Raja Kesavadas, though he made a lasting impression in erstwhile Travancore history, is mostly remembered through the works of C.V. Raman Pillai. In fact, C.V. Raman Pillai had spent his youthful years under the protection of Nankakoikkal Kesavan Thampi (Manager of Ayilyam Tirunal’s palace), the great-grandson of the Dewan. Kesavan Thampi’s wife Nangamma Pillai Thankachi was a grandniece of the Dewan from the famed Thekkae Putten Veedu in Kalkkurichi, near Thuckalay, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu.
Raja Kesavadas, during his heyday, had constructed separate houses for his step-siblings. His mother and his youngest sister Chempakakutti Thankachi resided in Kunnathoor. Kali Pillai Thankachi, the eldest amongst the female siblings, was based at Devicode. Another sister, Neelamma Pillai Thankachi, was the one who resided at Kalkkurichi.
Stories relating to the unfortunate circumstances that led to the demise of the Dewan, followed by the beheading of his step-brother and nephew, thrive in the oral traditions that circulate amongst the family members. “Soon after the tragic turn of events, soldiers came to pillage the ancestral house,” recalls Govindan S. Thampi, a former officer of the Indian Revenue Service, current patriarch of the Kalkkurichi branch. “Our ancestors threw all the valuables into a neerazhi (well), located in the residential complex. But the soldiers learned the secret and took away the valuables.”
The old well, an abundant reservoir of crystal-clear water, can still be seen in the residential complex. Unfortunately, the thai veedu (core residence) did not survive the ravages of time. Where a grand ettukettu (double courtyard house) once stood, one finds the remnants of a few laterite walls. The house that was once known for its spacious interiors and intricate carvings is replaced by a small brick structure.
Even though the descendants of the Dewan lost most of their valuable assets and landed properties, later records prove that the royal family did treat them with respect. In 1827 A.D., when a niece and a nephew of the Dewan died, the funeral expense was met from the royal treasury. With the shifting of the royal capital from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram, many members of the family also relocated to the new royal abode.
“When the extended family flourished in Thiruvananthapuram, the ancestral house fell into ruins. Today, only the thekkath (place of worship), the padippura , and the pond remains as tangible connections to the past,” Thampi recalls.
The author is a conservation architect and history buff