Travancore – Introduction



Travancore was a former Hindu feudal kingdom (1729-1858) and Indian Princely State (1858-1947) with its capital at Padmanabhapuram or Trivandrum ruled by the Travancore Royal Family. The Kingdom of Travancore comprised most of modern day southern Kerala, Kanyakumari district, and the southernmost parts of Tamil Nadu. The state’s flag was red with a silver, dextrally-coiled, sacred conch shell (Turbinella pyrum). Its ruler was accorded a 19-gun salute by the British Empire.

King Marthanda Varma (1729-1758) is usually credited as the “founder of Kingdom of Travancore” from the feudal kingdom of Venad. The rulers of Venad trace their relations back to the Ay kingdom and the Later Chera kingdom. Marthanda Varma crowned in his twenties, successfully suppressed the feudal lords, defeated the local kingdoms of Attingal, Kollam (Desinganad), Kayamkulam, Kottarakara (Ilayidathu Swaroopam), Pandalam, Ambalapuzha, Kottayam, Changanassery, Meenachil, Karappuram, and Alangad and fought numerous battles against the Dutch and the kingdom of Cochin with the help of the British East India Company. In the famous Battle of Colachel (1741), Marthanda Varma’s army defeated the Dutch East India Company, resulting in the complete eclipse of Dutch power in Malabar. In this battle, Marthanda Varma captured the Flemish admiral of the VOC Eustachius De Lannoy who would later modernize the Travancore army by introducing better firearms and artillery. This battle in the Travancore-Dutch War (1739–1753) is considered the earliest example of an organized Asian power overcoming European military technology and tactics; and it signaled the decline of Dutch power in India. He was also successful in defeating the Zamorin of Calicut in a battle at Purakkad. Ramayyan Dalawa, the Prime Minister (1737-1756) of Marthanda Varma, also played an important role in this consolidation and expansion. During the reign of Dharma Raja, Marthanda Varma’s successor, Tipu Sultan, the de facto ruler of Kingdom of Mysore and the son of Hyder Ali attacked Travancore as a part of Mysore invasion of Kerala. This attack was the event lead to the famous Third Anglo-Mysore War. In the time of king Balarama Varma, Velu Thampi Dalawa, the Prime Minister of Travancore, started an armed rebellion, but failed to succeed. With the next few decades Travancore became a Princely state- a nominally sovereign entity of the Empire of India which was not administered by the British, but rather by an Indian ruler, while the British Crown had suzerainty or paramountcy, completely controlled the state’s external relations and exercised a degree of indirect rule over its internal affairs.

Sree Chithira Thirunal, the last king of Travancore, made the Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936 abolishing the ban on low-caste people from entering Hindu Temples. For this won him praise from across India, most notably from Mohandas Gandhi. However, at the same time, C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, Chithira Thirunal’s Prime Minister, is remembered for the ruthless suppression of the Communist-organized Punnapra-Vayalar uprising in reaction to his speeches for the creation of an “American model” of executive in Travancore, and his controversial stand in favour of an independent Travancore within India. Historians like A Sreedhara Menon estimates that over a thousand people were killed during the Punnapra-Vayalar uprising. When United Kingdom accepted demands for a partition and announced its intention to quit India within a short period, the king of Travancore desired to declare himself independent.Supported by C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, Sree Chithira Thirunal issued a declaration of independence on June 18, 1947. As Travancore’s declaration of independence was unacceptable to India, negotiations were started with the Diwan by the Government of India. Family sources indicate that C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, himself, was not in favour of independence but only greater autonomy and that a favourable agreement had been reached between C. P. Ramaswami Iyer and the Indian representatives by July 23, 1947 and accession to the Indian Union could not be carried out only because it was pending approval by Chitira Thirunal. Nevertheless, an assassination attempt was made on C. P. on the July 25, 1947 by the Communists. He survived with multiple stab wounds and hastened the accession of Travancore state to the Indian Union soon after his recovery.Travancore and the princely state of Cochin merged on 1 July 1949 to form the Indian state of Travancore-Cochin. Later Travancore-Cochin joined with the Malabar district of the Madras State (modern day Tamil Nadu), on 1 November 1956, to form the Indian state of Kerala.

Geography : Travancore was located in present day southern Kerala. The rulers of this state were named Sree Padmanabhadasan – servant of the Deity, Padmanabha Swamy, an aspect of Lord Vishnu. The former Kingdom’s geography is defined by three natural terrains – a coastal area to the west, a midland in the centre and mountain peaks as high as 9,000 feet on the east.


(Map of Travancore in 1871)

Styles and Titles of Travancore Royal Family:

The ruling prince: Maharaja Raja Ramaraja Sri Patmanabha Dasa Vanchi Pala (personal name) Varma, Kulasekhara Kiritapati Manney Sultan Bahadur, Shamsher Jang, Maharaja of Travancore, with the style of His Highness.

The Heir Apparent: Maharajkumar (personal name) Varma, Eliya Raja of Travancore.

The Heiress: Sri Patmanabha Sevini Vanchi Dharma Vardhini Raja Rajeshwari Maharani (personal name) Bai, Senior Maharani of Travancore, with the style of Her Highness.

The Second Heiress, if mother of the ruling prince: Sri Patmanabha Sevini Vanchipala Dyumani Raj Rajeshwari Maharani Maharani (personal name) Bai, Junior Maharani of Travancore, with the style of Her Highness.

The consort of the ruling prince: (mother’s house name) Ammachi Panapilla Amma Srimathi (personal name) Pilla Kochamma.

The sons of the ruling prince: Sri (mother’s house name) (personal name) Tampi.

The daughters of the ruling prince: (mother’s house name) Ammaveetil Srimathi (personal name) Pilla Kochamma.

(All members of the ruling family receive two names, an official personal name and a name associated with the star under which they are born. The latter usually end with the suffix Tirunal)


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