Chennai is home to some of the mourning 'royals' of Travancore - The New Indian Express

Chennai is home to some of the mourning 'royals' of Travancore

Published: 17th December 2013 07:42 AM

Last Updated: 17th December 2013 07:42 AM

Among the members of the erstwhile Travancore royal family, who are now mourning the death of their titular head, Uthrandom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, some are right here in Chennai. In fact, the third in the line of succession is a well-known resident, Shreekumar Varma, a novelist, playwright, poet and journalist.

His cousin Sri Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma is likely to be crowned the head of the family as Marthanda Varma passed away on Monday morning in Thiruvananthapuram at the age of 91. Rama Varma is currently in Mangalore as Managing Director of Aspinwall and Co, a company in which the royal family has controlling stakes.

Shreekumar Varma, whose royal name is Sri Punardam Thirunal, was born at the Satelmond Palace in Thirvananthapuram but came to Chennai when he was four years old, as his father, a lawyer by profession, migrated from Kerala. Ever since, the family has been living in the city. His mother, Karthiga Thirunal Indira Bai, who still lives with him, is the daughter of Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bai, the last queen of Travancore.

Another branch of the family that has made Chennai its home are descendents of Sethu Lakshmi Bai’s younger sister, Sethu Parvathi Bai. Prominent among them are Aswati Thirunal Gowri Laksmi Bai, who recently brought out a cook book listing the unforgotten cuisine of Travancore, Mohiniattam exponent Gopika Varma and her husband, Pooruruttathi Thirunal Marthanda Varma. They live in Ramalayam, an old palace of the family in Adyar constructed during the 1930s.

Shreekumar Varma has been part of the Chennai theatre circle for a long time and has written a slew of novels like ‘The Royal Rebel’ and ‘Maria’s Room’. As one who started his career as a journalist – he is now a full-time writer – Varma was not very conscious about his royal heritage till it was pointed out to him one day by a colleague in Mumbai, who said something like ‘Wow, you are a descendent of Raja Ravi Varma’. It was then that Varma, who till then felt that one should be judged on his own worth and achievement, started looking at the bright side of belonging to a royal family and realised that he had the famous painter and also the well-known musician Swati Thirunal Rama Varma to be proud of.

He revealed this to some journalists at his plush ninth floor apartment in Vadakkapattu village, recently. Varma escapes to the pastoral setting of Vadakkapattu near Oragadam, to catch up with his writing but this Sunday he and his wife Geeta were hosting a small group of journalists in Chennai for lunch. In the flat replete with nostalgia-evoking paintings, he spoke about his last meeting with the ‘Maharaja’. He also described how the ‘Tampuran’, as the Maharaja is referred to by the people in Thiruvananathapuram, makes it a point to visit the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple daily, even if he was not well. And also the respect people for him, despite him enjoying no formal royal titles.

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