Friday, October 17, 2008

Some responses on this blog

The Queens' Guard Room of Windsor castle showing the ivory state chair gifted to
Queen Victoria by Uthram Tirunal Marthanda Varma , the Maharajah of Travancore
on the occasion of the Great Exhibition, London 1851.

One of the thrills of writing in a blog is felt when a mail is received from quite an unexpected quarter, appreciating the post and telling of a connection to some personnel mentioned in the blog.

I was pleasantly surprised and was happy to receive a mail from Mr. Nick Balmer, the 14th descendant of Sir William Hawkins and his wife about whom I had written under the title, The first Englishwoman in India. Mr.Balmer is a wonderfully well informed gentleman and does some great blogging for those interested about Kerala and its British raj days. Please visit for some great reading. I must be thankful to Maddy, for referring me to Nick. By the way, Maddy belongs to the unique genre of academic intelligentsia capable of lively debates and maintains his much readable blog Maddy’s Ramblings at I also feel indebted to Abraham Tharakan, the master blogger with a zest for writing about everything exotic, whether it is about a traditional kerala dish or about the beautiful Bangalore club from the raj days. You must read him in Song of the waves at

Similarly, I had a mail from Robert Collingwood, a 5th descendant of Hugh Crawford, the wonderful friend of Travancore of the 19th century mentioned in my post , Hugh Crawford the commercial agent in Travancore.
The letter in my possession and which was mentioned in my post titled, Some Royal Correspondence, was addressed to his great great grand uncle John Rohde by the then Maharajah of Travancore, Moolam Tirunal Rama Varma.

Among other interesting communications, I was quite happy to hear from Sharat Sunder Rajeev, a young student of architecture from Thiruvananthapuram on seeing my post, Travancore and the great exhibition of London 1851. It was particularly interesting because his great ancestors had carved the beautiful ivory throne presented to Queen Victoria by Uthram Tirunal Marthanda Varma in 1851 for the Great Exhibition of London. He also was kind enough to send me the photos of these ancestors whose names should be carved in golden letters in the annals of our heritage as the master craftsmen who spread the fame of Travancore far and wide.

Following are the information supplied to me by Sunder.

The ivory state chair so exquisitely carved and sent to Queen Victoria by the Maharajah of Travancore in 1850 and which was a top attraction of the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 was carved by Kochu Kunju Asari and his son Neelakandan Asari of Trivandrum. Neelakandan Asari who founded Pinarammood family was the ancestor of the paternal grandmother of Sunder.

Kochu Kunju Asari ,aka Ananthapadmanahan Asari

Neelakandan Asari , the son

Kochu Kunju Asari was reportedly given the title 'Ananthapadmanabhan Asari' by the Maharajah of Travancore in appreciation of his great skills as a supreme craftsman. This father- son duo had also made a famous golden chariot for Swathi Tirunal Maharajah of Travancore in 1842.For these services they had got tax free land in Kazhakoottam, a place near Trivandrum.

It should be heartening information to Sunder that the ivory state chair made by his ancestors rest in the centre of the Queens’ Guard chamber of the Windsor castle, the largest castle still in operation in the world. The Queen of England lives here most of the weekends. (Ref: England's Thousand Best Houses by Simon Jenkins). Today the Queens’ Guard chamber is used for receptions of the Diplomatic Corps when they come to pay their respects to a visiting Head of State.

The importance of this ivory state chair and the appreciation of its exquisite craftsmanship could be gauged from the following news appeared in 'The Times of London "dated June 16, 1851

The Great Exhibition.

On Saturday morning the Queen and Prince Albert resumed their examination of the interior and their personal interviews with exhibitors. Their first visit was paid to the Kohinoor, 'which is now surrounded within a tent, lighted in a particular I manner by gas. ------
'The Newab Nazim of Bengal is not the only Indian Prince ambitious of securing a Crystal Palace celebrity, for on Saturday afternoon a present to Her Majesty from the Maharajah of Travancore was brought to Hyde Park. It consisted of a throne and footstool elaborately carved in ivory, cushioned with richly brocaded velvet, the feat formed of elephants' grinders, arranged in mosaic form, and the whole richly studded with rubies and diamonds. To give, by description, any idea of the magnificence of this piece of Court furniture from the East is plainly impossible. It must be seen to be properly appreciated, for no words can do justice to the effect produced by the jeweled eyes of the numerous monsters carved in the framework of the throne, and which appear to throw out a light more appropriate to Travancore than to England, and to the Maharajah than to constitutional Queen Victoria."

These encomiums should be glorious tributes indeed to Sunder’s ancestors.

Neelakandan Asari teaching Chattambi Swamigal to draw

Making of the Golden Chariot for Maharaja Swathi Tirunal of Travancore circa 1842

With Sunder’s permission, I also post a few sketches done by him on these great ancestors which form part of his family history under preparation. It was amusing to see his sketch depicting Chattampi Swamikal and Neelakandan Asari in which the latter was teaching the former who was known for his great erudition in many subjects. He had been known as Sakalakala vallabhan, a master of all arts.

Dubai, 16th October 2008.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bronze idols of the Aṣṭa-Dikpālakas

Base piece of the flag mast
While on a flying visit to Palakkad, South India last week, I met Ratna Sabhapathy and his sons at their modest shop in the heritage village of Kalpathy. He is a Sthapathy (one specialized in the design and construction of Hindu temples and the related ornamental works) par excellence with a great tradition of serving various temples in Kerala. The metal works of idols, kotimarams, (flag masts) roofing and the ornamental designs of the sanctum are done by them with exquisite mastery in the most traditional way.

I could find at the shop the base piece of a flag mast from the renowned Thiruvalathur temple of Palakkad, famous for its grand architectural beauty and for its sculptural designs. This metal piece was given to the Sthapathy for cleaning and polishing works by the temple authorities.
What attracted me to this piece were the presence of the beautiful ancient bronze idols of Aṣṭa-Dikpālakas, the eight guardians who rule the eight cardinal directions to protect the universe according to the Hindu mythology.

These gods are also the guards of the presiding deity of a temple and are seen as balikkallu (sacrificial stones) around the sanctum of the temple. Following are the Aṣṭa-Dikpālakas and the directions attributed to them.
Indra, with Vajrayudha in hand - East
Īśāna , with Trident in hand - Northeast
Soma or Vaisravana with Club in hand - North
Vayu with Ankush and Rope in hands - Northwest
Varuṇa with Rope in hands - West
Nirṛti with Sword in hand -Southwest
Yama with Sword and Shield in hands - South
Agni with Ladle in hand -Southeast

Indra , with Vajrayudha in hand

Īśāna , with Trident in hand Vaisravana with Club in hand

Vayu with Ankush and Rope in hands Varuṇa with Rope in hands

Nirṛti with Sword in hand Yama with Sword and Shield in hands

Agni with Ladle in hand
Photos of these exquisite antique idols taken by me are shown for the enjoyment of the readers. Here, all the deities are in standing postures unlike in the sitting postures I have seen at other temples.

Dubai, 8th October 2008

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Travancore connection to the Prince of Wales

King Edward VII

Which is the place that a British monarch or the Prince of Wales had come closer to the shores of Travancore?

It is interesting to learn that Queen Victoria, despite her long reign from 1837 to 1901 and having celebrated the golden and diamond jubilees -50th and 60th anniversaries of accession- did not visit India, the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Her son, The Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII, paid a visit to India during 1875-76 as a mark of honor to the native princes who had aided the English in their efforts to govern the land. This visit was followed by Queen Victoria's assumption of the title of the Empress of India.

Though he had visited Madras and some adjoining areas during his visit, he could not visit Travancore probably because there was widespread cholera in the country during that time. Otherwise, an Anamalai excursion in Travancore had been thought of as a hunting expedition for the prince.

Incidentally, Edward’s son George V was the only King-Emperor who visited India which took place in 1911. He too had not come down south to visit Travancore. None of his successors too had paid a visit to this part of the empire, even though it was well known that Travancore was one of the best governed states of the empire over the years.
The following information on the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1875 to India could be of some interest to the readers.

The Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, with a big retinue of officers and men sailing from London on the 11th of October, 1875 arrived in Bombay by the royal ship, HMS Serapis on the 8th of November.
The 6,200 ton 'Serapis' was launched in 1866 and she served as an Indian troopship and was the sister ship of HMS 'Malabar'.
HMS Serapis, the royal ship

After some elaborate reception from the Viceroy at Bombay, the Prince travelled to Poona and Baroda and had conducted some royal safaris, pig sticking and other visits.

Sir Madhava Row, Dewan of Baroda who was a former Dewan of Travancore (1859-72) was there at Baroda with the Gaekwar of Baroda to receive the Prince and later to see him off to Bombay. Returning to Bombay, it was decided that after visiting Goa, the Serapis shall call at Beypore and will go on to Colombo in Ceylon.

Accordingly, on the 26th of November, the Prince sailed on the western coast and reached Beypore on the 29th before sailing to Ceylon.

Beypore is one of the oldest ports in Kerala situated in the district of Calicut. It has been a ship-building centre and was in the Madras Presidency under the British rule.
Beypore backwaters Today

Following is the actual report in the Times daily, London of 30th November 1875.

The Prince of Wales

(From Our Special Correspondent.) BEYPORE, Nov. 29, 2 pm. The Prince arrived here at 10 am. All well. After a consultation with the local authorities who came on board the Serapis, it was decided to go on to Colombo at 5 tonight, so as to arrive there on Wednesday. The cholera is all over the country, not raging very severely, but sufficiently widespread to induce caution. The Prince of Wales was obliged to decline the Rajah's invitation to visit Travancore. Great disappointment is felt at the abandonment of the Annamullay excursion. The visit to Madras will depend on the news received at Colombo. The Prince entertained the Madras officials at lunch on board the Serapis. There is immense disappointment expressed on all sides at the abandonment of the Prince's visit. For nine years there has been no cholera reported in this district. The preparations were extensive and most costly all over the Presidency, and the ladies especially are disconsolate. After lunch the Prince went up the river in a launch. The scenery was very pretty, but he was advised not to land. Many boats were about the river, and the quaint costumes of the people presented a curious spectacle. The Serapis will not touch at Trevandrurm.
Commemorative gold medal presented to the Rajahs, rulers etc during
the visit of the Prince of Wales to India during 1875-76

Life on the board of HMS Serapis 1. Tennis 2. Entertainments

It is interesting to note that the Prince seemed to have gone up in the Beypore river though he did not land on the shores of Kerala. Also, it was disappointing to the Maharajah, Ayilyam Tirunal Bala Rama Varma that the Prince could not accept his invitation to visit Travancore. Later, the maharajah (He was the first ruler of Travancore to be conferred with the title Maharajah in 1866, by the British government in recognition of his excellent administration of the state) went to Madras to pay respects to the Prince who reached there after the voyage to Colombo.

Ayilyam Tirunal, Maharajah of Travancore (r.1860-80)

On returning from Colombo on the 9th of December, the Prince arrived at Tuticorin on the 10th and then proceeded by train to Kovilpatty, Madurai, Dindigul and Trichinopoly on the way to Madras.

On the 13th December, the train with the royal entourage stopped at Royapuram, outside Madras, and was welcomed on the platform by the Duke of Buckingham, dignitaries of the Presidency, the Rajas of Cochin, Travancore, Arcot, Vizianagram, and others.

From Madras, he went to Calcutta, Benares, Lucknow and the imperial Delhi. Then the visit extended to Lahore, Jammoo, Agra, Jeypore, Allahabad and Indore before the prince returned to Bombay.
The Royal visit to India -Prince of Wales enters Agra-

Finally on the 13th of March, after a much hectic tour, the Prince bid farewell to India in the royal ship Serapis.

Palakkad,South India, 5th October 2008.

Notre Dame Cathedral and my visit of 2006

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