Sri Chithira Thirunal – A ruler with a difference
Maharaja Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma was the last ruler of the erstwhile Travancore state of Kerala. During his reign, he introduced a number of landmark reforms and started important services for the benefit of his citizens. Apart from these, he was also known for making the famous Temple Entry Proclamation to allow the people of lower caste to worship the deity in temples.
The last Maharaja of Travancore Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma ruled the erstwhile princely state of Travancore from 1931 to 1947. During his rule, he allowed the entry of low caste people into the temple premises through his famous Temple Entry Proclamation. He knew the importance of higher education. Hence, he established a local university by the name University of Travancore, which was later on retained in Kerala state as University of Kerala. In order to provide efficient administration, he roped in the services of eminent statesmen like Sir. C.P. Ramaswami Aiyer who later on became the state's Prime Minister.
Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma was born on a deepawali day in the year 1912. His parents were Ravi Varma Kochu Koyi Thampuran and Sethu Parvathi Bai. His father was the nephew of legendary painter Raja Ravi Varma and the mother was the Junior Rani of Attingal who had distant connections with the Travancore royal family. Because of this family connection, Sethu Parvathi Bai was adopted into the illustrious royal family of Travancore due to the absence of male successors in the family. It was in this scheme of things, Balarama Varma was born into. Hence after the death of his adoptive uncle Srimoolam Thirunal Ramavarma, the mantle of the administration of state fell on the young shoulders of Balarama Varma. Following the custom that was in existence at that point in time, he took the name Sri Chithira upon his coronation. Initially, he ruled the state under the regency of Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bai who was his mother's first cousin.
Being a Padmanabha Dasa, he lived a divine life and took steps to bring in reforms to improve the lives of his citizens. Through these reforms, he brought positive changes in the fields of education, healthcare, music, spirituality and democracy. He was a learned person with proficiency in different languages, including Malayalam, Sanskrit and English.
As a ruler, he would be best remembered for the prudent administrative reforms he had brought in his state. Under his rule, the Travancore state became the first model state in India. He brought a landmark legislation to abolish the death sentence in the state, a first of such legislation to be brought in India at that time. In the year 1940, he implemented the concept of universal franchise in the state to give voting powers to his citizens. For the benefit of destitute and orphans, he introduced the midday meal scheme. To cater to this novel scheme, a fund called Vanchi Poor Fund was set up. The aim of this scheme was to encourage the poor children to attend the school.
In order to boost the finances of the state, he introduced a state transport system in the year 1937. The inauguration of the public transport system was an eye opener of sort, as it became instant hit amongst the general public. He was the first ruler in India who was instrumental in setting up an aerodrome to start the air service in the state. Thinking about the future, he took steps to construct a hydroelectric dam to generate electricity from water. Accordingly, the state's first hydroelectric dam and power station were dedicated to the state people in the year 1940.
He established a university in the state to conserve the local culture, knowledge and research. The establishment of the University of Travancore triggered similar demands in other parts of the country as well. He also renovated the Padmanabhapuram palace and expanded the art gallery in Thiruvananthapuram. He was also responsible for starting of other state institutions such as Radio Station, Public Service Commission, and professional colleges in the fields of medicine and engineering. Another high point during his reign was the signing of a proclamation to allow the members of lower caste to enter the temple premises to worship the God.
The last ruler of erstwhile Travancore state, Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, was a unique and efficient ruler. During his reign, many landmark decisions were made and key infrastructure works taken up. The landmark decisions made by him include the abolition of capital punishment and the granting of a permission to allow the lower caste people to visit temples for worship purposes. The key development works undertaken by him include establishment of the Pallivasal Hydroelectric Project, Aerodrome, Radio Station, the Public Transport System, the Public Service Commission, etc. To ensure that small children attend the school, he introduced a midday meal scheme, which was financed by a state-sponsored fund by the name Vanchi Poor Fund.