In changing these family assets into businesses, the maharaja didn't just manage his taxes well. He kept the art and artifacts, the antiques and carpets and buildings. It was a feat many other Indian royals didn't achieve. "Centuries of India's priceless treasures wound up at auction," says Kanwar Dhananajaya. "A significant piece of India's history left India and is now in European and American living rooms."
So how did this maharaja do it? "His Highness had a youthful energy to his advantage ... and the support of his family and friends,"says Karni Singh Jasol, a Fulbright scholar who lives and works at Mehrangarh Fort, the king's medieval fortress-turned-museum. "I think the end of the privy purse was a blessing in disguise. It was a way for the princes to set up their own businesses and become successful businessmen. The young king had to take stock of things, and he foresaw the need to make his properties into productive assets."
WHAT ABOUT THOSE medieval fortresses, so vast they measured in square acres rather than square feet? A few years after assuming the throne, the young maharaja had handed three of them to the state. When the privy purses ended, he transformed two of the three that remained into charitable trusts in order to avoid the insurmountable property taxes. One of the forts became a medical camp, and another became a center for girls' education. The third, Mehrangarh Fort, he turned into a museum.
Built in 1459 by Rao Jodha (from whom Jodhpur gets its name), Mehrangarh is a towering behemoth, five centuries worth of fortification made of mortar and stone. Perched on the highest point in Jodhpur, it's known as The Citadel of the Sun. With towering battlements that stand 120 feet high and walls 18 feet thick, the fort today conveys its founder's intentions: envy, awe, and fear. It's astonishing to think that many of India's other cultural icons like Mehrangarh were dismantled or sold.
Before the young maharaja went to work on it, the fort had gone unused for years, at least by humans. It was overrun with bats. "When the council got together to try and figure out how to turn Mehrangarh into an income-producing property," says Jasol, "the joke was, 'Well, we could always sell bat fertilizer.' "
But Mehrangarh was Jodhpur's prized possession and the maharaja felt compelled to succeed. "His Highness simply couldn't lose Mehrangarh," says Mahendra Singh. "The Fort is a cultural memory of Jodhpur. It ... was the seed of our clan. We have other forts in the family that predate Mehrangarh, but our Jodhpur fort is special because it had never been taken siege."