Monday, June 15, 2015

Exotic Dancer Becomes Queen in 1908

Anita Delgado married the Maharajah of Kapurthala India
in 1908. She was his fifth and favorite wife. She started life
as a commoner in Spain, dancing the flamenco with her sister
for a living. Photo is in the public domain.

Anita Delgado was born to a cafe owner in Malaga, Spain, in the late 1800s. In 1906, at age 16, she was dancing the flamenco with her sister in an act they performed in the nightclubs of Madrid. That same year, the Maharajah of Kapurthala, Jagatjit Singh, visited Madrid to attend the royal wedding of King Alfonso III of Spain. The Maharaja was well known for his love of entertainment and beautiful things.

He is said to have arrived in Spain decorated from head to toe in jewels and finery. Elizabeth Nash, writing for The Independent, reports that he wore a "turquoise blue turban adorned with pearls and precious stones, his chest studded with decorations, and a diamond-encrusted dagger in his belt."{1}

Upon arrival, the Maharajah requested a night out on the town. He was escorted to the Cafe Central Kursaal, where he enjoyed a spectacular flamenco performance by The Sisters Camelia (Victoria and Anita Delgado).{2}

The Indian ruler fell under Anita's spell and approached her with gifts and invitations. She accompanied him to swanky restaurants, and then after the royal wedding she and her entire family were invited to visit him in his hotel suite.{3}

Reports indicate that he proposed marriage swiftly, but that either her family rebuffed him, or she did. In all likelihood, it was her family that protested most. She was, after all, only 16 years old, and he was a 34-year-old royal foreigner.

Marriage to the Maharajah would mean a whole lot more than just running off with a handsome older stranger. For Anita Delgado it would mean leaving her homeland, converting to Hinduism, and taking a foreign people as her own. It also meant becoming wife number five to a man whose other wives still lived in his palace with him (although she would not learn this fact until a long while later).

I'm not sure the title and privilege of Maharani of India would entice me all that swiftly, either. And I'd certainly be loathe to send my daughter away for that kind of deal. But Maharajah Jagatjit Singh was not a man given to resignation. When he wanted something, he pursued it until he acquired it. And he wanted to marry Anita Delgado. His advantages: time, money, and charm.

After a time, he offered to pay a significant bride price, a sum that would ensure that her sister would dance the flamenco again only if she so desired, and it was agreed that Anita would accompany the Maharajah to France to prepare for her nuptials.

She left for Paris to the luxury of a palatial estate, where she learned two new languages (French and English). She also learned to dance according to Indian and British customs, play piano, and ride horses the "proper" way. She also learned deportment and formal etiquette for state occasions.{4}

In January 1908, Anita Delgado arrived in Bombay and married the Maharajah in Kapurthala. It was at this point that she learned that she was wife number five. None to pleased, she was appeased only by her husband's arrangements for her to live in private quarters away from the harem. He also lavished her with jewels, clothing, and other luxurious gifts, and he gave her many western liberties not otherwise afforded his Indian-born Maharanis. Anita Delgado went on to make a distinctive mark on India's upper classes.

For eighteen years, she lived as queen consort to one of India's most notable rulers. She was outfitted with luxurious costumes and countless jewels. She enjoyed her husband's favor and bore him a son. They traveled throughout India and Europe together, and truly lived in the highest style imaginable.

It seems, however, that after almost twenty years as Maharani, Ms. Delgado grew restless. According to rumors, she strayed from her husband's bed, taking up with her stepson.{5} The Maharajah's family denies many of the rumors surrounding this part of Anita Delgado's life, so it is unclear whether this infidelity actually took place.

However, public record does indicate that the Maharajah divorced his fifth wife in 1925. Though she was granted a life pension and retained her vast jewelry collection and her Indo-Punjab citizenship, as well as her official royal title, Anita Delgado was exiled for life from India.

She spent the remainder of her thirty-seven years in Europe, spending some time in her hometown Malaga, Spain, and also in Madrid and Paris, where her transformation from commoner to Maharani originally took place. Unfortunately, though she was granted possession of her jewels, the majority of her collection was lost at sea when the ocean vessel bearing the treasury sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

If you'd like to read more about Ms. Delgado's fascinating life, I have heard of one authorized biography written by Elisa Vazguez de Gey. There is also a fictionalized biography, contested by the Maharajah's family but reportedly based on facts of public record, written by Javier Moro.

~Angela Magnotti Andrews


  1. Nash, Elizabeth. "How to Marry a Maharaja," The Independent, November 5, 2007.
  2. Carolina, "La media Luna del elefante de Kapurthala," El laberinto de Eboli blog, October 13, 2013.
  3. Nash.
  4. Nash.
  5. Nash.

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