Memories and Musings

My memories which have remained with me over so many years, coloured with my thoughts, and tempered by my experiences.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Those Bygone Days

I was in Mumbai this time last year with Viji. I met so many of her friends and spent a good time talking with them. When I told one of them, Rinki, that I am originally from the erstwhile state of Travancore, she could not understand. She had never heard of that place!
So I had to explain.

Most people know that before India got freedom from the British, there were many small and large states ruled by Maharajas. These states were self-ruled, but were under a British supervisor called the Resident. States like Kashmir, Jaipur, Gwalior, Patiala, Kapurthala, Hyderabad, Cooch Behar and Mysore are all well-known for they were, and still are, in the news all the time. When India became independent, the whole country was divided into states according to the language spoken. So, Travancore's Tamil speaking areas of the South were merged withTamil Nadu and in the North, Kochi, Kozhikode and other Malayalam speaking areas from the then Madras Presidency were merged together to form the state of Kerala.

Travancore was one small state in the South-West corner of India. This state nestled between the Western Ghats in the East and the Arabian Sea in the West. The three seas, the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal joined together at its Southern tip called Kanya Kumari. In the North, there was Cochin, another small princely state. Travancore was also known as Kerala Bhoomi : the land of coconuts, because of its abundance in coconut trees. The state is laced with backwaters and many rivers and the main form of transport was by water in those days. Small boats called 'Vanchi' were used for this. So this state was also known as 'Vanchi Bhoomi'.

In those days, under the rule of Maharaja Sri Chitthirai Thirunal, Travancore was a prosperous state. People of all religions lived together in harmony. Onam, the great festival of the Malayalees, was celebrated by everybody, including Christians and Muslims. Likewise, during Christmas and Moharrum, Hindus also joined in the celebrations and processions.and participated. This is how I remember those days.
Every year on Christmas Eve, the young men of the Christian Association used to visit almost every home singing Christmas carols, equipped with the organ. We used to wait for
them with gifts.

Now for a brief history of Travancore State.

This state was consolidated in the early fourteenth century by the great ruler Marthanda Varma. He defeated the Ettu Veetu Pillamar. Ettu Veetu Pillamar were eight Nayar chieftans who wanted to put an end to the Marumakkal Thayam or hereditary system in which the sons had no right to succeed the father. Their nephews, that is, their sister's sons, were the inheritors. The Ettu Veetu Pillamar who supported the then ruling king's son started fighting and finding ways and means to kill Marthanda Varma, the Maharaja's nephew. But Marthanda Varma defeated them and put an end to this uprising. Even today, the Maharaja's children have no right to succession. And thanks to the Indian Government, it is only a title, which the Royal family today upholds with pride and dignity by keeping away from politics and unwanted publicity. There are only a very few families today to remember the glory and splendour of the Royal family and of the days of that era.

Marthanda Varma Raja did something quite unique after he became the Maharaja. He dedicated his kingdom to the ruling deity of Travancore, Padmanabha Swamy, and called himself ''Padmanabha Dasan'' and he ruled his land as the Lord's representative. This custom was carried on by all his successors and even today, the Maharaja starts his day with a visit to the temple to take His blessings.

Another unusual custom in the Royal Family is that the members are all referred to by the stars under which they were born, like Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, Moolam Thirunal, Ayilyam Thirunal, Chitthirai Thirunal, Karthika Thirunal, Anizham Thirunal and so on. According to the Hindu calendar, there are twenty seven such stars, one for each day of month. The Royals' names are rarely mentioned and if at all they are, it is only after the affixation of the star, like Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi.
The Royal Family of Travancore is one of the oldest in India and its members, both men and women, are well known for their courage and good administration. Yes, Travancore was at times ruled by women known as Maharanis, who did a lot for the upliftment of women, encouraged them to have higher education and more liberal views. This state produced the first woman High Court Judge, Anna Chandy, and also eminent lady doctors and good women legislators.

The Royal Family for generations have been patrons of art and culture and some of the Maharajas themselves were good in different forms of art. Raja Ravi Varma's paintings are world famous and Swathi Thirunal's musical compositions in almost all Indian languages are no less. And today's Princess Aswathi Thirunal is a good author.
During my young days in Thiruvananthapuram, Sri Chitthirai Thirunal was the Maharaja. He was loved by one and all of his subjects, being very unassuming and very humble. And he had created many flutterings in many a young maiden's heart. But the Maharaja never married till the end.

Thiruvananthapuram was the capital of the state. It was a clean, beautiful city with well-maintained roads. Even in the heaviest of rains no road was water-logged. Starting from the Padmanabhaswamy Temple, an example of beautiful architecture and a tourist attraction, a temple where pilgrims come from all over India to worship, Thiruvananthapuram boasted of many such beautiful buildings. Then, the Railway Station built of huge blocks of granite, the Museum, the College of Arts, Engineering College, Science College, a Public Library well-stacked with all types of reading materials and the Maharaja's Girls' High School all of them built with red brick outer walls.
And the High Court, in white, was in the centre of the city. It was a very beautiful building with a very big garden in the front with many different kinds of topiary : creepers cut and shaped like peacocks, deer and elephants. I don’t know how it looks today. It is now the Secretariat. I used to admire the garden every day when I walked from my school to my father's chambers in the High Court to have lunch with him. That, to me, was an honour.

The two Royal places the Kaudiyar and the Kanaka Kunnu are real works of art; really majestic and beautiful in their looks.

The Travancore State had its own monetary system and its own postal system. The Sarkar rupai-chakkaram-kasu were in use side by side with the British Rupee, anna and pices. The difference between the two was only eight kasu. Sixteen kasu made a chakkaram and twenty-eight chakkarams made a rupai. Whereas twelve pice made an anna and sixteen annas made a rupee. Two annas were equal to three and a half chakrams. This was a major head-ache in the Arithmetic classes where the students had a tough time converting the British Rupee into Sarkari Rupee and vice versa. The state postal system was known as Anchal and it had its own offices, officers and stamps. Anchal money saving system offered all the facilities as of the Postal System. But many people had more trust in the Anchal system where their money was concerned.

The most vivid memories I carry of those bygone days are of the royal splendour, and the many many Royal processions. And our parents ensured that we watched them all. The Maharaja Sri Chittirai Thirunal's birthday processions in the month of Thulam, coinciding with Diwali was the most attractive.

It was a beautiful sight to see the Maharaja sitting in a palanquin clad in a kasavu mundu and a sparkling emerald necklace round his neck; a very small and demure figure with folded hands. He was a Maharaja who was dearly loved by all his subjects.

The two Aarathu processions in the months of Thulam, and Medam, on the tenth day of the Padmanabha Swamy temple festival had the Maharaja carrying a sword, walking in front of the 'Utsava Moorthy' in a palanquin, from the Padmanabha Swamy temple to the beach. He would be followed by the Elaya Raja, Deewan and other high officials. It was a distance of 8 to 9 kms and they would have a dip in the Arabian Sea irrespective of the weather, rain or shine. If I am not mistaken, the Arathu procession continues still.

Another procession I remember was on Vijaya Dasami day when the Maharaja used to go to puja perai for a token hunting expedition.
Travancore state was first in many things like the temple entry proclamation in 1936, with the temples being opened to people of all castes.
I can go on writing like this for I truly belong to Travancore. I love my state, worship the ruling deity and above all I admire the members of the Royal family with respect and love. May God bless them!

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  • At 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow! Bala

  • At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Rich in information. I had no idea that Travancore and Kerala are not synonymous.

  • At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great article Maiji.

  • At 5:57 AM, Blogger sid said…

    i must disagree with the popular version that the royal family was persecuted by the ettu veetu pillamar..according to the travancore state manual, the most authoritative record of the travancore state, the ettu veetu pillamar were framed and persecuted by the royals..

  • At 12:42 AM, Blogger Ashvin said…

    Dear Maiji, may I be permitted to add a few corrections / updates ?

    1. The recorded lineage of the Travancore Royal Family goes back to the year 870 A.D. to the first independent ruler of Venad, after the break up of the Chera Empire. The Kulasekhara Perumals(the Kings of Venad, were the descendants of the Cheras. Sree Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma (1729 to 1758)strengthened a weak Venad and captured and consolidated all the neighbouring kingdoms upto Cochin in the mid 18th century, not the 14th. In effect he was the creator of Travancore as we knew it.

    2. Marumakkathayam or matrilineal succession still exists in some form or the other among the (former) ruling classes, the Nairs and Kshatriyas, of Kerala. For example, the Maharaja's wife is known as Ammachi, not the Maharani. It is the sister of the Maharaja who is titled the Maharani. And it is this sister's son who will succeed the Maharaja.

    3. The Maharaja of Travancore, as Sree Padmanabha Dasa, ruled the state as the servant or Dasa of Vishnu. Every morning, for centuries, the ruler had / has to go the Sree Padmanabha Swami temple, and give the administrative reports of the previous day to the Lord. No excuse for NOT going - no sick leave etc. If the Maharaja misses one day, he has to pay a penalty in cash to the temple. The temple is closed to the public every morning for the duration of the Maharaja's visit. An armed retainer walks in front of HH holding the sword of state while he visits the shrine.

    4. You missed out Prince Aswathy Thirunal Rama Varma, the wellknown Carnatic singer and violinist, in your list. He is the disciple of among others, Dr. Balamuralikrishna

    5. The aarattu procession, palli vettai etc still happen twice a year strictly as scheduled. It is a Government holiday, half day in Tvm even now. The airport is shut down and flights re-routed or re-scheduled while the procession starts from the west gate of the temple and cuts across the airport to the sea for the immersion. The deities are even now escorted by HH, the Elayaraja, and other royal family members with drawn swords, the state police band, mounted cavalry, elephants, etc etc.... you can see the procession on you tube....

    The palli vetta (conducted in front of Sundaravilasom Palace) is another wonderful sight.

  • At 12:44 AM, Blogger Ashvin said…

    and by the way, Travancore though small, was an important 19 gunner state !!!

  • At 4:49 AM, Blogger Maiji said…

    Dear Ashvin,
    Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read my blog. I appreciate your inputs.

  • At 6:02 AM, Blogger Ashvin said…

    Dear Maiji, it was a pleasure coming across yet another monarchist. I too miss Trivandrum very much, though I am way way too young to have experienced all the pageantry that you have. I last took part in the arrattu procession in 2006 (or was it 2007 ???). If you gave your email id I could mail you some photographs from the 1920, 30s and 40s, of the Travancore you knew and loved (sorry for using 'I' so many times !!!!!!!!)

  • At 7:07 AM, Blogger Maiji said…

    Dear Ashvin, You may contact me at I look forward to seeing the pictures.Thank you.

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