He is definitely one of the makers of modern Kerala. The most illustrious administrator Travancore has ever seen especially in terms of the drastic social and political reforms he introduced. ‘Mahatma Chithira Thirunal’, a book written by historian T P Shankarankutty Nair, presents the last king of Travancore in a new light.
T P Shankarankutty Nair, the former department head, department of History, University College, says that the prime aim of his book was to correct the record on certain things. “There is a controversy regarding temple entry as C P Ramaswamy Foundation in Chennai tried to project everything done by Chithira Thirunal as the work of C P. They also tried to share the credits between the two. C P was the constitutional adviser and divan, but without the concurrence of the maharaja nothing can be done,” he says.
In ‘Mahatma Chithira Thirunal’, the author traces the history of Travancore royal family and the incidents that lead to the historic Temple Entry Proclamation. The book features a particular incident that proves C P’s involvement in temple entry proclamation was limited. After Vaikom Satyagraha, Gandhi met Chithira Thirunal and Regent Maharani and asked the Maharani why she is not granting temple entry to everyone. Her reply was ‘I am only a regent, let the king do it’.
Gandhiji turned to Chithira Thirunal, who was only a small boy then, and asked whether he would do it. His spontaneous reply without any consultation was ‘I shall’. “That means long before C P Ramaswamy Iyer landed in Kerala the decision to grant temple entry was in the mind of Chithira Thirunal. Based on his mother’s concurrence and the report submitted by Mahakavi Ulloor S Parameswara Iyer, Chithira Thirunal directed C P to issue Temple Entry Proclamation. So the claim made by the C P Ramaswamy Foundation is baseless,” says Shankarankutty Nair, also the honourary director of Uthradam Thirunal Institute of Culture.
When Temple Entry Proclamation was issued Mahatma Gandhi wrote Chithira Thirunal a letter which read, “People call me Mahatma, but you have rendered real service and you deserve the title Mahatma.” The letter was published in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi in the 98th volume. “The title was conferred on the king by none other than Mahatma himself. It was the father of the nation who called him Mahatma as he allowed millions of untouchables to temples,” he says. It was much later that the temple gates were thrown open to people of all castes in relatively progressive places like Madras, Kochi, Malabar and Rajahmundry.
Another feat achieved under the rule of Chithira Thirunal was the establishment of Kerala University and the book also carries details about it among others. “Most people were skeptical about the proposition but Chithira Thirunal was adamant that we should have our own university,” says Shankarankutty Nair who has been a keen researcher of modern Kerala history for the past thirty years.