Monday, July 23, 2007

The last of the Travancore Maharajas


Sixteen years have passed since Avasanathe Ezhunnullathu (the last royal procession). His Highness Sri Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma III (b. 1912), the former Maharaja of Travancore died on July 19, 1991 at his Kawadiar Palace, Trivandrum.

The 900 years rule by the Kulasekhara dynasty to which he belonged, had ended earlier when Travancore joined the Indian Union after Independence.

Technically Chithira Thirunal was an ordinary citizen when he passed away. But to his erstwhile subjects he was still the Maharaja. They were out there in numbers to pay their last respects. And the Madras Regiment, of which he was Colonel (he was also a Hon. Major General of the British Army), was there too, taking charge of the arrangements for the funeral. The officialdom was present, and the politicians.

The details of the events from the time of the Maharaja’s death (the official usage in Malayalam is nadu neengal, which literally means ‘leaving the land’) to the last post at ‘Panchavadi’ on the palace grounds are described so touchingly by Malayankeezhu Gopalakrishnan in his book Avasanathe Ezhunnullathu. I strongly recommend this work, which covers a great deal of history as well, to all those who read Malayalam.

Sri Chithira Thirunal is right at the top of the long list of enlightened Maharajas of Travancore. He was still a minor when his predecessor, Moolam Thirunal, died and the State was ruled by a Regent (his own aunt) till he became major. Mahatma Gandhi visited Kawdiar Palace in 1925 and during conversation asked the boy king whether he would abolish untouchability and permit low castes to enter temples when he formally assumed power. The answer was ‘Yes’.

True to his word, the Maharaja made the famous Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936. That was the highlight of his reign, and outshone his many other farsighted and progressive policies.

A story which I read in the newspapers long ago, illustrates the person’s character. After Sri Chithira Thirunal ceased to be the Maharaja his car broke down one morning while he was proceeding to the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple for the daily darshan of the family deity. Unperturbed, the man who had ruled the land for decades flagged down an auto-rickshaw.

The flabbergasted driver took his royal passenger to the temple in time for the prayers. But there was a problem. The former Maharaja thanked the driver and then apologized because he had no money on hand to pay the fare!

My memories of Sri Chithira Thirunal are from the high school days in Trivandrum – standing by the roadside to watch with reverence the Maharaja en route to Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple behind a red pilot car, the aarat (a ceremonial dip in the Arabian Sea) procession, and the Maharaja’s birth star celebrations.

Also indelible in my mind is the impressive image of the Elaya Rajah Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, now the head of the Travancore Royal Family, on his horse rides at dawn.

I salute the Maharaja.
The Travancore Flag.
Ends.

Also see:


A Queen Visits Her Lord.



47 comments:

Guru said...

We were visiting Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in early 1970s, and at that time Sri Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma was also visiting to get his daily darshan. He walked briskly acknowledging the greetings of people who with the Temple adminisatrators were treating him as the Maharaja still the same way Sri Jayachamaraja Wodeyar used to be treated at Chamundeswari Temple. When we saw his coming towards us after his darshan, we were reminded about his illustrious predecessor the great Swati Tirunal whose Carnatic classical compositions on Sri Padmanabhaswamy are very well known. Swati Tirunal was a genius and a person with a universal outlook who composed in many languages including Sanskrit and Hindi, the latter on on Sri Visweswara of Kashi-Benares. His composition were in traditional Karnataka ragas ans well as melodious Hindustani ragas with superb rhythms. Swathi Tirunal would have approved the Temple opening of 1936.

With the above background it was not surprising that Sri Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma was held in such esteem.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you Guru for the interesting and illuminating comment.

You are right - Maharaja Swathi Thirunal was a genius who could create cradle songs to great compositions with equal dexterity.

I certainly would like to write about him but wonder whether I am competent to do justice to the great personage.

I have mentioned about his his classic Bhavayami Raghuramam in a post, Dances for the gods. (May 3, 2007)
http://parayilat.blogspot.com/2007/05/dances-for-gods.html
Please do look it up when you get the time.

Guru said...

Dear`Abraham,
You are certainly competent to write about Maharaja Swathi Tirunal who was not only a genius but an exceptionally broadminded person who recognised artistic genius (only he could have done it being a genius himself), and that meant bringing artists from all over India to Trivandrum. When I first visited Trivandrum as a engineering student in 1961, I pursuaded our group to hire a guide who was very knowledgeable, and in the premises of Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple he traced the history of Mahahrajas from Sri Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma back to Sri Swathi Tirunal. It was an illuminating talk. All of us then saw a parallel between the Wodeyars and Tirunals, the esteem in which they were held and the services they rendered in their respective kingdoms. Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple was then and perhaps still is a very peaceful place for darshan. The credit goes to the administrators of the temple and the people.

Some one said to me that the famous neurosurgeon Dr R M Verma in Bangalore who was the director of AIIMS as it was in 1960s is related to
Sri Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma, as his full name suggests. Is this true? My friends from medical school used to say that he was an exceptional surgeon.

Guru said...

Dear Abraham,
I read quickly your contribution on the arrival of Christianity in Kerala. It answered some questions I had for a long time. Kerala Christians have made exceptional contributions to knowledge and particularly in caring professions of nursing and medicine. The Chandys are particularly unique in my experience. I know two Chandys- the great Jacob Chandy, the pioneering neurosurgeon at Christian Medical College Hospital at Vellore (a friend of my late cousin) and Mani Chandy the brillaint Professor of Computer Science at Cal Tech. I still have one question which is - what makes Christians from Kerala achieve such distinctions in such diverse areas as medicine, engineering and literaure? Are their well-knit family lives, their faith , and the innate value they place on acquiring knowledge and caring for the unfortunate contributory factots

Maddy said...

Tharakan sir - I too recall visiting the Padmanabha Swami temple when we lived in TVM and stood aside when the Tirunal visited. Also the kacheris in the nearby hall with Yesudas and Semmagudi and many others...The Metha mani etc!!!

But then I have to make a comment about one Kerala Christian who you may or may not know about. He studied in TVM medical college, came to US and is now a very big person. He was even going to become the surgeon general in 2000, but got another position in the bush government.. When interviewd by the 'sun sentinel', he stated that USA is his true love & that he was persecuted in Kerala as a minority and all that(do u agree??). I hope you know who this person is, Dr Zac Zakariah - I was understandably furious & still am.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Dear Guru,
Thank you for the comments. Here are my responses to the two points you raised:
1. I don't know Dr. Verma. But there is a branch of the Travancore Royal Family staying at Bangalore according to my information. If the doctor is from that branch, he would be related to Sri Chithira Thirunal.
2. Keralites from all religions have excelled in different fields. One reason for this could be the educational opportunities that were available particularly in Travancore and Cochin States. In the case of nurses, the Christians had a lead. The credit for this should, to be fair, go to the nuns and missionaries. Till 50 years or so back, many of them provided nursing service even to the government hospitals.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you Maddy.

I am rather shocked by the reported comment by Dr. Zacharias. Wonder whether Sun-Sentinel got his words wrong.

I have never heard of persecution of minorities in Kerala. The teaching staff in Trivandrum Medical College where Dr. Zacharias studied might have given him along with the other students a tough time; that was, I think, tactics employed to set stringent standards.

Dr. K. Rajasekharan Nair, Former Director-Professor and Head of Neurology, Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram, said this in an article in Indian Journal of Medical Ethics: 'Harassment of medical students is not new. Our teachers too subjected us to harassment. In the 1960s, hardly 11 of the 100 or so in our batch were given an 'average' score in the internal assessment of the pre-clinical department, but none of us dared to question our scores.'

Perhaps Dr. Zacharias perceived it as persecution. Any way, Trivandrum Medical College made him a doctor, persecution or not.

An aside - if I remember correctly, Dr. CO Karunakaran was appointed as Special Officer of the medical college project, Dr. Jacob Taliat was the Surgeon General, and Dr. Kesavan Nair was also closely associated with it.

Guru said...

From what I know having worked in the US for years until I settled in Europe in 1980s is that Surgeon Generalship is a political appointment and a front line medical professional does not find it attractive, and so few come forward as it involves rigorous scrutiny in the Senate. In Nixon's time, when I was in the US, I remember a surgeon general aspirant saying some controversial things about how his family was treated in his younger days. Perhaps he wanted to project himself as some one who rose from adversity- the typical American!

That said, I ofen find that many Indians turn turtle ( many of whom I taught while they were doing graduate studies) and say things which are unacceptable particularly when they settle in the USA and aquire citizenship. I attribute this to their immaturity as most of them perhaps had had very little time in India (never worked after studies to understand the wider aspects of the society) to absorb the nuances of Indian culture as they head straight to US after studies.

But really distinguished Indian-Americans have measured views. Despite his treatment by several Indian universities after he returned from Cambridge University in 1940s with a PhD done under the great Dirac a Nobel Prize winner, Prof Chandrasekhar , the late Nobel Laureate (a friend of our family) never said any harsh words about his treatment in his country of birth. When Nehru offered him the chairmanship of Indian Atomic Energy Commission after Bhabha's untimely death (when he was a distinguished Professor of astrophysics at University of Chicago)declined it politely pointing out that they were better candidates than him in India itself!itself!

Abraham Tharakan said...

Hello Guru,
I've checked about Dr. Varma. He was the founding Director of NIMHANS and not AIIMS. The Senior Maharani (the Regent mentioned in my article) was his mother's elder sister. Naturally, he is closely related to Sri Chithira Thirunal Maharaja.

Uben said...

I am a 48 year old staunch monarchist who missed the Kingdom years. After reading all the comments praising the erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore Sri Chitira Thirunal Balarama Varma I have one from the other side of the spectrum.
The following incident was narrated to me by my mother. She was the younger of the two sisters and they used to live close to one of the summer palaces of the Travancore Royal family at Peermedu. One evening she and her sister along with their parents were strolling on the road adjacent to the palace and the Maharaja and his close family came in the opposite direction. My G.Father asked the two young girls to pay obeisance which they did but to the utter dismay of all His Highness completely ignored them and continued on his way, this left an indelible negative impression on the young minds as well as their parents who themselves were sort of chieftains in the area albeit uncrowned.
I am not sure when the incident happened probably immediately after the country gained Independence or became a Republic and quite naturally HH didn’t take it too well to his subjects (politicians of the period) snatching away his kingdom.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Uben, I'm glad that you brought 'one from the other side of the spectrum' because it makes us realize that we are talking about human beings and not saints. Even the most revered and respected person might sometimes act in a manner that is not commonly expected of him.
Having said that let me analyze the incident dispassionately. The areas around the summer palaces were also private property. The group you mentioned inadvertently intruded into the privacy of the royal family and apparently that was not appreciated.
The only residential bungalow near the sumer palace of the Maharaja was, if I remember correctly, 'Lake View' where I have stayed as a child. Built in early 1930s, it was owned by a family that was on close terms with the royal family. It was taken over by the palace because it seemed to interfere with the royal privacy. But the friendly relationship between the two families continued.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Uben, a correction. Second para, line 3 of my response to your comment should read 'royal property' and not 'private property'.

Guru said...

Abraham sir,

It was then AIIMH ( not AIIMS as I mistyped)- All India Institute of Mental Health. The first director was Dr Gopalaswami (He wasinstrumental in getting the AIR Station in Mysore), the second was Dr DLN Murthy Rao, who was the first FRCP in the then Mysore State. He appointed two neurological specialists- Dr Mani and Dr Verma. That much I know but I also vaguely heard about the latter's 'royal blood'. Thanks for the info.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Uben, last night I was wondering who the people you mentioned were and this morning it came to me. They are certainly the uncrowned kings of that area.
Realizing this background, I would say that the Maharaja probably didn't recognize your grandfather; his interaction would have been more with you great-grandfather.

Nebu said...

Achen,
I thought you immediately recognised all the characters in the incident. All I wanted was to put all the extoling in the right perspective. I used my pseudonym as it was your blog site and since others too would be visiting, I didn’t want to make it a family affair; so also was in two minds as to whether I should message you my unscrambled name.
To day I met the two ladies in the said incident and it was the older of the two sisters who promptly curtseyed while the younger looked on in awe. The event occurred during pre independence days which means the happily sauntering family came face to face with the reigning monarch himself and as you said His Highness may not have taken intruding into his privacy too kindly. Nevertheless he could have at least acknowledged the young lady’s good manners.
As you mentioned if it were my G-GF, HH may have recognised him by his unique headgear.

Nebu said...

Official Title of His Highness the Maharaja of Travancore:- Sri.Padmanabadasa, Vanchipala,Kulashekara,kireedapathy,Manne Sulthan,Maharaja Raje,Ramaraje Bahadur,Shamsher Jung,Knight Grand Commander of the Most Emminent Order of the Indian Empire,Lieutenant Colonel,Sir. Sri.Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma His Highness the Maharaja of Travancore.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you, Nebu, for the interesting information. I think His Highness was also Colonel of the Madras Regiment and a Hon. Major General of the British Army.

Kariyachan said...

Something out of the note, the fact that Highness was born on "chithira" star, one tend to think of the Old Saying, "Chithira Pirannal Utharam mannthum". Was his birth star "Chithira" a mere coincidence , that his reign marked the end of the
"raja vazhcha" ?

Abraham Tharakan said...

Well, Kariyachan, that is an intriguing thought.

Anonymous said...

Long Live the King!!!!!

Ashvin said...

Full name and titles as of 1949 :

Major General His Highness Maharaja Raja Ramaraja
Sri Padmanabhadasa Vanchipala
Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma II
Kulasekhara Kireetapathy
Manney Sultan Bahadur
Shamsher Jung
Maharaja of Travancore
Knight Grand Commander in the most Exalted Order of the Star of India
Knight Grand Commander of the most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire.

The Order of the Star of India was the senior of the two orders of Indian chivalry.

Ashvin said...

Oh and by the way HH Sree Uthradom Thirunal is still the Colonel of the Madras Regiment.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Anonymous, thank you.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Ashvin, thank you for sharing the information with us.
I did not know that HH Sree Uthradom Thirunal is a Colonel of the Madras Regiment. I remember reading sometime back about him handing over to the regiment weapons captured from the Dutch during the Colachel war.

Ashvin said...

Dear Mr. Tharakan,

I am sure you know, but repeating it for information of other readers - the 9th Batallion of the Madras Regiment was raised in 1704 (304 years back) as the personal bodyguard of Sree Anizham Thirunal. Then known as Nair Pattalam and subsequently as the 1st Batallion of the Nair Brigade, and later on as 1st Batallion Travancore Nair Infantry, the unit has seen action in the IInd World War, the 1965 and 1971 Indo Pak wars as well as in Nagaland.

De Lannoy's musket (I could be wrong) captured during the 1741 war is displayed at Kuthiramalika and some other weapons (spears / shields) are diplayed on the staircase at South Block, Kaudiar Palace.

Ashvin said...

The 16th Batallion of the Madras Regiment was formerly known as the 2nd Travancore Nayar Infantry and actually served in a current hot spot, Basra (in Iraq) !!!

Ashvin said...

Around a year or so back I happened to meet up online by accident with a gentleman from Kumbhanad who also remembered his college days in Tvm when HH SCT used to pass by on his way to Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple every morning, while he and his classmates and friends stood on the roadside bowing. And strangely enough another of his vivid memories were of listening to the clip clop of HH SUT's Arabian stallion as he passed by on his early morning rides.... while assorted nubile maidens tried to catch the eye of the strapping young man, the 2nd most eligible bachelor of the state :-)

Abraham Tharakan said...

Ashvin, I had mentioned about the raising of 9th Madras in my post on Delenoy. Uninterrupted service for over 300 years! What a record.

The Delenoy piece can be accessed from the post on HH SCT. Please do have a look at it and enrich it with your comments.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Ashvin, I remember very clearly from my school days the horse rides of HH SUT. I am sure that every morning thousands of girls would have eagerly waited for the majestic rider to appear.

Ashvin said...

Dear Mr.Tharakan, please check the posting on De Lannoy for my comments.

Nebu said...

Ashvin, Looks like you are a staunch monarchist yourself.Very sad that you don't wish to share your profile.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Nebu, I have forwarded your comment to Ashvin.

Abraham Tharakan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashvin said...

Dear Nebu, yes, very much so !!From all the comments on this as well as other posts, I have more or less deduced who you are. Will write to you soon. Regards, Ashvin.

Ashvin said...

Dear Nebu, I honestly don't know how to share my profile on this blog, so please do look out for my own blog soon (as soon as Mr.Tharakan advises me on how to go about doing one) :-)

Nebu said...

Can somebody unravel the intricate line of succession in the Travancore royal Family? Who was next in line after HH. SCT. or is after HH.SUT?

Ashvin said...

Dear Guru, Mr.Tharakan, please check this website

http://www.ramavarma.synthasite.com/index.php

Could be of interest to you.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Ashvin, thank you for the link.

ബിനീഷ്‌തവനൂര്‍ said...

Chithira Thirunal Maharajavinte oru original photo(not painting) labhamano? Adhehathinte ammayiyude photo polum und netil.

Ashvin said...

Dear Binish, what exactly is your question ? Do you need photos of HH SCT ? I have scores of them...

Anonymous said...

@Nebu,
The Travancore Royals follow matrilineal system. After the death of Sree Chithira Tirunal, his younger brother(Elayaraja), Sree Uthradom Tirunal became the titular King.
The current Elayaraja( of SUT ) is Moolam Tirunal Rama Varma. He is the youngest son of H.H Maharani Karthika Tirunal Lakshmi Bayi & Col. Godavarma Raja/G.V Raja(of Poonjar Royal family). Rama Varma is also the Managing Director of Aspinwall Ltd. I have heard that he is residing in Karnataka with his wife Girija(a doctor, don't know too much about her/their kids). He is always present in all the major functions,arattu, pallivetta etc at Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Check out the arattu videos in youtube, u can spot him as the person walking behind H.H SUT, with a light maroon coloured head gear, leading other male royal members.
When Moolam Tirunal becomes the King, his sister's(Aswathy Tirunal's )son Marthanda Varma(famous Mohiniattam dancer Gopika Varma's hubby, don't know his star name) will be the Elayaraja. He is residing in Tamil Nadu with his wife & son, Vishnu Tampy.
After Moolam Tirunal's time, the famous classical Musician Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma will be the Elayaraja(Pooyam Tirunal's son, a bachelor) & then Aditya Varma(named by the amicus curiae in temple case). He with his wife Resmi Varma & their twin daughters, Prabha& Gowri Varma, is residing at Kowadiar palace. This is as far as i know.

Abraham Tharakan said...

As a policy, currently I don't normally publish 'Anonymous' comments. But this one is presented for its informative contents. Thank you, writer.

gopikottoor said...

Dear Shri A. Tharakan,
Is there any place where I can find something on Devasahayam's association with De Lennoy that ultimately made him a follower of Christ? Wish De Lennoy had written his memoirs! What a great treasure that would have been! And do you know if De Lennoy conversed in the local language, Tamilo malayalam?
has your coz done his book on DE Lennoy? Would like you to be in touch at gopikottoor@gmail.com

Abraham Tharakan said...

Gopi Kottoor, I have come across some writings on Devasahayam Pillai in certain religious magazines. Shall be on the look out and let you know if I find any more.

My brother who wants to write about De Lennoy has not got down to it yet. He was busy with a highly researched book 'Profiles of Parayil Tharakans' which Bloomsburry is publishing by December.

Have you read my post From Venad to World Focus: The Travancore Royal Family

http://parayilat.blogspot.in/2011/07/from-venad-to-world-focus-travancore.html

By the way, are you related to Dr. Kottoor, the famous tennis player of yesteryears?

GOPIKRISHNAN KOTTOOR said...

Dear Shri Tharakan,
Did you get my reply mail ? That your hunch about my being Tennis player's relation was right?
Regards

Anonymous said...

Nice blog. Reminded me about HH Chithira Thirunal in 1980s. As medical students a bunch of us would be waiting for the TVM med college bus to pick us up at 7:15 am at the Kawdiar road. The Maharaja would pass us by in his cream mercedes benz chauffeur driven car. No escorts/body guards. He would be in the back left handside seat. Hands folded in salutation, shirtless with a green mala, gentle smile and look at us as he passed by. We would bent in namaskar salutation. I just realized today that he must have seen generations of us at that bus stop and considering he started our medical institution... it must have made him happy seeing the new generation of docs carrying white coats and steths early every morning... on his way to the Padmanabhaswami temple!

Anonymous said...

Nice blog. Reminded me about HH Chithira Thirunal in 1980s. As medical students a bunch of us would be waiting for the TVM med college bus to pick us up at 7:15 am at the Kawdiar road. The Maharaja would pass us by in his cream mercedes benz chauffeur driven car. No escorts/body guards. He would be in the back left handside seat. Hands folded in salutation, shirtless with a green mala, gentle smile and look at us as he passed by. We would bent in namaskar salutation. I just realized today that he must have seen generations of us at that bus stop and considering he started our medical institution... it must have made him happy seeing the new generation of docs carrying white coats and steths early every morning... on his way to the Padmanabhaswami temple!