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Seeking royal roots

The Cochin royal family members have come together to dig into history and unearth their roots. Cochin Royal Family Historical Society, says VANAJA VARMA, attempts to track down the 13 generations of members who had a common ancestor and a rich heritage.

IT IS natural for people to develop a curiosity to know about our past at some stage of life. Over a period of time, the future becomes the present, the present merges into the past and the past becomes history. Thus we live in a continuum. What began as a desire to study the history of Cochin royal family, the roots of which date back to 1715, has become the lifetime passion of urologist Dr. Kocha Varma, a royal family member residing in the U.S. He is spearheading a movement under the name, Cochin Royal Family Historical Society, that attempts to track down the 13 generations of royal family members who had a common ancestor and a rich cultural heritage, with the objective of preserving it for posterity. Today the Cochin royal family whose motto is `honour is our family treasure' comprises over a thousand members - each one independent and totally dissimilar.

The Cochin royal family which rose from humble beginnings, with its roots in Chazhoor, gradually proliferated and branched out to different parts of the State one of the oldest surviving royal clan in the world with an accurate genealogy and a unique tradition.

Attempts have been made to trace the milestones and major events that occurred in the royal clan in the mid-twentieth century during the reign of the last five maharajas viz. Chowwara Theeppetta Thampuran, Midukkan Thampuran, Ravi Varma Thampuran, Kerala Varma Thampuran (Aikya Keralam Thampuran) and Parikshit Thampuran.

Some of the direct descendants of these valia thampurans - Prof. Chandravali Thampuran, Prof. Vrindadevi Thampuran and others have been contributing to the Cochin Royal Family Historical Society by researching into the family history. It is a matter of pride for them to delve into their past and reminisce their childhood days with their great uncles. They carry fresh memories of those golden days when they spent many a joyous moment in the vast expanse of the gardens and orchards around the Hill Palace, the administrative centre of the maharajas.

Each of the maharajas ruled the State in his own inimitable style - modest yet elegant, simple yet dignified. Says Prof. Vrindadevi Thampuran, who is a niece of the last maharaja, Parikshit Thampuran, "As children, we were taught to consider our uncles as equivalent to God. We held them in awe. To us they were both loving and respectable. The valia thampurans were scholarly, being well versed in Sanskrit and English, as well as generous and unassuming. Some of them were skilled in visha-vaidyam (a specialised form of treatment for snakebite.)

A distinctive feature of the royal family is its matriarchal system. In those days the women got married to Namboodiris, and their sons, by seniority became heir to the throne. It was mandatory for them to stay at the palaces and look after the wealth and property. On the other hand, the maharajas and the other thampurans got married to Nair ladies from affluent families. Those times have changed. The present trend is to marry within the Kshatriya caste.

We get glimpses of various aspects of Cochin royalty from written records, which are available at the State archives. It is interesting to study the life style and behaviour patterns and employment among the senior members, especially the women-folk, and such other issues that existed in the bygone era.

Education among the females was to play a decisive role in the progress and gradual evolution of the clan, leading up to its relatively privileged position in the present society. There are at least half a dozen ladies at present, well into their seventies, who have retired as senior teachers and headmistresses from government schools. The royalty was exposed to formal education only after 1900. Until then, the princes and the princesses underwent an exclusively private tutorship at their residential palaces.

Rameshan Thampuran provided new insights into the royal lineage when he brought out the "Goshree Vamshavali" - a genealogy of the Cochin royal family tree with the four main thavazhis covering all the kovilakams.

Providing a visual impact to the Goshree Vamshavali is a unique collection of yester-year photographs, the brainchild of Prof. Ramakumaran Thampuran whose stupendous task in this field finally bore fruit in the form of a photo-exhibition. It was featured at the thattumaalika recently, the exclusive pavilion near the Poornatrayeesha .

Scenes depicting royalty, these silent relics speak volumes about the life of the princes and the princesses in the 1800's. The Hill Palace, an erudite durbar (Panditha Sadassu) in progress, a group of young thampurans during their deeksha (religious adherence to rituals) and other memoirs from the life of the members whose customs and culture invariably centred around the main temple with its presiding deity as Santhanagopalamoorthy.

Seeri Ravi Varma, a senior member, is collaborating in the joint effort to preserve the heritage for posterity. He heads the publication department of Goshree Welfare Society that comes out with its monthly edition of "Goshree Vishesham". This private magazine carries the current affairs within the royal family and its kith and kin. Besides it also contains information on history, personality and culture.

A characteristic of the valia thampurans was their strict adherence to a simple and religious way of life, shunning all luxury and indulgence. This is followed even to this day. The maharajas were honest noble souls who made their decisions in all faith, keeping in mind the best interests of the general public. Today, major decisions are taken by the Palace Administration Board and the Valiamma Thampuran Kovilakam Trust after consultation with the present Valia Thampuran (Rama Varma Kochunni Thampuran) and Valiamma Thampuran (Kunjhipillakkutty Thampuran) respectively.

An introspection into Cochin royal family from outside brings to light myths, legends and impressions of the princely regime as well as their relevance in today's society. Some of these points were focussed upon during a panel discussion by eminent people that included Ravi Achan (ex-Ranji Trophy player), KPC Anujan Bhattathirippad and Dr. Ranjith Grover, who refreshed their memories of the royal past at a symposium on Cochin Royal Family Historical Society at Kalikkotta palace, the venue for religious and cultural activities concerning the royal family in Tripunithura. With the joint family system rapidly becoming obsolete and with only a minority being entitled to the privy-purse (royal allowance), the Cochin royal family members whose stronghold is in Kottakkakom, Tripunithura, may be leading an ordinary life, cherishing middleclass values. Nevertheless, reminiscences of a memorable past and royal traits are passed on... .

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