As a part of my investigation into the Cochin Royal Family history, I tried to piece together data on what has happened to the members of our family after 1947. What follows is a rundown of my understanding of the events that has unfolded post 1947.
c. 1920 - c. 1927
The ruler of the State of Cochin during this period, Maharaja Rama Varma (1914 – 1931), known as Madirashiyil Theepetta Vallia Thampuran, issued a Royal Proclamation to bring together the assets of the 'Palliyara Muthalpidi',also known as the 'Sthanam Property' (the assets which served the male members of the family) and the 'Valiamma Thampuran Kovilakam Estate' ( the assets which served the female members of the family). Since then, it has been referred to as 'The Valiamma Thampuran Estate and the Palace Funds'.
Personally, I feel that the female members of our family have lost out in so many ways as a result of the inter-mingling of funds.
15th of August,
1947, an illustrious and thrilling moment for India when the British flag was lowered and the Indian tricolour flag was hoisted. Maharaja H.H Kerala Varma, fondly called Aikya Keralam Thampuran, was present for the flag-hoisting ceremony on the steps of the Hill Palace. The Raja had passed the governing powers over to a Legislative Council in anticipation of this day and had dispensed the position of Dewan. He was astute enough to call for the integration of Kerala on a linguistic basis and had earned the praise from the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru and the ill-will from the Dewan of Travancore, Mr. C.P Ramaswamy Iyer. Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy of India had accepted the position as the first Governor General of India. His visit to Cochin in 1948 was a memorable event seeped in protocols and pageantry. By now, the Maharaja was ailing from age-related illnesses and deputed the Elaya Raja, Parikshith Thampuran and his brother, Ravi Varma Munsiff Thampuran to officially welcome Lord Mountbatten and his convoy. Later that year, he sadly attended the event where Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were brought to Cochin as a part of the Nation's farewell to the Mahatma, the Father of our Nation. He passed away in July 1948 and H.H Parikshith Thampuran ascended the ancient gadi.
1948 – 1950
Mr. V.P. Menon, assistant to Sardar Vallabhai Patel, India’s first Home Minister, was deputed to Cochin and Travancore to negotiate the terms of relinquishment of the States to form the New United States of Travancore and Cochin. Most of the details of those negotiations are laid out in V.P. Menon’s book.
'As early as 1925, Cochin had a Legislative Council with an elected majority. It was the first of the States to send, in 1946, elected representatives to the Constituent Assembly. Soon after this, the Maharaja granted full responsibility to the government, a step which was applauded throughout the country. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru commended him highly for his statesmanship. Cochin was among the first States to accede to the Dominion of India.'
- THE STORY OF THE INTEGRATION OF THE STATES - V.P. Menon
Mr. Menon’s task was simplified by the Cochin Maharaja, Parikshith Thampuran as he had not put forth any demands. He had to deal with tough bargaining from the Travancore side with Dewan C.P Ramaswamy Iyer leading the charge. Parikshith Thampuran’s stance is easy to understand if one has perused the history of the Kings of Cochin. “Jana hitham
” ( people’s wish) was the reason for their rule. The Cochin Seal said “Honor is our family treasure”. Once the decision was made to dissolve Cochin into the Nation of India, where is the need for negotiating for small favors?
V.P Menon elucidates further in his book:
"On the evening of the 27th of May, I went to Ernakulam to settle the Privy Purse of the Maharajah of Cochin. He was, at the time, drawing an annual amount of Rs 1,74,000 plus other amenities such as repairs to palaces, supply and maintenance of cars and so on. Taking everything into consideration, the Privy Purse was fixed at Rs 2,35,000, which worked out to 0.56 per cent of the total revenue of the State. The Cochin Ruling Family consisted, at that time, of 223 princes and 231 princesses, all of whom were getting allowances from the State. There was also a separate fund set aside for their marriages and other ceremonies, and for their education and maintenance. I met some of these princes and princesses. As I engaged in conversation with them, I was reminded of an aviary in a certain State which possessed a rare collection of birds. When that State was integrated, the popular ministry, apparently on the principle of ahimsa, let the birds loose! The poor creatures were very soon devoured by other birds and beasts of prey. The princesses, at any rate, had led a sheltered existence all along; and most of their husbands, instead of supporting them, had themselves to maintained by the State. I felt that it would be inhuman to expose the princesses to a competitive world without making some sort of provisions for them. The Government of India subsequently decided to continue the allowances to those members of the ruling family, who were still living on the day the covenant was signed. No responsibility was accepted with respect of any further additions to the ruling family.
On the 29th of May, I went to the Palace with the Premier, to obtain the Maharaja's signature to the covenant. As I placed it before him, he opened the cap of his fountain pen; but just before signing, he replaced the cap, put down the pen and continued to sit motionless. A while later, when I reminded the Maharajah about his signature, I realized that he was saying a prayer. I felt considerably embarrassed and waited till he finished praying. He signed then. I assured him that the Government of India would see to it that his dignity and prestige were maintained fully and that he would have no cause to regret the decision he had taken. The Maharaja then, met with the ministers and told them that in the future, it would be up to them to look after the ruling family and the people of Cochin. The Premier assured the Maharaja that he would carry out his wishes to the best of his ability.”
In fact, V.P. Menon’s book is the only source we had to rely on, for details of that eventful day. But during the course of the CRF Historical Society yearly seminars, I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Elamana Hari who was serving as Superintendant to the then Maharaja, Parikshith Thampuran. Mr. Hari’s description of the solemn signing of the papers by Thampuran should make our family proud. A joke about the future status of the annual almanac was made out to be the last demand of the Thampuran. ( For details on this event, see the segment on the Maharaja of Cochin, Parikshith Thampuran ( 1948 – 1964 ) under ‘Political History’.) The media loves to portray the last Maharaja as a naive King who sold out Cochin for an almanac. But the fact is, the Maharaja did not even ask for an almanac in return!
When the union of the States of Travancore and Cochin States was imminent, Parikshith Thampuran desired to protect the properties of the Cochin Royal Family by delineating it further from Cochin State Treasury. He issued the Royal Proclamation of 1949 and declared that the 'Valiamma Thampuran Estate' and the 'Palace Funds' need not be partitioned amongst individual family members, calling it 'impartible'. He created the Palace Administration Board (PAB) to administer this fund. The PAB was composed of 5 members of our family, nominated by and reporting to the Maharaja. The 5 chosen ones were : Mamunny Thampuran, President; Maru Thampuran of Kizhekke Valia Thampuran Kovilakam; B.Com Anujan Thampuran of Thekke Valiya Thampuran Kovilakam; Ravi Varma Thampuran of Thekke Kovilakam and Shantikunjam Thampuran of Padinjare Kovilakam.
He continued to live at the Hill Palace, which was breathtakingly beautiful, set on 15 acres of landscaped grounds, where the trees were part of an arboretum. There was a fleet of cars for the use of the Raja and any member of the extended Marumakkathayam family. With him being a Sanskrit scholar, Sanskrit Sabhas
were held regularly at the palace. In 1949, when the Jewish Community of Cochin decided to immigrate to the newly formed State of Israel, Thampuran felt the true weight of history and felt that a formal farewell from the Cochin Royal Family was called for. His speech at the Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin is a profound one that ought to make us proud. ( See Maharaja Rama Varma, 1948-1964, under 'Political History' ). He passed away in 1964.
Winds of change were sweeping through our State as well as our Family by now. The Government of Kerala issued several earthshaking edicts :
1. The Hindu Succession Act of 1956.
2. 1958 : A Sthanum Properties Act splinterized the impartibility of Sthanum Properties, after the death of a Sthani.
3. 1961 : The Valiyamma Thampuran Kovilakam Estate and the Palace Fund (Partition Act). Its purpose was to undo the impartibility clause stated in the Proclamation of 1949.
4. 1970 : The Land Reforms Act, first passed in 1959 in Kerala and amended over the years, came into effect in January, 1970. By this, the leasing of cultivable land ceased, and the landowners who had relied on income from leasing agricultural land, became extinct. The Cochin Royal Family incurred heavy losses.
5. 1971 : The Government of India issued the 26th
Constitutional Amendment. All Royal Privy Purses and other privileges came to an end for all the Maharajas.
6. 1975 : The Government of Kerala issued the Kerala Joint Family Abolition Act of 1975. The Marumakkathayam system was abolished. The Cochin Royal Family was exempted because the Act of 1961 was not repealed.
7. 1978 : The Government of Kerala specifically issues the Valiamma Thampuran Estate, the Palace Fund Partition Act and the Joint Family Abolition Act. Its purpose was to repeal certain sections of the Act of 1961 that was contradictory to the 1975 Act. It specifically repeals Section 5.
The Act of 1961 is of major significance. It got the assent of the President of India and was published in the Kerala Gazette Extraordinary No. 54, dated 18.05.1961.
Section 3 of this Act asks the Maharaja to order the partition of the assets under his control and supervise and direct his PAB to execute the same, provided a majority of the Royal Family members come forward to request it and the Maharaja is satisfied that it is in the best interests of the family.
Section 4 provided that each member shall be entitled to an equal share of the Estate and that, that share would be a separate property of the member. Eventually, this led to compilation of a list of around 719 members,who had been identified to receive a share of the estate.
Section 5 provided the Maharaja, the power to set aside certain properties as common property for the benefit of the family. Perhaps this led to the formation of the VTK Trust and basis for the Valiamma Thampuran Kovilakam, Puthen Bungalow Temple, Kalikotta Palace, Thekke Kovilakam and the Cemetery,being set aside as common heritage properties.
Section 6 provided for a Deed of Partition for the members and made the Deed binding on all members of the family.
Section 7 barred the right of any member of the Cochin Royal Family to institute a suit asking for the Partition of the remaining Estates.
8. 1979-80 : The lawsuit, Bharathan Thampuran Vs Palace Administration Board went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court verdict, issued by Justice V.R Krishna Iyer, gave the authority to the PAB to effect the partition. The Court observed that the Cochin Royal Family was living in abject penury and to prevent the process of partition from dragging on for ages, the PAB was made a statutory body with quasi-legal powers, which protected it from trivial litigations which would end up questioning and prolonging the partition. The number of shares was fixed at 719. It is noteworthy that the point about the repeal of Section 5 of the Act of 1961 was raised by the Thampuran but, was ignored by the Justices.
The period that followed 1960 can be called the Dark Ages of the Cochin Royal Family. After 1964, the next Valiya Thampuran, the eldest male member of the family who is not referred to as the Raja, was Lalan Thampuran. He did not shift residence to the Hill Palace. One of the major reasons cited for this could be the colossal expenses required for the day-to-day upkeep and maintenance of the palace. The Hill Palace was on the road to ruin when the PAB decided to request the State Government of Kerala to buy it. Unconfirmed reports say that the Palace was sold for about Rs.25 Lakhs (In sum total). The extended family was struggling to make ends meet because it marked the end of the flow of cash and privileges that they were dependent upon.
Attached is an excerpt from a newspaper article from that period, that speaks on what is narrated above. (India Today : dated 2/15/1981 and updated on the 27th of November, 2013.) The tone of the article is noteworthy.
February 15, 1981
Kerala: Fleecing royalty
Kerala Government disallows the Cochin Royal Family from auctioning off its heirlooms.
Lakshmi Mohan November 27, 2013 | UPDATED 17:46 IST
'The ungainly, dis organised township of Tripunithara hardly looks the sort of place which might once have sheltered royalty. In fact, very few of its citizens any longer remember the Maharajas and the Cochin Royalty who once ruled from there. Yet the descendents of the former rulers are very much there, and more than three decades after they were unceremoniously pushed off their throne, are back in the news.
The reason for that, as with so many others of their aristocratic ilk, is a plain bread and butter question : the family wants to auction its heirlooms to the highest bidder to raise badly needed money but the Kerala Government won't allow it to. The tussle has been going on for the last four months, ever since the State Authorities stopped a proposed auction of 584 pieces of jewelery. The reason given seemed authentic enough : the authorities wanted to prevent the export from the State, of items of 'archaeological value'.
Unlike other former rulers of Kerala, who anticipated future government-thinking and were prudent enough to dispose of their crown jewels at lucrative prices in Bombay and other markets, in the years immediately following Independence, the Cochin Royalty was caught napping. Consequently, their jewelery is about the only art treasures of their kind to remain within the State and the State Government apparently intends to keep them there.
That's where the trouble started. The Kerala Government wants to buy some of the jewellery in public interest, but hasn't said which ones. Nor, in its current penury, does it have the money to pay for what it might want.'
The article goes on to state :
' The former Maharaja's 480-year-old Crown Treasures
The items in dispute include a stunning Gold Crown, embedded with 69 Emeralds, 95 Diamonds and 244 Rubies, which is 480 years old and is of Dutch origin. The crown itself is valued at Rs.10 Lakh.
The 584 individual items include a Chandraharam set with 60 Chandrakalas, 478 rubies and 1 Diamond; a Manimala with 1,566 rubies; a Pathakkam set with 123 Rubies and 1 Emerald; 4 bangle sets with 511 Rubies and a Rudrakska Maala with Gouri Shanker on a Gold chain with 338 Rubies and 2 Diamonds.
In addition to these, there are 1,692 coins belonging to various periods of antiquity like Gold Coins from the Napolean Era and Louis XVIII Era, Nickel and Copper Coins of the Portuguese and Dutch; and 19th Century German, Egyptian and Ceylonese Coins.
Apparently, the former Cochin Royal Family is once-bitten-twice-shy about the dealings with the State Government. The Tripunithara Hill Palace which belongs to them, was acquired by the Government a few years ago.
The amount of Rs.41 Lakhs, has not been fully reimbursed yet. Again, in 1975, when an auction of their antique furniture and priceless accessories was announced through Messrs Murrey and Co., the State Government intervened and arbitrarily decided that they would take over some of the pieces as exhibits for their museum at Ernakulam.
According to an informed palace source, not even one-fourth of the value of the items that were acquired, was given to them. For instance, a pair of tusks weighing 42-45 Kg, was acquired by the Government for a paltry sum of Rs.2,500 while another similar pair sold at an auction fetched an astronomical sum of Rs.22,000.
The Government also bought a huge reclining elephant, acclaimed as a masterpiece of brilliant craftsmanship, carved out of a single block of wood, for just Rs.7,500, when there was a definite offer for that spectacular piece from a foreigner who was prepared to pay around Rs.3 Lakhs for it.
Though the former Cochin Ruling Family members accepted this prejudiced government behaviour with their customary fortitude and dignity, it still rankles in their minds and they are predictably, wary.
All the assets, moveable and immoveable, finances, Crown Jewels and lands belonging to the former Cochin Ruling Family are now rested with the Palace Administration Board which represents the four 'Thavazhis' or Matrilineal branches of the Family and their descendants numbering at around 700.'
Another quote from the article says :
'Seated in the vast, dusty and unused room of the dilapidated Kalikkotta Palace, which used to fuction as the school for the girls of the Royal Family, Rama Varma Appan Thampuran said bravely : "We never would have agreed to sell off our heirlooms, had it not been for the Abolition of the Joint Family Act. Now, each member of the Family has to be given his/her share of the inheritance. Our lands have all been partitioned. Our Gold and Jewels can only be divided individually if they are converted into money." '
The article ends, saying :
In this simmering atmosphere, the shrewd Rama Varma Appan Thampuran says calmly : "We won't forsake our basic honour. We would be lowering our dignity if we fought with them (the Government) over this issue. The motto inscribed on the head-rest of our throne reads - 'Honour is our Family Treasure'. "
Read more at : http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/kerala-government-disallows-cochin-royal-family-from-auction-its-heirlooms/1/401511.html
The article portrays the despair of the times. Unconfirmed reports say that the auction did not yield good returns and that smart businessmen bid low, sold high and reaped huge profits.
The PAB did not pause to look back after this debacle. All the assets of the Cochin Royal Family have been auctioned off or taken over by the Government and the proceeds distributed to the 719 members who were found to be eligible for a share. At a CRFHS Annual Seminar, where the members of the PAB, the V.T.K Trust and the members of the family came together for a discussion, it was revealed that, to date, a sum between Rs. 3 to Rs. 4 lakhs have been distributed to each of the 719 members.
An Inventory of the Properties belonging to the Cochin Royal Family as per Government Records
It must be noted that this list must have been prepared after the acquisition of the Hill Palace by the Government. It also does not contain the description of the landed assets that the Family probably had in its possession.
1. Vadakke Nalukettu, Ernakulam.
2. Amma Raja’s Palace, Ernakulam.
3. Tank Shed Palace, Ernakulam.
4. The Indian Guest House, Ernakulam.
5. Amma Raja’s Palace, Maharaja’s Palace and Appurtenant Buildings, Chowra.
6. Maharaja’s Palace, Irinjalakuda.
7. Ammaraja’s Palace and Elaya Raja’s Palace, Irinjalakuda.
8. Chalakudy Palace.
9. Arattupuzha Palace.
10. Cheruthuruthy Palace.
11. Oorakam Palace.
12. Cochin House, Vaikkom.
13. Trichur Old Palace( Shakthan Thampuran Palace) and Pallithevarakettu.
14. Part of Tullock’s Garden, Madras; 3 Acres of land and 2 buildings( known as the Cochin House ).
15. Vellarapilly Palace.
16. Thiruvanchikulam Palace.
17. Annamanada Palace.
18. Thiruvilwamala Palace.
19. Pazhayannur Palace.
20. Chittur Palace.
21. Southern Chittoor Palace.
22. Kanayannur Palace.
23. All the Palaces within the area of the Fort at Tripunithara.
24. All the common buildings within the Fort at Tripunithara, other than the Palaces that are now in regular use by the members of the Ruling Family, such as the Kalikotta and Kalamjam Buildings, the Special Palace Officer Buildings and the Young Princes Playground.
25. The Residential Palace occupied by the Thampurans at Ernakulam.
The Elk Hill Palace at Coonnoor is not mentioned here, neither is the Krishna Vilasam Palace at Ernakulam.
Ref: Government of Kerala ABSTRACT..PUBLIC ( POLITICAL B) DEPARTMENT; G.O (Ms)No.101/76/PD. Dated Trivandrum, 30-3-1976
Government...in consultation with the Government of India and are pleased to order that the buildings mentioned in the list appended to this order, which were considered as belonging to the former Ruler of Cochin, in the D.O Letter read above will devolve on the members of the former ruling family of Cochin with effect from the date of this order. These buildings will be administered by the Palace Administration Board for the benefit of such members. The G.P No.G5-2872/49/CS dated 24-11-1949 of the Government of the United State of Travancore and Cochin will stand modified to this extent. ( By Order of the Governor )...Zacaria Mathew, Special Secretary.
As history reveals, Cochin was sandwiched between two extremely powerful neighbors; The Zamorin to the North and Travancore to the South. Cochin neither ever had the will nor the fortitude to carry on a war, but was constantly dragged into fighting them both its for self-survival. Its fortunes waxed and waned as it survived both good times and bad, with the Portuguese and the Dutch presence. But, with the advent of Tippu Sultan, Cochin lost out completely. Then, the British annexed Calicut and added it to the Madras Presidency. But they allowed Cochin to function as a State under British suzerainty. There were no more wars after the 1800s. With the help of able administrators, Cochin prospered and earned the respect of the British Authoritities. It is remarkable that they eventually comprehended the Nation’s hunger for freedom and starting from 1920, encouraged the formation of Legislative Assemblies and elected officials from the public. In 1947, the State of Cochin merged with the Union of India.
The story of our family will, no doubt, continue. Our role now is to understand the past, take stock of the present and carve out a future that retains a place in our heart for Tripunithara and its traditions. It is up to us, the members of the Cochin Royal Family, to come together, preserve the Heritage Properties that are still under our names, take care of the few amongst us that genuinely need our help and take the next step towards becoming responsible, contributing citizens of India.