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Royal Wedding Evokes Grandeur of the Maharajas

December 11, 1987

GWALIOR, India (AP) _ They exchanged garlands and walked seven times around a fire that made their gems and gold sparkle. Thus a son and granddaughter of the last maharajahs were wed Friday in a fairytale recess from reality.

Hundreds of former maharajahs and maharanis, evoking the grandeur of times forever gone, celebrated the royal wedding of Vikramaditya Singh, son of the last maharajah of Kashmir, and Chitrangada Scindia, granddaughter of the last maharajah of Gwalior.

The people also were invited. More than 40,000 guests, including villagers who arrived in bullock carts, filled the grounds of Jaivilas Palace.

Nepal’s King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, who are related to both families, watched from a balcony.

Other guests included India’s regal scions, who have lost their itles but often continue the lifestyle of the past in a nation with 64 percent illiteracy and a per capita income of $270 a year.

It began to drizzle, a good omen for Hindu weddings, as the 23-year-old groom’s procession reached the bride’s palace, led by caparisoned elephants. A golden umbrella shielded Vikramaditya, who rode in a silver chariot drawn by four horses.

Chitrangada, 20, wore a sari of golden brocade with a long red veil. She walked to the ″mandap,″ the canopy where the main marriage ceremonies were conducted.

Hindu traditions and rites were observed. The bride and groom exchanged garlands of flowers and walked seven times around a fire while priests chanted mantras, the hymns and texts of Hindu ceremony.

Crowds in the people’s enclosures surged forward to get a closer look, but police blocked them.

More than 7,000 policemen were deployed for crowd and traffic control in Gwalior, whose streets were decked with banners and floral arches.

Some of the bridegroom’s classmates from the University of Southern California were there.

″This is all so beautiful for me,″ said Angelica Loza of Los Angeles. ″We are seeing Vik in a very different setting, but he will always be Vik for me.″

Vikramaditya majored in business administration at USC. About being the heir of the last maharajah, Karan Singh, he said:

″I don’t think about it, the title. One has always been referred to as a prince since one was born.″ The quote appears in the current issue of the Indian magazine Society.

Jaivilas Palace glistened with a fresh coat of white paint and shone with thousands of tiny yellow lights.

In the procession, the groom wore a golden turban with diamond-studded plume and six strands of pearls around his neck.

Villagers in tattered clothing touched the robes of Madhav Rao Scindia, father of the bride and son of the last maharajah of Gwalior. They shouted: ″Long Live King Scindia 3/8″

″This is part of Indian tradition,″ said Bhawani Singh, former maharajah of Jaipur. ″It can’t be done away with easily.″

Reflecting the changing times - royal titles were abolished in 1971 - Scindia now is the minister of railways in Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s government. The groom’s father is a former health minister.

Some news media and opposition politicians criticized the wedding, which sources in both the governing Congress Party and opposition said cost more than 80 million rupees ($6 million).

Shashi Prabha, a housewife who traveled 250 miles, reflected a contrary view held by many in the crowd:

″There’s nothing wrong in spending money on a royal wedding. This is our pride. When (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev came to India, the government spent millions of rupees. If that is not considered a waste, this is not a waste either.″

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