Saturday, 11 July 2009



K. Ramakrishnan Achari (b.1888-d.1969), my father’s grandfather was a well-known artist of erstwhile Travancore Princely State. Many of his splendid portrayals still adorn the walls of palaces and many government institutions. The most famous among them are the portraits of Nehru and Gandhi, which are placed in the Durbar Hall of Secretariat. But a portrait of Sree Chitira Tirunal Bala Rama Varma, the last ruler of Travancore now kept in Sree Chitra enclave surpasses them all. It was done in the early 1930s and portrays the King sitting on his throne. This fabulous portrait which was once a favourite of the royal family had been tucked away to a dark corner of the museum godown for many years. A letter from the present king, Marthanda Varma inquiring the whereabouts of this portrait finally freed it from the storeroom and now it adorns the wall of Sree Chitra enclave.

K. Ramakrishnan Achari (1) The artist and his son with the finished portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru, 1960s (2) - Photographs from the private collection of the author.
K. Ramakrishnan’s house and studio served as a meeting place for many eminent people of the time. During the 1940s when the Indian Nationalist Movement was in its peak, Ramakrishnan had to face a serious problem…..some of his intimate friends were high palace officials staunch royalists, ‘Rajabakthar’; and others were freedom fighters and ‘Congressmen’ such as Pattom A. Thanu Pilla. Ramakrishnan himself was a supporter of the king’s rule as the king and the royal families were his major patrons. But he had to entertain both.

Once when Pattom Thanu Pilla came to the studio, Ramakrishnan was busy painting a portrait of the King, Sree Chithira Tirunal Bala Rama Varma. Through the window, he saw Thanu Pilla walking towards the studio. Ramakrishnan did not want to offend his friend who was a freedom fighter told his son Haridas to take away the portrait from the easel stand and hide it somewhere so that Thanu Pilla will not see it. However, when Thanu Pilla came to the door Haridas noticed that a portrait of the leader was lying upside down in a dusty corner of the room. Knowing that Thanu Pilla might get angry seeing his portrait in such a miserable condition, Haridas quickly cleaned the portrait and placed it in a respectable place. Thanu Pilla couldn’t be happier.

Pattom A.Thanu Pilla - Image courtesy - Wikipedia.
Many such situations arose later where Ramakrishnan had to struggle to please both of his friends; the royalists and the congressmen.

Sharat Sunder Rajeev