Early Monday morning, it was the All India Radio (AIR) that informed the remote tribal settlements in eastern Thiruvananthapuram about the death of Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma. For the Kani tribals there, it was as if one of their own had departed. Word spread quickly, and soon, representatives of each settlement, numbering 34 in all, were speeding to the city in a mini-bus for a final glimpse.
‘’Even today, AIR is the only link to the outside world for these settlements. The representatives took with them wild flowers to offer as tribute,’’ said Vinod Kumar, trustee of the Kottoor Mundani Madan Temple, the starting point of the famed annual ‘pilgrimage’ to the palace with forest produce for the ‘Ponnu Thampuran.’
‘’The annual custom of calling at the palace must have begun generations ago. There was a break somewhere in-between, but it became an organised affair once again about 25 years ago,’’ Vinod said. As a mark of respect to the deceased, the tribals also observed a fast on Monday.
The Kani tribals were among the thousands who thronged the Levy Hall at East Fort from early morning to pay their respects to Uthradom Thirunal, who, as titular head of the royal family, was a respected and familiar presence in the capital’s daily life. As a mark of respect, shops inside the Fort and outside it downed shutters for the better part of the day.
The people of the capital remember the soft-spoken Uthradom Thirunal as a gentle, scholarly man with a wide range of interests - photography, horse-riding, cars to name a few. ‘’When Lord Mountbatten came visiting in 1948 - I don’t remember the exact date - it was he who led a cavalry demonstration. It is said that Mountbatten was greatly impressed and congratulated him,’’ recalled journalist and historian Malayinkeezhu Gopalakrishnan.
Representatives of the Madras Regiment were at the Levy Hall since morning, and an army truck bedecked with flowers was used to carry the mortal remains to the Kowdiar Palace late on Monday afternoon. The Regiment, one of the oldest in the Indian Army, has a lasting relationship with the family as two of its battalions - the 9th and the 16th - were created out of the Travancore State Forces after Independence.
In his daily routine, Uthradom Thirunal was a spartan who respected his clock. He enjoyed his daily ‘ration’ of chocolate; ‘’one slice’’, said Prasada Varma Thampuran, his private secretary. ‘’He would rise at 3 am, do light Yoga exercises and perform his ablutions. By then he would be ready for his daily visit to the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. ‘’His car would go very slowly, and by 7.30 am he began his ‘darshan’. He would be back at the Pattom Palace by 8.05 am. Breakfast would consist of one or two ‘idlis.’ Then he was ready for his official duties,’’ he said.
Uthradom Thirunal would write down his instructions to his staff very briefly, then meet a few visitors. He lunched at 12.30 pm, ‘’four spoons of rice maximum,’’ Prasad Varma said. ‘’He would rest till 3.30 pm, meet more visitors. By 6.15 pm, he would be ready for his bath and ‘pooja’’’, he said.
The mortal remains of Uthradom Thirunal were to be moved to the Kowdiar Palace by 1.30 pm, so that the final rites could begin by 2.30 pm. But it was a mark of the man’s popularity that the crowd so continued to throng Levy Hall that the programme was delayed by two hours.