The magnificence of the famed Golden Chariot, elegantly moving through the streets of the erstwhile Travancore capital, prompted an amazed British officer to remark, “this would put the London Mayor’s chariot to shame.” The kings travelled from the ceremonial entrance of the city at Poojappura, over the Karamana bridge to East Fort. Records have struggled to describe what an incredible sight it was to behold. It was designed by an administrator hailed as a brilliant visionary, social reformer, and musician, among other titles, Sri Swati Tirunal Rama Varma. Its splendour was pronounced by the six white horses that drove the vehicle right until the time of Sree Chitra Tirunal.
The chariot that once spelt ceremonious grandeur is now under wraps; patiently awaiting renovation work at the Sree Chitra Enclave to be completed. But the under-construction appearance of the building would transform in a day as a 12-hour long ‘Akhanda Swathi Sangeethalaapanam’ will be held here, on occasion of the ‘Swathi Mahotsavam’. Remembering the Maharaja, the musical festival would be set to the backdrop of the chariot, which would be cleared off the cobwebs and blanket of dust by Sunday daybreak.
Historian Malayinkeezh Gopalakrishnan said during the planning stages of the Mahotsavam, organisers had mulled the possibility of releasing the antique from the enclave and reliving some glory of the past by parading it out on the road. “The State government did not disagree either, but when the Museum staff inspected the possibility, it was understood that a part of the wall would have had to be demolished,” said Dr. Gopalakrishnan. Other logistical hindrances rose and this plan had to be abandoned. Instead, the function is being taken to the golden chariot.
“It was very ornamentally done and some of the designs on it bear hints of western and oriental influences,” said the head of the Bio-Informatics Department at the University of Kerala, Achuthsankar S. Nair, also a scholar on Swati Tirunal’s life. Once upon a time, the chariot flaunted the skills of Koche Kunju Achari, who worked under the supervision of Veeraswamy Naidu, the man who looked after all the king’s horses.
The Thiruvananthapuram Museum and Zoo materialised in its present form years after the times of Swati Tirunal, but he did harbour such ideas as he kept a menagerie of sorts and was immensely curious of the habits and histories of natives from other lands. Also, the Napier Museum houses a pretty musical box, which historians suspect belonged to Swati Tirunal. The wooden box has four ragas written on it and was procured from Switzerland, evident from the art-work in it that features the Swiss flag.