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God’s forgotten country

A tribute to two southern states and their rich cultural heritage writes Lalita Panicker about Glimpses of Kerala Culture and Travancore: The Footprints of Destiny.

books Updated: May 22, 2010 01:31 IST
Lalita Panicker
Lalita Panicker
Hindustan Times

Glimpses of Kerala Culture
Aswathi Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi
Konark Rs 1,000 pp 171

Travancore: The Footprints of Destiny
Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma
Konark Rs 2,000 pp 274

Like the Jenson and Nicholson ad that says ‘Whenever you see colour think of us’, whenever you think of Kerala you think of its fabulous food and lush landscape. It’s perhaps a tribute to its understated role that few even know that Kerala has a royal family or a cultural heritage that goes back millennia. These two books seek to fill in the gaps in knowledge about this elusive and enticing little strip of land.

Glimpses of Kerala Culture brings out how intricately entwined culture and religion are in Kerala. Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi painstakingly details how several ancient art forms have survived. Theyyam, Mutiyettu, Patayani, Kolam Thullal, Pulluvan Paattu, Thottam Paattu etc all live on enriching a vibrant art landscape. The different customs and cultures appear to have assimilated seamlessly. The book depicts the intricate details and kaleidoscopic colours that characterised Kerala’s art much of which were religious in nature.

Travancore, The Footprints of Destiny is remarkable for its detail given that the present king is a notoriously reclusive person given to none of the flamboyance usually associated with the maharaja class. The King, HH Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma, details the history of modern Travancore over which his family presided, indeed shaped. His family laid the foundations for the amazing social development advances that have catapulted Kerala into a pre-eminent position in India today. At no point in the book does the Maharaja try to portray himself in a flattering light, rather he is modest to a fault.

The only drawback with both books is the poor design and inadequate illustration. Had the publisher got these right, these were books that could have been passed down over the generations. But, that apart, both are well worth a read and offers many insights into a land and culture about which so much is written but so little is known.

First Published: May 22, 2010 01:26 IST