Testimony of a maharaja’s love for a danseuse in Telangana
Built in the 1840s by the legendary musician and king Swathi Thirunal, this mansion is a sign of his adoration for his consort Sundaralakshmi.
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Amma Veedus of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom were mansions where the reigning monarch’s consorts stayed. Among the many such heritage buildings in Thiruvananthapuram, the Thanjavur Amma Veedu is a masterpiece.
Built-in the 1840s by the legendary musician and king Swathi Thirunal, this mansion is a sign of his adoration for his consort Sundaralakshmi. “The magnificent mansion is located in the expansive compound of the old Vadasherri complex and is an ‘ettukettu,’ a traditional architectural style prevalent in Kerala, with two central courtyards,” says conservative architect and historian Prof Sharat Sunder Rajeev.
Sundaralakshmi, who hailed from a Mudaliyar family in Thiruvallur, and her elder sister Sugandha Parvathi were celebrated dancers at the royal court of Serfoji II.
According to Sharat, after the ruler’s passing in 1832, many notable people from Thanjavur court found a position in Thiruvananthapuram, bringing in a cultural renaissance, especially in the fields of art, architecture, craft, and literature in Travancore.
“In addition, Sundaralakshmi and Swathi Thirunal’s romance flourished around this time after the arrival of several people from Thanjavur. In 1843, both got married,” he says. If a woman from outside were to be married by the king, she would be first adopted to one of the Amma Veedu. Therefore, Sundaralakshmi was first adopted into Vadasherri Amma Veedu. “Soon after the marriage, a new Amma Veedu got constructed to the west of Old Vadasherri Amma Veedu, it was called Vadasherri Padinjare Amma Veedu,” says Sharath.
Sundaralakshmi continued to reside at the Amma Veedu with her older sister and her family after Swathi Thirunal’s death in 1846. However, eventually, Sri Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma purchased the structure for his son Narayana Thampi after Sundaralakshmi’s demise. “It is reported that Narayana Thampi built a majestic double-storey maalika in front of the courtyard home to preserve the memories of Sundaralakshmi,” adds Sarath.
After renovation, the name Vadasherri Padinjare Amma Veedu got changed to Thanjavur Amma Veedu.
The story of the Thanjavur Amma Veedu is not just a tale of love and cultural exchange, but it is also a symbol of the rich history of Thiruvananthapuram.
With its elegant design and fascinating history, the Amma Veedu is a testament to the architectural and cultural wonders of the city. It reminds us of the rich heritage that the city is built upon and the people who have contributed to its history over the years.