KOCHI: A DAY in the first week of June, 1949. Venue: The durbar hall of Hill Palace, the official headquarters of Kochi kings. Rama Varma Pareekshith Thampuran, the then Kochi king, and V P Menon, the official spokesperson of the India Government, were engaged in serious discussions on the merging of two provinces, Travancore and Cochin.
And standing in the corridor in front of Durbar Hall, expecting a command from the Maharaja, were two persons- Elamana Hari, superintendent of Hill Palace, and Kunjikidavu Thampuran, the younger brother of the Maharaja.
“Before the official beginning of the discussion, Pareekshith Thampuran folded his hands and closed his eyes for a while. Later he explained that he was seeking blessings and permission for the merger from the family deity, Sree Poornathrayeeshan,” recalls 87-year-old Elamana Hari who witnessed this historic moment just after joining the Hill Palace as superintendent in February, 1949.
After the initial round of discussions V P Menon returned to Delhi. In the last week of June, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the brain behind ‘Integrated India,’ came to Hill Palace for the final discussion.
Sardar Patel concluded the talks with the offer that after the integration, Travancore king Sree Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma would be titled Raja Pramukh and Pareekshith Thampuran would be addressed as Uparaja Pramukh. But Pareekshith Thampuran did not want any title after handing over the power. The Maharaja politely said that the eldest members of Kochi Royal family should be called Valiya Thampuran.
“The idea of integration was mooted by Eikya Kerala Thampuran on April 11, 1947, and it materialised during the reign of Pareekshith Thampuran,” says Hari who was the close associate of the king during this crucial period and prepared the official notes for the merging process.
Soon after the swearing-in ceremony Pareekshith Thampuran started the formal talks with his subordinates, chief minister of Kochi state Ikkanda Warier and other ministers like Sahodaran Ayyappan, C A Ouseph and Panampilly Govinda Menon. He visited Travancore and discussed the issue with Chithira Thirunal.
On July 1, 1949, the first ever merger of two provinces in South India became a reality as Thampuran and Chithira Thirunal signed the document. T K Narayana Pillai from Paravoor became the first chief minister of united Travancore-Kochi.
While North Indian provinces, much smaller than Cochin, put forward many conditions, Pareekshith Thampuran was ready to give up royal powers unconditionally.
“With an ascetic mind, Thampuran was the model king,” Hari says. “The only thing he wanted in return for handing over governance was a copy of the ‘panchangam,” he says. The representatives of Jawaharlal Nehru, Patel and V P Menon were very surprised by this request from the king of a state like Kochi. Later, during a private talk with V K Krishna Menon, V P Menon said that he could not give the deserving rights to Kochi kings because the Thampuran did not want anything.
Hari is upset that historians have neglected the crucial role played by Kochi kings in moulding the Indian Union.
“C P Ramaswami Iyer, the Diwan of Travancore, played a pivotal role in retaining many rights of the Travancore royal family.
The absence of such an adviser proved a loss for the Kochi royal family,” Hari says.
Though the Kochi kings retained the Hill Palace complex, Palace NO 16, the official residence of Kochi kings, and the Koonoor Elk Hill Palace, they lost the first two palaces later.