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.


Maddy said...

thanks murali for your kind words. Sometimes i wonder why we malayali's never took care of our heritage - there was so much to preserve and people try to sell it all for a quick buck without realizing the value. It was good of Sundar to remember these things and have the ability to sketch them, for posterity!!

Murali RamaVarma said...

Yes, Maddy.Even now we display callous attitude towards our heritage and history. Nick's writing about the vandalism on the palanquin gifted to Karunakara Menon by the EIC is a live example.

Ashvin said...

Dear Muraliettan, have been out of touch with INTACH for some time now but can still try and get the channels working ( I am a life member who ALMOST became the Trivandrum chapter convener). Let me try and forward the information about the palanquin and see what happens, hoping it's not too late.

By the way, whenever you happen to be in Mumbai net, please check the CS Museum - they have a wondereful wooden palanquin donated by a family in Thalassery....

Sunita said...

There used to be a chariot displayed next to the Children's Park in the Museum grounds in Trivandrum eons ago (well, at least 30 years ago). I wonder if its the same one mentioned in this post but I dont remember whether it was golden or not. I just remember it was one more of those 'dont-go-anywhere-near-it' things when I was a kid.

Ashvin said...

The chariot (if it is the same one we are referring to) is still in the Museum, in the Sri Chithira Enclave.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks, Ashvin. I shall make a note of the visit to the Mumbai museums during a visit. Telling about the Palanquin,I suggest that you must read a post by Nick Balmer in titled Caranakera Menoen's Palanquin .


Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks, Sunita for your observation and the information. Frankly, I do not know about the chariot referred by you about which I intend to get checked up through friends. 35 years back, in the teens, while visiting Trivandrum the priorities were different. I wonder, how times have changed!

By the way, I had a glance at your wonderfully excellent blog The Urban Gardener. On reading a few of the posts, despite my little knowledge about these exotic subjects, I knew I was into something remarkable. No wonder, you were nominated for the botanical award under the best Asian blog category!

I also thought that your mom's observation about you suits my daughter too who is wanting to be a budding architect.

Keep going! Most hearty congratulations!

Murali RamaVarma said...

Ashvin, let me get it checked through our young friend Sunder himself who is in Trivandrum. Thanks for the information.

sharat sunder rajeev said...

ihave read sunitha's comment;she is right.many years back chitira tirunaldonated the chariot to the museum. actually it had to suffer a lot after that, it was displayed without any shelter,near childrens park.
the chariot was covered with gold foil stickers and decorated with semiprecious stones.for many years it had to face harsh climate.
finally when sree chitra enclave was opened the chariot got a shelter,now it has regained its glory.

Murali RamaVarma said...

I must thank Sunder for the clarifications. Both Sunita and Ashvin are proven correct in their observations.

I am happy about the unfolding of the facts with the active contributions of all . Thank you all.

Ashvin said...

Dear Muraliettan, when you visit me here (hopefully sometime soon) you can actually see a 1937 photograph of HH Sree Chithira Thirunal riding the same chariot along with The Maharaja of Bikaner, in Trivandrum.

I had already read the blog on Karunakara Menon's palanquin written by Nick Balmer. In some other dated entry I also happened to see one of our related families mentioned there. My earlier comment was directly related to that.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Ashvin. I would like to take a scan/snap of the photo you mentioned when we meet, hopefully, on an early date.

Sunita said...

Its such a pity that a work of art was treated so shabbily. I wish I had taken more notice of it when it was displayed but like you pointed out, teens and kids have other prorities.

I dont think the times have changed... sad to admit but its we who have changed. The times remain the same except for the numbers dating the years. There's a famous quote referring to "the children of today" attributed to Socrates by Plato. Read it and you'll know what I mean : D

Murali, you've really made my day! I'm so glad you liked The Urban Gardener (I should have called it Mumbai Dirt instead). Thanks for the kind words. Its very encouraging to find people who have actually read my blog without being forced to (my husband still hasnt read it. But he's a sportsman and claims that reading blurs his vision!!)

BTW, if you think my mother's words fit your daughter too, she must be a very creative architect. Keeping track of all the mundane stuff can be a real drag on creativity. I hope she has a great career.

Ashvin said...

Oh btw Muraliettan, you can also see a photograph of the chariot shown in Sharat's drawing - the one made for Swathi Thirunal. Probably from the late 1800s...

sharat sunder rajeev said...

those who are interested in knowing more about the craftsmen who made the chariot can read an article named'my great ancestors' in my blog.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Murali, I had read this earlier but forgot to leave a comment.
First of all let me thank you for the compliment.
Another excellent and illuminating piece. I must also thank Sharat Sunder Rajeev for making the information about his ancestors and the sketches available to us through you.

DesiPundit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nikhil Narayanan said...

(Please delete the earlier comment I posted from another account,Tnx)

I can imagine the happiness you get when someone mails you like this.
Characters,whom you thought were in the pages of history, coming to you as their great grandsons and likes.



Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Nikhil. It is equally gratifying when youngsters like you too read and respond. I briefly went through your studious blog . I intend to liesurely go through those interesting posts and shall write back.

South Indian Studies said...

We are preparing an archive on Chattampi Swamikal. We would like to get more details about Neelakantan Achari who was consideed as one of his teachers and thier relation as well as other details if any relvent to the archive. Kindly give the e-mail of Sharat Sunder Rajeev which will be a suppot to the archive project

Murali RamaVarma said...


Thanks for the information. The emaoil address of Sharat Sundar is . He should be helpful to you.

Kind regards,

Murali RamaVarma said...


Please go through the autobiography of Kumbalath Sanku Pillai titled "ENTE KAZHINJAKALA SMARANAKAL" to get detailed information on Chattambi Swamikal. The book provides a wealth of information.


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