College with a royal past

Lalindloch, the summer retreat of Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, now the administrative centre of the College of Agriculture, Vellayani. Photo: S. Gopakumar   | Photo Credit: S.GOPAKUMAR

The old and the new find common ground on multiple levels at the College of Agriculture, Vellayani, more so than many other academic institution in the city, perhaps. A drive (it’s too much for a walk) around the verdant 252-hectare campus that’s bordered on three sides by placid Vellayani lake, opens up the contrasts.

The new is the ground-breaking work that the college, which comes under the Kerala Agriculture University (KAU) and which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this academic year, has done/is doing to preserve, protect and develop agriculture and age-old agrarian practices in the state.

Then, there’s the old; a royal heritage. The college stands on what was a summer retreat of the last Queen of erstwhile Travancore, Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi a.k.a. the Regent Maharani (1895 – 1985).

“Constructed circa.1930, it was her favourite residence. She named the main building ‘Lalindloch’ after her daughters, Lalithamba Bayi and Indira Bayi. Loch, meanwhile, is Scottish for lake, tagged on to the name because of the palace’s proximity to the fresh water lake,” says Manu Pillai, author of The Ivory Throne, a seminal biography on the Maharani.

Ever since its inception in May 1955, as part of the research wing of the (then) Travancore University and Department of Agriculture, the College of Agriculture, Vellayani, has become a storehouse of knowledge on all things agriculture. “The college’s cutting-edge research and development techniques now resonate globally. It has gone a long way in reducing food scarcity in the state; it has standardised technology for agriculture and contributed to the overall prosperity of the state,” says Stephen Devanesan, Dean (Agriculture), KAU, sitting in his airy office inside the main building.

“Lalindloch was where the Maharani’s daughters lived and later her grandchildren, while the Regent’s residence was to the side and her husband lived in a building behind the large granite mandapam that’s opposite the main building,” says Manu.

Lalindloch, now the administrative centre of the college, is as impressive as it would have been in the Maharani’s time, with its circular wings, wide, sun-dappled verandas and airy rooms, imposing wooden staircases, polished Italian mosaic flooring, ornate porches, carved ceiling brackets, and the likes, and a stunning view of the lake and Mookkunnimala in the distance from the terrace.

The royal insignia is still to be found on a wall on the first floor, as Dr. Devanesan points out.

“On the first floor there is a hall with a spiral staircase with decorative banisters leading to the second floor. All the rooms on one side were for one daughter and her children and the other side was for the younger daughter. “The mandapam was where guests were received. The Maharani used to serve coconut water to guests when she came there at 4 p.m. before her walk,” says Manu.

Today, the mandapam is where students like to hangout and maybe drink Neera, a drink made of unfermented palm nectar extracted from trees grown on campus, using technology developed by KAU.

In the Maharani’s time, surrounding Lalindloch, were personally designed rose gardens and an arbour, now long gone, save for a few well-maintained patches of lawn and shrubbery. The colourful three-tiered fountain, once the centrepiece of the garden, remains intact and it even works! “The palace was legally the share of Lalithamba Bayi. The Maharani donated her library there to the college when it was sold to the government. It is said that there was an ivory model of the whole palace compound there. Wonder where that has gone…” ponders Manu.

Some of the buildings to the side of Lalindloch, in the interiors of the campus, such as the royal kitchen (now the college canteen), those that now house the Department of Plantation Crops and Spices and the Home Science department, the physical education professor’s bungalow (formerly, the palace karyasthan’s home) and the like also retain much of their original features. Not all of them are as well preserved as Lalindloch but stand tall, nonetheless.

Elsewhere around the campus, though, there are signs of ruin. What would have been outhouses and servants’ quarters and the like have fallen down, ambushed by nature, with just a portion of the compound wall or a doorframe as the only reminder of the past. But you tend to forget all that as you go deep into the campus, up and down hills. There is much see – state-of-art labs, polyhouses, fields and farms dotted across on campus (and offshoot centres in other parts of the city), from where, for instance, some 42 ‘improved’ varieties of seeds of cash and food crops, have been developed and released to farmers across the state. In fact, quite a few of these varieties can be bought at the college’s plant nursery beside the entrance gate or at its sales counter nearby.

Similarly, each turn is a novelty. There’s a working animal husbandry farm, with cows, goats, stud bulls, pigs and poultry; a crop museum, where just about every kind of crop grown in India is farmed; several nurseries that grow everything from red amaranthus to vermicompost, and a spectacular landscaped lakeside with lotus ponds, affectionately called ‘Kochu Kovalam’ by the campus’ many permanent residents. A paradise is this campus.

Walk with history

As part of its outreach activities to celebrate its golden jubilee, the college, in association with Heritage Walk Trivandrum, hosts a heritage walk on campus on March 20.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 4:24:21 AM |

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