When talking about an Historical figure, contemporaneous writing is the best source . A quaint write up that appeared in Who’s Who in Madras, 1934. Published by the Pearl Press Cochin, gives the following account of RAMA VARMA, His Highness, Maharaja of Cochin.
His Highness was born on the 30Th December 1861. He is the eldest son of the late lamented Senior Rani ( Manku Thampuran of Thavazhy four ) who passed away in 1902. From His Highness’s early childhood he earned a name for his native simplicity and for his winning and unassuming manners and for these he is well known today. Always of a religious turn of mind, he is regular in his habits and simple in life. Moved by His Highness’s deep sense of religion no less by his earnest desire to get first-hand knowledge of men and manners and things he has traveled all over India, visiting almost all the important places of religious and historic interest; while in his own State he has been always moving about periodically visiting every place of interest. He is a lover of books and a regular reader of newspapers. His main hobby is the collection of folk-lore and legends and ballad songs and his library contains many a manuscript volume compiled by himself. The indigenous theater with its numerous type of drama and dramatic dances has always exercised its fascination over him and he is probably the very best dramatic critic of the day. His Highness ascended the Musnad in March, 1932; has ever since evinced the keenest interest in public questions and has well posted himself up in all matters affecting the welfare of his subjects. His Highness’s Consort is Sreemathi E. Kunji Amma who belongs to one of the most aristocratic families of Cochin State. ( Kunji Amma is from Elamana Family).
Sri Ravi Achan of Paliath Family gave a brief summation of His Highness during the Cochin Royal Family Historical Society Symposium held in 2002. Ravi Achan had the privilege of meeting this Highness and was privy to many stories about him which he presented in an oral history format. His Highness was not known as a scholar or a valiant individual but people felt that he was a ‘Bhagyavan’ meaning ‘endowed with God’s grace and he possessed ‘vivekam’ meaning endowed with common sense.
He had a passion for the arts and spent hours watching art performances of Kathakali and other art forms. He was also a chronicler. He would spend hours writing, transcribing poems written by his mother, and other works. The devastating fire of 1921, that engulfed the Sri Poornathrayeesa temple shook the family. The renovation work was ordered immediately and the tradition demanded that the then head of the family must come and take a pledge at the temple that the work would be completed in time. Since the Highness, Rama Varma was in poor health, he asked Elaya Raja, Rama Varma, the next in line, to do the pledge, which he did. He was deeply concerned that the pledge would not be carried out in time. As luck would have it or by God’s Grace he ascended the Musnad just prior to the completion of the renovation, and was able to ensure that the work was completed on time. Mr. Ravi Achan recounted other stories that made this Highness a legend.
It was his good fortune to get as his Dewan, Sri Shanmugham Shetty, a brilliant I.C.S officer. Mr. Shetty was determined to transform Cochin State into a modern progressive state and was instrumental in bringing the Port authority to Cochin and the development of the Cochin Harbor. He brought in Robert Bristow to develop the port and to create the Wellington Island. Bristow's book, " The Cochin Saga" chronicles his work and his life in Cochin.
His Highness loved to travel within the State and outside. He loved to visit temples. During the hot summer months, he would spend time in Chowara by the river. He married Kunji Amma of the Elamana Nayar Tharavad and adopted her children as his own though they did not have children themselves.
Raja and senior Thampurans with visiting dignitaries
At Baroda with Gaekwads
Commenting on His Highness’s common sense and wisdom, Mr. Ravi Achan recalled a couple of stories. Once while visiting the Viyyur Jail at Thrissur, HH was surprised to find a mahout as an inmate. Being a frequent visitor to the temples, he personally knew the temple elephants and their mahouts. He enquired whether the jail had elephants and the reply was of course negative. He asked the mahout who was taking care of his elephant and was told that some junior was handling the elephant. HH ordered that the mahout be set free immediately.
In a parallel situation, associates approached him to pardon a criminal who they felt was wrongfully sentenced to death penalty. He replied that he was not familiar with the details of the case that only a judge who has reviewed the case would be in a position to pass judgment. So he refused to commute the death penalty. It so happened that the British Govt would occasionally commute sentences and this inmate happened to get on the list. HH was heard to comment that the Lord knows best. His faith in the higher Power was implicit and his humility and faith always stood him in good stead.
Mr. Ravi Achan concluded his remarks by saying that His Highness passed away while at Chowara. Ravi Achan's father was the eldest nephew of the Highness and had the privilege of participating in the last rites.
The 2002 Symposium of the Historical Society is featured in the Video Gallery.
Confidential reports and correspondence about this time frame, written between the British administrators and Administration of Cochin and located now in the British library in London are declassified and available to the public. One such letter throws light on the attempt by the Dewan, Mr. Shanmugham Shetty to re write or make amendments to the Constitution of Cochin. The main features were:
(1)An elected majority in the Legislature
(2) The selection by the Ruler of a Minister, to hold office so long as he is enjoying the confidence of the elected majority, to administer certain rural departments (Public Health, Panchayats, Co-Operation, Agriculture, Medicine and Uplift)
(3) A limited power in the Legislative counsel to control expenditure.
(4) A full-fledged High Court
Sir S. Shetty’s genuine intention was to give “the responsible Minister” a certain freedom from the control of an irresponsible Dewan. He defined it as a form of Diarchy, turning away from Monarchy which is so much easier for the British to control. This constitution of Cochin was much more liberal than those of Travancore and or Mysore and it was probably the first experiment in an Indian State of Diarchy.
The Dewan with the consent of the Ruler implemented it giving Cochin a pride of place amongest other native states.
On 6th December 1933, the Thiyyas of Cochin, submitted a memorandum to the visiting Viceroy Excellency Lord Willington. They insisted that they comprised almost one fourth of the population of Cochin State and were the agriculturists and laboring classes and contributed to the prosperity of the State.
They pointed out that “Cochin is a highly caste-ridden country. The tyranny of orthodox Hinduism is rampant in Cochin. The Ruling Family still observes the rituals of supreme Hindu orthodoxy. In the scale of Hindu caste system we are looked upon as “Unapproachable”. In Tripunithura which is the seat of orthodoxy as well as of Royal family, various public roads exist to which access is denied to Thiyyas.
.” On two occasions, the local Legislative Council passed resolutions with a vast majority that “distance pollution” should be abolished from the State by issuing a Royal Proclamation. But we are sorry to submit that they proved to be cry in the wilderness ----------- With the growing sense of our self-respect which we have been able to develop by the liberal English Education widely prevalent among us now we have begun to feel with great mortification the inhuman social degradation which has been heavily inflicted on us.”----------
The Thiyyas felt that they were denied the privilege of holding high and responsible posts in the State service. “The attempt to introduce a Public Service Commission proposed by the present Dewan with a view to set right the inequality in the distribution of posts in Government service has not fructified as yet on account of the keen opposition of caste Hindus who hold the monopoly, as it were, of the Government service at present.”-----------
For a digitized copy of this letter procured from the British Library, look up the Digitized Documents section.
Raja Rama Varma replied to the then Agent to the Governor –General of Madras State Lt. Colonel G.M. Field from Hill Palace, Tripunithura, on 1st March, 1934.
“I wish to point out that the petition is one which deserves no notice, coming as it does from persons who are not concerned in the subject matter of it, and that several of the statements in it are unfounded and the rest grossly exaggerated, though the latter too are not without their explanation. The petition seems to be to me to be the work of a few people who have no other business than agitation.
You refer to the ‘tyranny of orthodox Hinduism’. It is not stated what these are. I believe they refer to the temple-entry, untouchability, caste system, provision of common tanks, common wells and&c. The existing state of things in these matters are not the making of one or two generations or of one or two centuries, but they are based on age-long customs which have obtained the sanctity of religion and law, and they are too ingrained upon the habits and customs of the people that it is impossible to abolish them by a stroke of the pen without greatly provoking the sentiments of a large majority of the people. I may however say that whatever that is possible to ameliorate the conditions of these backward people are being done and I do not think any other State is doing more in this respect than Cochin. Unfortunately for myself, I have to consider twice before I accept the reformer’s views. Social conditions today are not what they were a decade ago. They are changing quickly without Government interference and, as education and time advance, societies will adjust themselves without extraneous help. It seems to be the duty of the Government to keep the balance and not interfere in these
matters…………….Noninterference in religious matters is the established policy of the British Government and I do not see why I should not adhere to it…………
Appointments have been a vexed question. Under Government orders, preference is given in all departments to unrepresented communities. In the last two or three years a large portion of the appointments, I may say approximately 60% have gone to the cases till now regarded as backward, so much so that a Thiyya who now comes out of school considers it his right and privilege to be taken immediately to the Service. If he does not succeed, it becomes a matter of agitation. You say that the Thiyyas claim a share of the appointments in Government service in proportion to the strength of their population. Mr. Herbert has prepared a scheme for making all appointments according to their wish on a communal basis, on the strength of population of each class or community. All these are good to speak about, but the interests of the service also which is gradually deteriorating have to be looked to. I am glad that at least you recognize that efficiency cannot be sacrificed for the sake of communal representation. And the State service is too small a field for experimenting or enforcing communalism.
When the question is one of temple entry, these people say that there is no such thing as caste or class and that all are equal and must have equal privileges with the rest. When it is a question of untouchability, then also they say the same thing and want to put down all differences. When I is a question of the use of a tank or well, they will not allow any differences of caste or religion to prevail and will not be satisfied even if separate tanks and wells are provided exclusively for their use. But, when it comes to a matter of appointment, they want to establish all differences of class or community or religion. This seems a curious position. While we find it difficult to remove long-established customs and usages, however much we wish it, here we are asked to enact new rules to accentuate caste differences and communalism. As the proposition looked at in any way is not a sound one, I do not think it can be acted upon.”----
His Highness then wrote about an idea of appointments by merit, where all communities will get equal chances with no room for favoritism and communalism. He pointed out that the larger a community, the larger will be the number of educated and intelligent in it and consequently that community will see a larger share of representation.
His Highness then addressed the issue of the appointment of a Public Services commission for appointments that the Dewan had drawn up for his consideration, modelled after one in existence in the Madras Presidency. Considering that
Madras is so much bigger than Cochin state and that there are only about hundred to hundred and fifty appointments in cochin a year, he wondered whether there is enough work for such a commission and the cost effectiveness of it. But he said he had no objection to giving it a try.
His Highness concluded the letter this way.” It is my earnest wish that all my subjects should live peacefully and happily and I am anxious to do whatever that is possible to promote their welfare and contentment. It is however impossible to grant unreasonable requests for the sake of cheap popularity; nor is it possible to interfere in religious matters calculated to wound the feelings of others, because some people ask for it.
I thank you once again for having kindly allowed me to explain myself.
I am, your’s very sincerely,
Sd (Rama Varma)
The annual report of the Administration of Cochin of 1938 under the heading Constitutional Reforms provided the following information:
A Legislative Council was constituted in 1925 during the reign of the then Raja, HH Rama Varma. That Council constituted of 30 elected and 15 nominated members. The franchise was based upon property qualification. To represent the interests of land owners, planters and industrialists, certain special constituencies were also created. The council was given fairly wide powers.
In 1932, the present Raja extended the voting rights of the people by lowering qualifications. He increased Council membership to 36 elected members and 18 nominees and empowered the Council further. The franchise or right to vote requirements were further altered allowing anyone who paid taxes to vote.
In 1938, more responsibilities were assigned to the Council while the Raja still retained his power to override certain decisions of the Council if need arises. The Raja’s speech while announcing the “Government of Cochin Act” is very telling.
“ --I am only carrying one step further the immemorial tradition and practice of the Ruling House of Cochin. – Ruler of this State does not exercise any authority except through his accredited advisor, the Dewan of the State. The Constitution Act, no doubt, declares in unmistakable terms that the prerogative of the Ruler of the State to do any act without reference to any authority is declared to be and to
have been always possessed and retained by the Ruler. I may solemnly assure my people that the retention of the Paramount Authority and the prerogative of the Ruler is intended to safeguard the interests of the State and not to curb the powers of my popular Minister. It will rest with the wisdom of the elected representatives of my people in the Legislative Council to make certain that these prerogative powers will never be called into operation. --- Notwithstanding these liberal provisions of the Constitution Act, I would ask my people to judge the Act not so much by the words used in the enactment but by the declared intentions underlying the whole structure of the new Constitution. --- It is my earnest prayer to the Almighty that He may give my people the wisdom to shoulder their responsibilities in a worthy manner and to myself and my successors the inspiration to be the Trustees and Guardians of the constitution of the State.”
The Government of Cochin Act thus promulgated, does not affect the relationship between the State and the paramount Power, Treaty Rights and other obligations.
The annual report of the Administration of Cochin of 1939 gave the following information.
Dewan A.R Banerjie
Dewan Sir R.K. Shanmukham Chetty K.C.I.E. attended a conference of Ministers of Indian States convened for the purpose of considering the question of the accession of Indian States to Federation.
The other important event was the visit of Their Excellencies the Viceroy and the Marchioness of Linlithgow in early January.
At the close of the State Banquet, His Highness toasted to the health of Their Excellencies and made the following speech. To paraphrase a few passages: - “Our State is a small one with limited resources, but nature has clothed her with a beauty peculiar to herself. We naturally feel proud of our beautiful backwaters studded with those enchanting islands full of the green coconut palms, and I hope that Your Excellencies have already within the few hours of your stay here felt the charm and repose of this place. Nature which has given us all this beauty to satisfy the artistic sense has also given us the great harbor which science and the ingenuity of man have converted into a place humming with activity. It is now recognized on all hands that the Cochin Harbor is one of the finest in the East and has supplied a long-felt want for the commerce and trade of South India. Though the Harbor is situated in my territory, I look upon it, nevertheless, as an asset not merely for my State but for the whole country. I must take this opportunity of thanking Your Excellency and your Government for the help that you have rendered in removing the various obstacles which at one stage or another threatened to retard the development of this great enterprise.
I hope that Your Excellency will continue to take the same interest in further stages of the development of this great port……….The improvement of agriculture in order to increase the prosperity of the toiling masses and the political evolution of the country are after all, the two outstanding problems of our country. In both these Your Excellency has not only shown sympathy and understanding, but you possess that intimate knowledge which alone can enable you to translate that sympathy into concrete action……….In my own limited sphere I take interest in improving the condition of the peasant. It is this solicitude for the welfare of the rural population that prompted me to entrust to the care of a popular Minister those departments which deal with the problems of rural advancement.”
“As an orthodox Hindu I am a firm believer in the fundamental unity of India in spite of apparent diversities. The Hindu sages who located the four great pilgrimages dear to the heart of every pious Hindu in the four corners of this vast continent—Badrinath in the North, Jagannath in the East, Cape Comorin in the South and Dwaraka in the West—had the fullest realization of the spiritual unity of India in spite of its political divisions. The time has now come when unity even in the political sphere can be achieved for this great country.”
“While I emphasize on this need for the political unity of India I would be failing in my duty to my subjects if I did not make it clear that the vital interests of my small State cannot be sacrificed in this search for unity. I fully realize that some measure of sacrifice is essential on the part of everyone who is called upon to lend a hand in building the political structure of India. Those engaged in a joint creative effort must necessarily have the spirit of ‘Give” and not of “Take”. I have no doubt that with Your Excellency’s sympathetic guidance and understanding we would be able to solve this problem of the political evolution of India to the advantage of every one and to the glory of our country.”
The Viceroy replied responding to the toast “ The advanced condition of Cochin today, the high degree of literacy and of education of its peoples, the progressive character of its administration, directly reflect the close and immediate interest taken by your Highness and your predecessors on the gadi in everything calculated to be of importance to your subjects. Your own close and intimate knowledge of all parts of the State, and the firsthand knowledge which your extensive touring has given you, has made well aware of their needs and requirements; and I well know how concerned Your Highness has always been to apply the knowledge and
experience which your travels, whether inside or outside of your State, have given you in the administration and for the benefit of Cochin.”
After the Banquet, there was a Bharatha Natya performance in the Durbar hall grounds. The following day in the afternoon the Maharaja gave a garden party in Irwin Park. After tea, His Excellency unveiled a statue of His Highness the Maharaja in Irwin park in Ernakulam, Today, the park is known as Subash Chandra Bose Park. Following remarks were made by the Dewan.
“When speaking of His Highness in public or private every one refers to him as the ‘Saintly Ruler’ of the State. It is only those that have had the good fortune of coming into close personal contact with His Highness that can realize the appropriateness of this epithet as applied to him. In the minds of ordinary people great pomp and pageantry are generally associated with a Ruler. Everyone in this State and those who have visited the State know full well that the Ruler of Cochin lives a simple saintly life devoid of pomp. While maintaining in the highest degree the dignity associated with a great Ruler, His Highness leads a simple life which is not very different from the lives of his subjects and shares with them in a practical manner their simple joys and sorrows.”
Raja Rama Varma died in Chowara on 13th April 1941. He is fondly remembered as the " Chowarayil Theeppetta Thampuran"