Dharma Raja – A King with artistic bend of mind

Dharma Raja – A King with artistic bend of mind. In the history of Travancore, Karthika Thirunal was another powerful king after Marthanda Varma. Through his reforms, he was able to ensure the prosperity of the state. He believed firmly in the values of virtue, and hence he was fondly called Dharma Raja.


After Marthanda Varma, Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma was another important ruler in the Travancore state. He assumed the power after the demise of his uncle Marthanda Varma in the year 1758. During his rule spanning 40 years, he could retain the territories annexed by his predecessor and rule the kingdom with reasonable success. Due to his strict adherence to values of virtue, he was fondly called by his subjects as Dharma Raja. During the onslaught of Tippu Sultan, many Christians and Hindus left Malabar area fearing for their lives. Dharma Raja was magnanimous enough to offer shelter to these hapless people in his kingdom.

Life Sketch

Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma was born as the son of Senior Rani of Attingal and Kerala Varma Koil Thampuran of Kilimanoor Palace. When he was 4 years old, his father died following an assassination bid by Kayamkulam Rajah. At that time, the prince was traveling with his parents from Haripad to the house of Vanjipuzha Thampuran, a local Brahmin chief. As he grew up, he ably assisted his uncle Marthanda Varma in many conquests and matured into a good military commander.

After the death of Marthanda Varma, he became the King of the Travancore state. Karthika Thirunal began the rule of the state with the help of Ayyapan Marthanda Pillai. Since the state had become militarily powerful in Kerala, many rulers in the neighboring kingdoms chose to befriend with the Karthika Thirunal Maharajah. In response to the request by the King of Cochin, he had sent an army to defeat the Zamorin of Calicut state. Leveraging the might of his state, Karthika Thirunal was able to extricate some promise from the Zamorin to leave some portion of the captured places near Cochin State to the King of Cochin. During his lifetime, he also fought with Hyderali and his son Tippu Sultan and successfully kept them away from the territories of his state.

Administrative Reforms

During his rule, Dharma Raja undertook various activities to help the people of the state to prosper and grow. Following are the contributions made by him to improve the welfare of the state.
  1. With the help of Dewan Raja Kesavadas, Karthika Thirunal was able to open communication channels to facilitate the trade and business in the state. To this effect, ports were improved and expanded to enable the export of local products to different countries. During his reign, shipbuilding was undertaken as industry to generate more employment and money.

  2. In addition to a large number of silver coins issued, the golden coins were also made to facilitate the trade and commerce in the state.

  3. The wartime taxes were levied on the subjects to pay the amount due to the British. The excess amount that was left was distributed back to the tax payers.

  4. As a part of the administrative capital expansion, Thiruvanathapuram was further developed with the building of additional infrastructure such as bridges to aid trade and commerce, and built canals to aid irrigation. Further, the shops and malls were started in the capital city to help the subjects to buy the essential items at affordable rates.

  5. In order to improve the security of the people, fortifications were strengthened and additional ammunitions were kept in all forts. These steps necessitated the setting up of weapon manufacturing facilities to meet the increase in weapons demand.

  6. Throughout the state, the existing palaces were renovated and new palaces were built.

  7. During his reign, a note of appreciation for Maharaja's religious tolerance was sent by Pope Clement XIV. Through this note, his holiness had appreciated the steps Karthika Thirunal had taken to provide the shelter and help to Christians at the time of crisis.

Playwright and Composer

Being a good playwright, he was able to set a systematic curriculum for Kathakali teaching. He was also an accomplished vocalist, violinist and a scholar in music and dance. With these qualities, he penned a number of Krithis to enrich the field of Carnatic music. To his credit, he has about 150 compositions. Maharajah pioneered in making reforms in the Kathakali framework through his compositions. It was at his insistence the unspoken rule of artists making stage entry with singara pada was introduced in Kathakali. All Kathakali compositions penned by him gained popularity on account of superiority in presentation, variety and vividness in the characters and the story.


Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma was an excellent administrator and astute military commander. He was able to successfully hold on to the territories he had inherited and provide decent administration to the subjects of his state. He was appreciated by one and all for his vision on development. In accordance with this vision, he had set up communication channels to aid the trade and commerce. He also established a ship building center to give job opportunities to the citizens of the state. Apart from these, he took steps to export local-made products to other regions of the world and brought in gold and silver coins to aid the economy of the state. Learning from the past experience, he improved the strength of the forts and installed necessary weapons in them to enhance the security of the state.

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