Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bhor, the erstwhile princely state

Flag of Bhor

Yesterday, I had a telephonic talk with HH Raja Shrimant Yogeshrao Chimnajirao Pandit Pant Sachiv, Raja of Bhor, the erstwhile princely state near Pune. We got introduced and I spoke to him in Pune while travelling in a car in Dubai. He is the maternal uncle of Amita, the wife of my colleague and friend, Dilip Gejji, stationed in Auckland.

Dilip is a Maharashtra Brahmin by birth and very well informed on various matters. While we were driving out for lunch, I told him that the then Raja of Bhor, Shankar Rav Chimanji Pant Sachiv was honoured by the King Emperor George V, during the Delhi Durbar of 1911 by giving him the honour of 11 personal guns salutes. Very amused, Dilip told me that he shall contact Mama which paved way for our talk.

The Raja was extremely polite and kind while talking. When I mentioned that I have read about the honours conferred upon his great grandfather by the King Emperor in 1911, he was very happy. He told of his visit to London along with his father in 1937 as guests of the British Royalty when they stayed at the Buckingham Palace. He further informed of their 300 year old palace near Pune and welcomed me with family there during a visit to India. We also shared some talk on Bhor of the past and about the life in Pune in the present.

Padma Lokur, Princess of Bhor, and mother-in-law of Dilip is a prolific writer. She remembers how when her brother was born, 'many married women came to the palace with large vessels full of milk which was poured on the palace steps’. This was on the tenth day of birth of a child in the royal household.

Bhor was one of the Deccan and Kolhapur princely States of British India now part of Maharashtra. A feudatory of Satara State, Bhor was bestowed on Shankarji Narayan, Pant Sachiv, in 1697, by Raja Ram of Satara, for his services. Of the six Satara Jagirs or feudatories which became tributaries to the British Government on the lapse of the Satara territory in 1849, four, viz: Bhor, Phaltan, Aundh and Jath were under the supervision of the Collector of Satara as Political Agent.

Situated among the higher peaks of the Western Ghats, the state covered an area of 2357 square kilometres, and had a population of 137,268 in 1901. Its Hindu rulers, of the Deshastha Brahmin caste, used the title "Pant Sachiv" and were entitled to a hereditary 9-gun salute.

The last Ruler of Bhor was Raja Shrimant Sir Raghunathrao Shankarrao Babasaheb Pandit Pantsachiv. The town of Bhor, once the capital of the princely state, is located about 40 kilometres south of Pune, adjacent to Bhatghar dam.

A ½-anna red Pant Sachiv Shankarrao postal stamp.

Bhor and some history:

Bhor begins from the north-west corner of Satara on the north of the Mahadev hills. With a breadth varying from thirty-five miles in the south to fifteen miles in the north, Bhor stretches north-west over the rough Sahyadri lands in south-west Poona. It has an estimated area of about 1491 square miles, a population of 145,876, and in AD 1883 gross revenue of Rs. 5 Lakhs.

In 1882-83 it had three civil and seven criminal courts. Besides thirty horsemen in the head-quarter guard who aid as mounted police, the police were 184 strong. There is no municipality, but a committee of five officers supervise sanitary arrangements. The local funds collections amounted to Rs. 31,000, which are said to have been spent on local objects; 1045 patients were treated at the Bhor dispensary and 2267 persons were vaccinated. There are twenty-seven schools with 923 pupils.


In 1697 Rajaram, the son of Shivaji, appointed Shankarji Narayan Pant Sachiv for his able services.

The Pant Sachiv was one of the titles given to his eight ministers by Shivaji at the time of his crowning in 1674. The eight titles were the peshwa or prime minister, pant amatya or councillor, pant sachiv or minister, mantri or general councillor, sumant or foreign minister, nyayadhish or judge, and panditrav or the learned. In 1698 a ninth title of pant pratinidhi or viceroy, ranking higher than the other eight, was created by Rajaram.

He was given an estate or jagir and rent-free lands. In 1707, Shankarji died at Ambevadi and was succeeded by his son Naro. On his death in March 1737, Naro was succeeded by his nephew Chimnaji who had three sons Sadashivrav, Anandrav, and Raghunathrav. In 1757, on the death of Chimnaji, his eldest son Sadashivrav became Pant Sachiv. In 1787, on his death Sadashivrav was succeeded by his youngest brother Raghunathrav. On Raghunathrav's death in 1791, his son Shankarrav became Pant Sachiv. He had no male issue and adopted Chimnaji who succeeded him in 1798. Till their downfall in 1818, Chimnaji continued in the service of the Peshwas. On his death in 1827, Chimnaji was succeeded by his adopted son Raghunathrav; for this adoption a nazarana or present of Rs. 40,000 was paid to the Raja of Satara. In 1836 Raghunathrav, being without legitimate male issue, adopted Chimnaji who succeeded him in 1839. On the 12th of February 1871, on his death Chimnaji was succeeded by his son Shankarrav. During the chief's minority a karbhari or manager was appointed by the British Government to look after his affairs. In 1874 at the age of twenty-one, Shankarrav assumed the charge of his state. The Pant Sachiv ranks as first class sardar. His yearly tribute was Rs. 5235 to the British Government, nominally on account of pilkhana or elephant stables.

Uprisings, 1857

No outbreak occurred at Satara or Bhor during the uprising, but evidence was discovered of a widespread conspiracy only a week before the date fixed for the rising. A Ramoshi named Nana Raghu Chavhan, who about AD 1831 had received Rs. 10,000 from Government for the arrest of the notorious Ramoshi bandit Umaji Naik, told a dismissed agent of the Pant Sachiv that a conspiracy was on foot in Satara. The Pant Sachiv's agent told Mr. Rose, the District Magistrate on the 10th June 1857. Inquiry showed that armed Marathas had gathered at Bagarvadi a village near Bhor, the Pant Sachiv's capital that they had started for Satara, and had arranged for Ramoshi and others to follow them. As there was a large Ramoshi population near Bagarvadi, thirty of the Southern Maratha Irregular Horse were sent under Lieutenant Kerr, accompanied by the First Assistant Commissioner Lieutenant Sandford, to intercept them. The party marched forty-five miles in sixteen hours over difficult rugged ground, but were seen by some of the Marathas who returned from Satara and the greater number of the men escaped to the hills. Thirteen Marathas were seized, but of the thirteen, only one was a man of consequence. All confessed that they had come together for the purpose of attacking the station at Satara. In consequence of this intelligence the magistrate asked for a detachment of European troops from Poona which arrived towards the end of the month. On the day after the intelligence was received from Bhor, a Rajput messenger on the establishment of the Satara Judge's court was arrested in the lines of the 22nd Regiment native Infantry at Satara, endeavouring to corrupt a Subedar and through him all the Indian men of the regiment. The magistrate Mr. Rose was empowered to try him by special commission and he was executed on the 20th of June. On the scaffold he harangued the people present telling them that the English had less hold on the country than when they set foot in it, and urging them as the sons of Hindus and Musalmans not to remain quiet. Ref:
Dubai, 27th February 2008.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Coconut, Sir Richard Branson and bio-fuel

Of late, the coconuts and its oil have been in the news for all wrong reasons. The talks of cholesterol enhancing edible oils put the coconuts and the coconut oil in to a shady background.

Oils which were unheard of in our childhood took the roost and filled our kitchen cabinets.

In our primary classes, we learned that our state is known as Kerala because it is the land of Kera, the coconut. We also believed that the coconut palm is a Kalpa vrikhsha; the celestial tree giving all the wishes. It was true. The palm leaves were used for thatching roofs of cottages. The life inside was cool and pleasant. These leaves were also the favourite food for our domesticated elephants which were always seen around for village and temple festivals. These were also used for making fences in our villages.
Tender coconuts were exotic drinks which were medicinal too unlike the fizzling colas of the present. Some of our senior politicians claim that regular use of tender coconut water is like Methuselah enzyme for them.
Coconuts were essential food ingredients. Every Malayali worth his salt will crave for Coconut chutney with his Dosas. Theeyal (A curry made with small onions, yams, coriander, red chillies and cooked in tamarind pulp)made of grated and fried coconut is another delicacy. Idichu pizhinja payasam (A sweet delicacy made of broken wheat or rice or lentils with jaggery cooked in coconut milk. This used to be an essential item of Hindu feasts during birthdays, marriages etc till recently) is one of the best desserts if taken in small quantity. The examples are innumerable. Banana chips fried in coconut oil is a class apart as an evening snack.
The husk of coconuts gives us coir, the yarn used for various purposes running from the mattresses to the hangman’s noose.
The trunk of the tree of course had plenty of uses varying from furniture making to pillars to foundation piles.
Last but not the least, the tree provides , toddy, the exotic local drink which is mildly intoxicating and is affectionately called “Kallu”.

Now, it seems that the good days are here again.

Sir Richard Branson, the maverick chief of Virgin Atlantic made history on 24th February 2008 by making his commercial aircraft fly from London to Amsterdam on bio-fuel. And, this bio-fuel was made from babassu nuts and our dear coconut oil. Though the bio-fuel is years away from certifications, it gives a great prestige to our coconut oil.

Let this news be an encouragement to all our farmers in Kerala!
Dubai, 26th February 2008.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Federico García Lorca and a Great Elegy

Federico García Lorca

Lorca was the foremost poet and dramatist of Spain of the 20th century. He lived only for 36 years and was shot by a firing squad in 1936, the year when the Spanish civil war started. He had no political affiliations but was known to be a friend of the leftist intellectuals and was an advocate of liberty. This was reason enough for the Nationalists of Franco’s government to do away with him. It banned his books and the intention was to obliterate his name from history of the period.

Lorca’s writings have the elements of Spanish folklore, the gypsy way of life and the surrealistic techniques of poetry. His personal life is rather controversial because of his unbecoming closeness to friends of the same gender.

Lorca had his education in Madrid when the famous painter Salvador Dali was his friend. Later, Lorca spent about 2 years in New York at the Columbia University and his inability to speak English had implanted in him a cultural shock. His book, “Poet in New York “condemns the corrupted city life with which he found difficulty in coping with.

I have translated some of the poems from this book into Malayalam. I also translated “Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias” the most wonderful poem he wrote, which, after reading, affected me considerably.

Ignacio Sanchez Mejias

Lorca’s greatest poem is “Lament for, Ignacio Sanchez Mejias” written after his friend, a bullfighter. Ignacio Sanchez Mejias was a famous bullfighter who had retired from the ring with his health and fortune safely taken care. However, in 1934, he was persuaded to make a comeback as a replacement for an injured matador. It was proved a fatal mistake and he was gored to death in the bullring. Lorca was present when this gory incident happened. This experience made him write the elegy in the form of a ballad using the poetic forms he was familiar with.

This poem has been regarded by many as one of the four great elegies written in Spanish.

The eternal figure of one man facing his own fate is exemplified by Ignacio Sanchez Mejias his friend and the bullfighter.

“Now, Ignacio the well born lies on the stone. All is finished.
What is happening? Contemplate his face:
death has covered him with pale sulphur
and has placed on him the head of a dark Minotaur”
All is finished. The rain penetrates his mouth.
The air, as if mad, leaves his sunken chest,
and Love, soaked through with tears of snow,
warms itself on the peak of the herd.
My translation to malayalam 0f the above lines.

The rituals and codes of a bullfight are distinct parts of the Spanish heritage and these have been adapted to various western movies. Lorca once said that the bullfight is not very important as a game. It is a religious mystery, he felt. It reflects the public display of the victory of good over baser instincts. It is the victory of the spirit over the matter, the intelligence over the instinct and of the laughing hero over the frothing demonic form.

Those interested to hear the wonderful reading of "The Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Meji­as"by John Mackenzie from the Internet Archives can do so from the following website

Dubai, 24th February 2008.

Madrid, Juan and Chaurasia

Juan Del Amo
In the summer of 2006, I had been to Spain and visited Madrid. While at the Holiday Inn Hotel, I asked the front office manager if he could let me know of any programme for a bull fight which I could watch. Also, I asked him about some good book shops from where I could pick up an anthology of the renowned Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca.
After an hour when we met again Juan was very curious. He asked me as to why I wanted to watch the macabre act of a bull fight, I being a “Hindoo”. He was also amused to know of my interest about Lorca. Thereupon, he mentioned about his visit to India for the Pushkar Mela, about his reading “Manimekhalay”, about Hariprasad Chaurasia and about the Indian classical music. It was my turn to be surprised because I never thought that a Spaniard could tell me about a second century Tamil classic which our own intelligentsia may not have given much attention to.

Juan and I were to become good friends and our correspondence has been going on ever since. I have saved all these in my laptop and this should be good enough for a book on various subjects of our common interest. The subjects vary from Religion, Spanish conquests of the Americas, Spanish civil war, life in the monasteries, music, and Indology. Juan has presently taken up the translation of “Jahangir memoirs” (originally written in Persian) from English to Spanish.

The truth about good music is that it transcends all barriers geography, language, race and time. It also takes us to another realm of existence. When I said this, Juan agreed with me. He told me of a waiter boy in the hotel who had a liking for music and musical instruments. On hearing Chaurasia’s flute from a CD, he was enchanted and told Juan that the music was “terrific and was out of the world”. Coming from a Spanish youth with no exposure to Indian music, this comment was quite surprising and it showed the power of great music irrespective of the instrument or the language.

The next day, as suggested by Juan, I went to some good book shops by travelling through the metro. I also visited the Prado museum, where I could watch some excellent paintings of Goya, Velasquez, Titian and Picasso.

I could pick up some books of Lorca, which included “The Poet in New York”. A write up on the redoubtable great poet Lorca, and his lament on the death of Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, his friend, the bull fighter, I reserve for another post.

Dubai, 22nd February 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Torchlight Robbery

For our youngsters, terms like, candlelight dinner will be very familiar. But how many of them know of the words like “Theevetti Kolla” (Torchlight Robbery)?
I heard the Malayalam word “Theevetti Kolla” (Torchlight Robbery) for the first time as a little boy from my Cheriya Muthassi (Younger sister of my maternal grandma who was also another grandma). We used to call her Chitta, taking after our mother. Chitta was a scholarly lady who was born in AD 1912 on the same day as the last Maharaja of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma. She was adept in Sanskrit and was exceptionally intelligent and well exposed in matters of general knowledge.

"Theevetti Kolla" is a macabre incident in which some prosperous households were looted and burgled by robbers. The intruders came at night with torches and plundered the assets, often taking an escape route through the waterways. Threats to life and honour to womenfolk were not unusual, though not common. In the 19th century, in Travancore many such instances had been reported. Of course, the culprits, once caught , had to undergo severe punishments including death penalty.
Chitta used to tell us of an incident which happened at “Thekkedath Kovilakom”, an ancient family of Kshathriyas which was related to us. It was about the torchlight robbery which happened in AD 1873 and the frightening details were too much to bear for the chicken hearted children like us who included my elder brother, Vijay and sisters, Rema and Maya. The nightmares of my boyhood were partly due to such stories too.

Brief details of the above could be read from the book Patthompathaam Noottaandile Keralam – Kerala of the 19th century-by D.Bhaskaran Unni”. It is interesting to note that the culprits were sentenced for imprisonments of 14 years.

My father-in-law is a member of this ancestral Tharavadu, for the construction of which the then Maharaja of Travancore , Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma, popularly known as Dharma Raja, had allotted 2000 Kalian Panam in AD 1793. (Ref: Patthompathaam Noottaandile Keralam by D.Bhaskaran Unni)

Gold Kaliyan Fanam

Thank, God! Our present day youngsters, including my daughter Lavanya, can enjoy a candle light dinner without worrying about a torchlight robbery which some of their grandmas had experienced to their horror!

Dubai, 13th February 2008.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Polygamy in Africa

Dubai, UAE: Winter 2008

The other day in Dubai, I had been invited to the marriage of the son of a rich client. The celebrations spread over three days were in different big hotels in the city. The boy was a Sindhi and the girl was a Jain. Obviously it was a love marriage and the couple had started a web site too which I found very amusing. Therein the groom expresses his wishes for fulfilling the career aspirations of the girl and the bride wants to be part of the empire building of the boy.

This reminded me of a friend in Africa who despite being rich enough might be struggling hard to tread on the difficult road of matrimony.

Malawi, Southern Africa: Summer 2003

I and my colleague Mark were at ‘Greens’, an exclusive dining place in the evening. There was a crowd of Europeans, Asians and some natives in the Restaurant.We settled for some South African beer waiting for the guest.

We had invited a client for dinner by name Douglas (His surname, I am afraid, I cannot recollect. How will you feel with names like Ndaferankhande?). Douglas, aged about 35, is a Zimbabwean and is the Treasury Manager of a large securities firm. An MBA to boast of, he belonged to the breed of young and upwardly mobile aggressive youths of Africa. He was a teetotaller.

He was suave, rather refined and well informed in matters of treasury and investments. He spoke of President Robert Mugabe and of the economy of Zimbabwe where one US Dollar at that time was going upwards of 6000 Zimbabwe dollars, even though the official exchange rate was 825 Z.Dollars.So. (By the way, the present rates in grey market is an astounding 1.5 to 2 million Z Dollar per AED.This is another story altogether) He told of sending money through unofficial channels for maximizing his returns. With one years’ salary, he had already bought two big bungalows in Harare. – As you guessed, the exodus of the rich white farmers had left behind beautiful homes-

My friend Mark, a native Malawian, asked the guest about his having two wives about which he had heard .Though I felt delicate about these subjects, they didn't. Douglas confirmed that he had two wives both living under the same roof. Among his tribe, especially when well employed, having two wives was a minimum acceptable level if he was to be seriously taken. He mentioned of his friends having 3 or more wives too. Douglas had kids from both the wives staying together with him. He also told that the wives were so cooperative that they combed each other’s heads looking for lice.

In that part of Africa since polygamy was allowed, one could travel across countries with all the available wives along with their respective passports– It was indeed revelation to me-

A fortnight later, my colleague from Blantyre told me that he had met Douglas and was shocked to hear that his 5 year old son was dead. The boy was about to go to school, felt uneasy was taken to hospital and he died without any known cause.

In Africa, people accept Death so naturally without too much of a shock or grief. We still ponder over it and add to our woes and discomforts.

Dubai, 13th February 2008.

Friday, February 08, 2008

British campaign medal pertaining to Kerala, Gandhiji and Khilafat

The British army officers who were at Malabar 1921

The only British campaign medal given for a military campaign in the territory of present day Kerala was with a clasp “Malabar 1921-22”. It was given by Army order 50 of 1924 and sanctioned the award of this bar to all who took part in the suppression of the Moplah rebellion in Malabar within the area bounded as follows:“On the west by the sea, on the south by the Ponnani river, on the east by the north and south line form Gudalur to the Ponnani river, on the north by an east and west line from Gudalur to the sea”

This medal is categorized under the name India General Service 1908 Medal (IGS 1908 Medal) with a clasp MALABAR 1921-22.

The educationally and economically backward Moplahs of Malabar initially organized the Khilafat Conference in 1920 against the British Government and this had the tacit support of the Indian National Congress too. Later it took criminal overtones with the rebels committing atrocities with mass conversions, murders, arson, looting etc. Destruction of government properties, and attacks on government treasuries and the adoption of guerrilla type war fare by the trouble makers prompted the British Government to suppress the rebellion with severe measures.

The Events at Malabar

Moplahs are known to be descendents of Arab traders who had settled on the Malabar Coast and married local Indian women. During the early months of 1921, multiple events including Khilafat Movement, Karachi resolution, fuelled the fire of rebellion in Kerala. A conference of Khilafat held at Ponnani paved way for the uprisings in Malabar which became a widespread struggle called the Malabar struggle. The rebellion was triggered when Turkey abolished the caliphate and it quickly gained momentum as the Moplahs were in an organized state owing allegiance to the Khilafat Movement. The reasons for the Moplah conflict were rooted in part in the religious perceptions, in part to the disaffection from British Governance and certain anger at the land owning Hindu community. The Hindu landlords had redistributed their lands and many Moplahs were displaced and hence they rose in revolt. The 'rebellion' was a result of dissatisfaction of Moplahs with the land owning Hindu community and the British Administration that inevitably supported the land owning community. Events following the Khilafat Movement helped organize the Moplahs for this rebellion.

On August 20, the first incident of the rebellion occurred at Tirurangadi when the District Magistrate of Calicut with the help of troops attempted to arrest a few Moplah leaders who were in the possession of arms, and armed incidents followed. Arsonists took to the street, burning and destroying government property. Initial focus was on the British, but when the limited presence of the British was eliminated, Moplahs turned their attention to the land owning Hindus. Ali Musaliar was proclaimed Raja of the Moplah Khilafat and Khilafat flags were flown. Ernad and Valluvanad were declared Khilafat kingdoms. Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples and rape were perpetuated by a section of the trouble makers.

By the end of 1921 the situation was under control. The leaders of the rebellion were Ali Musaliar (who had himself assumed the title of the King), Varian kunnath Kunhammad Haji and Chembrasseri Thangal. All had been caught and executed by February 1922.According to official records, the government lost 43 troops with 1256 wounded while the Moplahs lost 3,000, while Moplah accounts put that number at over 10,000.After the suppression of the result, around hundred prisoners, confined in a closed and almost airtight goods van, were transported by rail. When the door was opened, 66 Moplahs were found to be suffocated to death and the remaining 34 were on the verge of collapse.

The Army actions

Initially, the Malabar Special Police and Fraser’s and Charsley’s Companies were dealing with the rebels. It was “decided to bring additional troops of a type accustomed to jungle fighting and the 3/70 Burma Rifles and 2/8th Gurkhas accompanied by a wireless section, a company of Sappers, half the 20th Draught Mule Corps and other transport details arrived in the middle of October 1921.”(Account by Innes ICS). The military commander for Malabar was Major General Burnett Stewart.

Pandikkad Camp, 15th November 1921

"The Gurkha soldiers were at this camp when the rebels, numbering 3000, under Kunhammad Haji and Chembrasseri Thangal jointly attacked the camp from all four sides in the wee hours of the morning of that Sunday. If it were the Police force or the British soldiers inside the camp, they would not have probably survived the onslaught of the Moplahs. But, the Gurkhas who were present there( numbering only about 80) renowned for their combat skills in duels, used their Kukri knives effectively in the most heroic encounter witnessed in Malabar and killed more than 230 rebels in the camp itself. The rest of the rebels fled and the soldiers followed them with gun shots in which too many lost their lives. Only 4 losses were reported for the Gurkhas, with 34 injured in which Capt. Averill also was one injured."
(Excerpts from “Malabar Rebellion” by K .Madhavan Nair)

IGS 1908 Medal with two Bars Waziristan 1921-24 and Malabar 1921-22
Awarded to Rifleman Balman Rana, 2455, 2-8 Gurkha Regiment
who was in the Pandikkad Camp on 15th November 1921

Gandhiji and Khilafat:

It is interesting to note that Mahatma Gandhi had won three medals from the British , while serving in South Africa.Later, he felt that he could no longer accept these from the British government, and returned the awards bestowed on him. The following excerpts from his letter to the Viceroy is quoted from "Young India "dated 4th August, 1920 . It also shows his sympathies to the Khilafat movement of which the Malabar rebellion was a part.

"It is not without a pang that 1 return the Kaisar-i-Hind gold medal granted to me by your predecessor for my humanitarian work in South Africa, the Zulu War medal granted in South Africa for my services as officer in charge of the Indian volunteer ambulance corps in 1906 and the Boer War medal for my services as assistant superintendent of the Indian volunteer stretcher-bearer corps during the Boer War of 1899-1900. I venture to return these medals in pursuance of the scheme of non-cooperation inaugurated today in connection with the Khilafat movement. Valuable as these honours have been to me, I cannot wear them with an easy conscience so long as my Mussalman countrymen have to labour under a wrong done to their religious sentiment. Events that have happened during the past one month have confirmed me in the opinion that the Imperial Government have acted in the Khilafat matter in an unscrupulous, immoral and unjust manner and have been moving from wrong to wrong in order to defend their immorality. I can retain neither respect nor affection for such a Government.

Dubai, 7th February 2008.

PS: This article is not written to enlighten the readers on history, but to relate to the award of the campaign medal based on the British assessment of the situation in Malabar.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mutiny at Manipur -AD 1891-

Frank Grimwood ICS, Resident.

During the British rule of India, there have been many occasions of dissensions among the family members of the princely states. In the army too there have been many mutinies too due to various reasons. What the British used to call as “mutiny”, our historians have chosen to call as “the war of independence”. Let the wise decide the truth.

During the reign of Queen Victoria, in AD1891, the following interesting and bloody incidents happened in Manipur.

The Manipur state was a comparatively un-known member of the family of Indian sovereignties, when the tragic events of the murder of Mr. James Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam, and of others of his party, brought it into an evil notoriety, and made it the platform for the public declaration of important principles on the subject of political relations.
In AD 1886, Maharaja Surchandra Singh succeeded his father Chandra Kirti Singh, to the throne in Manipur. Though Surchandra Singh was the eldest son, the royal family of Manipur got divided into two factions. On one side, the four brothers, Yuvraj Kullachandra, Tikendrajit, Angousana and Zillanamba joined hands against the king. Surchandra Singh and his three brothers rushed to Calcutta and appealed to the British government for help. While they were away, in a palace revolt, Kullachandra became the king and Tikendrajit was made the Yuvraj of Manipur. The British Government wanted to take advantage of the internal dissensions of the royal family and took some decisive steps to bring Manipur completely under its control.

Lord Lansdowne was the Viceroy of India and in February 1891, he instructed Mr. James Quinton, Chief Commissioner of Assam to interfere in the affairs of Manipur. It was decided to remove the Senapati (Commander of the Manipur Army) Tikendrajit from Manipur and to recognize Regent Kullachandra as Maharaja.

The Chief Commissioner Mr.Quinton was also asked to make a personal visit to Manipur and he proceeded in March 1891 with an escort to Manipur to carry out these orders.

Residency at Manipur in AD 1891
He had taken with him an escort of 400 Gurkhas, under Colonel Skene. There was already a guard of a hundred Gurkhas of the 42nd, under Lieutenant Simpson, stationed at Manipur as an escort for Mr. Frank Grimwood of the ICS who was the Resident of Manipur. Quinton reached Manipur early on the morning of March 22nd, and summoned a durbar for the same afternoon. The durbar met, but the Senapati, who evidently had some information of what, was intended, refused to leave the palace and meet the Commissioner. The durbar was adjourned till next day. Meanwhile, Grimwood saw the Rajah and endeavoured to impress upon him the importance of his minister attending the durbar, warning him that his absence would be a dangerous defiance of the Government's authority. But on the 23rd the Senapati was still contumacious, and it was resolved to effect his arrest by force.

Accordingly at dawn on the next day Colonel Skene, of the Gurkhas, entered the palace. But the Manipuris had prepared for resistance with the palace swarming with men (more than 6,000 it was said). As the Gurkhas entered, hundreds of rifles opened on them from roofs, windows, and loop holed walls. Lieutenant Brackenbury, who led it, was literally riddled with bullets which eventually proved mortal, and his Subedar, Heema Chund, and Havildar were killed.

The Manipur men came swarming after them, and the Residency buildings which were badly fitted for defence, were soon closely besieged. The Residency was bombarded at close range. One shell burst in the stable and killed all the horses. Colonel Skene, after a consultation with his colleagues, decided to try negotiations. Cease fire was declared and Mr. Quinton, his secretary, Mr. Cossins, the Resident, Mr. Grimwood, and Colonel Skene and Lieutenant Simpson, of the Gurkhas, came out to meet the Rajah and his chiefs.

All of them along with their bugler were beheaded by the public executioner just in front of the two dragons by the order of Yuvraj Tikendrajit Singh and General Thangal on 24th March 1891. After this, the Manipur troops attacked all the British outposts in Manipur. In the northern side, two British officers of the Telegraph Department viz. Mr. W.B. Melville, Superintendent of Telegraph and Mr. O’Brian, a signaller also lost their lives.

The dragon in front of the Residency

The British Force, now without leaders, managed to escape from the Residency with the Resident’s widow – Ethel Grimwood – who had been active throughout the siege and now helped guide them to safety. For her great gallantry Mrs. Grimwood received the insignia of the Royal Red Cross, a pension for life and was fêted by Royalty.
Ethel Grimwood

The party reached Lakhipur on 20 March and three columns under Colonel Rennick, Major-General Collett, and Brigadier-General Graham, were raised. They converged on Manipur on 26 April to find that the palace had been burnt and the Ruler, the Senapati, Tikendrajit and their brothers had fled. The ruler, his brother Prince Angousana and the Senapati, Tikendrajit were later captured and tried. The Senapati Tikendrajit Singh , General Thangal , Niranjan Subedar(who had defected from army and joined Manipur forces) , Jemadar Kajao Singh ( He speared Grimwood to death) and Chirai Naga (who beheaded Melville who was lying near a stream wounded) were publicly hanged. 22 rebels including the ex regent Kullachandra, prince Angaousana and others were exiled for life to the Andaman Islands or Radhakund in UP.
One Victoria Cross was awarded for this campaign – to Lieutenant C.J.W. Grant, Indian Staff Corps.

Campaign Medal IGS 1854 Clasp N.E.Frontier awarded to

The explanations from the British Government for their actions seemed to be the following:

The Government of India in their Despatch, dated 5th June 1891, were specific that every succession must be recognized by the British Government, and no succession is valid until recognition has been given. As explained in the above, the strict rules of International law have no bearing upon the relations between the Government of India, as representing the Queen-Empress on the one hand, and the Native states under the suzerainty of Her Majesty on the other.

The paramount supremacy of the former presupposes and implies the subordination of the latter. In the exercise of their high prerogatives, the Government of India have, in Manipur as in other protected states, the unquestioned right to remove by administrative order any person whose presence in the state may seem objectionable. The rule was therefore laid down that "any armed and violent resistance to the arrest of such person was an act of rebellion, and can no more be justified by a plea of self-defence than could resistance to a police officer armed with a Magistrate's warrant in British India."

If the unlawful resistance led to the death of the agents of Government, then the persons who caused their death were guilty of murder. Therefore it was proclaimed at Manipur on the 13th of August 1891 : "It is hereby notified, for the information of the subjects of the Manipur state, that Takendrajit Bir Singh, alias the Yuvraj of Manipur, was in the month of June tried by special Commission, and convicted of waging war against the Queen-Empress of India, and abetment of the murder of British officers, and was sentenced to be hanged, which sentence has been confirmed by the Government of India, and will be duly carried out."

Then followed other sentences commuted to transportation for life with forfeiture of all property. The proclamation ended thus: “The subjects of the Manipur state are enjoined to take warning by the punishments inflicted on the above named persons found guilty of rebellion and murder."

Thus ended another chapter in Indian history soaked with plenty of blood and much bitterness.
Dubai, 7th February 2008.
PS: Readers who are interested can download the book "My Three Years in Manipur and Escape from the Recent Mutiny" by Ethel St. Clair Grimwood (fl.1891)London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1891. (Third Edition) from the site

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

On Meditation

I am not competent to tell anything on meditation despite my substantial wanderings both physical and metaphorical.

Today, I read on the passing away of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi the founding Guru of Transcendental Meditation. He was at the Hague and was 91 when dead. Right from the fifties, he had great following from the east and the west and his celebrity disciples included the Beatles.

“Being happy is of the utmost importance. Success in anything is through happiness. Under all circumstances be happy. Just think of any negativity that comes at you as a raindrop falling into the ocean of your bliss," he wrote in 1967.

These words are inspiring indeed!

In 1978, as a young man of 23, after my post graduation, far away in Delhi, I had just joined as a PO with a Bank. I was into bit of serious reading and the thoughts of existentialism and spirituality had taken roots in the mind. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a favourite, though I was rather a novice.

During a break in 1978, I went to the Himalayas. In Rishikesh, I bathed in the Ganges and in the early morning sat on the banks and prayed for the world at large. I thought of my forefathers and prayed for them too. I wandered around and visited the Ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and met his brother who was reportedly a judge who took up sanyas. I remember having taken some lessons in meditation too. But, looking back, I now realize that I was very naïve and immature at that time.

Later in life, I have had the good fortune of meeting some great spiritual masters. I was also blessed to get my guru, a fully realized soul, who found the ultimate truth. He was a doctorate holder from Rutgers State University, USA and who later worked with IBM before embracing Sanyas. He leads his spiritual life in a secluded Ashram in India. Though, ignorant, rather irregular and known for my indiscipline in spiritual matters, I believe, I get the blessings from him and those closely known to me.

One day, I shall certainly begin in earnest about my meditation lessons.

Dubai, 7th February 2008.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Big game hunting in Africa

The excellent blog of Mr. Abraham Tharakan, which I regularly read with almost a Mallu obsession (akin to reading the newspaper in the morning) has the latest one on an interesting hunting safari he partook in the 60s.

The interesting article was revealing too. In those days, though the wild-life laws were put in place, people could take shelters under many a pretext. In the present era, we are aware about the ordeals some thespians and royals are undergoing to come out of the legal issues for having hunted down protected wildlife.

But, in the dark continent of Africa, the madness of destroying wildlife goes on. Those of my readers who have read the author Wilbur Smith will be aware of the hunting concessions in the African countries and about the indiscriminate destruction of the wildlife there.

In Dar Es Salam, Tanzania, my friend M (original name concealed) who is a Tanzanian of Indian origin, is into big time hunting. His company offers hunting expeditions for rich people which may last for months and which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He owns aircrafts and has concessions over thousands of hectares for exclusive hunting rights. Once a hunting safari is fixed, probably for rich Europeans and Americans, the team goes into the wild for a month or so with all needed accompaniments. Any big cat or elephant could be shot with no questions asked. The government collects its fees and in the guise of tourism, all atrocities on these beautiful animals are perpetrated. Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs, wild buffaloes or even elephants are at the mercy of the hunters. Tanzania has over 130 hunting concessions covering an area in excess of 200,000 square kilometres that are leased to hunting outfitters licensed to conduct tourist hunting. More than 60 species of animals in the country can be hunted on a tourist-hunting licence.

Recently the Tanzanian government revised the game hunting fees and told that these were actually in line with prevailing rates in the rest of the 14-member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Under the new structure, the trophy fee for hunting a lion has been raised to US $12,000 and the hunters now have to pay US $15,000 to kill an elephant in Tanzania Also revised upwards were licence fees for lucrative hunting blocks to US $50,000.

Whatever justifications are quoted for the African reasoning of hunting concessions, I am of the view that these are to be stopped with immediate effect. Those beautiful animals like the lions, the leopards, the cheetahs and the pachyderms are nature’s most wonderful creations. Who has the right to take its life? Are they not our fellow living beings which should be seen and appreciated by our great grand children down the generations? How do you compensate the life of a beautiful and majestic lion with money? I shudder at these thoughts and pray that wisdom may dawn upon Africa in the near future.

Dubai, 6th February 2008.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Lyrical Best Wishes on Wedding Anniversary

Today, my parents celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary, most simply in the serene surroundings of our ancestral Tharavadu, called Parimanathu Kovilakom, in Cherthala, the erstwhile Karappuram of the princely state of Travancore.
Though old, both my father and mother, by the grace of Almighty are healthy and look after their daily chores with peace and fulfillment.
It is extremely rare to be blessed with longevity, health, simplicity in needs, self refinement, devotion to God, hard work, contentment and Thithiksha (This word in Sanskrit means endurance and patience untouched by happiness and sorrow). Without doubt, one could say that all these are true for my beloved father, Rama Varma. Such people are extremely few in any period and in any part of the world. It is due to the blessings of Goddess Mahamaya, his beloved deity; he continues to shed an ethereal element of simplicity possessed only by the Rishis of yore and intensely felt by all who come into contact with him.
My mother, Nalini Thampuratty has been a strong lady of many virtues and as per Marumakkathayam (matrilineal system of inheritance) was the inheritor of Parimanathu Kovilakom properties. She was the pet of her uncle PN Goda Varma Thampan, the doyen of the family who was a great scholar in Sanskit and English with much erudition. He established the first school of the village in 1940s which is today a High School.
In the first half of the 20th century in Kerala, for marriages in Kerala, it was usual for poets and scholars to read and present Managalasamsakal (Lyrics of best wishes) to the newly married couples. Often, these were got printed and distributed. Some of these are especially notable for fine verses written with elegance and beauty reflecting the language.
For the marriage of my parents, Managalasamsakal was given by Varanadu K.P.Sastrigal, a renowned scholar of the times and a great friend and admirer of our grand uncle. He was a founding member of the Akhila Bharata Ayyappa Seva Sangham founded in 1945, to help the pilgrims undertaking the holy trip to Sabarimala shrine.
It may be of some interest to some to see the scholastic verses of the poet and hence the same is reproduced alongside. I shall think of giving it an English translation, conveniently.

4th February 2008.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Some Royal Correspondence

Old letters are very interesting to read. Those were often very warm, personal and written with much integrity. In the present era of emails, personal letters are becoming rarer and in the emails you miss the personal warmth and sometimes the sincerity of purpose.
Letters from Royalty and men of authority are a class by themselves. It also rewinds history. It can be very amusing, informative and thrilling to go through such letters.

I have with me this original handwritten and signed letter of Maharaja Moolam Thirunaal Ramavarma of Travancore (who reigned between 1885 and 1924) dated 4th January 1893 and addressed to one John Rhode of the erstwhile Travancore Civil Service.

The Maharaja’s handwriting is very clear and the language is beautiful, to say the least. It is reproduced below:

Trivandrum, 4th January 1893

My dear Sir,

Your kind letter of the 5th December reached me duly and I was very pleased to hear that Mrs. Rhode and yourself have been in the continued enjoyment of good health. Permit me to offer you my best wishes at the commencement of another new year. I trust it may be a very happy and prosperous one to MRS. Rhode and yourself. I have to thank Mrs. Rhode for so kindly sending me the very pretty Almanac. I need hardly say how highly I value it.
I am very glad to hear you have been enjoying your stay in England and sincerely hope that you will be greatly benefited by the change.
H.E. the Governor’s visit went off very well. The weather was very bad on the Hills where H.E. and party were there. Still everything passed off satisfactorily and H.E. was able to shoot a tusker.
Mr. Hannyngton retired soon after H.E’s visit was over and you might of course have heard that Mr. Grigg has succeeded him.
I am sorry to learn from your letter that Mrs. Rhode will not be returning to India with you. I suppose you intend staying at home the whole of your furlough.
Mr. and Mrs. Hannyngton are still at Bolghatty. Mr. Hannyngton was appointed to settle some long pending boundary dispute between Cochin and the British Government and this work has occupied him all this time. I believe they will be going home only after the winter is over.
I am thinking of paying a visit to HE Lord Wenlock about the end of this month and will be away from Trivandrum for about a month. With kindest regards and again thanking you for your good wishes,
I remain
Yours very sincerely
Rama Varma

Now, let’s analyze the people and the incidents mentioned in the letter.

· Mr.Rhode who was in the Travancore Civil Service obviously had been to England for holidays when this letter was written. I got possession of this letter from London.
My little and amateur work after the names mentioned in the letter reveal some interesting details of the people.
· The mention of H.E. the Governor refers to Beilby Lawley, 3rd Baron Wenlock (1849-1912) the Governor of Madras for the years 1891-95.

He was educated at Eton College and at Cambridge University and was commissioned into the Yorkshire Hussars in 1869. He was also the Member of Parliament for Chester in 1880, and Governor of Madras 1891–1895. Wenlock was appointed a Privy Counsellor in 1901, and made a Lord of the Bedchamber to George, Prince of Wales.

The work on the Nilgiri Railway Company in Ooty line was started in August 1891 by Lord Wenlock. In 1895, he also laid the foundation stone of the Summit Hall of the Kodaikanal Observatory, which boasts of one of the world's oldest extant telescopes.

Beilby Lawley, 3rd Baron Wenlock(1849-1912), Governor of Madras:

Lord Beilby’s 4th brother Sir Arthur Lawley, 6th Baron Wenlock (1860-1932) too became Governor of Madras between 1906 and 1911.

The maharaja mentions in his letter that “H.E .was able to shoot a tusker.”In those Raj days, hunting was an essential pastime when the Viceroy or the Governor visited the princely states. These were done with much opulence and fanfare and detailed arrangements.It may be ironic that the nephew of this Governor, and the son of Sir Arthur and the Governor of Madras during 1906-11, died accidentally in another hunting expedition thus blighting considerably, the enthusiasm of the family for hunting.

19th Century Flag of Travancore.

Henry Bidewell Grigg held the office of Political Resident of Travancore till AD 1892. He was in the Indian Civil Service. He was invested as a Companion, Order of the Indian Empire (C.I.E.). Henry Bidewell Grigg married Elizabeth Deas-Thomson , daughter of Sir Edward Deas-Thomson. He died in 1894.

Cochin State Flag AD 1890-1947

· J.C Hannyngton ICS was the British Resident of Travancore and Cochin (AD 1892-1895).
· The Maharaja also mentions; “Mr. and Mrs. Hannyngton are still at Bolghatty. Mr. Hannyngton was appointed to settle some long pending boundary dispute between Cochin and the British Government and this work has occupied him all this time”

Raja Sir Vira Kerala Varma - 1888 - 1895 (Chingamasathil theepeta Maharaja) was the ruler of Cochin during this period. He had played a prominent part as Elaya Raja and he was knighted by the British, even before the installation. He was well educated, well intentioned and amiable. His address during the installation was follows:

"Gentlemen, It has been the Will of Providence that the important and difficult task of ruling this ancient State should now, devolve on me by the sad and premature demise of my beloved and revered brother. Though I am a novice in the art of governing just now, and therefore cannot any promise of success, I can assure you that , with the kind and valuable advice of Mr Hannyngton as the British Representative at our Court and as a sincere and intimate friend of mine having the prosperity of the State always at heart, and with the support and protection of the Government, I shall try my utmost to perform the responsible and the sacred duty of promoting the welfare of my subjects to the best of my ability, by endeavouring , though difficult, to follow the footsteps of my late lamented brother."

Dewan T. Govinda Menon, the capable Dewan under the former Raja, retired after a year following the above installation. Dewan Govinda Menon had established the Raja's Court of Appeal and it was during his tenure that the outstanding boundary disputes between Cochin and Travancore were resolved, in which Mr. Hannyngton also played a significant part.
Interestingly, it was in December 1892,barely a month before this letter was written, that Swami Vivekananda visited Travancore. Swamiji had visited the crown prince Marthanda Varma and later HH the Maharaja. The Maharaja received the Swami, inquired of his welfare, and told him that the Dewan would provide him with every convenience during his stay both in Trivandrum and elsewhere within the State. The visit lasted only for two or three minutes, and so the Swami returned a little disappointed, though impressed with H.H.'s gracious and dignified deportment.
I am surprised that the Maharaja did not find the above incident important enough to inform Rhode. In retrospect, it might have been because it was a personal affair or that the Swamiji's real stature was not appreciated by the Maharaja at that time. Also, it was shortly before Swamiji left for America to attend the Parliament of Religions at Chicago,and was rather unknown to fame. It is further interesting to note that Raja Ravi Varma had sent ten paintings to the International Exhibition held at Chicago, which was part of the Parliament of Religions and all ten were accepted and he won two medals and diplomas. On the same occasion, Swami Vivekananda, a great admirer of the artist, addressed the Parliament of World Religions and rose to fame.

Was it not interesting to go through a bit of history from the details of this letter?
Dubai, 2nd February 2008.

A Unique Photograph

It was my usual surfing for news from Malayalam newspapers, and I was quite amused to see the attached photograph as it appeared in the Kerala Kaumudi daily of 1st February 2008
The photograph shows the patriarch of the Travancore Royal family HH Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma and his niece HH Aswathy Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bai calling on the venerable saint, Matha Amritanandamayi at Her Trivandrum Ashram.

There is nothing unusual in the Royal family members calling on a saint. History is replete with many such instances from our recent past. Tippu Sultan giving special reverence to Sringeri Mutt also could be seen in this context.
What is more revealing is the extremely pious and simple ways of the Travancore Royal family. In the photo, HH Aswathy Thirunal is seen squatting on the floor before the mother. In caste ridden societies in India where the rich and the powerful often wielded much attention and stuck on to the supremacy of their caste, such approach from a senior member of the Royal household is often unbecoming.
The ostentatious lifestyles and indulgences of the Maharajas of many princely states have been subjects of much discussion and writing by Raj authors like Charles Allen, William Dalrymple, Paul Scott etc.
Swami Vivekananda of course had described Travancore as a lunatic asylum. No doubt, we have come a long way! These types of simple actions in day to day lives are better reflections of our civilization than those proclaimed by the politicians on the stages made for their own propaganda.
Dubai, 1st February 2008

Calling it a Day

In life, many an occasion arises when you have to call it a day. Obviously, I do not mean the simple routines like returning home from work or retiring to bed for the day.
There is this ultimate way of calling it a day, by kicking the bucket at the ripe old age. Ancient sages prayed that it has to be like the stalk of a fully ripe fruit slowly coming out of the stem of the tree and falling, so peacefully and realizing that the job is done; the karma is over.
Here, by the expression I meant resigning or coming out of your job. In modern times, youngsters as well as the not-so-young have to change jobs willfully or otherwise.
It happens with me for the second time rather abruptly. Willfully it had happened twice in my career and those were my choices for career moves.
The abrupt decisions to call it a day are more out of extraneous factors over which sometimes you don’t have a choice. Once in Africa, it was due to the political turmoil which affected my bank. This time in Dubai, it is more out of disagreements on expectations and on the principles of professionalism.
It is a bit difficult to adjust to the facts and re-orient yourself. But, these things do happen in life unless one is employed with the Government where the job security is guaranteed to even unreasonable extents.
In the senior levels especially, points of discord among the top management are common. There are also people at the top with much less contribution but who always act as if they are the fulcrum of the system and who are adept in maligning the minds of other decision makers. When things reach a flash point on disagreements, you have no choice but to put in your papers, with a big “thank you “. There is no option, unlike in the junior levels in the Government when people go for a show down supported by the unions.
There is no point in regretting too. In your career, as in your personal life, you gain some and you lose some. These are eternal lessons of a continuously evolving life. Nobody could be adept at everything and there could be no life without the troughs.
Life has to go on and who knows about those bouquets waiting from unknown corners? When one door closes, another opens. One day the prison doors clank shut behind and at another place, the next day, the door swings ajar!
Dubai, 31st January 2008.

Notre Dame Cathedral and my visit of 2006

It was with much agony that I read about the devastating fire at the famed Notre Dame cathedral and the damages thereof. To me, the Notre...