Statue of a visionary in the Kerala capital

Even now the concept of a welfare state remains confined only to academic discussions and political manifestos and is never implemented.

Published: 04th May 2022 01:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th May 2022 01:37 AM   |  A+A-

Sculpture of Madhava Rao, former Travancore Dewan, in Thiruvananthapuram’s Statue Junction.

Sculpture of Madhava Rao, former Travancore Dewan, in Thiruvananthapuram’s Statue Junction.

My childhood memories are linked to the city of Thiruvananthapuram as I did my schooling there. Then it was a much greener city and less crowded with only a few Ambassador cars for the ministers and government officials. The green-and-white KSRTC city buses were the only other modes of transport. I am talking about the 70s Trivandrum when the city was dominated by its middle class population that worked in the government offices, nationalised banks, and a few industries like Titanium and Keltron.

The scene at 5 pm in the evening at Statue Junction still gives me nostalgic nightmares. From Spencer Junction near University College till Pulimood, people would be waiting to catch the city buses, vigilantly looking towards the direction of East Fort. They were alert like the cowboys of Hollywood movies, ready for any consequences, holding on to their tiffin boxes and bags, and thinking about the rural charm and peacefulness in their homes in Peroorkada, Vattappara, Vattiyurkavu or Peyadu (the city has devoured these areas now). It was a city in slow motion, innocent and less ambitious. Amidst this sea of insecure commuters, waiting and strategising about how to jump into a moving bus, stands a statue of a man who is responsible for the Secretariat building and who led the bureaucracy of Trivandrum for almost two decades. He is the person who is instrumental in the modernisation of the Travancore State; he is Sir T Madhava Rao, the erstwhile Dewan of Travancore.

In my school days, I never bothered to look at it, but my ties to Baroda have made me see the statue with reverence now. I saw the statue of Madhava Rao not as the image of the erstwhile Dewan of Travancore but as the image of Maharaja Sayajirao’s tutor and Dewan of Baroda. A portion of a web page on Maharaja Sayajirao III reads thus: When young, “he was extensively tutored into the administrative skills by Sir T Madhava Rao, who groomed his protege into being a ruler with foresight and with a will to provide welfare to his people”.

Even now the concept of a welfare state remains confined only to academic discussions and political manifestos and is never implemented. Consider this statement of Madhava Rao in 1870: “A welfare state should provide for every subject within a couple of hours journey, the advantages of a doctor, a school master, a judge, a magistrate, a registering officer and a postmaster.” This statement as well as his vision of education for all, regardless of caste and creed, and empowerment of women through education seem extremely relevant in contemporary times.

In 1863, Augusta M Blanford, one of the earliest English Zenana Missionaries, came to Trivandrum. When she was introduced to Maharaja Ayilyam Tirunal in 1864, Augusta expressed her desire to establish a school for the girls. Both the Maharaja and the Dewan, Madhava Rao, agreed to help her. The school started on 3 November 1864 with the daughter and niece of Madhava Rao and two little girls from the Nair community. This story illustrates how he was open to fresh ideas that would suit his welfare state plan. This attitude of Rao helped him pioneer many projects in Travancore and Baroda.

He hailed from the family lineage of Dewans as his uncle Venkata Rao was a Dewan of Travancore himself. Madhava Rao joined the service of the Travancore Maharaja as tutor to the ruler. He was elevated to the position of Deputy Dewan and subsequently to the position of Dewan in 1857. The relation between the Travancore administration and the British government was at its lowest ebb then. Rao would set it all right within no time. His efforts got commented upon in the House of Commons and he was called an architect of the “Model Native State”.

In the period when Rao held the office of Dewan, the financial situation of Travancore developed from deficit to surplus, enabling him to initiate public works. Prominent colonial architects like Robert Chisholm got engaged in the building activities of the state like The Napier Museum at Thiruvananthapuram. In 1872, he left the service of the Travancore Maharaja but the British administration asked him to look after the financial affairs of Indore State and then Baroda that were in a chaotic situation. Rao joined the service of the Gaekwads as the Dewan and tutor to young Sayajirao Gaekwad. He, no doubt, inculcated the spirit of the welfare state in the young Sayajirao, which is proved in the able administration of this most revered Maharaja later. Baroda was one among the many princely states of western India prior to Maharaja Sayajirao III; his rule saw Baroda being counted among the richest and best administered princely states in India with a reputation of being a centre for education, culture and arts. The architectural wonders of the city like the Baroda College, Museum and Picture Gallery were designed by Chisholm in this period. Madhava Rao was also instrumental in introducing Ravi Varma to Maharaja Sayajirao. The contribution of Ravi Varma to the Baroda art scene need no eulogising.

So, next time when you are in Thiruvananthapuram at Statue Junction, just look for the sculpture of this visionary responsible for the modernisation of Travancore and Baroda states. It is the statue of a visionary.

Jayaram Poduval

Head, Department of Art History, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda



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