Travancore: A princely state that set a \’progressive precedent\’ (Book Review)
Book: \”Travancore: The Footprints of Destiny\” – Autobiography: Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma, the former king (as told to Uma Maheswari); Publisher: Konark Publishers; Price: Rs.2,000
New Delhi, Jan 3 (IANS) In 1924, when Mahatma Gandhi asked young Chithira Tirunal, the 12-year-old prince of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore in Kerala, if he would remove untouchability and throw open the temples to all castes when he became king, the boy answered, \”Of course\”. And he lived up to his word.
The former princely state of Travancore in Kerala, a staunch Hindu bastion, has always stood apart from the rest of 19th century royal India for its progressive ideas and non-alignment which were way ahead of its time.
Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma, 88, the last ruler of Travancore, gives many glimpses of life as it was then in the first-ever autobiography of a former ruler from the erstwhile princely state, in \”Travancore: The Footprints of Destiny\”.
When Chithira Tirunal met Mahatma Gandhi in 1924 at the Pattom Palace, the prince was accompanied by his regent mother Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi. As promised, on his 25th birthday, Nov 12, 1936, the prince issued the Temple
Entry Proclamation, which was a landmark event in the history of India.
C. Rajagopalachari, who paid a visit to Travancore, watched the working of the proclamation and was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.
\”The enthusiasm of the Harijans, the absence of all opposition to their entrance to the farthest limit permissible and the hearty cooperation show the utter genuineness of the sweeping reforms,\”observed the Mahatma, who visited 24 temples in the erstwhile kingdom.
The momentous decision that allowed devotees cutting across caste lines to enter an upper caste Hindu shrine set a precedent in India.
The popular feeling at the time that the \”epochal decision should be commemorated with a permanent memorial was well-received\”.
A public meeting at Thiruvananthapuram Dec 10, 1936, decided to \”donate liberally for the installation of a statue of his highness – the king\”.
The autobiography, which chronicles all the major events in India and in Kerala since the birth of the surviving former \’Rajah\’ throws rare insights into Kerala\’s engagement with the rest of the country – and the 20th century world at large – during the British Raj and post- Independence.
It is also a testimony to Kerala\’s rich cultural heritage through detailed descriptions of the state\’s festivals, palace rites, religion and life inside the portals of the ornate palace.
The former princely state is also the home of noted painter-prince, Raja Ravi Varma, who was born in 1848.
Central to the book, however, is the spiritual driving force of the 12th century (former) royal state – a temple of Lord Padmanabha, an incarnation of Mahavishnu – the presiding deity of Travancore.
The city of Thiruvananthapuram is named after the presiding deity of Padmanabha.
The Padmanabhaswami temple, which towers high over the city, is one of the 108 Divya Kshetras (holy pilgrimages) in the country. The 18-foot idol made up of 12,500 \’saligramams (black stones)\’ bears the images of 33 crore (330 million) gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, says the book.
The book, which has a foreword by former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, is divided into 11 chapters that covers Travancore and its heritage, the Vishnu temples and its rituals, birth and childhood of the Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma, the life of his parents, Travancore\’s military tradition, the royal weddings and the power shift to democracy.
The short texts are accompanied by rare pictures from the royal archives and blurbs to highlight important events.
The book, dictated by the 88-year-old former king to Kerala-based journalist-writer Uma Maheshwari, will be released by Abdul Kalam Jan 5.
Maheshwari, whose forefathers migrated to Thiruvananthapuram centuries ago to serve the temple of Padmanabhaswami, says \”humility was the hallmark of the erstwhile Travancore royalty\”.
Citing the centuries-old non-partisan outlook of the Travancore royals, Abdul Kalam says in the foreword, \”It is interesting to read how the first Chera king Perumchotudayan Cheralathan, the ancestor of the Travancore ruler, had participated in the battle of Kurukshetra and had fed the soldiers without taking sides. The act was the world\’s first message of non-alignment.\”
The former south Indian principality, one of the most ancient in India dating back to the Chera dynasty, was spread across 7,625 sq miles with a coastline 168 miles.
By Madhusree Chatterjee