Friday, February 18, 2011

A 100 years old school sustains the memory of Sree Moolam Thirunal Maharaja

Sixty-three years have passed since India attained Independence and the Native States and the Maharajas faded into history. But some of them are still remembered. One such king is Sree Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma, the second last Maharaja of the former Travancore State.

This is a painting of the Maharaja by the world famous painter
Raja Ravi Varma.

Travancore Flag.

Sree Moolam Thirunal succeeded his uncle Visakham Thirunal in 1885. He ruled Travancore from 1885 till his death in 1924. During his reign he introduced many reforms that benefited his people. These included even bus services (the first in any Native State) and insurance.  

But the most remarkable development during the Sree Moolam regime was the establishment of the Travancore Legislative Council, in 1888. In fact Travancore was the first Indian State to take this progressive step. Later the name of the Legislature was changed to Sree Moolam Popular Assembly, with elected members also from 1905.
One of the members of the Popular Assembly was Ayanat Parayil Kunjavira Tharakan of Thycattussarry on the Pallippuram Island near Cherthala. He was a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory (KSG), a Papal honour which the British Protocol and therefore the Native States accepted.

Tharakan was a remarkable person, one of the most outstanding members in the long history of the Parayil Family. The family background, social status, visionary qualities, popular support and financial eminence automatically made him a leader in any venture that he involved himself.

And there were many noble projects that he took on. Each one was meticulously worked out and meant to benefit the people of Thycattussarry and nearby areas. These include the Poochakkal Canal, Cooperate Society, hospital, famine relief measures and so on.

But the most important achievement of Kunjavira Tharakan, in my opinion, was establishing an English School. It was accomplished during the 25th year of the rule of Sree Moolam Thirunal and was appropriately named Sree Moolam Silver Jubilee English School.

But Tharakan’s dream of converting it into a High School had to wait for a few decades. After his death in 1938 his son PK Hormis Tharakan took over the management of SMSJ School. The necessary permission was obtained in due course and the people of Thycattussarry could boast of a new achievement when the institution was elevated to a High School in 1949. The first Headmaster was Sree Rajaraja Varma Thampan.

This photo of one of the buildings in the school complex is by Ebby Tharakan. For a well marked comprehensive view of the school and surroundings please see

PK Hormis Tharakan effectively managed the school for about 50 years. In his old age he handed over the responsibility to the St. Antony’s Church Thycattussarry. But that was not meant to affect the secular character which had been the hallmark of SMSJ School.

As far back as 1925 the Vatican wanted to check what the Catholic managed school in a far off corner of India was doing for the Church. A questionnaire was sent to Kunjavira Tharakan through the Archbishop of Ernakulam. Tharakan’s reply makes interesting reading: out of 139 students, only 36 were Catholics, and there was only one Catholic among the nine teachers.

The other questions and answers:

Q: “What is being done to announce our Lord to non-Christians?”
A: “Nothing.”
Q: “Are prayers said before and after classes?”
A: “No.”
Q: “Is there the image of the Crucifix or other religious symbols in the school rooms?”
A: “No.”
Q: “How many conversions among pagans, Protestants or schismatics have taken place in the ten last years?”
A: “None.”

These details are quoted from PROFILES OF PARAYIL THARAKANS (pp.143) by Dr. PK Mathew Tharakan, Professor Emeritus, University of Antwerp. He was in the first High School batch from SMSJ School.

Remarkably, all along SMSJ has been and is a people’s school where caste and creed do not matter. Rich boys and poor boys have passed through the portals of this great institution. Many of them have done well in life. You can see them in different parts of the world.

I came across a blog titled Koottunkal obviously owned by a former student of SMSJ. His article about the Mid-day Meal Programme of the 1970s is touching. Please read it at There were so many students who could not afford lunch.

This takes me back to the book mentioned above. Page 145 quotes a letter dated 14th July, 1919 from Asst. Inspector of Rural Schools to Kunjavira Tharakan “… the attendance on the day of inspection was only 4…. One chief reason for this low attendance is the extreme poverty of the pupils who are unable to satisfy their stomach even once a day. Even out of the 4 pupils present, 2 had complete starvation for the day.”

Tharakan did not offer to feed the starving students. Instead, he provided them light part time jobs outside school hours so that they could buy food with the pay. We know that in the modern times countless Indian students have been managing to study abroad with income from part time work.

I passed out from SMSJ School before it was elevated to the higher level. The teachers during my time were committed people. The same I believe is true of those who followed. But I must specially mention Mr. CJ Sebastian who was the last Headmaster of the Middle School.   

Once I heard him ask  ‘One can take the horse to the pond but how to make him drink?’ That was about me. Actually I was not too bad in school. But Mr. Sebastian wanted more out of me, particularly in English. Whatever capabilities I have in that language have come from this gentleman teacher. Sir, thank you.

Big plans are on for the centenary celebrations which would start with a meeting today (February 20), and last for one year. It would be a people’s affair though there is a committee to coordinate the activities. Fr. Sebastian Palatti is the Chairman and the present Headmaster Mr. K Paul Joseph the General Convener.

His Excellency Thomas Chakyath, Bishop of Angamally-Ernakulam will be presiding over today’s meeting. Central Ministers Sri Vayalar Ravi and Sri KC Venugopal, Vice Chancellor of the Kannur University Dr. PK Michael Tharakan (a former student), Mr. Zacharias Keezhanjili and others are expected to address the gathering.

Quite appropriately, PH Paul Tharakan, grandson of the founder of the school, Kunjavira Tharakan, had informed the Travancore Royal Family about the event. The response received, signed by ‘Sree Padmanabhadasa Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma', the current Head of the Royal Family, will be read out at the meeting.

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Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear AT Sir,

The post made very interesting reading. Sri.Kunjavira Tharakan comes out as a remarkable personality. His answers to Vatican's questions show him even as a rebel; a learned rebel.Your teacher Sebastian also belonged to the era which produced many selfless teachers who really moulded the young. My best wishes to the school on the centenary year and humble pranams to the great founder!

Maddy said...

hi Abe..
that was a very interesting write up. In fact i was reading about Swati Tirunal the other day and there is a mention of a Tharakan in his court and I had planned to get to the specifics later. Now i will do it and tell you the details, maybe you may know them.

pappan said...

Dear Sir, I am an alumbi os SMSJ HS. Nice to see this post. Can I request you to make a website for the school with a provision to add alumni. I am with Atomic Energy, in Mumbai

pappan said...

Dear Sir, I am an alumni of SMSJ HS, 1978. Working in Atomic Energy, Mumbai. Nice blog..

Unknown said...

Pappan, thank you for the comments. A Website for the school is a good idea. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to handle that. I suggest that you contact Mr. Koottunkal - the link is in the Post - and the headmaster of the school.