Sri Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma
Sri Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma (Malayalam: ശ്രrii സ്വാതി തിരുനാള് രാമ വര്മ) (April 16, 1813 – December 25, 1846) was the Maharaja of the state of Travancore (തിരുവിതാംകൂര്), in India. He reigned under the regency of his mother Maharani Gowri Lakshmi Bayi from 1813 till 1815 and henceforth under the regency of his aunt Maharani Gowri Parvati Bayi from 1815 till 1829. In 1829 he turned major and assumed full powers of ruler and ruled Travancore till his demise in 1846.
Besides being an able ruler, he was a patron of music and a musician himself. He encouraged both broad systems of Indian music, Hindustani and Carnatic music, though he was essentially a connoisseur of the Carnatic music tradition. He is credited with composing over 400 compositions in Carnatic music as well as Hindustani music. Some of his favorite compositions are Padmanabha Pahi, Deva Deva, Sarasijanabha and Sree Ramana Vibho. The king was fluent in a number of languages such as Malayalam, Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Tamil, Oriya and English.
The Astronomical Observatory in Thiruvananthapuram, the Museum & Zoo, the Government Press, Trivandrum Public Library (now State Central Library), the Oriental Manuscript Library, etc. were started by Swathi Thirunal. The Maharajah was also an honorary member of the Royal Asiatic Society from 1843
Swathi Thirunal (as he is commonly known) was born into the Kulasekhara dynasty of the Royal family of Travancore state, which is now a part of Kerala State in India) on April 16, 1813. He was the second child of the Regent Queen Gowri Lakshmi Bayi who ruled Travancore during 1811 – 1815, and Rajaraja Varma Koyithampuran of Changanasseri Palace. The famous poet and composer and close relative Iraiyamman Tampi wrote the song Omanathinkalkkitavo nalla komalathamarappuvo (ഓമനത്തിങ്കള്ക്കിടാവോ നല്ല കോമളത്താമരപ്പൂവോ), perhaps the most famous lullaby in Malayalam, about Swathi Thirunal when he was born. He had an elder sister (Rukmini Bai) and a younger brother (Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma). Rani Gowri Lakshmi Bayi died about two months after the birth of her third child. After her death, her younger sister Gowri Parvati Bayi was in charge of the state and the children. Since Rama Varma was just seventeen months old when his mother died, Gowri Parvati Bayi ruled for fourteen years before Swathi Thirunal took over as the king. When he was just four months old, his mother invited Col. Munro (who was the representative of the British East India Company) and his officials and declared in the Durbar that she was entrusting the British East India Company with the care of her child and expected the Company to co-operate with him in future.
Both his aunt/foster mother, who was well-versed in music, and his father, a Sanskrit scholar. took special care about his education. Col. Munro also is said to have taken interest in his education. He started learning Malayalam and Sanskrit at the age of six and English at the age of seven. The young Prince studied several languages, including Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Hindustani, Telugu, Marathi, Sanskrit, English and Persian. He impressed all his teachers, and even guests from abroad, with his keen understanding of not only languages but also other subjects like geometry. P. Sankunni Menon (A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times, 1878) records an incident when Swathi Thirunal told Col. Welsh, a visiting British officer, that the word geometry and words like hexagon, septagon and so on were derived from Sanskrit.
The Elephants of Raja of Travancore, May 1841.
Maharajah Swathi Thirunal was only a child when his mother Maharani Gowri Lakshmi Bayi died and he grew up under the maternal care of his childless aunt, who was the Regent of Travancore on his behalf, Maharani Gowri Parvati Bayi. He had a brother, Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma, who succeeded him in 1846 till his demise in 1860. The Maharajah also had a sister, Maharani Gowri Rukmini Bayi, whose children ascended the Travancore musnud consecutively. Her only daughter was the mother of Maharajah Moolam Thirunal Sir Rama Varma.
Swathi Thirunal married Thiruvattar Ammachi Panapillai Amma Srimathi Narayani Pillai Kochamma of the Thiruvattar Ammaveedu family after the demise of his first wife. She was an expert carnatic singer and Veena player. She originally belonged to an ordinary Nair family in Quilon by the name of Aaikutty Veedu. Prior to her marriage with the king she was adopted into the Thiruvattar Ammaveedu along with her mother and siblings (her sister was married to the Maharajah’s brother and successor Uthram Thirunal). From this marriage the Maharajah had a son, Thiruvattar Chithira Nal Anantha Padmanabhan Chempakaraman Thampi. In 1843 the Maharajah married Sundara Lakshmi Ammal, daughter of a Mudaliar who had migrated to Trivandrum. Lakshmi was a dancer, known better as Sugandhavalli. The Maharajah first adopted her into Vadasseri Ammaveedu, making her an Ammachi and bestowing the title of Thampi on her family members. In 1845 he constructed the Thanjavur Ammaveedu and Sugandhavalli, along with her family members resided here. The Maharajah’s second wife, Thiruvattar Ammachi, whose sister was married to Uthram Thirunal did not approve of this marriage. Soon after in 1846 the Maharajah died. Legend and folklore has it that Sugandhavalli was banished from Travancore following which the Maharajah died broken hearted. However facts and records prove otherwise.
In popular culture
In 1987, a Malayalam film titled Swathi Thirunal based on his life was released. It was directed by Lenin Rajendran and starred Anant Nag as Swathi Thirunal.