The tome is replete with stunning pictures drawn from more than 10,000 paintings,drawings,sketches and photographs from the archives.
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum was in the news not long ago. Now you can learn much about it from A Visual History of Travancore, a book that has a picture of the resplendent temple during the Lakshadeepam festival adorning its jacket. Authored by Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma, the brother of the last maharaja of the Travancore State, the luxurious coffee-table book has been brought out by Malayala Manorama.
The author passed away last month at the age of 91. The tome is replete with stunning pictures drawn from more than 10,000 paintings, drawings, sketches and photographs from the archives of the royal family including the author’s collection of photographs. With Swati Tirunal and Raja Ravi Varma, whose endearing works are evergreen favourites in the classical Carnatic musical and the visual art and painting tradition respectively, being part of the history of Travancore, this book is a must-read if you wish to learn about the state and its achievements.
Jayachandran, the curator of the large picture collection that has resulted in this 388-page book, is the picture editor with Malayala Manorama.
The book traces the rulers of Travancore from the ninth and tenth centuries, after the Puranic genealogy is traced from Manu up until the Chera dynasty. Detailed descriptions of the rulers begins with Anizham Tirunal Marthanda Varma Maharaja (1729-1758) who dedicated his kingdom to Lord Padmanabha. The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple as seen today was built by him in stone. The highly religious royal family had the tradition of prefixing the formal names of the maharajas with Sree Padmanabhadasa, meaning slave of Lord Padmanabha.
The book’s paintings and photographs, both in black and white and in colour, show the maharajas and queens, all in their royal finery, ornate and richly luxurious palace pieces like thrones, ivory couches and chariots, the splendid architecture and grandeur of the palaces, such as the Kowdiar Palace, the royal residences, the religious ceremonies integral to the royal family, the Alappuzha Port and remarkable buildings, the Napier Museum, the churches, the Victoria Jubilee Town Hall, the Sanskrit College, the Travancore Guest House, now the state’s Raj Bhavan, and the Huzur Kutchery, now the secretariat building.
Also shown are the state’s music, literature, architecture and art that include some of the grand works of Raja Ravi Varma, and various aspects of the life of the common man.
The book describes the contributions of each of the rulers. Interestingly, while Swati Tirunal Rama Varma Maharaja is well-known as a musician and composer, there are also the mid-eighteenth century Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma Maharaja, a multi-lingual scholar, who wrote texts for Kathakali and a treatise on Natya Shastra “Balarama Bharatham”, and Chithira Tirunal Balarama Varma Maharaja, the last ruler of Travancore who was a musician and patronised photography. Then, there were pioneers like Visakham Tirunal Rama Varma Maharaja, a practising botanist, who brought in tapioca cultivation. In fact, Swati Tirunal Rama Varma Maharaja also set up the first government printing press, an observatory and a public library.
There were also the queens who sat on the throne. The period of rule in the 19th century of Maharani Ayilyam Tirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi and Maharani Uthrattathi Tirunal Gouri Parvathy Bayi, in fact, was one of “enlightened government, comparative progress, peace and prosperity”. And Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, in the 1920s, came up with establishing maternity and child welfare centres.
The book, while giving due space to the visits of royal guests and British viceroys and governors to the state, does not miss out on the 1891 visit of Swami Vivekananda. As a philatelist I was happy to learn about Travancore’s Anchal postal system and the post box.
This `3000-book is a collectible. Having read it, I have two tasks on hand: to learn more about the Anchal system and the spiritual interests of the royal family in the past.