City Landmark – Maharani Stella’s Grave, Christian Cemetery, Prithviraj Road
An extraordinary life.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
She was a cabaret dancer in Paris and a maharani in Kapurthala—but her tomb, surprisingly, chose not to mention it.
Like all graveyards, the Christian Cemetery in central Delhi’s Prithviraj Road is something of a book, whose pages would be the hundreds of graves it is home to.
One can spend an entire day here, walking from one grave to another, reading the heartfelt inscriptions written to celebrate mothers, fathers, grandparents, husbands, wives, siblings and children.
But Stella’s memorial seems to be neither of those. She is just Stella of Mudge. A quick Google search, right by her graveside, reveals her to be somebody extraordinary. She features in a New Yorker magazine report on the Maharaja of Kapurthala, way back in 1945. She also appears in a 2003 book entitled Wicked Women of the Raj. A caption on the UK-based art auction house Christie’s website, accompanying the picture of a silver and enamel cigarette box, turns out to be a brief biography of the lady of the grave—“This box belonged to Stella Mudge, the stage name of Alice Villiers (1904-1984), a Kent-born cabaret dancer at the Folies Bergère in Paris where she met and was seduced by Maharajah Paramjit Singh of Kapurthala (1892-1955). She became his third wife and took the title of Maharani Narinder Kaur on their marriage in 1937.”
The grave’s middle portion has disappeared. How can a maharani meet such an afterlife?
A recent piece written on Medium website by Hemant Arya, a city flâneur, narrates Stella’s life in more detail—her modest English origins, her career in a Paris cabaret, and her destiny-altering encounter with a married Indian prince. Later, her reputation as a “money grabber” in princely India, her glamorous heydays with her car frequently getting “painted and upholstered to match her clothes,” her coronation as the Maharani of Kapurthala, and her eventual downfall following the Maharaja’s death, leading to her derelict days in a Simla hotel, and lonesome death in a Delhi hospital, aged 79.
It is believed that the headstone on her grave was installed by an anonymous person in 1999. It reads—“Stella of Mudge, a fable.”
A fable in the cemetery