Some women have everything and still want more, but Sita Devi practically invented ambition. The daughter of an Indian Maharaja, this royal beauty lived in the lap of luxury from the very beginning, but her extravagance, entitlement, and allure reached new, scandalous heights as she grew into a beautiful young woman. There’s a reason they call her “India’s Wallis Simpson.”
1. She Was A Spoiled Brat
No one did excess like the Maharajas of India, royals whose palatial homes dotted the country like fat jewels on a monarch’s crown. So when Sita Devi was born in Madras on May 12, 1917, to the Maharaja of Pithapuram, the little girl was in for a life laden with the finest clothes, food, galas, horses, and more. Before that life was over, though, Sita Devi would also pass through wrack and ruin.
2. She Turned Heads
Now, Sita Devi already had the world in her hands before she could speak, but she also grew up to be stunningly beautiful, with wide eyes and a captivating gaze that few men could deny. Plus, she had a burgeoning fashion sense and a sharp taste for the finest things in life. In short, she was the total package—and her parents knew just what to do with her.
3. She Was A Teenage Bride
When Sita Devi was just 18 years old, her life changed forever. In 1935, she married M.R. Apparao Bahadur, a mega wealthy and powerful landowner from the city of Vuyyuru. And believe me, their union was nothing to sneeze at. She became a Rani of the district, and the doors of her sheltered world opened up into a glittering realm of temptation and sin.
4. She Became A Cool Girl
Under the influence of her advantageous marriage, Sita Devi blossomed into a social butterfly, and even the most lavish soirees weren’t complete until she walked in the door. She was close to the best and brightest of Indian society at the time, including the equally beautiful and perhaps more powerful Princess Niloufer, a scion of the Ottoman Empire.
And with these new friends came new addictions…
5. She Had An Extravagant Entourage
Although Sita Devi’s life was already full of jewels, silks, and ermines, she managed to take it up a notch. When she traveled the world—which was whenever she darn well felt like it—she insisted on going with a retinue of a thousand saris, in addition to individually matched sets of shoes and furs. This was actually scandalous in more ways than one.
6. She Was A Show-Off
The word of the day in India at this time was “modesty,” with a side of “elegance” and “restraint.” Well, Sita Devi and her crew didn’t play like that; they loved showing off their clothes, their jewels, and their deep pockets to anyone who was privileged enough to catch a glimpse. Yep, Sita Devi was a bad girl—and she was only going to get more naughty.
7. She Had A Date With Destiny
In 1943, the 26-year-old Sita Devi attended the Madras horse races. She was already a mother by then, but hardly anyone would have guessed that the fun-loving socialite had a gurgling baby at home—or a husband. So when she met the handsome Maharaja Pratap Singh Gaekwad, neither party could look away. So began an instant, infamous scandal.
8. She Met A Dangerous Man
When Sita Devi met the Gaekwad, he was ruling over the dominion of Baroda, and she must have thought she’d found an exciting Prince Charming. Yet the Maharaja hid a multitude of secrets. First off, like Sita Devi herself, the ruler already had a long-time queen in his devoted consort Shanta Devi Sahib. But infidelity wasn’t the only vice they shared.
9. She Liked Bad Boys
Although the Maharaja had only succeeded to his throne four years before meeting Sita Devi, he had already earned one of the most infamous reputations around India for being a “hedonistic spendthrift” bent on only getting the best out of life. Hmm, sounds just like Sita Devi’s type. But you know what they say about too much of a good thing…
10. She Had Expensive Tastes
Although the Maharaja’s marital status and reputation were both enormous red flags, he did have one huge thing to recommend him. For all the money he spent, he had even more waiting down in his royal coffers; many estimated that he was the eighth richest man in the world, and close to the richest man in India. In other words, he could more than bankroll Sita Devi’s ideal life.
Only, before you go thinking these two jumped straight into an affair—well, they didn’t. They did took a much more controversial path.
11. She Dumped Her Husband
These were two people who wanted it all, so it makes sense that they stopped at nothing to be together—up to and including the total destruction of everything they previously held dear. Before you could say “bad idea,” Sita Devi had decided to split from her husband so that she could re-marry the Maharaja. Yeah, this didn’t go all that smoothly.
12. She Gave Up Her Religion
Sita Devi’s first roadblock was the difficulty of obtaining a divorce in India at the time, particularly when her reason was simply, “I want to bang this other guy.” In response, she came up with a devious plan. She…converted to Islam. And although that might seem irrelevant, this one small move was actually endlessly brilliant.
13. She Had A Nasty Split
See, under Indian law, Sita Devi’s new Islamic “faith” was incompatible with her Hindu marital union. So as soon as she completed the conversion, her marriage to poor Apparao Bahadur dissolved in the eyes of the state, no muss and no fuss. Wow, that one had to hurt—and in fact, Bahadur’s response to this was nothing short of stony.
14. Her Husband Refused To React
According to some reports, just after converting to Islam, Sita Devi made a show of begging her husband to convert as well; I mean, this was a lady who knew her optics. Bahadur, seeing right through his soon-to-be ex-wife, apparently refused to even respond to the public display. But Sita Devi had an even more stunning betrayal in her back pocket.
15. She Pulled An Infamous Bait And Switch
Once she broke off her first marriage, Sita Devi twisted the knife in. Within days of the legal dissolution, she converted right back to Hinduism and the married the Maharaja, which had of course been her plan all along. Still, now that Sita Devi had finally made it official with her fairy tale prince, all that drama was over, right? Ha. Nope.
16. She Earned A Famous Nickname
Practically the whole world heard about Sita Devi’s utterly diabolical plot to outwit her husband. Many started calling her the “Indian Wallis Simpson,” comparing her to the infamous mistress of King Edward VIII, who found herself embroiled in her own scandal after Edward abdicated the English throne in order to marry her.
But let me tell you: Even Wallis Simpson didn’t hold a candle to Sita Devi’s next exploits.
17. Her Husband Was A Bigamist
While Sita Devi had broken off her union for the sake of true love, the same wasn’t true for the Maharaja of Baroda. He got to keep his first wife and queen, and then just added his new flame Sita Devi on as his second wife when the time came. Except if you think a Maharaja could just take multiple wives back then…you’d be wrong.
18. The Whole Country Was Angry At Her
Bigamy was a hot-button topic at the time—ironically, the Maharaja’s grandfather, the previous ruler of Baroda, had actually spent a significant portion of his reign enacting and enforcing anti-bigamy laws on his citizens. So when the occupying British forces in India heard about Sita Devi’s already scandalous marriage, the whole lid blew off.
19. Her Marriage Came Under Fire
Incensed, the British Viceroy all the way in New Delhi targeted Sita Devi’s new relationship almost immediately after the vows. He issued an official summons to her husband, and while the Maharaja could hardly refuse, both he and his wife knew they were about to face an epic dressing down. Luckily, they came to the meeting prepared.
20. She Was Incredibly Entitled
When the Viceroy tried to intimidate the newlywed couple, the Maharaja actually had a stunning comeback. Sure, the ruler reasoned, the anti-bigamy laws might apply to my citizens, but they don’t apply to me as ruler. And although the Maharaja’s balls were worth their weight in gold for that little defense…he was also right.
The Viceroy’s lawyers backed the claim, and the Maharaja walked out of the meeting free, clear, and still up one more wife. Then came Sita Devi’s victory lap.
21. She Gave Her Husband An Heir
Sita Devi already had one child from her previous marriage, and she didn’t intend to waste much time providing the Maharaja with another heir. In 1945, less than two years after their wedding ceremony, she was pregnant again and soon gave birth to a boy they named Sayaji rao, after the Maharaja’s predecessor and grandfather.
The parents may have intended it as lucky homage, but as we’ll see, the boy was nothing less than star-crossed.
22. She Spoiled Her Son
As a mother to little Sayaji Rao, Sita Devi showed a new side of her personality. Although she was as extravagant as ever, she also had a fierce maternal instinct, and—in an unholy combination of those two things—spoiled the boy rotten. Eventually, the little royal earned the nickname “Princie,” which seems more than appropriate.
Having an heir helped increase Sita Devi’s power at court...yet she still had to watch her back.
23. The Government Dealt Her A Huge Snub
Sita Devi was young, beautiful, and in the prime of her influence, yet there was one precious thing she could never quite get her hands on: A true title. Although she was now a Maharani by marriage, the government absolutely refused to call her “Her Highness,” and never stopped believing that she was too scandalous to be a proper consort.
But this woman knew how to deal with her haters.
24. She Escaped From India
As a celebration of winning her Maharaja fair and square, Sita Devi…got the heck out of India. Just three years after marrying, she and the Maharaja took a tour of Europe, then put down a load of cash for an enormous estate in the principality of Monaco. Move over, Grace Kelly, Sita Devi did it first. In fact, this launched her into the stratosphere.
25. She Was Alarmingly Irresponsible
In 1948, Sita Devi made a name for herself in all the wrong ways. That year, she and her husband grew bored of spending extravagant amounts of money in Monaco, and decided to go spend extravagant amounts of money stateside, embarking on a tour of the United States that saw them running through $10 million on just one trip.
The thing is, this had bigger consequences than either of them could have predicted.
26. She Went Through A Nightmare Situation
Obviously, word got out about the royal couple’s incredible spending spree, and the jaunt particularly alarmed one of their most powerful enemies: The Indian government itself. While the Maharaja was supposed to be one of the richest men in the world, the government decided to make sure of this fact with an audit of his treasury.
What they found was criminal.
27. She Stole Money
As it turned out, the Maharaja had been, er, “borrowing” money from the Baroda treasury, interest-free, to fund Sita Devi’s enviable lifestyle. But since this was a state fund, the treasury money wasn’t his to borrow, and the great ruler ended up getting hounded by the Indian version of the IRS until he agreed to pay it back.
This was the beginning of the end.
28. She Lost Her Crown
In 1951, Sita Devi’s fairy tale came to a crashing halt. The government was fully distrustful of the Maharaja now, and forced him to abdicate in favor of one of his sons from his first marriage. Meanwhile, Sita Devi and her prince were left out in the cold and stripped of their titles. Only now that they no longer had a throne to represent, the pair only became more scandalous.
29. She Had Famous Friends
On the royal rebound, Sita Devi plunged right into the glittering world of European decadence and really checked out the party circuit. She started hanging out regularly with people like the shipping baron Aristotle Onassis, the future husband of Jackie Kennedy. Except Sita Devi soon made it clear that she wasn’t there to make friends…
30. She Knew How To Make Money
In 1953, Sita Devi needed an influx of cash and decided to sell a set of gem-encrusted anklets to famed jeweler Harry Winston. In a twist of fate, after Winston turned the nearly priceless baubles into a necklace, none other than Sita Devi’s dark double Wallis Simpson bought the ornament to wear to high-class galas. Oh, but the story doesn’t end there.
31. She Had A Big Rival
Four years after selling off the anklets, Sita Devi ended up in a New York ballroom with Wallis Simpson, who just so happened to be wearing the custom-made necklace that very night. Evidently, the jewels were of surpassing beauty, because Simpson was drawing the attention of the whole room, with everyone crowding around her to pay her compliments.
Well, Sita Devi didn’t like that—and she got her revenge.
32. She Made A Notoriously Cutting Remark
After listening to people prattle on about how beautiful Simpson looked, Sita Devi gave an expertly petty reply. She loudly exclaimed that the gems looked just as nice when they were on her feet, making sure Simpson could hear the veiled dig. Best of all, it worked: Simpson promptly returned the necklace to Harry Winston.
Sorry Wallis, there can only be one.
33. She Couldn’t Let Go Of The Past
Sita Devi was one formidable woman, but even she couldn’t combat the tragic changes that were taking place in her life at the time. As her royal chapter got further and further away from her present, she and her husband clung ever more desperately to their better years. They insisted that people still call them by their titles.
This was, of course, even though Sita Devi had never been “Her Highness” in the first place. And then disaster struck.
34. She Had A Nasty Divorce
In 1956, after nearly 15 years of marriage and an infamously scandalous start, Sita Devi and her Maharaja called it quits. For all that they had nearly burned down the world to be together, they simply couldn’t make it work without the ego-boost the throne of Baroda brought them. It was a bitterly clean break, too; the former Maharaja moved immediately to London, leaving his ex and their son to fend for themselves. This…wasn’t the best idea.
35. She Was Frozen In Time
One she was almost entirely alone, Sita Devi began to exhibit disturbing behaviors. Now more than ever she insisted on living in the past, and was notorious around Monaco for constantly recalling the days when she would receive 101-gun salutes in her role as Maharani. Perhaps most pitiful of all, her Rolls Royce still prominently displayed the insignia of Baroda.
Then, her downhill slide got more bizarre.
36. Her Love Left Her
In 1968, Sita Devi’s world got a little smaller, and her glory days more faded. That year, the former Maharaja passed in exile in England, without the star-crossed pair having ever reconciled. From then on, most of Sita Devi’s life revolved around country hopping to avoid various tax fees. Not that you’d have known it from her lifestyle…
37. She Had Her Own Factory
Sita Devi was a luxury department store’s dream. Willing to spend money on nearly anything that took her fancy, she even practically had her own custom sari maker in the Frenchman Monsieur Eirgua, whose factory Saree & Co filled orders for chiffon garments by the hundreds. They were so dependent on her, the factory actually closed after she passed.
38. She Had An Awful Moniker
Like any socialite worth her salt, Sita Devi had a favorite jeweler and gave the luxe brand Van Cleef & Arpels that distinction. Still, this had a gross side. The former Maharani was such a loyal and frequent customer, the jewelers nicknamed her “Ms. Brown,” because of the color of her skin. Ew, no thank you on that one, guys.
39. She Became Tasteless
In the end, though, Sita Devi’s expensive tastes morphed into tasteless shows of wealth. At the 1969 Ascot Gold cup, for example, she invited the crowd around her to fondle her massive 30-carat sapphire ring, claiming it was “good luck.” Ah, that’s my ticky-tacky, rich-as-heck girl. And throughout all this, she had quite the partner in crime.
40. Her Son Was A Mama’s Boy
Although Sita Devi’s son “Princie” was a grown man by this time, the two of them were thick as thieves, and both loved showing up to the latest party at all hours of the day or night. In 1969, Esquire magazine even dubbed them one of the year’s official “fun couples.” Um, okay then. But as we’ll see, underneath their glamorous façade, Princie and his mother were hiding secret anguish.
41. She Made A Desperate Move
By the 1970s, party staples or not, Sita Devi and her son were in dire straits. The money was so tight that she had to come to a heartbreaking decision…well, at least for her. The erstwhile queen screwed up her courage and auctioned off yet more of her precious jewels—a decision she considered so shameful, she insisted it be done in total secret. But that wasn’t all.
43. Her Family Struggled With Addiction
As it turns out, money really can’t buy you happiness. Princie had always been Sita Devi’s little baby, so she was devastated when her son started partying a little too hard and falling into a world of addiction amongst his glitterati friends. Before she knew it, her precious boy had slipped away from her…and his downfall ended in tragedy.
43. Her Son Met A Tragic End
In May 1985, Sita Devi was 68 years old, and most of her scandals were supposed to be behind her. Then she received crushing news. Her beloved son Princie had taken his own life almost exactly two months after his 40th birthday, having never been able to face down the demons of addiction. Sita Devi’s reaction was gut wrenching.
44. She Gave Up Hope
Almost no controversy up until this point—from her first scandalous divorce to her second anguished split—made Sita Devi lose sight of her regal bearing. But the passing of Princie finally broke her. Although she continued attend all the soirees and gala she possibly could, nothing was quite the same without Princie, and it began to show.
45. She Had Eccentric Treasures
In the final years of her life, Sita Devi was the epitome of faded glamour. Although she still kept herself busy by re-organizing the Louis XIV-style furniture in her living room, ordering solid gold tongue cleaners, and insetting her cig holders with rubies, she was also interminably lonely and bored. It was a sad, quiet end for a brash woman.
46. She Passed From A Broken Heart
In 1989, just four years after Princie’s own tragic end, Sita Devi passed of natural causes at the age of 71. Yet there might be a darker reason for her demise. Those who knew her and saw her state after Princie’s death believed she passed from a broken heart. Still, Sita Devi wouldn’t be a class-A scandal-maker if she didn’t have one last secret to reveal…
47. She Had A Secret Vault
More than a decade after Sita Devi’s passing, researchers made a stunning and long-awaited discovery. They found an enormous stash of jewels, as well as eye-popping pearl carpets, stuffed into a relatively non-descript Geneva vault. But the kicker? The reason these treasures ended up there is worthy of an Ocean’s 11 sequel—and Sita Devi is right in the middle.
48. She Came Up With A Nefarious Plot
Remember that time the Indian government caught Sita Devi gobbling up money and assets from the Baroda treasury? Well, although on the surface the royal couple complied with paying back the sum, in reality, they were much more diabolical. Intent on keeping hold of her jewels and ornaments, Sita Devi and the Maharaja came up with an ambitious trick.
49. She Was A Cat Burglar
In the wake of the government scandal, Sita Devi became a kind of “custodian” for treasures she and her husband pilfered from the state, keeping the fenced goods in her Monaco estate. And as we know, these people did not have humble tastes; besides the pearl carpets and countless jewels, they also “transferred” over the incredible Pink Brazilian Star of the South Diamond, which came in at nearly 129 carats.
For years, the government searched for these items, only to find them in that vault in 1994, long after Sita Devi was gone. Oh, but there’s one more thing.
50. She Covered Her Tracks In An Ingenious Way
See, although the government finally located some of the priceless jewels Sita Devi had run off with, they couldn’t possibly find them all. Not just because she was so good at hiding them, but also because she was so good at hiding them in plain sight. After all, the Maharani loved to constantly re-set her jewelry, making many of the treasures unrecognizable today.