HH The Maharajah of Travancore

Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma

The annual Aurat at Trivandrum will never be the same again.. Thousands flock from the length and breadth of the country to witness the Head of the Travancore Royal Family and the custodian of the hoary Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, escorting the deities for their annual ritual-ablutions in the sea; flanked by noblemen, officers of the Madras Regiment and mounted-police.

HH Maharajah Colonel Sree Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma V (91), Head of the Travancore Royal Family and custodian of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple died in the early hours this morning following a cardiac arrest. He was hospitalised after being diagnosed with upper-gastro-intestinal bleeding and had subsequently been placed on life-support, last week.

The body has been laid-in-state at the Levee Hall, Krishnavilasom Palace situated adjacent to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, for the public to pay homage. The funeral will take place in the premises of Kowdiar Palace before sunset on Monday with full-military honours. The state government has declared Monday a holiday, as a mark of respect for the former head of the Royal family.

Born on the 22nd of March, 1922, as the younger son of Maharani Sethu Parvathi Bayi of Travancore and Ravi Varma, Junior Koil Thampuran of Kilimanoor and as the only brother of the last ruling monarch of Travancore, HH Maharajah Chithira Thirunal Rama Varma (1912-1991), the Elayarajah Sree Uthradom Thirunal succeeded him on his death as the Maharajah, the Head of the Travancore Royal Family and custodian of the Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The Prince was privately educated and later graduated Travancore University having read Economics, Politics and History; winning the 'Gold-medal’ for his study of Classical Sanskrit.

Although democracy paved way for new leaders, the Maharajah remained a central figure in India : deeply respected by all for his royal-lineage and parsimonious life-style as patron of many charities and community-endeavours. He was one of the few royals who stayed out of politics but went on to carry out a whole array of public and religious duties to entertaining state-guests. The Prince of Wales was received in Kerala on the latter’s 65th birthday by 91-year old Maharaja, last month.

He has hosted world-dignitaries including HM Queen Elizabeth II, French President Georges Pompidou, US First Ladies: Eleanor Roosevelt & Jacqueline Kennedy, among other leaders and world-royalty. He was a personal friend of the novelists Somerset Maugham and Dame Agatha Christie and used to correspond with them by letter. After Eleanor Roosevelt returned to America from a trip to Travancore, she wrote, "I went to a State at the extreme tip of India. Here the king's son does not become king, but that of his sister succeeds to the throne..I did not understand the complex system but anyway, it is very good for the women."

 To most people he was the last link to the dynasty that signified the unique culture shaped by its core values of religious tolerance, pluralism and a system of inheritance that favoured women.

HH was in the news of late, during the documentation of the assets of the Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple, the ancient temple of which he was custodian. The Maharaja took a strong stance regarding the use of the age-old treasures - believed to be worth at least £26 billion - and claimed no personal right of ownership to it. In keeping with the practice of his ancestors for the last 300-odd years, the Maharaja worships at the temple daily – travel-schedules permitting - at 7 am, until being hospitalised.

A person with varied interests, he was a keen rider and has to his credit several trophies won as an amateur at courses in the country and abroad. A keen sportsman, he used to play polo, tennis, hockey and golf in his youth. His favourite hobby was motoring. He has to his credit of driving more than 1,400,000 miles in his Mercedes Benz 180 D  through the crowded roads of India and by doing so, winning several medals from the Benz company at Stuttgart. He joined the Plymouth Motoring Co. in Bangalore for work-experience and later took the reins of the spice-trading company that his family invested in.

An ardent lover of photography, the 1934 Rolleiflex camera gifted to him by his brother was among his prized possessions. The Maharajah had a collection of about 5000 negatives and last year, opened the Rangavilasom Palace as a private photo-gallery to the public.

HH Sree Padmanabha Dasa Vanchipala Rajarshi Colonel Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma V, Kulasekhara Kiritapati Manney Sultan Maharaja Raja Ramaraja Bahadur, Sham Sher Jung, Maharajah of Travancore (91), died due to cardiac-arrest, at Trivandrum, 16th December, 2013.

HH Prince Sree Mulam Thirunal Rama Varma, the late Maharajah's nephew and the son of Princess Karthika Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi of Travancore and Lt. Col. Goda Varma Raja, of Poonjar; succeeds to the office and the title, under the prevailing Matrilineal norms of succession.

HH’s consort Shrimathi Radha Devi Pillai-Kunjamma, daughter of Lt. Col. K.G. Pandalay, MB, CM, FRCS, LRCP of the Indian Medical Service and a gifted furniture and jewellery designer,  pre-deceased him and is survived by a son, Shri Anantha Padmanabhan Thampi and a daughter, Parvati Devi Pillai-Kunjamma.


More by :  Abhed Kiran Kandamath

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Views: 3755      Comments: 4

Comment The Maharaja''s brother had been the last ruling Maharaja of Travancore and, in that capacity, was the hereditary guardian to a temple containing an ancient horde of treasure valued at many billions of pounds. However as hereditary guardians, generations of maharajas of Travancore, remaining true to their faith, refused to sell a single item from this immense treasure. Hats off!

Excellent piece!

20-Jan-2015 06:30 AM

Comment Thanks for this brilliant piece. Very timely and precise, coming from a close-quarter of the family. Is this same published by UK papers? Why not write an extended piece with your memories? Kochu Thampuran was very optimistic about you. We shall all be looking forward to see it. Soon please..

Raja Raja Varma Thampuran
29-Dec-2013 19:30 PM

Comment Thank you for pointing that out. Apologies for the mistakes; it was hurriedly proof- read and sent of to various publications in the few hours after the demise of the Maharajah. Hope they are rectified now and please feel free to point out if there are any more. That's very much.

21-Dec-2013 22:04 PM

Comment Dear Shri Kandamath,
Just wanted to point out two factual errors, in my opinion, in the otherwise good piece written by you. First, please correct the name of the hospital as Sree Uthradom Thirunal Hospital deleting the word Royal. (There is another hospital SUT Royal in Trivandrum, which is different and under a different management). Second, the Mercedez Benz car has a mileage of 14,00,000 miles and has obtained 7 medals from the company, one medal each for crossing 2,00,000.


16-Dec-2013 22:57 PM

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