SOS: Save Our Schools — A peek into the illustrious history of the century-old Fort High School

One of the century-old schools in the city that co-exists seamlessly with a heritage building is the Fort High School. A former student and former teacher of the school, poet Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer, describes the Valiyakoyikkal Kottaram on the school compound in his Essays on Travancore.

According to him, the palace came into existence around 1770, during the time of Umayamma Rani. Puthencotta Palace on the banks of Killi river (in the Attakulangara area) was dismantled and the material was used to build Valiyakoyikkal.

Kerala Varma of Kottayam, adopted by Umayamma Rani, stayed in Valiyakoyikkal, which can now be found right behind the school building. The palace also houses the Vettakkorumakan temple (Vettakkaruman is the correct word, according to Ulloor).

Around 1786, Kerala Varma was murdered in front of the palace and the palace has been considered haunted ever since. The thenga erichil vazhipadu at the Vettakkorumakan temple is related to this belief. In 1858, the palace and temple seem to have been engulfed by fire. Today, we find that the remains of the palace still sport the name board ‘Koyikkal Kottaram’.

In 1875, V. Vaidyanatha Iyer started a primary school in a thatched shed where the Sreekanteswaram Park stands now. The school soon grew into an aided high school at the present site. When the permission was given, the Government placed a condition that the school would serve as a lodge for the Nampoothiri priests who used to arrive for the grand Murajapam festival at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. Thus the school used to have holidays during the festival.

These arrangements naturally vanished soon after Independence. It also seems that the Travancore army that came to the Fort to accompany the Arattu procession also used to occupy the school for two days. Presently, the school is a test centre of the Public Services Commission and other agencies on almost all holidays.

The front part of the school building is unusually designed. Class rooms on the ground floor have one door opening into the ground and two doors opening into the verandah. The classrooms are very airy.

The upper floor has imposing structural work in wood. The building seems to have had a rear extension that was constructed around 1937. The foundation stone laid by C. V. Chandrasekharan, Director of Public Instruction (later Pro Vice-Chancellor of Travancore University), is still intact in a corner of the building. So is a photograph from those days.

The school compound was noted for the absence of any compound wall. Of late, a chain demarcates the compound, which is shared by the school and the temple. In the area behind the school, closer to the Fort wall, is the Government Fort LP School.

The founder of Fort High School, Vaidyanatha Iyer was the first headmaster too. He was succeeded by his son V. Varadaraja Iyer. Most headmasters had long tenures, examples being V. N. Narayanan Nair (27 years) and V. A. Krishna Iyer (10 years).

After short spells by N. Ananthanarayana Iyer and P. Viswanatha Iyer, the management of the school was in dispute forcing the government to take over the school. The District Collector became the manager in 1963 and continued for 12 years till the dispute was amicably settled.

In 1966, S. Mahadeva Sharma became headmaster and served for 18 long years. He still lives in the vicinity of the school and can reel out fact after fact about the school. Janardanan Nair, M. R. Malathi Amma, V. Ramachandran Nair and P. Raveendran Nair were other headmasters. Presently, the headmistress is Sasikala Devi and the school is run by Lakshmi Ammal Trust, which has as its members the descendents of the founder’s family.

In 1975, the school celebrated its centenary, with the then Governor N.N. Wanchoo and Chief Minister C. Achutha Menon partaking in the five-day celebrations. In addition to poet Ulloor, the school has on its alumni list Pattom A. Thanupillai, Panchapakesa Iyer ICS, Justice Subramanyan Potti, Justice K.S. Paripoornan, Narayana Moorthy of Indian Space Research Organisation, Dr. M. Sambasivan, neurosurgeon, Dr. M. K. Ramachandran Nair, former Vice-Chancellor and Krishna Murari, former Mayor of the city.

Papanasam Sivan, famous Carnatic composer and Tamil film music director and lyricist of yesteryear, mentions in his autobiography that he studied in the Fort School in Trivandrum during 1900s. It is yet to be verified if it is this very school or any other school inside the Fort (the Sanskrit school inside the Fort, founded in 1889, for instance).

The school, which had over 1,000 students in its heyday, now has only 300. It still has students from Beemappally and Poonthura. Its library, which has very old books, is relatively well preserved. As with many of the city’s century-old schools, the Fort School rests on its proud history, the heritage of the compound itself and a non-commensurate present.