Travancore: The Footprints of Destiny is an unusual work among the chronicle s of the amazing history of Travancre. It is literally a work from within. That is, a fine blends of historiography and autobiography. The author, the presen t Maharaja of Traavancor, renders his story from the larger perspective of the historical forces that have shaped the life and times of Travancore during the past millennia. The grand sweep of history reaches it spectacular r culmination, as it were, in the historic rites of passage- the accession of Travancore to the Indian Union after Independence. The Maharja has had the rare privilege of witnessing history from close quarters, especially during the time his elder Brother His Highness Sri Chithira Ritunal was the king of Travancore. His story evocatively traces the evolution of Travancore in to one of pre- Independent India’s most progressive princely states. Amidst the larger warp and weft of history is his own story deftly woven in. Central to the universe of Travancore and therefore to its rulers has been the Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple. The rulers of Travancore have regarded themselves a Padmanabha Dasa, or the vassals of the deity, His Highness has been no exception. Throughout the rendition of the exceptional history of Travancore and his own story, the benign presence of Sree Padmanabhaswami reinforces the narrative. Therefore, more than dispassionate history. The book will add considerable value to Travancire’s historiography through an unusual autobiography as told to Uma Maheswari who helped the Maharaja to record history seen live. In fact, it is also the first of its kind during the past 300 years of Travancore’s history
Uma Maheswari’s forefathers migrated to Thiruvanathapuram centuries ago to serve the temple of Sree Padamanabhaswami. Her father, the latee Padmanabha Iyer, was an employee of the temple. The temple has been central to Uma’s life and times.
A freelance journalist and writer, who has been published in several national and international publications, Uma is also a skilled fabric painter and artist. Carnatic music is one of her great passions and she plays the veena with some felicity. Early on she also dabbled in radio and television having produced some well- received documentaries and women’s features. Presently, she works at the University of kerala.
Uma lives with her mother Subbalskshmi in Thiruvanathapuram.
I read a few chapters of the interesting biography of Sree Padmanabha Dasa His Highness Marhanda Varma, The Maharaja of Travamcore.
I was delighted to read about the linkage of Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple and the Maharja. In particular, I was moved to read about the Amma Maharami, who, when she lay ailing in hospital, wanted to hear her favourite composition from Semmangidi Srinivasa Iyer.
It was also interesting to read how the first Chera King Perumchotudayan Ch erlatham had participated in the battle of Kurkshetra and without taking sides how he fed the soldiers and hence was christened “Perumchotudayan”. I agree with the Maharja when he refers to that act as the world’s first message of Non-Alignment.
A smile comes to the reader when the Maharaja says how he persisted with vegetarianism even as his wife Maharani Radha Devi was a non-vegetarian . To cater to the situation, the place had four kitchens to help adjust to her preferences.
Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer’s contributions as the Constitutional Adviser to the state is very ell brought out in the biography. The type of tasks he undertook for the state has been presented very well. The biography , H.H. Chithira Thirunal, had about His Highness ‘s not singing the papers, formalizing the Unite States of Travancore and Cochin, unless he could visit the Padmanabhaswami Temple. The integration of the state of Travancore and kochi and the transition have all been beautiful covered.
The biography is a tribute to the oneness of the Maharaja’s the State and the Temple-forming an integrated soul.
As a freelance journalist, I have had over the years the privilege and opportunity of closely interacting with the Travancore Royal Family - an experience that has considerably enriched my worldview and perspective.
Each encounter and interaction with the family furnished me with precious information and, what is more, it helped me ideate many of my writings. For example, a casual statement from His Highness was a revelation that triggered a story for me. While referring to the cord used to hoist the temple flag during the bi-annual festival, His Highness mentioned that the ropes were procured from the Thiruvananthapuram Central Jail. In utter surprise, I enquired, "Why did it have to be from the prison?" His Highness said: "For a century and a quarter, the flag ropes used for every festival have been twined by convicts!"
Humility is the hallmark of greatness, a quality His Highness exemplifies in abundant measure. I recall my first meeting with His Highness with awe and fear. Yet the moment he opened the conversation, he put me at ease with his earthy manner and demeanour. But never for a moment did my reverence for this great personality ebb. And never for a moment did he put on airs of royalty, or even a semblance of royal distance! Yet, I was aware and conscious of a very special presence.
After each session with His Highness, I would come away
enlightened, and indeed richer. Our interaction was an absorbing experience for me - His Highness's conversations formed an extraordinary narrative.
It was at this juncture that I had a brain wave. "Shouldn't the world learn about this great person?" Initially, my intention was to write a weekly column. However, on second thought, I decided to instead 'write' a book on him.
With legitimate pride, I can claim that whatever this book contains is authentic to the core. I have recorded first-hand information - the source being His Highness, who, in all humility and patience, narrated his experiences and helped me create this work.
This book reflects, in spirit, the Travancore Royal Family's indebtedness to the Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple over the years. It also has a very personal dimension. Mine was among the many families that depended on Padmanabhaswami Temple for both succour and survival. Through this book, therefore, I have also attempted to pay my respect and gratitude to the Temple and its rich traditions.
My effort is only a humble tribute to the generosity and magnanimity of the Temple, which personifies the Royal Family. It was this sense of paying tribute that also moulded my desire to write this book, something which I expressed to Dr. R. P. Raja, a family friend and a first cousin of His Highness. If it were not for his initiative, this book would not have been possible. My very special thanks to Dr. Raja.
The good doctor conveyed my intention to His Highness and the latter agreed. One regrettable fact that haunts me was the untimely demise of Radha Devi, the consort of His Highness. She too would have been a fount of profound personal history, especially as regards their rich and eventful marital life spanning six decades. It would have made this book even richer. Nevertheless, I have during my interactions with His Highness attempted to collect as many pages from history as was possible from him.
What fascinated me while listening to His Highness's narration of incidents in his life, be it childhood pranks or acts of adventure, was his 'reliving' of each of these experiences. I could see the glint in his eyes, the excitement, and an utterlyfascinating child-like thrill. At the same time, I too witnessed His Highness being overwhelmed by emotion and nostalgia while referring to Lord Padmanabha, Amma Maharani, his beloved brother Chithira Tirunal and his consort Radha Devi. On such occasions, I felt he truly wore his heart on his sleeve..
Kizhakkemadam Govindan Nair, renowned yesteryear chronicler, is no longer with us now. When I began work, Govindan Nair furnished me a veritable wellspring of historical facts on Travancore. With his untimely demise, his son Prathap Kizhakkemadam has continued to assist me. I am indebted to this family because it was Govindan Nair who nurtured my interest in history, especially that of Travancore. Countless has been the number of times I have been to his home, seeking 'historical' enlightenment. Every time, he would receive me with selfless indulgence and a smile. I know Govindan Nair would have been extremely happy if he were amidst us. But I can feel his invisible presence always.
Dr. V. S. Sharma, a great scholar, gave me timely advice. Before commencing the work, I approached him for valuable advice. I wanted to know how I could go about it, for instance. I firmly believe that I have tried my best to be loyal to his words of advice.
I should extend my sincere thanks to Bhawani Cheerath Rajagopalan, a freelance journalist based at Thiruvananthapuram. Our friendship goes back to over two decades. We were batchmates at the Trivandrum,Press Club. Bhawani has helped me from Day One of this project! Amidst her tight schedule, she graciously and, in abundance, gave of her time to me. This work couldn't have been complete without her support.
Beata Jacob was my English teacher at All Saints' College. I owe much to her. Whenever, and that was often, I felt I had "saturation point" and I could not proceed any further, I would seek out Beata Mam who would then pull me out of my stasis. She has patiently gone over the work.
This book has many priceless photographs. It was Shri Rajan of Maharaja's Studio who would conjure up those pictures even at the shortest of short notices. Most times, I would have received them through e-mail within minutes!
I do not know how I am going to repay my indebtedness to B. Jayachandran of Malayala Manorama. A good friend since 1987, we have worked together on several projects. It's pure kinship and joy working with him. I do not know how far has he benefited from me but I have profited immensely from him as you will see in this work.
The Kerala University Library is a vast source of information, especially on Travancore. As a staffer at the University, I wish to thank my dear colleagues Girija, Sasi, Varghese and Seena for assisting me in this project. Without their kind cooperation, I couldn't have had access to valuable books on Travancore.
I thank Shri. Parameswaran Nair, Shri. Janaradhana Iyer, Shri. Somasekharan Nair, Shri. Baiju, Shri. Ganesh, Shri. Anil, Shri. Pushpan and Smt. Sumitra, among many other members of the staff of the Fort and Pattom Palace offices for their kind cooperation.
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