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Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma was a multifaceted personality who ruled a small kingdom called Travancore in the southern part of Kerala. Under his rule, there was an overall improvement in Travancore state, especially in the field of music. He is a multi-linguist with an authority on several languages. He was also an honorary member of Royal Asiatic Society at the time of his death. As an able administrator, he brought out some of the groundbreaking reforms to bring transparency in administration and improve the public amenities.
Maharaja was part of Kulashekhara dynasty of Travancore state. His parents were Regent Queen Rani Lakshmi Bai, who ruled the kingdom from 1811 to 1815, and Raja Raja Varma Koyithampuran of Changanacherry Palace. The famous poet-composer Iraiyamman Thampi was his close relative. His siblings were Rukmini Bai and Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma. Since he was just seventeen years old when his mother died after giving birth to the third child, his aunt Gowri Parvathi Bai took over the reins of the kingdom. She ruled for 14 years before Swathi Thirunal was made the Maharajah of Travancore state. Initially, he was tutored by his aunt and father. Under their tutelage, he studied music and Sanskrit. As a young student, he studied different languages such as Malayalam, Sanskrit, English, Kannada, Tamil, Hindustani, Marathi and Persian. Apart from languages he had studied, he was also interested in geometry, mathematics and music.
Looking at the interest in music, his parents gave him formal training in music under the guidance of Karamana Subrahmania Bhagavathar and Karamana Padmanabha Bhagavathar. Later on he learned the music further under many reputed musicians of his time. After some time, he learned the music on his own. That was the time he started making his own compositions. As he loved music, the durbar was home to many musicians and artists.
His Contributions in Administration
Maharajah Swathi Thirunal was an able ruler under whom many reforms were brought in administration to streamline it. After his coronation, he shifted the government secretariat from Kollam to Thiruvananthapuram to reduce the unnecessary administrative expenditure and bring the day-to-day administration of the government under his personal supervision. Under his rule, the steps were taken to curb corruption in the administration, an English school was started, legal reforms were implemented, laws were modernized, the land survey was undertaken to amicably settle land disputes, and the first survey of the region was conducted to enumerate the population.
He was also responsible for the bringing the medicine in the state to offer quality healthcare services to the common people in the state. Under the supervision of the engineering department started by him, Karamana bridge was successfully constructed in Thiruvananthapuram. He is also credited with the establishment of an observatory and zoo and museum in Thiruvananthapuram. Later, under his rule, a government press was started in Kottayam to ease out the rolling out of government orders and publications for the benefit of the citizens of the state.
His Contribution in Music
At his court, he encouraged both Carnatic and Hindustani styles of music. He was not only a singer but also a composer. He has penned about 400 compositions in both Carnatic and Hindustani music. Some of the favorite compositions penned by him include "Padmanabha Pahi", "Deva Deva", "Sarasijanabha", and "Sri Ramana Vibo". Many of his works were in oblivion. Thanks to the efforts put in by artists like Dr. Omamakutty, many of his works were re-discovered and analyzed. Now these works are being selected and rendered in public concerts by more artists. Another contribution he had made in the realm of music, to be more precise in Hindustani style, was the penning of thillana, which truly describes the composer's mastery over the music.
Maharajah Swathi Thirunal was an able musician as well as an administrator. Under his rule, both music and the state prospered. He was instrumental in bringing landmark reforms like shifting of administrative capital from Kollam to Thiruvananthapuram, streamlining of the administrative machinery by curbing corruption, conduction of census, opening of an English school, conduction of land survey to weed out the land disputes etc. are well appreciated by the people. Apart from these, he also contributed a lot to the field of music. During his time, his courtyard was full of musicians and artists who contributed immensely to the field of music and art. To his credit, he has penned about 400 compositions in both Carnatic and Hindustani styles of music.