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Friday, July 17, 2020

Thiruvananthapuram Temple's History ~ of Padmanabha dhasas ! ~ Govt has no right !!

How well do you WE know Indian History and Politics ! ~ at least the history of Independent India, dating back to 15th Aug 1947 ?    In Governance, we know the posts of Prime Minister, President, Vice-President at the Centre; Chief Minister, Governor at the State level – ever heard of a Rajpramukh !!

Those who know History would feel happy that the Apex Court has restituted what was absolutely RIGHT – the right to administer the temple at Thiruvananthapuram of Sri Anantha Padmanabha Swamy.  The Govt that usurped power simply had no right, whatsoever after whatever was agreed upon constitutionally in 1947 !  Confusing !!

pannagendrashayana shrIpadmanAbha mudA kAma-
sannamAnasaM mAmava sArasAyatalocana

an exceptionally mellifluous song rendered by M. Balamuralikrishna, Neyyattinkara Vasudevan , K. J. Yesudas in Raagamaalika – in the movie   Swathi Thirunal”  based on the life of Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, the Maharaja of the state of Travancore.  The song is a tribute to Lord Ananthapadmanabhaswamy .. …

Upon India's independence from the British on 15 August 1947, Sree Chithira Thirunal initially chose to keep his domain an independent country. As this was unacceptable to the Govt. Of India, several rounds of negotiations were held between the Maharaja and the Indian representatives. Finally an agreement was reached in 1949 and Sree Chithira Thirunal agreed to merge Travancore officially as a part of the Union of India. In 1949, Travancore was united with Cochin, and Sree Chithira Thirunal served as the first and only Rajpramukh (Governor equivalent) of the Travancore-Cochin Union from 1 July 1949 until 31 October 1956.  On 1 November 1956, the state of Kerala was created by uniting the Malayalam-speaking areas of the Travancore-Cochin Union with Malabar, and Sree Chithira Thirunal's office of Rajpramukh came to an end.

The Kingdom of Travancore was an Indian kingdom from c. 870 until 1949. It was ruled by the Travancore Royal Family from Padmanabhapuram, and later Thiruvananthapuram. At its zenith, the kingdom covered most of modern-day central and southern Kerala with the Thachudaya Kaimal's enclave of Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikyam temple in the neighbouring Kingdom of Cochin, as well as the district of Kanyakumari, now in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The official flag of the state was red with a dextrally-coiled silver conch shell (Turbinella pyrum) at its centre..

King Marthanda Varma inherited the small feudal state of Venad in 1723 and built it into Travancore, one of the most powerful kingdoms in southern India. Marthanda Varma led the Travancore forces during the Travancore-Dutch War of 1739–46, which culminated in the Battle of Colachel. The defeat of the Dutch by Travancore is considered the earliest example of an organised power from Asia overcoming European military technology and tactics.  Marthanda Varma went on to conquer most of the petty principalities of the native rulers who had allied with the Dutch against him. In the early 19th century, the kingdom became a princely state of the British Empire. The Travancore Government took many progressive steps on the socio-economic front and during the reign of Maharajah Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, Travancore became a prosperous modern princely state in British India, with reputed achievements in education, political administration, public work, and social reforms.

When the British Crown partitioned British India and granted independence to the new Dominions of India and Pakistan, more than a third of the subcontinent was still covered by princely states, with rulers whose position and status within the Indian Empire had varied. In 1947 there were more than 560 such princely states in India, over which the British Crown had suzerainty but not sovereignty. In 1947, princely states numbering 555 covered 48% of area of pre-independent India and constituted 28% of its population. Relations with them were determined by subsidiary alliances and other treaties establishing indirect rule.   By the Indian Independence Act 1947 the Crown abandoned its suzerainty, leaving the rulers of the states free to choose to accede either to India or to Pakistan or to remain fully independent.   Due to the diplomacy of Vallabhbhai Patel and VP Menon, Travancore, Bhopal and Jodhpur signed the instruments of accession before 15 August 1947.

Then came the ‘Privy Purse’,  a payment made to the ruling (royal or lower) families of erstwhile princely states as part of their agreements to first integrate with India in 1947 after the independence of India, and later to merge their states in 1949 whereby they lost all ruling rights.  .. .. but it was not to continue longer – in 1971, the Parliament by   the 26th Amendment in 1971,  abolished all their privileges and allowances from the central government ceased to exist. 

Mr. V. P. Menon who was the Constitutional Advisor to the Governor General till 1947 and Secretary to the Ministry of States played a stellar role in the integration of the princely States into the Dominion of India. In his book titled, “Story of Integration of the Indian States”, Mr. Menon dealt with “Travancore – Cochin” in Chapter XIV and he wrote:-  “The ruling family of Travancore traces its descent from the ancient Chera kings of South India. In later historic times,  Travancore was split up into a number of petty principalities. The consolidation of these into a single State was the achievement of Rajah Marthanda Varma, who ruled in the first half of the eighteenth century. He brought the whole of Travancore under his sway, established order and settled the country. In January 1750, he formally and solemnly dedicated the State to Sri Padmanabha, the tutelary deity of his family; and he and his successors have ever since ruled as ‘Dasas’, or servants of that deity. The present ruler, Sir Rama Varma  succeeded to the gaddi in 1924 at the age of twelve and was invested with full ruling powers in Nov 1931. During his rule the revenues of the State were nearly quadrupled from a little over Rs. 2.5 crore to over Rs. 9.5 crore.   His titles are: Major-General. Sri Padmanabha Dasa, Vanchipala, Sir Bala Rama Varma, Kulasekhara Kiritapati, Manney Sultan, Maharaja Raja Rama raja Bahadur, Shamsher Jang.

The present Maharajah of Cochin, Sir Rama Varma, is, on the other hand, well advanced in age. In fact, for over a century, the Maharajahs of Cochin had all been fairly old when they succeeded to the gaddi. The ruling family of Cochin claims to be directly descended from Cheraman Perumal, who once ruled Kerala. Hyder Ali and later Tippu Sultan overran the territories of Cochin in the latter half of the eighteen century, and this brough about an alliance with the English East India Company when, in 1791, the Maharajah agreed to become their tributary. The ruling families in both the States follow the Marumakkathayam law, or the law of inheritance through the female line. The Maharajah, assuming that he has no brother, is succeeded by his sister’s eldest son. This is generally the law followed by the majority of the Malayalam-speaking Hindus in both States.
… … …
The Maharaja stated  that he governed the State on behalf and as a servant of Sri Padmanabha and that he attached great importance to this position being maintained; that if no satisfactory solution on these points was possible, and if the Government of India still insisted on the integration of the two States he would rather abdicate than act against his convictions.
… … …
Lastly, he felt that on account of the dedication of the State to Sri Padmanabha and the special loyalty and devotion which the rulers  of Travancore owed to that deity, it would not be possible for him to take the usual oath of office as Rajpramukh.
… … …
I reached Trivandrum on 21 May and had several meetings with the Maharajah. I told him that, with goodwill on both sides, there was no reason why we should not come to an agreement. The first hurdle was the Maharajah’s inability to take the oath of office as head of the State. The devotion of the present Maharajah to Sri Padmanabha borders on fanaticism; he rules the State not as its head but as a servant of the tutelary deity.
… … ….
A problem peculiar to Travancore-Cochin related to the properties attached to temples, called Devaswoms. It is necessary to give some explanation of the history of the Devaswoms in each of these States. Travancore had been ruled by an unbroken line of Hindu kings from the earliest times and had retained throughout the centuries its essential character of a Hindu State. The most important temple in this State has always been, and still is, the Sri Padmanabha temple, richly endowed and possessing very extensive landed properties. These were originally managed by a Yogam (or Synod) of eight hereditary trustees and the ruler, but at the beginning of the eighteenth century the Yogam was ousted and the administration of the temple together with its properties was taken over entirely by the ruler. Thereafter the temple properties became intermixed with the properties of the State. The State continued however to contribute to the maintenance of the temple and the religious ceremonies. This state of affairs continued until the time of the integration of the two States.

Apart from this temple, there were a large number of Devaswoms in the State founded and endowed by the people and managed by ooralars, or trustees. From ancient times, the Maharajah had Melkoima rights (the right of superior authority or overlordship) over the trustees. Before 1811, the State had no direct concern in the management of these temples; in that year Colonel Munro, the then British Resident for Travancore and Cochin, assumed the Dewanship and, in exercise of the Melkoima right of the Maharajah, took over the management of the Devaswoms in Travancore. Three hundred and forty-eight major and 1,123 minor Devaswoms with all their properties, were thus taken over  for management. Even then their income was considerable. In course of time, the management of yet more was assumed.

A good deal of agitation was excited on the ground that the Government of the State were spending less on the maintenance of the temples and on the religious ceremonies than the amount of revenue which accrued from the Devaswom properties and that they were appropriating the balance of the income to themselves. In the end, the legal position was put beyond doubt by the issue of a proclamation by the Maharajah whereby the Government of the State accepted the obligation of maintaining the temples in an efficient condition, and all lawsuits against them were barred. In 1946, the Maharajah issued another proclamation which fixed the amount payable every year to the temples at a figure of not less than Rs.25 lakhs and reserved the right of making further contributions if necessary from the State revenue. Finally, in 1948, immediately before the grant of responsible government, a proclamation was issued by which a yearly sum of Rs.50 lakhs was fixed for the maintenance of all the temples in the State, other than the Sri Padmanabha temple which was to receive Rs.1 lakh annually.

Hindu opinion in the State was unanimous in holding not only that the continued payment of the existing allotments should be guaranteed, but also that adequate compensation should be given in respect of the properties taken over by the Government and the profits derived from them. The annual contribution thus claimed ranged from Rs.1 Crore to Rs.2 Crore. Obviously, this plea could not be accepted; at the same time it was impossible to decline the obligation of maintaining these temples, the State having taken over all their properties.

I discussed the question with the ministries, as well as with the Maharajah of Travancore. Eventually we came to an agreement by which the annual payment of Rs.51 lakhs made to the temples by the Travancore Government would be continued and out of this amount a sum of Rs.6 lakhs would be contributed annually for the maintenance of the Sri Padmanabha temple.

The most difficult issue related to the administration of this grant. After prolonged discussion it was agreed that the administration of the Sri Padmanabha temple should be conducted under the control and supervision of the Maharajah through an executive officer to be appointed by him. It was decided that there should be a committee of three Hindu members nominated by the  Maharajah to advise him; and that one of the three should be nominated on the advice of the Hindu members of the Council of ministers. With regard to the other temples in Travancore, a body to be called the Travancore Devaswom Board would be set up. This Board would consist of three Hindu members, one of whom would be nominated by the Maharajah, one elected by the Hindus among the Council of Ministers and one by the Hindu members of the Legislative Assembly of the Union.

In Cochin, unlike Travancore, the properties of the temples were administered separately as a ‘reserved subject’ by the, Maharajah; but after the grant of responsible government, he appointed the Premier of the State to act in his personal capacity as the chief executive authority for Devaswoms. The Poornathrayeesa temple at Trippunithura is the temple of the ruling family and the Maharajah asked for the control of the rituals and ceremonies in this temple, as well as for those in the Pazhayannur temple. I agreed to this request. It was decided to set up a Devaswom Board in Cochin on the same lines as in Travancore. As the Devaswom properties had remained separate, there was no necessity to make any special grant from State revenues. The landed properties of the temples, I should add, are subject to the land revenue and tenancy laws of the State just like any other landed properties.

These decisions were subsequently incorporated in the covenant. Later on, when the Constitution of India was being finalized, a provision was included to safeguard the payment to the temples in Travancore by making it charged and non-votable by the Legislature of the Union.

It must be emphasized here that this provision in the covenant relating to Devaswoms brought about a far-reaching social reform in both States. These two States had been the seat of an orthodoxy not found in any other part of India except Malabar. The Temple-entry reform in Travancore recognized to a certain extent the place of harijans in the Hindu society; but under the covenant, the Harijans would gain a measure of control of the temples through their representatives in the Legislature and in the ministry and would also be able to hold posts in the Devaswom Department which had hitherto been denied to them.

The press had been kept fully informed of the progress of the discussions and during one of my press conferences, there were some criticism regarding the provision for maintenance of the temples in Travancore. I pointed out to the critics that  the properties of the temples taken over by the Travancore State Government had increased many times in value and yielded an income greater than the amount of contribution provided in the covenant. If the contribution was considered undesirable or excessive, the State would have no option but to return the properties to the temple. The State could not have it both ways, by refusing to return the properties while at the same time refusing to maintain the Devaswoms.”

Mr. V.P. Menon thus adverted to the issues: that after dedication in January 1750, Raja Marthanda Varma and his successors ruled as “Dasas” or servants of the deity Sri Padmanabhaswamy; that the ruling families of Travancore and Cochin followed the Marumakkathayam law or the law of inheritance through the female line; that an agreement was arrived at, by which annual payment of Rs.51 lakhs made to the temples by the Travancore Government would be continued, and out of said amount a sum of Rs.6 lakhs would be contributed annually for the maintenance of the Temple; that the administration of the Temple should be conducted under the control and supervision of the Maharaja of Travancore through an Executive Officer appointed by him; and that as against such contribution the value of the properties of the temples taken over by the State Government was far greater. He also referred to the stand of the Ruler of Cochin with respect to the rituals and ceremonies in the Poornathrayeesa Temple at Trippunithura.  

On 10.08.1947 a Proclamation was issued by the Maharaja of Travancore which stated:-

“WHEREAS our Ancestors and Ourselves have, as devotees of Sri Padmanabha, been ruling over the State of Travancore during many centuries and our sole concern has been the welfare and happiness of our subjects whom we have been associating with us and propose further to associate with us in the administration of the State;

And Whereas it has become necessary, in the events that have happened to regulated the succession to the Throne of Travancore, to determine other questions incidental thereto, to regulate and fix the civil list of ourselves and the members of Our Royal Family and to make provision for certain other purposes,

And Whereas in respect of succession, adoption, marriage, and other matters, our royal family has from time immemorial 20ecognized and observed the Marumakkathayam law as modified by custom and usage in Our Royal Family,
We are pleased to Command and Enact as follows-
1. The succession to the Throne of Travancore shall be in accordance with the Marumakkathayam law as modified by the custom and usage prevailing and 20ecognized in Our Royal Family from time immemorial.
2. In case the Sovereign, on the date of His succession, under the age of eighteen years, then , until he attains the age of eighteen years, and where the Sovereign is incapacitated by serious illness, the powers and authorities belonging to the Sovereign of Travancore shall be exercised in the name and on behalf of the Sovereign by a Council of Regency consisting of three of the senior most members of Our Royal Family, who are above eighteen years of age, or of such lesser number of members as may be available. 
3. Provided always that the Council shall not be entitled to change the rule or order of succession or otherwise to hinder

The Travancore Interim Constitution Act, 1123 came into force on 24.03.1948.  The aspects referred to by Mr. V.P. Menon find clearly reflected in the Covenant entered into by the Maharajas of Travancore and Cochin with the Government of India. Mr. V.P. Menon had signed the Covenant on behalf of the Government of India.

In case you wonder the authenticity of the above portion in Green – or had read something else in the History – please do know that the foregoing is simply part-extract of that 218 page long judgment of Supreme Court of India in Civil Appeal No. 2732 of 2020 (arising out of SLP(C)No.11295 of 2011) etc.  Sri Marthanda Varma (D) Thr. LRs. & Anr. vs. State of Kerala and ors.

Padmanabhapuram, now part of Tamil Nadu nearer KanyaKumari was  the former capital city of the erstwhile Hindu Kingdom of Travancore. It is around 20km from Nagercoil, 39km from Kanyakumari town and 60km from Thiruvananthapuram city. The palace is located at the foot of the Veli Hills, which forms a part of the Western Ghats. The river Valli flows nearby.  The palace is located near Thuckalay, Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu state but administered by the Government of Kerala state.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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