History & Culture

The growing tree of life

Rameshan Thampuran with the Cochin Family Tree that he created. Photo: H. Vibhu   | Photo Credit: H. Vibhu

Genealogy is a personalised form of history. It survives when it is passed from generation to generation either orally or in writing. This link to one’s ancestry throws light on so many factors, historical and socio-cultural. More than all this it fulfils one’s sense of belonging.

No wonder the 50 feet long and 1.5 feet wide family tree of the erstwhile Cochin Royal Family has evoked keen interest right from the day it was pasted on the walls of the royal gallery of the Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple, Tripunithura.

“Most of the members of the royal family come to Tripunithura during the festival. So, this was the right time to exhibit it,” says Rameshan Thampuran who since 1987 has been at this arduous job of recording the origin, growth and evolution of the family. The story of this family flows through several centuries. But it has not been a continuous one. There have been breaks and adoptions have been resorted to at various points in time to prevent the family from becoming extinct.

The first adoption took place in 1689 when six males and four females from Chazhiyoor were adopted. But despite this the family faced extinction. The next adoption, took place in 1715. Rameshan’s family tree begins here. “This was incidentally the last adoption. Maharaja Rama Varma (1701-1721) brought into the family two males and one female. It was from this woman, Ikkavu Thampuran that the great tree of what must be the largest matrilineal royal family in the world, flourished,” informs Rameshan who works with the Kerala State Electricity Board.

The comprehensive chart records that the family is divided into four main branches or thavazhis. There are 853 living members (472 male and 381 female) that is spread out into 45 palaces in Tripunithura.

Designed systematically with eldest to the youngest members of the family arranged from left to right of the drawing, the chart is updated till October 2012. “The latest addition to the family, a baby girl, Manaswini, finds a place on the tree.”

Rameshan has used a specific colour scheme to mark the members and thavazhis. The names of the deceased male members have been marked in red and the females in brown, those alive in dark blue and light blue respectively. The family branches and palaces are also demarcated in four different colours than makes navigation easy.

Some of Rameshan’s findings during the course of these painstaking years of work offers new arguments against some of the observations made by earlier historians. For instance, according to noted historian, Puthezhathu Raman Menon, in his Sakthan Thampuran, the name of Sakthan Thampuran’s mother has been referred to as Ambika Thampuran. “The formal names given to females were only Amba and Subhadra. And for males it was Rama Varma, Kerala Varma and Ravi Varma.”

For Rameshan all these years of tracing the lineage of the Cochin Royal Family was not an exercise in charting out a list of the people who walked before him. There were points in this research when he felt that it was much more than just filling out the blanks in a huge tree.

And for the members it has been an exciting journey through generations, finding their long lost ancestors, finding branches and names that they never knew existed, and forging a link with history.

Of names…

Interestingly many of the male members were more popular by their nicknames or informal ones than their originals. So we have names like Warden, Collector, Secretary, others known by their initials like PK, RV, KKR, PR etc and some relating to incidents like Anakuthi, Aikyakeralam and others. “I have listed names of some of those members who died very young. And many who saw this expressed doubts if such members existed. Even they were not aware of their close relatives,” says Rameshan Thampuran.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 10:04:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/the-growing-tree-of-life/article4095152.ece

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