Recently the Travancore Royal family and the Padmanabha swami Temple are very much in the news throughout the country and even abroad because of the treasure 'unearthed' from the cellars of the temple and the related issues. This great temple originally belonged to the family of the Maharajas of Travancore who ruled the State for several years.
Present Kerala State came into existence in 1956 when the Government of India decided to divide the country into different States based on respective regional languages. Till then the Malayalam speaking people were distributed in three regions, viz., Travancore, Kochi and Malabar (a district in erstwhile Madras State). (Earlier in 1949 Travancore and Kochi had amalgamated to form Thiru kochi). Of course, Travancore lost some of its portions in the southern side where the majority were Tamil speaking people. Similarly certain parts of north Malabar were attached to the Karnataka State, because of language issue.
Formation of Travancore State
Venad was a small kingdom in the southern part of India. It was ruled by Atikal (Thiruvatikal). Known history gives the first Thiruvatikal as Ayyan Atikal. It is believed that this Atikal initiated the starting of Kolla Varsha (825 AD), also known as Malayalam year (the present Malayalam year is 1189, the first of month Chingam [August – September] is the new year day). Vallabhan Kotha, Govardhna Marthandan and Ramar Thiruvatikal are other known rulers of that kingdom. Continuous history of this dynasty is not available.
The kingdom got divided into smaller kingdoms due to internal problems and external interference. This continued almost until Marthanda Varma (1706 – 1758) established Thiruvithancoor (Travancore)in 1729. The name was derived from Thiruvithancode, the Head quarters of the State (earlier to the formation of Travancore State it was known as Thripapur Swaroopam and its head quarters was Thiruvithancode). Umayamma Rani of Venad had done all the foundation works earlier for the formation of this kingdom from whom Marthanda Varma took over the power. He had to fight and defeat families of Ettuveettil Pillai, Thampi, etc. to become the ruler of the state. He defeated the rulers of neighbouring kingdoms which included Desinganadu (Kollam), Kayamkulam, Ambalappuzha, Panthalam, Thekkumkoor, Vatakkumkoor, etc..Thus the kingdom of Travancore got enlarged.
It was during Marthanda Varma's period the Dutch started establishing their supremacy. In the year 1741 Marthanda Varma fought against the Dutch at Kolachal and defeated them. This defeat actually was a major setback for the Dutch and they had to content with their activities in Kochi area alone.
Later in 1750 Marthanda Varma, who was an ardent believer of Sri Padmanabha Swami, dedicated the kingdom and whole property to Lord Pdmanabha Swami (this dedication is generally referred as 'Thrippatithanam'). Only as a servant (Padmanabha dasan) or representative of the Lord he continued to rule the kingdom. (In 1685 Sri Padmanabha Swami Temple got destroyed due to a very large fire. It was Marthanda Varma who renovated the temple).
As a King he paid attention to the development of arts and literature. Several known personalities, such as Ramapurath Varier, Kunchan Nambiar, etc. adorned his Palace.
After the death of Marthanda Varma in 1758 Karthika thirunal Ramavarma, generally known as Dharma Raja, became the King. He further expanded the limits of the kingdom and as a result Kochi became the northern border of Travancore. Dharma Raja helped Kochi to fight the Samoothiri of Kozhikode, which again resulted in the addition of Alangad and Paravur to Travancore. At Vizhinjam he allowed the English to establish a centre. Tipusultan attacked Travancore during the period of Dharma Raja. Since the British army attacked Mysore almost during the same period, Tipusultan had to withdraw from Travancore. A flood in the river Periyar also forced Tipusultan to withdraw.
It was during the regime of Dharma Raja several administrative reforms, including various progressive welfare measures to the people, were introduced which guided his successors. A Dewan called Kesava Pillai, who assisted Dharma Raja in ruling, is well known in the history of Travancore for his able administration and policies which led to the overall development of the State.
Velu Thampy Dalava's days
In 1798 when Dharma Raja died Balarama Varma became the king. He was not an able administrator and could not command. Hence some of his close advisers mis-led him according to their wishes. Administration of the State was collapsed and people started to organise against this. Chirayinkeezhu Chembakaraman Pillai and Thalakkulath Velu Thampy came out as the leaders of this movement. The struggle was successful and these two leaders were given high positions in the administration (Valiya Sarvadhi karyakkar and Mulaku madisseelakkar, respectively. These positions were almost equivalent to Prime Minister and Finance Minister). As the official in charge of finance Velu Thampy worked hard to improve the economic condition of the astate. He could double the State's income within one year.
In 1800 Velu Thampy was made the Dalawa (Dewan) with the consent of the British Resident (Earl Macaulay). He initiated over all development of the State. A scientific land reform scheme was introduced by him. He was not happy with the British presence and the Resident's interference in State's affairs. Through a pronouncement (generally known as Kundara Vilambaram) he inspired the people to move against the foreign forces. Meanwhile the king Balarama Varma also felt unhappy about some of the actions of Velu Thampy. Since both the King and British regime started hunting for Thampy, he had to hide in a remote area. But his hiding place was located by the British army and they moved to get hold of him. Thampy did not want to be caught by them. So he committed suicide at the hiding place and the British army had to return with his dead body.
King Balarama Varma was succeeded by Rani Gouri Lakshmi Bhai (1810 – 1814) and later by Rani Gouri Parvathy Bhai (1814 – 1829). During the regime of Gouri Parvathy Bhai various developments were made in the field of agriculture, commerce and education. Most of the temples were under private control and corruption and malpractices were prevalent throughout. Rani decided to take over the administration of all such temples.
Swathy Thirunal and his successors
It was the famous Swathy Thirunal Rama Varma (1829 – 1846) who succeeded Rani Gouri Parvathy Bhai. Himself an artist and a littérateur Swathy Thirunal encouraged all forms of arts and literature. His name is very familiar among the lovers of Classical music. Several keerthanas (devotional songs) are there written and directed by him.
After Swathy Thirunal's regime, it was Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma (1846 – 1860) who took up the reign of power. After his period respectively Ayiliam Thirunal Rama Varma (1860 – 1880), Vishakham Thirunal Rama varma (1880 – 1885), Sreemoolam Thirunal Rama varma (1885 – 1924), Rani Sethulakshmi Bhai (Regent) (1924 – 1931), Sree Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama varma (1931 – 1949).
It was Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the last Raja, who created two law making bodies, Sreemoolam Assembly and Sree Chithira State Council. Temple entry declaration (1936) was one of his major historical contributions. Another notable contribution was the starting of Thiruvithancore University (1937), which was renamed as Kerala University after the formation of Kerala State in 1956. It was Sir. C.P. Ramaswami Iyer who worked as Dewan during his period.
Formation of Thiruvitnacore State Congress, the campaign for Responsible Government, the Vayalar-Punnapra struggle and the amalgamation of Thiruvithancore and Kochi States (1949) are other major happenings during Sri Chithira Thirunal's regime. Later when Government of India took the initiative to bring all the regional kingdoms under the regime of the independent India, Thiru-Kochi also became part of it.
Thus the importance of Thiruvithancore Kingdom lost as a ruling kingdom. The Family and the palace are still there at Kawdiar in Thiruvananthapuram.