Ishran Devi: The Woman Behind Oberoi Legacy

Prithvi Raj Singh Oberoi, the Chairman of the Oberoi Group, passed away on 14 November aged 94. The hotelier's legacy began when his mother Ishran Devi fled their native village Bhaun in 1922 to safeguard her first-born from the outbreak of plague

Nikita Gupta
Nov 14, 2023 12:54 IST
New Update
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Image Credits: Forbes India

Prithvi Raj Singh Oberoi, the Chairman of the Oberoi Group, breathed his last earlier today morning at 94. Familiarly referred to as 'Biki,' he led India's third-largest hospitality chain. In 2008, he received the Padma Vibhushan, the country's second-highest civilian honour.

Last year, the International Hospitality Institute acknowledged Oberoi as one of the '100 Most Powerful People in Global Hospitality.'

However, the start of the Oberoi group, founded by Biki's father, Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi was humble. With his mother Ishran Devi's support, Mohan migrated to Shimla and never looked back.

Ishran Devi - The Woman Of Strong Will

Bikki's parents, MS Oberoi and Ishran Devi, faced the necessity to leave their original village, Bhaun (now in Pakistan Punjab), in 1922 due to the threat of a plague outbreak. To protect their firstborn from the deadly disease, they, along with their infant daughter Rajrani, sought refuge in the refreshing surroundings of Murree, a hill station in Pakistan.

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Mohan in search of work then headed to Shimla, leaving behind his entire family in Murree. That's when Ishran Devi took charge of the family and kept it running. It was because of Ishran's relentless support that Mohan had enough time and courage to find a job suited to his abilities at the then-greatest Shimla hotel 'Cecil.' Soon after the family was called to Shimla.

The life continued with both the parents taking children for strolls on the mall while juggling life between Shimla, Lahore, Bhaun and Delhi after Mohan changed jobs to join forces with Clarkes to start his career as a hotelier and lay the foundation for Bikki. It was in 1934 when his partner Clarke died and Mohan wanted to take over the hotel for which he needed to raise Rs 20,000. That's when his wife Ishran came to the rescue. She forced her husband to sell her jewellery and raise whatever amount he could.

As described by Khushwant Singh in his article 'The Legacy of the Luxury Hotelier', "Ishran Devi, who well recognised her husband’s potential, contributed her bit and forced Mohan to sell her jewellery to fulfil it. Rupees five hundred were what they got of the entire trove."

As the empire extended, Mohan switched from annexing to building his own. 'Oberoi Intercontinental Hotel, situated with a view of the verdant fairways of the Delhi Golf Club, was inaugurated with the laying of its foundation stone by Ishran Devi following Sikh traditions. Ishran, who would receive this honour for all future hotels, placed five asharfiyan (gold coins) in the foundation pit, dedicating them to the Punj Piyares, the initial five individuals who embraced Sikhism.

As the legacy of the hotelier who passed earlier today morning continues, it is important to note that the family business might be built by men at the forefront. Still, the foundation of it is laid by women who stand by their side and hold the family together through tough times. As was proven by Bikki's mother, Ishran Devi.

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