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 British 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. And by the 1800s, it generated almost half of England’s trade. Its private army of 260,000 men also gained control over an entire subcontinent. India was a ” jewel in the crown” of the British empire. So it is not surprising several members of the British royal family visited India at various times. Charles came to India ten times as heir to the British throne, while his parents visited India thrice during the Queen’s seven decades of reign. Over the decades, Charles developed a warm relationship with India and its age-old traditions like Yoga, Ayurveda, and diversity.
He once stated, “having had the pleasure of visiting India so many times, I’ve always been struck by her extraordinary diversity and the deep well of creativity, ingenuity and resilience upon which she draws. This is a source of great inspiration to me personally..” Charles has been a strong advocate for environmental concerns and the battle against climate change. He also knows the importance of India in achieving the world’s climate action goals. Charles’s Indian connection goes back to his school days in Scotland.
His teacher, Shomie Das, later principal of the Lawrence School Sanawar, Mayo College, and Doon School, was his tutor and physics master. Former Indian Viceroy Lord Mountbatten also significantly influenced the young royal. Charles developed close relations with many cities in India. They 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 embarrassing moments as when the 16-year-old actress Padmini Kolhapure gave him a peck on his cheek when he visited a Bollywood studio.
The same year Charles had visited Haripur village in Puri district, going through the bumpy roads in the heat and dust. He showed interest in coconut plucking, basket weaving, and paddy harvesting. Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s first visit to the country revealed a strained marriage. The unhappy Diana sat alone outside the Taj Mahal in February 1992 while the Prince was in Hyderabad.
They divorced soon after. The entire media landed in Agra for the photo of Diana. King Charles and his present Queen Camilla have a Bengaluru connection.
Dr. Issac Mathai has been the holistic physician of the Royal couple for the past 15 years. He practices healing the whole body, mind, spirit, and emotions. Another memorable event was his interaction with Mumbai’s dabbawallahs in 2003. He was curious about how they ride bicycles, lift crates full of tiffins and provide them to many people punctually.
He invited them for his second marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005, where they presented a nine-yard Paithani saree for the bride and a kurta lehenga for the groom. Charles celebrated his 71st birthday with school children at the iconic Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai in November 2019 and earlier in Banglore.
The Jallianwalla Bagh massacre has featured often, even during one of the Queen’s visits. Before his tenth visit, Charles sent good wishes to Sikhs across Britain and the Commonwealth on the 550th Birth Anniversary of the religion’s founder Guru Nanak Dev Ji. However, India has been changing since Independence with little fascination for the days of colonialism.
For example, in the 1960s, officials removed figures of British officials and royalty from public view. Recently, Prime Minister Modi renamed Rajpath as 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 made renewed calls to return the famous Koh-i-Noor, the 106-carat diamond discovered in India, which has become part of the British crown jewels. Charles hosted Modi in April 2018 at the Science Museum in London to establish a first-of-its-kind global network for evidence-based research on Yoga and Ayurveda.
He spoke of his “great love for India” when he launched an emergency Covid appeal last year and helped raise millions for India. Beyond his involvement with the Bharatiya Yuva Shakthi trust, an NGO set up by Lakshmi Venkatesan, daughter of former President R.Venkataraman, he also helped farmers through his British Asian Trust and his encouragement of practitioners of Indian traditional medicine in India and the UK. Many hope that his fascination for India will continue.