Dharma Raja Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma’s Gift

Dharma Raja Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma’s Gift

The first episode narrating a profound incident that occurred in the childhood days of Travancore king Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma

Preface

THE CRYPT HOUSING the profound cultural legacy of some  of our enlightened Princely States after they came under British control, sadly remains unopened. If the sun does finally shine on this legacy, it will reveal a heritage that has all the makings of a new epoch.

The East India Company and later, the British Crown retained its suzerainty over our Samsthānams (Princely or Native States) using a simple device: they disarmed our States by disenfranchising their armies. Over time, a majority of our Samsthānams acquiesced meekly or grudgingly. Their successive generations debased themselves even further. They imitated the British ways and many kings and princes became thoroughly Europeanised. While some prided over their mastery of “table manners” and liquor collections, others acquired European mistresses and flaunted them… it was the ultimate cultural orgasm… we are powerless to overpower you militarily, but then, wars are not always fought between armies… they’re also fought in the bedroom and the inevitable outcome is the same in both cases: profuse sweating. 

In this Princely climate of willing servility, only a handful of Samsthānams distinguished themselves like the proverbial lotus blooming in muck. They stood out like beacons of virtue and guardians of the Sanatana civilisational and cultural continuity. They understood the strengths and follies of both the Indian monarchial system and the new forms of Government that the British had imposed on India. They harmonised the best of the East and the West. Beginning in the third quarter of the 19th century, the Princely States of Mysore, Baroda, Bikaner, and Travancore gravelled an extraordinary trail of all-round Renaissance in their dominions for roughly the next century. In their own time, they were renowned as Model States. These States practically demonstrated that absence of military power and foreign rule were no deterrents for achieving miracles. 

Sadly, the sort of “democracy” that we unthinkingly adopted after 1947 actually undid all the gains these States had earned.

Of these States, Travancore is the subject of this essay. 

The Neglected Cultural Legacy of Travancore

FOR VARIOUS REASONS, the substantial and prized contribution of Travancore to the Sanatana cultural repository continues to remain neglected. 

A comparatively recent Samsthānam, it rose to glory first under the legendary Martanda Varma (1729-58) who battered the Dutch East India Company and decimated the dreaded cabal of the Ettuveetil Pillamars (literally, Nobles from Eight Houses) and the Ettara Yogam (Council of Eight and a Half) and built a modest empire from scratch. The full credit for transforming the  Anantapadmanābhasvāmi Temple in Thiruvananthapuram to the exalted status it enjoys today goes to Martanda Varma. And like every true Hindu king, he donated his whole kingdom to Śrī Anantapadmanābha and ruled as Śrī padmanābha-dāsa, akin to how Rajaraja Chola called himself Śivapāda-śēkara in honour of Br̥hadīśvara. 

Martanda Varma’s befitting successor was his nephew, “Dharma Raja” Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma or Rama Varma I.  Rama Varma earned the epithet “Dharma Raja” on the merit of his steadfast adherence to our Dharmasastras. He was fabled both for his sense of justice and its delivery. The greatest service that he performed for the Sanatana community was giving refuge to thousands of Hindus and Christians fleeing Malabar during Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan’s savage Jihadist incursions. The Hindus embraced Rama Varma as a Dharma Raja. Christians built churches to convert the heathens of Travancore. 

If Martanda Varma was the progenitor and builder of the contemporary Travancore State which attained its zenith under him, Rama Varma elevated it to eminence. 

However, both Martanda Varma and Rama Varma had turbulent and grim childhoods.  

When Rama Varma was born in 1724, his uncle Martanda Varma, was an eighteen-year old teenager battling the Ettuveetil Pillamars, organising his forces, hiding in deadly jungles, going hungry, thirsty and sleepless for days, and desperately trying to survive… and today, we have forty-year old adolescents who want “safe spaces” in opulent universities and lavish offices.

The Childhood of Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma

When Rama Varma was born in 1724, his uncle Martanda Varma, was an eighteen-year old teenager battling the Ettuveetil Pillamars, organising his forces, hiding in deadly jungles, going hungry, thirsty and sleepless for days, and desperately trying to survive… and today, we have forty-year old adolescents who want “safe spaces” in opulent universities and lavish offices.

Even as the Ettuveetil Pillamars were hunting down Martanda Varma from place to place, the latter evaded them by fleeing with his family from place to place. During one such flight, Martanda Varma and his family took shelter at the site where the contemporary Karimpali Palace stands in the neighbourhood of the Kartikapally village. It was also where Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma was born under the Kr̥ttikā Star in 1724. Hence he was given the eponymous name, Karthika (a synonym for Sri Subrahmanya or Skanda)… Karthika Thirunal born under the Kr̥ttikā Star in the Kartikapally village. It is not coincidental that Haripad (the municipality under which Kartikapally village now falls) is known as the Kerala Palani or Dakshina Palani owing to the Haripad Sree Subrahmanya Swamy temple, the Guardian Deity of the town.  

An early 20th Century story describes the circumstances of the birth of Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma with great feeling: “And here, in obscurity, in exile, in distress, was born one of the most illustrious, if not the most illustrious, rulers of Travancore.”

Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma I spent his entire boyhood at Kartikapally until his uncle could consolidate his power and stamp his authority as a Raja. It was a straightforward matter of the boy’s safety and survival. 

Even after he had turned nine, Karthika Thirunal had still not become an Upanīta — i.e., his Upanayana had not yet been performed.  

Early one morning, the boy climbed down the steps of the Ghat leading to the sacred waters of the Kalyani in Karimpalli to have his customary bath. Seconds later, he spotted an old Vaidika approaching the water. The boy was instantly captivated by the Vaidika… old age had not dimmed the Tejas (resplendence) radiating from his face. 

What happened next will be narrated in the forthcoming episode. 

To be continued   

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