King Charles III, who succeeded Queen Elizabeth II last week, has long been associated with India and is familiar to Indians. With his accession to the throne, King Charles has also become head of the Commonwealth, a group of 56 independent countries including India, representing 2.4 billion people.
To go back in history, the East India Company came to India in 1600. In the 19th century it generated almost half of English trade. His private army of 260,000 men also gained control of an entire subcontinent. India was a “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire. So it is not surprising that several members of the British royal family visited India at different times. Charles came to India ten times as heir to the British throne, while his parents visited India three times during the Queen’s seven-decade reign. Over the decades, Charles developed a warm relationship with India and its age-old traditions such as yoga, Ayurveda and diversity.
He once said: “Having had the pleasure of visiting India so many times, I have always been struck by her extraordinary diversity and the deep well of creativity, ingenuity and resilience she draws from. It’s a source of great inspiration to me personally.” Charles was a strong advocate for environmental issues and the fight against climate change. He is also aware of India’s importance in achieving global climate protection goals. Charles’ connection to India dates back to his school days in Scotland.
His teacher Shomie Das, later rector of Lawrence School Sanawar, Mayo College and Doon School, was his tutor and physics master. Former Indian viceroy Lord Mountbatten also had a significant influence on the young royal. Charles developed close ties with many cities in India. These include Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai,
Hyderabad, Bangalore, Puri, Delhi and Agra. He was comfortable with the Jaipur and Patiala royal families who hosted him. There were some awkward moments when 16-year-old actress Padmini Kolhapure kissed him on the cheek while visiting a Bollywood studio.
That same year, Charles had visited the village of Haripur in Puri district and had walked the rough roads through the heat and dust. He was interested in picking coconuts, weaving baskets and harvesting rice. Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s first visit to the country revealed a strained marriage. The unfortunate Diana sat alone in front of the Taj Mahal in February 1992 while the prince was in Hyderabad.
They divorced soon after. The entire media landed in Agra for Diana’s photo. King Charles and his current Queen Camilla have a Bengaluru connection.
dr Issac Mathai has been the royal couple’s holistic doctor for 15 years. He practices healing of the whole body, mind, soul and emotions. Another memorable event was his interaction with Mumbai’s dabbawallahs in 2003. He was curious how they ride bikes, lift boxes full of tiffins and deliver them to many people on time.
He invited her to his second marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005, where they presented the bride with a 9-yard Paithani saree and the groom with a kurta lehenga. Charles celebrated his 71st birthday with school children at the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai in November 2019 and previously in Banglore.
The Jallianwalla Bagh massacre happened many times, even during a visit from the Queen. Ahead of his tenth visit, Charles sent well wishes to Sikhs across Britain and the Commonwealth on the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. However, India has changed since independence with little fascination with the days of colonialism.
For example, in the 1960s officials removed figures of British officials and royalty from the public eye. Recently Prime Minister Modi renamed Rajpath to Kartavya path, claiming that “a new history has been created”. The renovated avenue now has a statue of Subhas Chandra Bose in place of King George V. Colonial-era street names, redundant laws and even flag symbols have been changed.
Barely hours after the Queen’s death, Indian social media once again called for the return of the famous Koh-i-Noor, the 106-carat diamond discovered in India that has become part of the British Crown Jewels. Charles hosted Modi at the Science Museum in London in April 2018 to build a unique global network for evidence-based research on Yoga and Ayurveda.
He spoke of his “great love for India” as he launched a Covid emergency call last year and helped raise millions for India. In addition to his involvement with the Bharatiya Yuva Shakthi Trust, an NGO founded by Lakshmi Venkatesan, daughter of former President R. Venkataraman, he also helped farmers through his British Asian Trust and his encouragement to practitioners of Indian traditional medicine in India and the UK. Many hope his fascination with India will continue.