Hidden histories Metroplus

Standing guard over a regal legacy

Prince Aswathi Tirunal Marthanda Varma and Narayani Pillai Thankachi with an European lady. Photo courtesy: Sarat Sunder Rajeev   | Photo Credit: Sarat Sunder Rajeev

The Mathilakam records associated with Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple often mention the name ‘Kaithavilakam,’ linking it to ‘Thirumeni Kâval,’ the guards who protect the temple. Kaithavilakam, located to the West of the temple, was once dotted with many sheds where temple and palace guards were stationed. Though the old toponymy has been erased from popular memory, an old house still stands there, bearing the name ‘Kaithavilakam Bungalow.’

‘Kaithavilakam Bungalow’ a.k.a. ‘Bungalow Ammaveedu,’ located in Punnakkal Lane, is the home of one of the prominent families inside the Fort area. The history of Kaithavilakam Bungalow is entwined with the life of Easwara Pillai Vicharippukar, one of the greatest Kathakali exponents of Travancore. Easwara Pillai was a favourite of Uthram Tirunal Marthanda Varma, the King of Travancore. “According to popular family tradition, Easwara Pillai had married four times and one of his wives lived in the Bungalow Ammaveedu,” says Rosscote Krishna Pillai, a descendant of Easwara Pillai.

The writings of Kottarathil Sankunni provide clues to the origin of Kaithavilakam Bungalow. Sankunni mentions in the Aithihyamala that Uthram Tirunal had constructed for Pillai’s wife, a magnificent mansion, next to the Punnakkal complex.

In the later years the family acquired a strong bond with Travancore royalty, when Aswathi Tirunal Marthanda Varma, the ‘B.A. Prince’, married Narayani Pillai Thankachi from Kaithavilakam.

Aswathi Tirunal (b.1871-d.1900) was a nephew of Sree Moolam Tirunal Rama Varma, the King of Travancore, and is remembered as the first person from Travancore royal family to procure an undergraduate degree. The Prince was a passionate photographer, best known for his portrait of Swami Vivekananda taken during the latter’s visit to Travancore in 1892. A person well ahead of his times, the Prince, instead of marrying from the Ammaveedus, chose his wife from Kaithavilakam.

Narayani Pillai, the eldest daughter of Janaki Pillai, proved to be a fitting companion to the Prince. Aswati Tirunal’s passion towards Western education was shared by his wife, who was a good friend of Augusta Blandford and took private lessons from her. In a letter (dated June 26, 1891) to Narayani, Augusta wrote from Ooty of her association with the royal house and that she knew the Prince from the time when he was a baby. She enquires about the Prince’s studies and admires Narayani for the “nicely written letter.”

Following Aswathi Tirunal’s demise Narayani Pillai moved out of her royal apartment and returned to Kaithavilakam. There she lived with her younger sister Gowri Pillai Thankachi and her family. As fate has it, both Gowri and her husband passed away, leaving their young son Parameswaran in the hands of Narayani Pillai. “Narayani Pillai who had no children of her own adopted my father N. Parameswaran Thampi. He grew up under her loving care until her demise in 1923,” says Uma, daughter of Thampi. The Kaithavilakam complex once boasted of a pond, lined with neatly hewn granite blocks and a double storied Kulappura Malika. With changing times the family lost much of its sprawling grounds. However, the main residential block still stands, its grand entrance flanked by two lion statues – mute witnesses to the glorious days of the house.

(Based on an interview with Uma, K.A. Thampuran, and Rosscote Krishna Pillai)

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 5:16:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/standing-guard-over-a-regal-legacy/article7333511.ece

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