Saturday, 24 July 2021
Thursday, 11 March 2021
FROM THE FAMILY ARCHIVES: G. NILAKANTAN B.A.
G. Nilakantan B.A. (Retd. Asst. Excise Commissioner, Ex. MLA, Honorary Magistrate, Municipal Councilor)- my great aunt's grandfather was the first graduate from the Viswakarma community of Travancore. Nilakantan was born in 1874, in Perinadu, Kollam, but later relocated to Trivandrum on entering government service.
'Kamalavilas,' Nilakantan's palatial bungalow in Kunnukuzhi had been the venue to several crucial meetings and discussions involving top brass officials and social reformers during his lifetime. Some of the frequent visitors to the house were Ayyan Kali, 'Silparatnakara' N. Veloo Achary FRSA, Pichu Aiyar (Inspector General), Changanasherry Parameswaran Pillai, Rao Bahadur 'Rajyasevanirata' N. Kunjan Pillai, the Govt. Chief Secretary to name a few.
Even though Nilakantan commenced his career as an Inspector with the Excise Dept., the testimonials of his good conduct soon reached the ears of the Maharajah Moolam Tirunal, who summoned him to the capital and placed him under the mentorship of Van Ross, the Excise Commissioner.
In the 1930s, G. Nilakantan was identified as a prominent leader of the Viswakarma community and he became a staunch fighter for the 'Kammal Bill' in the Sree Moolam Praja Sabha, intended to regulate the social customs of the Malayalam speaking Viswakarmas. He encountered firm resistance from a faction headed by N. Veloo Achary, the mastermind behind the 'Viswakarma Bill'. Achary argued the Kammala Bill was flawed since it turned a blind eye towards the Tamil speaking Viswakarmas of southern Travancore.
The arguments by both parties continued for a long time, and eventually, the bill remained unsettled and finally got lapsed.
As for G. Nilakantan, he passed away on August 9, 1948, while attending a session of the Legislative Assembly.
Thank you MyHeritage Deep Nostalgia for giving us a feel of what our long-gone ancestors may have been like!
Sharat Sunder Rajeev
Saturday, 12 December 2020
THE ATTOLI MADHOM NAMBOOTHIRIS OF KILIMANOOR
|Attoli Sree Haritripura Kulangara Devi temple, Malayamadhom, Ponganad, Kilimanoor.|
A temple overlooking an expansive sweep of paddy farmland is so typical a sight in rural Kerala. Kilimanoor, the birthplace of Raja Ravi Varma, is a place where one still finds vestiges of an untouched agrarian culture. The old mansions of local chieftains, ancient temples, sacred groves, water bodies and lush paddy fields are reminiscent of a long lost lifestyle.
|Uma Amba Thampuratti of Kilimanoor royal house.|
Sunday, 6 September 2020
COIMBATORE RAGHAVA AIYER
Raghava Aiyer (b.1826-d.), a second-generation Mullamootu Bhagavathar (an epithet used by the Travancore court musicians) was born in Vadasherri near Nagercoil. Young Raghava Aiyer was fortunate to receive training in music from the famous Palghat Parameswara Bhagavathar, who had adorned the royal court since the days of Swathi Tirunal Rama Varma. After a brief stint at Trivandrum and Haripad, Raghava Aiyer was helped by Cherunni Koil Tampuran, the elder brother of Kerala Kālidāsa Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Tampuran, to relocate to Coimbatore. At Coimbatore, Aiyer resumed his lessons under Chidambara Nattuvan, the grandson of the renowned Vadivelu Nattuvan (one among the Tanjore Quartets of Swathi’s court).
Raghava Aiyer was introduced to Maharajah Ayilyam Tirunal Rama Varma by M. Kunjaru Raja of Mavelikkara (a talented musician and gifted player on Swarbat), during the latter’s visit to Madras. Later, the Maharajah invited Aiyer to Trivandrum, where he was appointed as a court musician. Not long after, the Maharajah developed a deep admiration for Aiyer’s singing and invited him to perform at the Sangumugham beach palace whenever the king visited the place with his close friends and advisors.
However, around the early 1870s, a sly court musician poisoned the Maharajah’s ears with stories that would ultimately lead to Raghava Aiyer’s fall from grace. Crestfallen, he returned to his wife’s house in Haripad and led a quiet life. But by a stroke of luck, in 1874, Raghava Aiyer returned to Trivandrum on the Maharajah’s command for a musical duel at the Rangavilas palace hall. Ayilyam Tirunal was desperate to present Raghava Aiyer before Maha Vaidyanatha Aiyer, the unmatched musical virtuoso, who was invited to the capital for the Navarathri festival. The legendary duel went on for two days, by the end of which the Maharajah presented expensive shawls, pair of gold bangles and Rs.1500 to both the contestants.
Happily for Raghava Aiyer, his successful performance as a formidable Travancorean who could meet Vaidyanatha Aiyer on his own ground was enough to reinstate him back on the lofty pedestal as a royal favourite.
Sharat Sunder R, 05-09-2020. Based on 'My Musical Reminiscences' by T. Lakshmana Pillai B.A.
Sunday, 23 August 2020
CHATAYAM TIRUNAL RAMA VARMA
A FORGOTTEN AMATEUR ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHER
H.H. Chatayam Tirunal Rama Varma, the Elayarajah (c.1900). Detail from a photograph by Ramen Pillai, Trivandrum.
Chatayam Tirunal Rama Varma - the Elaya Rajah of Travancore - whose life was drawn to an abrupt end on 6 June 1901, at the age of 33, was an acclaimed amateur artist and photographer. As a member of the Amateur Photographic Society of Madras, the prince never missed a chance to present his works at exhibitions conducted by the Society. In Travancore, the prince brushed shoulder with professionals like Zachariah D’Cruz (the Government Photographer) and Ramen Pillai. In 1887, the young prince set out on a journey to see important cities like Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. These explorations gave him an inclusive picture of the vast and diverse history and culture of India, and most likely these journeys transformed the prince into a travel-photographer.
In Travancore, the prince made regular expeditions to explore places of scenic beauty and tried his hand at portraiture and allegorical themes. Among the photographs exhibited in Madras were those of architectural landmarks like Vandur Teppakulam (Madurai), Tevalli Palace (Kollam) and studies such as ‘An Indian Prince’ and ‘a portrait of Mr. Charles Michie Smith’ (the eminent Scottish astronomer), presented to the Madras Society in 1895. The prince, it seems, was in love with the southern districts, for he produced several photographs documenting the scenery, landmarks and life of people, e.g. ‘Kuzhithuray Bridge’ (Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu) and ‘A view of South Travancore’ (both dated c.1897).
The ancient Jain temple at Chitaral, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu, c.1890s. Photograph by Chatayam Tirunal Rama Varma. From the private collection of the author.
The following excerpt from a letter (dated 9th May 1898) written by the Prince sheds light on an interesting photographic expedition he made to the southern districts.
“Many years ago on one of my photographic outings in the southern districts of our picturesque country I was attracted by this interesting rock-temple (the famous Jain temple at Chitaral, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu). Going thither one fine morning camera in hand I exposed a plate almost against the sun as the temple faces the west. The result was nothing extraordinary. Still I have the satisfaction of added to my collection of photographs one of a building of such classical interest.”
Sadly, for someone credited to have followed photography with such passion, this bromide print of the temple at Chitaral is the only work that can be attributed to the prince without a doubt.
Sharat Sunder Rajeev, 23 August, 2020.
REMEMBERING ASWATHI TIRUNAL MARTHANDA VARMA B.A., THE 'PHOTOGRAPHER PRINCE' ON WORLD PHOTOGRAPHY DAY
|H.H. Aswathi Tirunal Marthanda Varma B.A., c.1899, (detail). From a private collection.|
Aswathi Tirunal Marthanda Varma B.A., a.k.a., ‘B.A. Prince’ (b.1871-d.1900) — nephew of Maharajah Moolam Tirunal of Travancore — is celebrated as an early amateur photographer, whose photograph of Swami Vivekananda adorns the entrance to Swami’s room at Belur Math. Prof. K. Sundararaman (Tutor to Aswathi Tirunal) records in ‘The Life of Swami Vivekananda,’… “The Prince was struck like all others who came into contact with him, with the Swami’s striking figure and attractive features; and being an amateur photographer, asked the Swami for a sitting and took a fine photograph which he skilfully developed into an impressive picture.” This photograph was later shown in an exhibition conducted at Madras Museum.
|Aswathi Tirunal's photograph of Swami Vivekananda, 1892.|
The print currently housed at Belur was sourced by Swami Brahmananda, a monastic disciple of Sri Ramakrishna when he visited Travancore in 1916. While stationed in Trivandrum, Brahmananda came to know that a photograph of Swami Vivekananda was taken by the Prince of Travancore at the palace and expressed an interest to procure a print of the same. It is known that the negative of the picture was secured by P. Seshadri Aiyer from D’Cruz, the Government Photographer (Letter from Swamy Trilokyananda, R.K. Mission, Calicut, 1962).
Sharat Sunder Rajeev, 19 August, 2020.
Thursday, 30 April 2020
Sunday, 22 September 2019
|The beautifully carved wooden lids from the box made by V. Narayanan Achari - private collection of the author.|
| The crest of Sri Ramakrishna Mission carved by Narayanan - from the door of the inner shrine, |
Sri Ramakrishna Ashram, Nettayam, Thiruvananthapuram.
Wednesday, 10 April 2019
|R. Madhava Warrier|
After the untimely demise of artist C. Raja Raja Varma, who was an assistant and private secretary to his elder brother, young Madhava Warrier accompanied Raja Ravi Varma on his journeys. The artist who had the habit of picking models from among his family members once asked Warrier to sit as a 'model'. Little did Warrier know that he was being cast as Sree Krishna in the 'Sree Krishna as Envoy' (1906), an important painting ever done by the artist!
|'Krishna as Envoy', 1906.|
When Raja Ravi Varma passed away in 1906, the members of the royal house, especially the children were inconsolable. For them, the legendary artist was a lovable Valyammavan (patriarch) whose presence in the house always called for a festive mood. To ease the pain of the children, Madhava Warrier penned the following couplet: