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Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil On Being A Princess In The Modern Age

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Ananya Shankar

The year 1723 witnessed Bhavsinhji Gohil establish the enchanting town of Bhavnagar and now, 300 years later, we sit within the walls of his palace, waiting to meet his descendant — the princess. Just as we finish setting up the cameras in their regal library whose walls are adorned with paintings of her ancestors, Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil of Bhavnagar glides in — an absolute vision draped in resplendent gold.

But beneath the veneer of grandeur and lofty lineage, Brijeshwari is entirely unassuming, radiating warmth and with a word of welcome for all. Having spent her formative years in Mumbai and currently shuttling between the city and her hometown, we wonder what it’s like to be a princess in today’s day and age…


“I just feel a sense of responsibility to make an impact in Bhavnagar, of conducting myself in a certain way — being respectful and carrying the family name on in a manner that’s relevant today” she reveals. Because after all, royal or not, “we all strive to balance tradition and modernity, right?”

But the challenge lies in determining what to preserve from the past and how to bring it forward into the future. And well, this princess — armed with a degree in Archaeology and History of Art, Heritage Management and Conservation and a Postgraduate Diploma in Built Heritage Conservation — stands as a formidable champion of historical and cultural conservation.

Rooted in Royalty

Brijeshwari credits her grounded nature and abundant knowledge to her mother, Samyukta Kumari Gohil of Bhavnagar, who also happens to be her greatest source of inspiration.


“My mom’s always told me, ‘You must have a purpose in life besides saying that you’re a princess in democratic India. You must have something more to show for yourself!’” And it’s this advice that Brijeshwari holds as a guiding principle in her life.

Over the course of the shoot, we notice her mother making sure everything runs smoothly and everyone feels at home. She’s a picture of grace and has no doubt passed this quality on to her daughter.But she’s not the only family member present; her maternal grandmother, Rani Jaishree Singh of Tiara smiles as she watches her granddaughter pose, expressing her delight at how beautifully the photos are shaping up. Yet, amid all the chaos of a photoshoot, it’s Brijeshwari’s sister-in-law, Kritiranjanii Kumari Gohil of Bhavnagar, who turns out to be her greatest ally. Skillfully adjusting her pallu, making her laugh and ensuring her comfort, she stands as a steadfast companion throughout — a testament to the strength of the bonds within this family.

Brijeshwari attests to this fact, saying, “My brother [Jaiveerraj Singh Gohil of Bhavnagar], sister-in-law and I are very close. It’s a small family so we’re tight as a unit… I also have a baby niece who occupies a lot of my time!”

Though with a lineage as rich as hers, it’s no surprise that she takes inspiration from a number of people. Brijeshwari moves on to tell us about her great grandfather [Maharaja Shree Krishnakumar Sinhji], who was the first to hand over his kingdom to a democratic India. “Growing up, we were told that he always looked at the larger picture. That’s something I try to imbibe from him…”

And as she continues, we can’t help but admire the walls of their courtyard, full of beautiful watercolour paintings of birds. Brijeshwari smiles, explaining, “My great grandfather’s brother was an ornithologist and he wrote a book called The Birds of Saurashtra…” The book featured illustrated paintings by artist Somalal Shah, who was inspired by the Bengal school’s ‘wash’ technique. The princess adds, “We even got an illustrator to design and create prints! We have the largest private collection of his works, but only started displaying them 10 or 15 years ago.”


Her deep-seated interest in conservation and preservation is rooted in this profound sense of personal family history; a bridge between her and her ancestors.

“I heard stories [about them] growing up and later, I dug deeper into the archives… And when you hear such things about your own family, your ancestors, it sets the tone for what you want to do in life,” says Brijeshwari, trying to inculcate the learnings from these tales in her daily life; and perhaps, marking the beginning of her career as an archivist.

Preserving The Past

Our hunch proves to be true. Tracing her path into conservation after returning to India with degrees from the University of Nottingham and Durham University, Brijeshwari is instantly reminded of their ancestral Darbargadh [royal residence], a heritage structure which was first home to Bhavsinhji Gohil, and remains a cultural emblem in the heart of the Bhavnagar.


“Darbargadh has beautiful frescoes… narrating a battle on the walls. We’re restoring it because that is where we trace our ancestry from…” she expresses, lost in thought. Another structure bearing a similar note of personal connection are their ancestral cenotaphs, or the family Chattris, located minutes away from Nilambag palace. Brijeshwari is spearheading the ongoing restoration of these exquisite sandstone structures, and her vision goes beyond mere physical repair. She plans to introduce a light and sound show, intending to create a narrative that resonates with people nationwide and, eventually, globally.

“I know one has to look at restoration from a business point of view but somewhere I am emotional [about it] because these were commissioned to be built by my ancestors,” says the young royal, who began her journey in art conservation at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (originally Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai under the mentorship of Anupam Sah and also with the Durham UNESCO chair on a project in Lumbini, Nepal.

Her depth of knowledge at such a young age is commendable; in addition to her education and theoretical expertise, Brijeshwari draws from her reservoir of practical experience in the field.

Back in 2015, when the Piramal Group was setting up their art foundation, they contacted her mother to borrow one of the works from her family’s collection for an exhibition on the renowned artist, Raja Ravi Varma. This intrigued the princess, who leveraged that painting to join the Piramals! And what started off as a single exhibit, ended up with her working for the foundation for the next five years.

Today, Brijeshwari leads the contemporary art department at Olympia Auctions in London and also helms the Indian auction house, Prinseps, as Vice President. “They [Prinseps] had acquired the estate of Bhanu Athaiya and I knew her as India’s first Oscar winner, but when I started reading about her and understanding her contribution towards art and cinema, I wanted to be a part of it,” she expresses. And with the iconic Zeenat Aman on the panel at one of the exhibitions, indeed, it has been a memorable achievement!

A Princess With A Purpose

In order to promote the many wonders of Bhavnagar, this royal looks outside, using her holidays abroad to learn about how other countries preserve their art and culture. “I love going to museums [abroad] to look at how they narrate the story; make it engaging with technology,” she says. Her favourite travel destination, however, is the South of India. In awe of the landscapes of the North and the culture of the South, she believes there’s much to learn from the latter as it is the cradle of Indian civilisation, with its temples and ancient structures and monuments.

While we’ve gotten a glimpse of the princess’ travels and her life in and around Bhavnagar, her days in Mumbai remain a mystery. She admits that not a lot of time is spent there anymore (and with the pollution levels skyrocketing, who could blame her?), but when she does, she’s at Prinseps and mentions, “an exhibition on the Bengali artist Gobardhan Ash is being held in Kolkata at the end of March”. Other than that, she’s “catching up with friends and meeting new people, creating a network…”

This princess is not all work and no play — with a list of hobbies so long that it makes us question the number of hours she has in a day! She laughs, saying, “I do have a lot of hobbies; I cook, paint and do yoga. I also go to the gym, though my brother is the fitness enthusiast! Over the past few years, I’ve started strength training and I have a background in football too, having played till I was in university.”

In all the time we spent with the royals of Bhavnagar, we noted, admiringly, the lovely printed chiffon saris worn by all the ladies in her family. Donning a bright red one herself, Brijeshwari reveals, “Most of the saris I wear are all my mother’s old ones. I have inherited a lot of them and I wear them on a daily basis in Bhavnagar. Though no one ever told me to and my parents are very modernised… when in Rome, do as the Romans do!”

Putting Bhavnagar On The Map

Twenty-four hours later, the shoot comes to an end and the thoughtful princess bids us farewell with a box of Bhavnagar’s famous pendas! Amid her ambitions to bring her Bhanu Athaiya exhibit to Mumbai and juggle numerous restoration projects, she tirelessly pursues her singular aim: putting Bhavnagar on the cultural map. “We have many lesser-known monuments here and in an ideal world, they would all be restored and have beautiful stories to narrate to the people who visit them…” she reflects.

In light of her accomplished lineage, Brijeshwari has certainly earned her name — and portrait — on the wall. While her forefathers laid the foundation, she’s the visionary propelling her beloved Bhavnagar into an exceptionally bright future.

Text: Ananya Shankar; Photos: Prabhat Shetty; Hair & Make-Up: Shivanjali Wellness

This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s March 2024 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!