Whatever Happened To The Indian Native States?

23/12/2015     British Commonwealth, India

The Indian Native States (or Princely States) were nominally sovereign monarchies with their own ruler under the protection of the British Government. Though the history of the princely states dates from at least the classical period of Indian history, the predominant usage of the term princely state specifically refers to a semi-sovereign principality during British Rule under a form of indirect rule similar to political entities which existed in the Arabian Gulf area including Oman, Zanzibar and the Trucial States.

At the time of Independence in August 1947 there were a staggering 565 Princely States in the Indian subcontinent, the most prominent among those - roughly a quarter of the total - had the status of a “salute state”, one whose ruler was honoured by receiving a set number of gun salutes on ceremonial occasions, ranging from 9 to 21. Rulers of salute states entitled to a gun salute of 11 guns and above received the style of Highness; the Nizam of Hyderabad had the unique style of Exalted Highness.

The princely states varied greatly in status, size and wealth; the premier 21-gun salute states of Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir were each over 200,000 km2 in size, or slightly larger than the whole of Great Britain. In 1941, Hyderabad had a population of over 16 million, while Jammu and Kashmir had a population of slightly over 4 million, and at the other end of the scale, the non-salute principality of Lawa covered an area of 49 km2, with a population of just below 3,000.

The era of the princely states effectively ended with Indian independence in 1947. By 1950, almost all of the principalities had acceded to either India or Pakistan – nine to Pakistan and the rest to India. The accession process was largely peaceful except in the cases of Jammu & Kashmir (whose king decided to accede to India, but only after an invasion by Pakistan-based tribal militia) and Hyderabad, whose ruler opted for total independence in 1947, resulting in the forced annexation of the state to India.

As per the terms of accession, the Indian Princes received privy purses and were initially allowed to retain their statuses, privileges and autonomy in internal matters during a transitional period which lasted until 1956. During this time, the former princely states were amalgamated into federations; each federation was headed by a former ruling prince with the title of Rajpramukh (ruling chief), equivalent to a state governor. In 1956, the position of Rajpramukh was abolished and the federations dissolved, the former principalities becoming part of Indian states. The states which acceded to Pakistan retained their status until 1956, when they became part of the province of West Pakistan. The Indian Government formally abolished the status of the princely families in 1971, followed by the Government of Pakistan in 1972.

Many of the larger States issued their own stamps, frequently featuring portraits of their rulers and you can meet several of them in our Sandafayre 15th December Sale including Maharajah Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore and Maharajah Madan Singh of Kishangarh, whose own journeys from exhalted Princes to Private Citizens adds another fascinating dimension to collecting this area.

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