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Royal flush: How the Maharaja saved this royal family’s jewels

Maharaja Gaj Singh II and his daughter, Princess Shivranjani Rajye, pictured in Toronto at a Royal Ontario Museum gala celebrating a new exhibit featuring the family’s treasures.Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

Maharaja Gaj Singh II, head of the Rathore clan, the warrior caste that reigned over the kingdom of Marwar-Jodhpur in present-day Rajasthan, northwest India, for the better part of 500 years, dabs at his forehead with a handkerchief, sips from a bottle of water and launches into a yarn about a famous pair of pants. Not his pants, per se, but the jodhpurs (think riding breeches, tight to the knee, billowy above it) displayed nearby in a case at the Royal Ontario Museum, threads which came to be known worldwide thanks to the Maharaja’s ancestor, Sir Pratap Singh.

Pratap, the story goes, was chosen to represent his family at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887 in London, a celebration he travelled to by boat and then overland from Cairo, while his clothes and jewels continued by sea until the boat, alas, sank, a nautical disaster that deprived him of the finery he had been planning to wear to the Queen’s party. What Pratap, a crack soldier and daring horseman, didn’t lose were the riding pants he had on when he arrived.

Well, explained the present-day Maharaja, his ancestor was a fine dresser, indeed, but not well outfitted with an ability to speak English. Upon the direction of “some English grandee,” he headed off to Savile Row to see a tailor. He put his riding pants on the table to show the tailor, who asked him, “What is this, sir?” recalls the Maharaja, breaking into a grin. “And he pointed at the pants and he said, “This is jodhpur,” and so the tailor made him dress jodhpurs. “That’s what he wore for the Queen’s ceremony — and that’s how jodhpurs got their name.”

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