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Seeking royal roots

The Cochin Royal Family Historical Society attempts to track down the 13 generations of royal family members who had a common ancestor and a rich cultural heritage.

WHAT BEGAN as a desire to study the history of the Cochin royal family, which dates back to 1715, has become a lifetime passion for urologist Dr. Kocha Varma, a royal family member residing in the U.S.

He has taken the initiative to set up the Cochin Royal Family Historical Society, which attempts to track down 13 generations of royal family members. Today, the Cochin royal family, whose motto is `honour is our family treasure', comprises more than a thousand members - each one independent and totally dissimilar.

The Cochin royal family, which rose from humble beginnings, has its roots in Chazhoor.

Attempts have been made to trace the milestones and major events of the clan in the mid-20th century during the reign of the last five maharajas -- 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 the past and reminisce about their childhood days with their great uncles.

Each of the maharajas ruled the State in his own inimitable style . 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. Some of them were skilled in visha-vaidyam (special 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 available at the State archives. It is interesting to study the lifestyle and behavioural patterns of the senior members, especially the womenfolk.

Education among the women of the royal family 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 six 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 `Goshree Vamshavali' is a unique collection of photographs of yesteryear, 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 temple.

These photographs speak volumes about the lives of the princes and the princesses of the 1800s. These include 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 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. He heads the publication department of Goshree Welfare Society, which comes out with its monthly edition of Goshree Vishesham. This magazine carries news about the royal family and its kith and kin. It also focuses on history, personalities 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.

A discussion was recently held featuring Ravi Achan (ex-Ranji Trophy player), K. P. C. 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 of the royal family in Tripunithura.

With the break-up of the joint family system and with only a minority being entitled to the privy-purse (royal allowance), the Cochin royal family members whose stronghold is in Kottakkakom, Tripunithura, lead ordinary lives. Nevertheless, reminiscences invoke the glory of the past


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