Of the more than 500 rulers of the princely states of pre-Independent India, the Maharaja of the Travancore State, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, was a king with a difference. His statesmanship, humility, erudition and aspiration for a welfare state is unmatched in history.
The ‘Temple Entry Proclamation’ he passed for the benefit of those who were not allowed to enter Hindu temples was hailed by Mahatma Gandhi, who described him as a ‘People’s Maharaja’. Called the ‘Padmanabhadasa’, he remained apolitical until his last days. I had the privilege of watching the royal family from close quarters because of my great-grandmother Mavelikkara Nani Amma.
She joined the palace in 1910, when the Maharaja was an infant. Chithira Thirunal, his sister Karthika Thirunal and brother Utradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma was brought up by her. The royal siblings treated her like their own mother.
She used to be a permanent member of the royal entourage during their travels across the country. In appreciation of her services, the Maharaja arranged for a plot and a new bungalow for her, near the palace. When she died, a special kodi (dhoti) and a wreath were sent to her family from the palace.
Being a boy of the same age as Avittam Thirunal, the Maharaja’s nephew who met with an early death, the royal family often called me to their Kowdiar Palace.
After Independence, all the princely states joined the Indian Union. By now, the Maharaja was re-designated ‘Rajapramukh of the Travancore-Cochin State’.
I remember my 10th birthday vividly. It was March, 1948. My great-grandmother was asked to take me along to the palace. When we reached, the Maharaja, surrounded by other members of the royal family was sitting in the central hall. The Maharaja called me. Excited and nervous, I walked towards the Maharaja. With a captivating smile, he presented me with a golden ring and blessed me. I bowed down with folded hands. More than anything else, I still cherish the electrifying effect of the royal touch I experienced from the sterling prince.