“Do you have a crown?” a boy asked Puthiya Kovilakathu Sree Manavedan Raja, the Zamorin of Calicut, during an interview in 2011 for a school magazine.
“No. My ancestors had a crown. I’m a Raja without a crown,” he replied.
That reply defined Kunhianiyan, as he was lovingly referred to. He died on Wednesday in a hospital here, barely a week after completing 100 years on March 22.
The Zamorins once ruled this port city, which had a prosperous harbour on the medieval Spice Route. Kunhali Marakkars, the admirals of the Zamorin, thwarted attempts by the Portuguese to dominate the region. But during the British period, the Zamorins were reduced to the position of landlords. But they retained their patronage of temples and mosques — and popular esteem.
A simple man
A fan of Sachin Tendulkar and a Kathakali connossieur, an Ancient British History buff, author and an avid reader of The Hindu, Manavedan Raja was a simple man who took time to listen to all, and promoted communal harmony.
Born in 1913 into the Puthiyakovilakath Thekkekettu Thavazhi at Thiruvannur in Kozhikode as the son of A.K.T.K.M. Ashtamurthi Namboothiripad and Kunhithambatty Thamburati, he attended the Zamorin’s High School, established in 1877 and situated overlooking the ancient Tali temple. Then he did his Bachelor’s in Mathematics at Loyola College in Madras (now Chennai).
Cricket at Loyola
In his biography of the Zamorin, titled The King Without A Crown, Dr. E.K. Govinda Varma Raja relates an anecdote of how the young Raja got his “first and last occasion to play cricket” at Loyola.
“Once there was a one-day match in the Loyola cricket ground between postgraduate students and the rest. As an enthusiast he went to witness the match,” runs account. At the last moment, the postgraduates’ team captain realises he is one player short. He scans the crowd and his eyes fall on the demure Raja. The captain walks up to him and asks him to field for his team. Raja agrees and the game starts. A powerful shot follows from the batsman within a few minutes. The ball zooms to Raja’s side, travelling at “chest height.”
The panicky greenhorn raises both his hands to protect his chest, and the ball neatly lands in his palms. When Raja recovers, he is flat on his back on the ground, metres away from where he stood, but the ball safely in his palms. A neat catch!
“He was crazy about cricket, never missed a match. Sachin Tendulkar was his icon. On his 100th birthday, he expressed a wish to meet Sachin. I believe the wish was conveyed to the cricketer,” recounts P.K. Krishnanunni Raja, his son-in-law.
As an officer of the Post and Telegraph Department, Raja travelled widely, and had extended postings in the eastern parts of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
He loved narrating stories of his “hair-breadth escapes” from death in Chittagong in 1942 during the Second World War. One of them was about a Japanese air raid on the Chittagong aerodrome, where he once again got the chance to lie flat on the ground as fighter planes pounded the ground.
After retirement as a Deputy General Manager with BSNL, he spent his years travelling the world till he ascended the throne in 2003.
Trustee of 40 temples
As Zamorin he had few powers, but he was trustee to 40 temples from Chemanchery to Palakkad. He had a permanent seat on the Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple’s managing committee. His family managed the Zamorin’s Guruvayurappan College, where the P.K.S Raja Centenary Research Centre, built at a cost of Rs. 1.5 crore, was scheduled to be inaugurated this month.
He is survived by daughters, Sudha Krishnanunni, a senior paediatrician at a hospital in Kozhikode; and Sarala Vasu, settled in Chennai.
As Raja’s final journey wound its way through the city on Wednesday, many of the mourners recalled him as one who hardly cared for the trappings of royalty.
For his family, the final journey was symbolic of his favourite line from Lord Byron’s poem ‘Prisoner of Schillon’: “Even I regained my freedom with a sigh.”