Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma, 89, the senior-most member of Travancore's erstwhile ruling family, was barely 15 when the historic Temple Entry Proclamation was made by the Maharaja. However, he vividly remembers the evening of November 12, 1936, when citizens of Travancore thronged the Kowdiar Palace in the heart of Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) in their thousands. In an interaction with The Hindu ahead of the occasion of the platinum jubilee of the Proclamation, Uthradom Tirunal speaks of how Travancore society wholeheartedly felicitated the wisdom and farsightedness of their king. Excerpts:
On the Temple Entry Proclamation and its relevance today:
Why should we celebrate the jubilee of the Temple Entry Proclamation? For the same reason we celebrate Independence Day year after year. Independence from the British was something on the physical and mental planes. The Proclamation was the greatest act of moral freedom. The whole of Travancore welcomed the proclamation and supported the decision of the Maharaja. They saw his wisdom and farsightedness. They knew that what he did was for their good and that intrinsically it was the right thing to do. In their hearts, even the orthodoxy knew that keeping people away from a temple because of their caste was wrong. Which is why even the orthodoxy came out in support of Temple Entry. In one sense, the king was running a big risk. What if the ecclesiastical section had said they would no longer do pujas because of Temple Entry, what if they had refused to participate in any manner in temple rituals? "The king would have been finished." But they did not do that. They also understood that what the king was doing was ultimately for the good.
That evening after the Proclamation was made:
On the evening of November 12, 1936, it was announced that the people could see the king. The gates of the Kowdiar palace were thrown open, the guards withdrew and the people just kept pouring in. "The palace grounds resembled a pin cushion… only heads." There was palpable anticipation in the air.
On the moral pressure exerted by Gandhiji:
It is true that Gandhiji, when he came to Travancore for the Vaikom Satyagraha, met the then regent Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi and asked her whether it was not atrocious that when dogs and cattle can walk the roads around temples, some men cannot? The Maharani replied that it was wrong and most unfortunate. She added that she was just a regent and that Gandhiji should pose the question to Chithira Tirunal, the future king, who was then but a boy of 12.
When Gandhiji asked Chithira Tirunal whether he would throw open temples to all people, the king-in-waiting of Travancore replied in the affirmative without any hesitation. So, the thought that all men are equal and that God is the same for everyone was already there in the mind of young Chithira Tirunal. His mother fully supported this line of thinking. Moreover, his faith in his religion was very strong. In all this he was following the finest traditions of his ancestors who were Manu Vamshis.
On the role of Dewan C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar:
Sir C.P. was a very able administrator. If the courage of the king was bolstered by his mother, it was CP's skills that ironed out all the practical difficulties before the Proclamation.
CP foresaw all the objections that could be raised against Temple Entry and dealt with them one by one. He was also able to ensure that the actual declaration was known beforehand to only very few people. To the people of Travancore it came, therefore, as a momentous announcement.
There is a famous photograph of Gandhiji at the Military Parade Ground in Trivandrum, when he addressed a large crowd subsequent to the Proclamation. In that speech he pointed out that while people called him the ‘Mahatma', it was the king of Travancore who should actually be called one. "This shows that if a man of leadership does something, the people would follow suit."