Friday, 29 April 2022


                                         Uma Amba Tampuratti of Kilimanur

                    Previously unseen excerpts from C. Raja Raja Varma's Diary

 Uma Amba Tampuratti, Raja Ravi Varma's mother 
 Image courtesy: RajaRavi Varma, Portrait of an Artist: Diary of C. Raja Raja Varma

For me, Raja Ravi Varma's birthday is an occasion to celebrate the artistic contributions of the members of the Kilimanur clan over the generations. Kilimanur family's tryst with art starts with two sisters, one of whom was Ravi Varma's maternal grandmother. Bharani Tirunal Rajaraja Varma (Ravi Varma's uncle), C. Raja Raja Varma and Mangala Bayi, the painter's siblings and descendants, kept the tradition alive.

Uma Amba Tampuratti, Raja Ravi Varma's mother (seen here in a reproduction of a posthumous portrait by the Varma brothers, painted around 1887) was also an artist. It is said that she taught art to the younger members of her family and possibly contributed to her own children's early artistic training.

In his diary, artist C. Raja Raja Varma says: "My mother was born under the star Makayiram in the month of Medam 1007 M.E. She was the youngest of my grandmother's eleven children. She had a very fair complexion. She was rather below medium height and was very delicately formed. She was endowed with musical and artistic tastes though she had no opportunity of cultivating them. She had an extremely kind and tender heart and could never see any suffering in others. I had seen her crying when she listened to tales and accounts of human suffering and misery. She was attacked with a  sort of eye disease from which she suffered, but she took advantage of the illness to learn Ophthalmology or the science of treating eye diseases from the various physicians who treated her and notably from a Thirumulpad of Naikunnam. She knew also to treat ordinary ailments of children. She appears to have given certain medicines to Her Highness the late Senior Ranee, C.I. The Ranee had cherished a great regard for the lady as some of the letters from the former to the latter testify. She had such self-sacrificing heart that she treated poor women and children gratis giving them medicines and clothing. She composed in Malayalam verse a Thullal called Parvathiswayambaram and several stray verses. Parvathiswayambaram has been published by my second brother Goda Varma at his expense. She was a great devotee of Siva and Parvathi, and when the disease (consumption) laid its icy hand on her about the latter part of her life, she devoted most of her time to prayers and worship. A melancholy circumstance connected with her death was that she had not her eldest son (Raja Ravi Varma) by her side when she died in the month of Makaram 1062. When her last illness took a serious turn we all gathered around her bed, but a day or two previous to her death urgent business compelled my eldest brother Ravi Varma to go to Trevandrum. From the next day she began to sink, and she used to ask, until she became unconscious, if he had returned. When we saw that she had not many hours to live, a man was sent post haste to Trevandrum to give him information of her condition and he arrived to his deep sorrow an hour or two after her death. Her obsequial ceremonies were celebrated in a grand style by my brother  Ravi Varma. When the year of mourning passed away he and myself took a pilgrimage to Benares with the urn containing her ashes which we duly consigned to the holy Ganges. So let her soul rest in peace. We regretted very much that we neither painted her portrait nor even photographed her while she lived. Her portrait was painted... From memory and yet it is a fairly accurate likeness."

 The previously unseen excerpt is taken from an article by R. Kulathu Iyer, dated 1907.

Sharat Sunder Rajeev