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.

Also see:

A Queen Visits Her Lord.

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