit to hunt for themselves after which they were released into the forests. Although Bully died sometime later, Baby came back in good times and bad to take her royal mother to the forest.

    Every time she had a litter, Baby, the leopard, would visit the resort and invite them to come see her offspring. “She would come and ask us to follow her. She would call and rub herself against everyone, walk in the direction of her den and wait till we were right behind her. Only when she saw us would she move forward,” recounts Shrutikirti Devi.

    Vishalakshi Devi with Prithviraj, the tusker.
    Vishalakshi Devi with Prithviraj, the tusker.

    The forest department staff who had worked with the late princess, remember her with moistened eyes and endless memories. Rangaraju, who has served as an assistant for the last 27 years in the forest department is at the palace this Dasara but he sorely misses his ‘ammanavaru’ as he addresses the late Wadiyar princess.

    Having been a part of her journey with wildlife for over a decade, he wishes she was around to see Lakshmi (Padmaja), an elephant she helped rescue and bring up, march this Dasara.

    Rangaraju recalls that he would be deputed on the request of the Wadiyar princess to assist with the raising of the elephants.

    “But the way she struggled, her efforts one cannot imagine. Not just in terms of care and concern, she also spent a great deal of her own money to bring up these rescued elephants,” explains Rangaraju, who continues to serve in the forest department even after retirement.

    Faarin inda milkmaid tarsoru aanegalige england inda (she would have milkmaid imported from England). She may not have tended to her own children the way she tended to the elephant babies,” he says nostalgically remembering how she would constantly seek his services and advise him about the upkeep of elephants to the last detail.

    Even after she would handover the elephants to the department, “Awarigey manasu niltirlilla (she couldn’t stop herself) and would say she has to see her ‘maris (young ones)‘ at least once every ten days. And every time she visited she would get food worth thousands for the elephants, and these elephants too would come running the minute she would call for them,” says Rangaraju.

    Narrating umpteen tales of how she would call and keep a check on every single animal that she had taken care of, even when she could not go see them or if she heard of any incidents involving them, Rangaraju's voice has a sense of despair as he says, “Enandru amma irbekithamma” (Whatever else, she should have been here).

    Vishalakshi Devi ensured that her three elephants were not ‘given away’ by the department to other states last year. “When I informed her that the names of these three were also in the list that was to go to Uttarakhand and Assam, she spoke to the concerned officials and said, ‘They are my children. I will provide for their upkeep if need be but do not send them away,’ and ensured they did not go away,” says Rangaraju, recalling how her daughter Shrutikirti Devi too had tears in her eyes.

    Shrutikirti Devi carries forward the legacy of love for the gentle giants that her mother, she says, inherited from her father. While holidays meant international tours for most other royals, Vishalakshi Devi took her children to the forest each summer and initiated them into caring for and being in harmony with wildlife.

    “She was initiated by my grandfather (Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar). She had grown up accompanying him into the forests though she gave the hunting trips a miss for she just could not take it,” says Shrutikirti Devi.

    “As for us, when we grew up, our house was full of animals and birds — from ducks to horses, to rabbits and pigeons, and all else,” she adds, reminiscing how she looked forward to Dasara mainly as an opportunity to be with Gajendra, her uncle’s (Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar) ‘pattada aane’ (state elephant).

    Vishalakshi Devi, along with her husband had also set up a wildlife resort — Tusker Trails — in Bandipur where they also tended to elephants. Until her health failed her, her trips to the forests had her foster tuskers come up to her and reciprocate the love that they were used to receive from her; they would chase her and be pampered by her like it was to her that they did belong.

    But it is not all as glamorous as it looks, says Shrutikirti Devi. “It is a lot of hard work. Because it requires a great deal of patience and diligence. From hygiene to the mood swings and temperament to health, raising these animals, it consumes all of you and her all she did give,’ explains Shrutikirti Devi as she looks back at her mother’s journey with the animals.

    “She loved being charged by the elephants — she got some thrill out of it, which was nerve-wracking for the others. Because we would be worried if we are going to make it out alive. Especially when you are a kid and you have this huge thing biting off the bar of your gypsy, it can be quite scary but she would be laughing,” says Shrutikirti Devi, talking about the memorable moments in the wilderness that she’s had with her mother.

    Those who shared their lives with the late Wadiyar princess are yet to come to terms with her absence. But the work she has left behind is something they look to carry forward. For she was a princess who treated wildlife as royally as they deserve to be treated.

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.