The Swathi Thirunal College of Music at Thycaud in Thiruvananthapuram has perhaps one of the best premises for a music college: undulating terrain with sprawling shade trees and pleasing and elegant traditional buildings, its eye-catching surroundings providing the perfect ambience for the learning of music.
The sylvan setup indeed matches the excellence of music education that is offered. Since its inception in 1939, the institution has been headed by stalwarts of Carnatic music, like Dr L Muthaiah Bhagavathar, Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer and the charismatic G N Balasubramaniam (GNB), to name a few. Their sishya parampara include some of the brightest stars on the musical firmament of Kerala.
Just across the main gate of the college one can see a triangle of a traffic island formed by an inter-section of three roads. It would have been an ideal site for the erection of a monument to music, be it in the form of replica of a musical instrument peculiar to Kerala or sculpture of one of the great personages from the world of Carnatic music. For instance, why not a statue of the greatest musician Kerala has produced, Maharaja Swathi Thirunal himself, in whose memory the erstwhile Music Academy was renamed in 1966?
But No! That perfect site has for the last two decades been usurped by some short-sighted politicians to erect what has turned out to be an eye-sore, and arguably the most uncouth, vile and bizarre monument in Thiruvananthapuram, perhaps in entire Kerala.
For anyone unfamiliar with Kerala history, it would appear as an odd piece of rock art. High on a pedestal is placed a large granite boulder. But the sculptor, through some deft handwork in bas relief, has left no one in doubt as to what is intended: the decapitated head of Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore, the first Vice Chancellor of the first University in the state, the man instrumental in bringing forward the historic Temple Entry Proclamation, the visionary administrator who laid the foundation for the industrial and educational development of this part of Kerala.
What the monument, installed in September 1989, seeks to perpetuate is the memory of a failed assassination bid on the Dewan on July 27, 1947 which took place in the assembly hall of the college, then Music Academy, when he was attending a concert by Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer at a function held to commemorate the birth anniversary of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal.
The conspiracy to assassinate the Dewan was hatched by some high profile politicians and the man they chose to assign the task was one K C S Mani, a Brahmin like the intended victim.
But when the lights went out in the concert hall and the Dewan was hacked several times in pitch darkness, Mani missed the target slightly, with the result that the Dewan was seriously wounded on the cheek, neck and hand, but not fatally.
Though Mani failed in his assigned job of decapitating CP, the monument builders have accomplished that task symbolically as they chose to erect a statue of CP’s head. It definitely is not a bust, as it looks more like a severed head. They have also elevated the would be assassin’s weapon, a machete, to glory by giving a graphic representation of it on the pedestal.
If by any chance a passerby misses the point made by the sculptor, there is a writing on the forehead to make the intention loud and clear: ‘Mani hacked CP.’
It is pertinent here to point out that this symbolic decapitation is done on the man who created history by abolishing capital punishment, for the first time in a princely state in British India (1940). And it is erected just in front of the Music College founded by CP himself.
No one disputes that CP was a despot, one who was, as reportedly described by Jawaharlal Nehru, “an admirer of dictatorship in India and elsewhere, and himself a shining ornament of autocracy in an Indian state.” But no one disputes either his impeccable credentials as a lawyer, jurist, member of the Viceroy’ Executive Council who brought forward many a progressive legislation and, in Travancore, as the man who laid the foundations for a dynamic, forward looking state.
Apart from leading the state to speedy industrial and educational progress, CP made signal contribution to Kerala’s social life by helping to bring forward the Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936, an event that earned for him and the Maharaja kudos from all progressive minded people of the country. The proclamation was one of the first acts of CP after he assumed the Dewanship. It was promulgated on November 12, 1936, the 24th birth day of the Maharaja, Sree Chithira Thirunal.
Incidentally, it was also the Dewan’s 57th birthday (He was born on November 12, 1879).
In spite of all the good that he had done, it could be argued that CP deserved no memorial anywhere in the state because of the aberrations that antagonized the people in the later years of his stewardship of Travancore, especially his espousal of the cause of an independent Travancore and his ruthless suppression of the Punnapra-Vayalar uprising of October 1946 in which several hundred people were killed. But whatever be the severity of the antagonism, is it in keeping with the culture and tradition of Malayalees to have as a monument a sculpture of what is intended to be the severed head of this statesman who, for a period of time, presided over the destinies of the people of the state?
Mark Antony in his celebrated funeral oration said: ‘The evil that men do, lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.’ In CP’s case also the good that he did are interred with his bones, but should his evil be remembered in this fashion by an abominably vile depiction in sculpture?
Many old landmarks of Thiruvananthapuram have disappeared in recent times due to road development or city beautification works. Is it too much to hope that this monstrosity too will fade into history sometime in the future, instead of continuing to remain there, mocking at the sensibilities of passersby?