Tuesday, May 12, 2009

TALES FROM THE CAPITAL CITY -XIII

THE DAY I MET THE KING

It was a hot February noon; I was sitting in my father’s studio, waiting for a phone call, a phone call that could make one of my dreams come true. A day back my friend Uma Maheshwari, who is writing the biography of Maharaja had promised to take me with her, to Pattom palace!

Many years back, standing in the terrace of my father’s old studio, I saw an old car, with the royal insignia of the erstwhile royal family passing down the street. Then somebody told me that it was the King of Travancore, on his daily routine, on his way to the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. The next day also I waited there to see the King, but I got only a glimpse of him. On yet another day, sitting on the rear seat of my father’s scooter I even followed him to the gates of the old city. I noticed that many people on seeing the car stood up and bowed in reverence.

When I was studying in tenth standard, on my first visit to Padmanabha Swamy temple we were told that the King was coming for his daily prayers and that we will have to wait until he has finished. I rushed to see him; this time also I did not have much luck as he passed by quickly.Through the stories told by my grandfather and other senior family members, the members of the royal family had become a household name. It was one of my dreams to meet them. Through the drawing competitions conducted by Chitrakalamandalam, I had the opportunity to meet Her Highness Karthika Tirunal Thampuratti and her daughters, the princesses. However, I have not met or talked with the King.


Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, as a small boy - Picture reproduced from Temple Entry Proclamation Souvenir.
As I did not get any response from Uma, I called her. Palace secretary said that the King already had many visitors, but he asked her to come. It kind of let down my spirits, as I have heard Uma saying that sometimes she had to wait for days to see him. However, after some time she called me and said that we could meet him. The meeting was scheduled at three p.m., borrowing my mother’s Activa; I went to University office to pick Uma.


I was feeling a little tensed as I approached the large arched gate, inside I saw an old palace with many later additions, even though in traditional style they did not seem to match with the old structure. It was disappointing that the palace of the King was not so large or grand (compared to Kowdiar palace) as I had expected. The secretary’s office seemed to be a treasure trove of old photographs and paintings. A large painting of the long gone Aanacutcherry, a landmark of old Travancore claim a major portion of one wall, an intricate portrait of the King, by Krishnan Nair, done using coloured sand catches our attention.


The Maharaja who was born in 1922 is going to celebrate his 88th birthday this March. I was surprised that even at this old age he had to keep up with a busy schedule. There were many people waiting to see him. After waiting for some time, we were asked to go inside, Uma Maheshwari who was familiar to the staff and palace, led the way. We were led to a medium sized living room. We stood there waiting for the King. The room was decorated with many old photographs and paintings. A huge painting of Sree Moolam Tirunal, by P. Mukundan Thampi, dated 1910 adorn a wall, the portrait is clearly a copy of a similar one by Raja Ravi Varma, the great grandfather of the Maharaja. There were old photographs of Chithira Tirunal, Amma Maharani and old photographs of the King’s late wife. Another painting, which caught my attention, was that of Chithira Tirunal wearing a green turban, Uma told me that Marthanda Varma was an expert in making (tying) turbans and used to make turbans, within two minutes for his ‘Annan’, the late Maharaja, His Highness Chithira Tirunal Bala Rama Varma.

Marthanda Varma and his wife Sri Radha Devi.
Standing there, I could see that the next room led to an open courtyard on one side there were many idols of gods, a Brahmin was cleaning/preparing for pooja. The building, even though a royal palace, was warm and cosy like an old middle class tharavad. It brought back the memories of my grandmother’s old tharavad.


A man came and asked Uma whether she got a calendar published by Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple trust, she said no and he went inside. After a few seconds, a small man wearing a loose white shirt and a mundu entered, his back was bend, which reminded me of Karthika Tirunal during her last years. Actually, I took some time to realize that it was the King. Uma bowed in reverence. He presented her the calendar. I folded my hands and greeted him with a ‘Namaste’.


Even though I had seen him many times before, I had expected to find a more powerful man, but to my surprise, in front of me, sitting in an old model European chair was the Maharaja of Travancore. Uma who was a frequent visitor began talking to him, by that time I was closely studying him. He wore an old-fashioned white shirt, with the royal emblem embroidered on his right chest. The simple white mundu and the paragon 'maethiyadi' chappals gave him a ‘common man’ look. Yet when he talked, he showed clear marks of his aristocratic upbringing. The only gold ornaments that he was wearing were three gold rings, one with his initials M.V., a ‘Navaratna’ ring and a ring with an emerald stone.

Uma had prepared a list of ‘things to do’ for the forthcoming release of the book. It seems that he was not satisfied with the publishers, they were very slow. Uma wanted them to release the book before the King’s birthday, which is on March. It was interesting that he cracked some jokes while talking and this made him look more casual. After talking to Uma he asked her who this new boy was, Uma introduced me and told him that I was doing some sketches for his book. He asked me whether I could do a picture of him, with Sreepadmanabha’s feet in his heart.

While talking he said that the behaviour of people have changed drastically, they have chosen the path of ‘Ravana’, the path of ‘adharma’. He seemed distressed at the state of his lost kingdom. Travancore had seen its days of glory under the rule of her famous Kings. Starting from Veera Marthanda Varma, the father of modern Travancore who was both a mastermind in uniting the kingdom and at the same time was a ruthless tyrant; and the ‘musician king’ Swathi to our beloved last ruler, the ‘Rajarishi’, Sree Chithira Tirunal Bala Rama Varma.

I had the privilege of showing him the manuscript of my family history. He was interested to know that I had written it and had added the books beauty with the pictures. He read some parts from the book, particularly the portion that said about the great London exhibition of 1851. He told me that the ivory throne send to the exhibition got second prize, which was a great achievement for his kingdom and for the craftsmen who made it. He seemed to like my handwriting and commented that on seeing my penmanship he is thinking of stop writing.


Marthanda Varma - sketch by the author (2009).
After some time one of his attendants came and said that he had another visitor, he was let in. A man entered the room, bowed the king and took out three silver ‘kindis’ of fine quality from his bag and placed them on a table. After inspecting the kindis Marthanda Varma gave him some instructions on how to make a box for keeping them. The man listened to him and took leave. After he had gone, the king told us that the man was an Achari specialized in making silver artifacts; he once made a silver tray for him. It was packed in a wooden box and was presented to a friend, however on opening the box, the room was filled with a sweet scent that attracted all those who were present there, and thus he became a favourite of the royal family and now makes silver artifacts for the King.

We didn't notice that time was sliding by as we were talking, soon it was time for his evening prayers and we stood up and took leave.

This article was written in February 2009.

Sharat Sunder Rajeev.

13 comments:

Manu said...

marvelous photos! and very nice indeed. :)

The Bhima Club said...

lovely article!

Nebu said...

A friend of mine who is close to the Royal family has promised me a visit to Kaudiar as well as Pattom Palace. I am looking forward to it rather nervously because out of excitement either I'll be dumbstruck or I might put my foot in my mouth and make a fool of myself. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I can set foot in the Palace let alone meet face to face with Their Highnesses.

Whenever I passed the Kawdiar roundana, I used to look at the Palace gates in amazement.Your post gave me an idea of what to expect.Thanks, I really enjoyed it.

sharat sunder rajeev said...

thanks for the comment, nebu....:-)

Soheb Vahab said...

Very nice article indeed.Theres a correction His Highness was born on March 22, 1922 and not 1921.

Anonymous said...

nice photos then where r the queen and the princess now

Soheb Vahab said...

Her Highness Maharani Karthika Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi deid on June 8, 2008.Her daughters Her Highness Princess Pooyam Thirunal Gouri Parvathi Bayi and Her Highness Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi reside in the Kaudiar Palace

paul said...

Travancore court -a distant link in my ancestry-my great-great grandfather on my maternal side was a Rajakavi in their courts due to his
scholarship so my 82 yr old mother says whenever this comes up in our telecon's every month,thanks for the memories Sharat.

paul joseph-Canada.

Satheeshchandra Chekavar said...

Travancore Kings were very very good Kings. They are real Sree Padmanabha Dasas. We must respect them always.

Sam Thomas said...

You have done a great job in hilighting the golden footprints of our Royal Family.

Global Social Media said...

Very well written, there is an upcoming movie about the myths behind the Sree Padmanabha temple. Visit www.facebook.com/padmavyooham

Rudraksha said...

awesome and very informative post thanks for sharing
navratan

Conqueror said...

Nice article sir. Unlike the modern day royal families of North India who still lives
a life of opulence in the middle of luxury, the Travancore Royal family lives a very
simple life. They are true Padmanabha dasaas. They value Padmanabha Swamy and their devotion to the lord above the billions of dollars worth of treasures found in the temple vaults.