Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma: The Last King of Travancore

Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma

 Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma 

(1912-1991)

Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma was the last maharaja to rule the princely state of Travancore.  

He was a visionary king who governed Travancore for 18 years and stunned the nation when he made the Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936 which made it possible for all the untouchables of Hinduism to enter the temple premises. Mahatma Gandhi himself came to Travancore to announce it.

His reign witnessed several reforms which laid the foundation for the development of Kerala, and his foresightedness, clear judgment, and great love for humanity made him the most popular ruler of Kerala.

Basic Facts

  • Reign – March 7, 1931- July 1, 1949.
  • Last ruling Maharaja of the Princely State of Travancore.
  • First & only Rajpramukh of the Travancore-Cochin Union (July 1, 1949 - October 31, 1956).
  • Birth – November 7, 1912.
  • Parents – 
    • Father – Ravi Varma Kochu Koil Thampuran of Kilimanoor
    • Mother – Sethu Parvathi Bayi 
  • Epithets – Architect of Modern Kerala, Architect of Modern Education in Travancore, Father of Industrialization in Travancore.
  • First Ruler in Asia to Abolish Capital Punishment.
  • First Indian Ruler to declare adult suffrage (1944).
  • First King of Travancore to undertake a sea voyage to a foreign country.
  • First ruler of Kerala to visit the Pope.
  • Only Muslim Diwan in Travancore, Muhammad Habeebulla.
  • The ruler who started industrialization in Travancore.
  • The ruler who suppressed Punnapra Vayalar revolt (1946).
  • The Temple Entry Proclamation (1936).
  • Established – 
    • University of Travancore (now the University of Kerala,  Nov. 1, 1937),
    • Punalor Plywood Factory,
    • Kundara Ceramic Factory,
    • Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore (FACT, Eloor),
    • Pallivasal Hydro-electric Project (1940),
    • Travancore Public Transport Department (now Kerala State Road Transport Corporation; 1938),
    • Travancore Public Service Commission (1936),
    • Thiruvananthapuram International Airport,
    • Travancore Land Mortage Bank (1932).
  • Death – July 20, 1991.

Early Life

Balarama Varma was born as the eldest son of Sethu Parvathi Bayi and Ravi Varma Kochu Koil Thampuran of Kilimanoor on November 7, a Deepavali day in 1912.

Sree Chithira Thirunal

From early on, the prince excelled in his academics and was very fluent in Malayalam, Sanskrit, and English. He studied practical administration for 15 months as well under the tutelage of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, Maharajah of Mysore. 

He was also gifted in science and literature, and he enjoyed horseback riding, tennis, photography, and painting.

The Reign

On 7 August 1924, upon the death of his maternal great uncle, the then Maharajah of Travancore Sree Moolam Thirunal, he became Maharajah of Travancore at the age of 12.

Balarama Varma was governed under the regency of his maternal aunt, the last Queen of Travancore Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi (1924-31), until he reached the age of 19 (November 7, 1931). Thereafter he took the regnal name 'Sree Chithira Thirunal,' as he was born in the Chithira nakshatra of the Malayalam calendar.

He began his first public address with the lines

"I hope to gain the affection and respect of all segments of the population. My primary focus will be on bringing wealth and pleasure to the people. I believe that in order to reach that goal, I must remain alert; otherwise, it will be impossible to achieve. "

which demonstrates his zeal and commitment to the people of Travancore. Unlike today's politicians, he kept his word and worked to improve the social, economic, political, and cultural components of society.

He too was a great devotee of Sree Padmanabha Swami, the presiding deity of the Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple in Thiruvananthapuram. Following in the footsteps of his ancestor Marthanda Varma, who dedicated the Kingdom of Travancore to Sree Padmanabha Swami. 

At the same time, he fought against various superstitions that prevailed in society at that time and curbed improper behavior, conveying a moral message to society.

He personally conducted sea voyages to foreign nations in order to combat the myth that crossing the ocean will result in the loss of one's social respectability, as well as the rotting of one's cultural character and posterity.

Thus he became the first ruler in Kerala to visit foreign countries via sea route.

During his voyages, he visited many countries and met up with many eminent personalities, such as the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Pius XI, King George V, etc.

The information gathered from these travels helped him to make reforms in the field of education, entertainment, transportation, and science for the benefit of the general public and this ultimately led to the modernization of Travancore.

Administrative  & Social Reforms

Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer was appointed Diwan of Travancore in 1936. He was the brilliant administrator who oversaw all of Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma's reforms.

Travancore Court of Arms

Balarama Varma reorganized the Travancore Legislature (the first state legislature in India) on the basis of a greater universal franchise under the Legislative Reforms Act by diminishing his own powers.

A bicameral legislature was formed, with the creation of the Sree Moolam Assembly and the formation of the Sree Chitra State Council. The bulk of the members of the two Houses were elected from general constituencies, with the remaining members nominated from specific groups.

  • First Ruler to allow adult sufferage (1944) among the princely states of India.

His attention was drawn to the plight of the impoverished farmers.  

He introduced The Jenmi-Kudiyaan Regulation in 1932. According to this, the landlord will not have any right, claim, or interest in the landholding except the right to receive land dues (jenmi karam). The bill gave complete freedom for tenants (kudiyaan) over the tenant land, for the first time in history, without the interference of the landlords.

He established a Land Mortgage Bank (1932) and appointed a Debt Relief Committee to help them since he was fully aware of their predicament under a state of feudal dominance. 

New bills were introduced in the assembly based on this committee's report.

  • The Agricultural Debt Relief Act (1937)
  • The Travancore Village Union Act (1939).
Another social reform introduced by Sree Chithra Thirunal for the sake of women and children was the Travancore Hindu Widows Remarriage Regulation (1938) & the Travancore Child Marriage Restraint Act, which substantially reduced child marriages and alleviated widows' suffering.

The sole contentious and negative aspect of Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma's reign was the violent suppression of the communist-organized Punnapra-Vayalar revolt (1946).

Educational Reforms

  • Authorized the use of 40% of state revenue to improve the education of the kingdom's citizens.
  • Compulsory and free primary education in the state of Travancore (Travancore Primary Education Act).*
  • Travancore University (1937)
  • Sri Swathi Thirunal Music Academy (1932)
  •  Institute of Textile Technology,
  • Thiruvananthapuram Engineering College,
  • Sree Chithra Art Gallery,
  • Oriental Manuscript Library,
  • Central Research Institute for Applied science.

He also advocated for the education of many underprivileged children, including K.R. Narayanan, who would go on to become the 10th President of India from Kerala.

In 1935, a Public Service Commission was established by Sree Chithira Thirunal to provide equal representation for all communities in government service appointments through a system of communal rotation.

In addition to these, he was responsible for the creation of the Nellikkampatty Game Sanctuary (renamed as Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary).

Industrial Reforms

Sree Chithira Thirunal was a trailblazer in establishing various industrial reforms in the country. He set up the following institutions and industries:

  • First Land Mortgage Bank – Travancore Land Mortage Bank (1932).
  • Travancore Bank Limited, the precursor of State Bank of Travancore (1945).
  • First Fertilizer Factory in India – Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore (FACT) at Eloor (1943).
  • First  Fibre Plant – Travancore Rayons (1945).
  • First Aluminium Cable Plant in India – Kundara Alind (1946), 
  • First Titanium dioxide Plant – Travancore Titanium Products Ltd (1945),  
  • Travancore Cements, Kottayam (1946),
  • Travancore Rubber Works (1963)
  • Kundara Ceramics, Kundara
  • Sree Chithira Mill, Aluva
  • Sugar Mills, Thuckalay
  • Quilon Pencil factory
  • Balarama Varma Textiles, Chenkotta

During his reign, the state's revenue nearly quadrupled, rising from slightly more than Rs. 2.5 crores to more than Rs. 9.5 crores ("The story of the Integration of the Indian States" by V.P. Menon).

Temple Entry Proclamation

During his reign, Sree Chithira Thirunal instituted sweeping social and political changes in the ancient Kingdom of Travancore. But the most revolutionary of his social reforms was yet to occur.

At the age of 24, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma made the historic Temple Entry Proclamation on 12th November 1936 which contained the following lines.


  "Profoundly convinced of the truth and validity of our religion, believing that it is based on divine guidance and on all-comprehending toleration, knowing that in its practice it has throughout the centuries, adapted itself to the needs of changing times, solicitous that none of our Hindu subjects should, by reason of birth or caste or community, be denied the consolation and the solace of the Hindu faith, we have decided and hereby declare, ordain and command that, subject to such rules and conditions as may be laid down and imposed by us for preserving their proper atmosphere and maintaining their rituals and observances, there should henceforth be no restriction placed on any Hindu by birth or religion on entering or worshipping at temples controlled by us and our Government."

The draft of the temple entry proclamation was prepared by the poet Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer for which he was later made an outcaste by his own community.

Following the proclamation, Mahatma Gandhi sent an open letter to Sree Chithira Thirunal in which he told him:


"People call me Mahatma and I don't think I deserve it. But in my view, you have in reality become a Mahatma by your proclamation at this young age, breaking the age-old custom and throwing open the doors of the Temples' to our brothers and sisters whom the hateful tradition considered as untouchables."

With this proclamation, the 1,526 temples managed or controlled by the princely state of Travancore were opened to all Hindus regardless of caste.

The city of Madras erected a life-size statue in honor of Sree Chithira Thirunal, which was inaugurated by Lord Erskine, the then Governor of Madras. D. Litts was bestowed to him by the universities of Andhra Pradesh and Annamalai.

After Independence

After India became independent in 1947, Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, Prime Minister of Travancore, stated on 11 July, at the request of Sree Chithira Thirunal, that the Kingdom of Travancore will remain an independent country.

Coins

After numerous rounds of discussions with Indian delegates including V.P. Menon and Lord Mountbatten, in 1949, Sree Chithira Thirunal finally consented to relinquish his kingdom to the nascent Dominion of India for the sake of his people.

Following the national integration strategy, the states of Kochi and Travancore were combined into the Thiru-Kochi on July 1, 1949, and Sree Chithira Thirunal became the first and last Rajpramukh (Governor equivalent, from July 1, 1949  -  October 31, 1956) of the state for six years.

Following the 26th Constitution Amendment Act, 1971 and Rulers of Indian States (Abolition of Privileges) Act, 1972, the Indira Gandhi administration deprived him of his political privileges and emoluments from the privy purse.  

He became the Titular Maharajah of Travancore from 1971 onwards.                 

Death 

Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma died on July 20, 1991, at the age of 78 at the Kowdiar Palace in Trivandrum. As he was unmarried, his brother, Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, replaced him as head of the Travancore royal dynasty.

He was also the last living Knight Grand Commander of both the Star of India and the Order of the Indian Empire. 

 Books

  • Sree Chithira Tirunal: Life and Times – Uma Maheshwari.
  • Sree Chithira Tirunal: Avasanathe Ezhunnallathu – Malayinkizhu Gopalakrishnan.                       

Honors

  • Sree Chithira Tirunal national award by Sree Chithira Thirunal Trust in 2006.
  • Statue of Sree Chithira Thirunal at Kerala University.       
  • Indian Government issued a postal stamp in 1991 to commemorate the reforms of Sree Chithira Thirunal in Travancore.
* Law for compulsory and free primary education existed already in Travancore (since 1819) however it wasn't put into application. (Source: Inglorious Empire, Shashi Tharoor).


📝SideNotes:
  • Last Diwan of Travancore – P.G.N. Unnithan.        
  • Magnacarta of Travancore – Pandarapatta Proclamation.
  • Spititual Magnacarta of Modern Travancore – Temple Entry Proclamation (by T. K. Velu Pillai)
  • First Chancellor of Kerala University  – Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma.  
  • Thanka Anki Procession is associated with which temple? Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple.
    • The procession starts from Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple.
    • Thanka Anki was donated by Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma.
Thanks for reading !!!

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