He is one of India’s last remaining Kings.
Kovilmala Raja Mannan of the Mannan tribe living in parts of Idukki district and Kothamangalam still rules over 46 kudis (villages) of the community.
The current King Raja Raman Mannan ascended the throne last year after his uncle passed away. “I was always told that I would be King one day, but there was no special training before taking on the title. It has come to me through our traditions, which we cherish and hold on to,” says Raja Mannan. The young King, dressed in a white shirt and mundu with the crown and sash of the ruler, weighs his words carefully when he speaks, for he represents all his people too.
The traditions of the Mannan people are passed on through the generations by songs and stories. They have their own language which their children still pick up at home along with other languages they learn at school. The King and his ministers also pronounce punishments for small crimes committed within the community.
The 28-year-old Raja Mannan of the hill tribe is no stranger to Kochi. Raja Raman is an economics graduate from Maharaja’s College in the city and worked in the Forest Department before he ascended the throne. He was in the city on Saturday in connection with a discussion on the Madhav Gadgil Committee’s report on the Western Ghats ecology.
The ruler’s main concern is the development of his people, some of whom still live in backward conditions with little access to quality modern medicine or education. The tiff between environment and development concerns is a daily struggle for the Mannan tribe. “Our tribe has been protecting the forests for centuries. Nobody understands the need to conserve the forests better than we do. But our people cannot be left behind and the community has to move forward. We need development that also keeps in mind the conservation of the environment,” he says.
The King’s powers have eroded greatly as the Mannan tribe began coming into the mainstream and following the democratically-elected government of the rest of the country.
For his people, however, the Kovilmala Raja is an authority whose advice they seek on important issues. The King works together with democratic institutions to ensure the welfare of his people. To the outside world, the King is the voice of the people of a community that largely remains within its borders.