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 http://malabardays.blogspot.com/ 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 http://maddy06.blogspot.com/. 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 http://parayilat.blogspot.com/.
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.
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
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.
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.