Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma

Maharajah of Travencore (1813-1846)

Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, known by the full name Sree Padmanabhadasa Sree Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma (Malayalam: ശ്രീ പദ്മനാഭദാസ ശ്രീ സ്വാതി തിരുനാള് രാമവർമ്മ)(Tamil:ஸ்ரீ சுவாதி திருநாள் ராம வர்மா (April 16, 1813December 27, 1846) was the Maharaja of the state of Travancore [തിരുവിതാംകൂര്‍)) ] )) in India. He modernized Travancore with a well-formulated code of laws, courts of Justice, introduction of English education, construction of an observatory, installation of the first Government printing press, establishment of the first manuscripts library and many more activities. Efficiency was the key word and corruption, a taboo in his administration.

All that I write whether poetry or music centred around God. This is an act of faith in me. Music is not worth its name otherwise.

Quotes edit

  • My sense of the high advantage derived from this establishment in a scientific point of view, as I am fully sensible that by reason of my patronizing it, my name, however, undeserving of any celebrity is favorably noticed even in distant regions, among the scientific personages of the present day.
    • His perception of modern science is explicitly stated in ‘An enlightened and princely patron of true science".

About Swathi Thirunal edit

Swathi Thirunal as a boy with his father
  • Very few rulers could come anywhere near Swati Tirunal in his patronage of arts, his catholicity of religous outlook, his transcendence of narrow regional, religious and caste barriers. He was truly a evolved royal sage.
    • V. K. Subramanian (2013), in "101 Mystics of India", p, 181
  • It was a tradition with the Travancore royalty to prefix the names of their children with the asterism under which they were born. The new born was named Swati Tirunal Rama Varma. Submitting to the commands of Lord Minto, the Queen arranged for the coronation of four-month-old Swati Tirunal as King of Travancore on August 28, 1813, and stepped down to rule as his regent. He was now -- Sree Padmanabha Dasa Vanchi Pala Rama Varma Kulasekhara Kiritapathi Swati Rama Raja Manney Sultan…
  • Swati Tirunal, now thirteen... took up a book of mathematics and selecting the forty seventh proposition of Euclid sketched the figure on a country slate but what astonished me most was his telling us in English that Geometry was derived from the Sanskrit, which as Jaw metor (Jyamiti) to measure the earth and that many of our mathematical terms were also derived from the same source such as hexagon, heptagon, octagon... This promising boy is now, I conclude, sovereign of the finest country in India for he was to succeed to the Musnud (throne) the moment he had attained his 16th year.
    • Colonel Welsh, in "The Monarch musician"
  • By the time His Highness attained his majority, he had completed his education and become a perfect master of Sanskrit, English, Persian, Hindustani, Maharatti, Telugu, Canarese, Tamil and Malayalam.
    • P. Shungoony Menon, in "The Monarch musician"
  • On April 20, 1829, Swati Tirunal formally assumed charge of his kingdom. Those were tough times for Indians.
    • Lakshmi Devnath, in "The Monarch musician"
  • There is perhaps no example of any conquest in which the natives have been so completely excluded from all share of the government of their country as in British India....Foreign conquerors have treated the natives with violence, and often with great cruelty, but none has treated them with so much scorn as we...
  • Creditably, notwithstanding his limited powers, he aimed to make Travancore a “model state.” A well-formulated code of laws, courts of Justice, introduction of English education, construction of an observatory, installation of the first Government printing press, establishment of the first manuscripts library were amongst the many initiatives taken by Swati Tirunal to modernise Travancore.
    • Lakshmi Devnath, in "The Monarch musician"
  • The Maharaja was a remarkable Sanskrit author. He composed numerous works on religion, metaphysics etc....He also composed songs (on religion) in Telugu, Hindustani, Mahratta and other languages.
    • Shungoony Menon, in "The Monarch musician"
  • As a monarch, Swati Tirunal was incredibly hardworking and supremely committed to his kingdom and people. Unfortunately, the dice in the game of life seemed to have been heavily loaded against him. The appointment of General Cullen as Resident sounded the death knell for the Maharaja.
    • Lakshmi Devnath, in "The Monarch musician"
  • In December 1834, His Highness the Rajah of Travancore travelled about in the Southern parts of his kingdom and paid a visit to the important Mission establishments. Messrs Mead and Mault spared no pains to make the Rajah’s visit as interesting as possible… His Highness’ visit to the Nagercoil English Seminary and the Mission Press produced important results to the State, for he was so much delighted with the working of these useful institutions, and so much impressed of their importance as civilising agents, that he very much regretted that his own capital could not boast of such establishments. When therefore His Highness requested the Missionaries to help him to establish similar institution in Trivandrum, they heartily agreed. In consequence of this Mr. [John] Roberts the Headmaster was induced to go and start an English school at Trivandrum and workmen from the Mission Press were also sent to start the Sircar Press. Such was the origin of the Maha Rajah’s College, and the Government Press at Trivandrum.
  • Swathi Thirunal, a devout Hindu, is seen to have agreed to teaching of Christian scriptures in the school supported by a government grant, and it admitted students of all caste and religion.
    • Dr Achuthsankar S. Nair, in "An enlightened and princely patron of true science".
  • Cullen “assumed almost sovereign authority.” Such was his oppressive intrusion in the administration. The king was made totally powerless. Compounding this atrocity was the machinations of his aide Krishna Rao, who schemed with Cullen for his own personal gain.
    • Shungoony Menon, on the role of General Cullen, as Resident, quoted in Swati Tirunal's administration "The Monarch musician"
  • The sovereign of this beautiful country [Kerala] is about twenty-six years of age, of a very pleasing countenance, and his manners strikingly simple and gentlemanlike. He speaks English with perfect fluency, is an accomplished Persian and Arabic scholar, and is in other respects unusually well informed; having had the advantage of a much better education than commonly falls to the lot of oriental princes. Could he escape from the swaddling-bands of the Brahmins, it is supposed that he would shew himself a really enlightened ruler. This however seems almost impossible, as these crafty priests have thrown their meshes so effectually around him that he can scarcely stir hand or foot without their permission. They possess unbounded influence over his mind, the influence which can only be attained by superstition; and the puppet of royalty is moved according to their will and pleasure by the brahminical string. It is very much to be lamented; as unquestionably he might do, and probably has the inclination to do, much for his country, which now remains undone. Certainly their terrible religion is the bane and curse of India.
    • Extract from: Journal of a visitation to the provinces of Travancore and Tinnevelly … 1840-1841 By Bishop of Madras George John T. Spencer, Published by , 1842, p 96-97, quoted in “An enlightened and princely patron of true science’
  • Young Swati Tirunal was prodigiously talented, and also innately musical. This predilection was not surprising considering that his ancestry boasted of talented musicians, scholars and composers such as Karthika Tirunal (1758-1798) and Asvati Tirunal (1756-1788). Thanjavur Subba Rao, also known as English Subba Rao because of his mastery over the language, was a past master in Carnatic music. He taught the young king to play the swarabat. The king had other music teachers too including Karamana Subramanya Bhagavatar. Government records stand testimony to the fact that young Swati Tirunal was trained in instruments such as the mridangam, veena and the swarabat.
    • Lakshmi Devnath, in "The Monarch musician"
  • Swati Tirumal was a contemporary of the Carnatic musical trinity :Thagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama sastri but did not meet any of them.
    • V. K. Subramanian (2013), in "101 Mystics of India", p, 181
  • Swati Tirumal also imbibed the best from the many Hindustani musicians who flocked to his court and composed many songs in Hindustani ragas.
    • V. K. Subramanian (2013), in "101 Mystics of India", p, 181
V. K. Subramanian:He was devoted to Lord Padmanabha, the deity in the Tiruvantharapura temple, but he saw no distinction between Siva and Vishnu, whom he considered as two forms of the same Divinity. His famous song Visvesvar darsan exemplifies this philosophy of his.
  • He was devoted to Lord Padmanabha, the deity in the Tiruvantharapura temple, but he saw no distinction between Siva and Vishnu, whom he considered as two forms of the same Divinity. His famous song Visvesvar darsan exemplifies this philosophy of his.
    • V. K. Subramanian (2013), in "101 Mystics of India", p, 181
  • The literary works of Swati Tirunal include Bhakti Manjari, Syanandurapuravarnana Prabandham, Padmanabhasatakam, Muhana prasa antya prasa vyavastha, Ajamila, Kuchela Upakhyanas and Utsava Varnana Prabandha. His musical compositions, varied in form and structure, approximate 400 in number, in Carnatic and Hindustani ragas, both familiar and rare. Varnam, kriti, tillana, ragamalika, swarajati, jatiswaram, padam, javali, khayal, dhrupad and tappa, the Navaratri and Navaratnamalika thematic compositions, he composed them all, this prolific output implying an impressive degree of effortlessness on his part. Being a linguist, he opted for a choice of languages like Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and Manipravalam (a combination of two chosen languages). He was a past master in the usage of swaraksharas - a musical device where the lyric phonetically matches the note that couches it. He affixed his compositions with the mudra ‘Padmanabha’ and its synonyms.
    • Lakshmi Devnath, in "The Monarch musician"
Kuthiramalika Palace.
  • Tyagaraja aradhanas are held all over India and abroad. But the one in Tiruvayyar is special. The Government of Kerala used to conduct the festival in Kuthiramalika Palace till a few years back. But then they decided to hold it in different places all over Kerala. While the thought behind the move was laudable, it was a pity that it was at the cost of the festival being discontinued at Kuthiramalika. So, although there were only two weeks to go, I managed to organise the festival in 2000 and keep it going.
  • Over the years, some of the Maharaja’s compositions have become very popular but there are so many more. My aim has been to present some of these rarely heard compositions every year.
  • Swathi Thirunal was a Honorary Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society. This society was founded in 1823 by the eminent Sanskrit scholar Henry Colebrooke and a group of like minded individuals. It is also seen from The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China, and Australia, Published by Parbury, Allen, and Co., 1835, that Swathi Thirunal was a patron of the Madras Literary Society.
  • There are many other evidences of Swathi’s efforts to promote education and modern science....Many of his reforms were progressive and many put an end to superstitions. One instance would be enough to mention in this regard – abolishing the practice of Sucheendram Kaimukku where accused persons were to dip their fingers in boiling oil to prove their innocence.
    • Dr Achuthsankar S Nair, in "An enlightened and princely patron of true science".
  • His Highness The Rajah Of Travancore, already celebrated for the munificence with which he promotes the education and mental improvement of his subjects, resolved in the latter part of last year on the establishment, at his capital, Trivandrum, of an Observatory of a superior kind; with the double view of affording his aid to the advancement of astronomical science, and of introducing by its means correct ideas of the principles of this science among the rising generation under his government; and having confided to me the superintendence of the institution as Astronomer, I take this early opportunity of introducing it to the notice of the public…
    • The marble tablet existing in the observatory building in Trivandrum, in 1837, quoted in "An enlightened and princely patron of true science".
  • Thanks to Swati Tirunal, Mohiniyattom became highly refined. His contribution to the education sector too is remarkable. He started the Maharaja’s High School and then Maharaja’s College (now University College). He set up an observatory. He reformed the judicial and law and order systems.
    • M.A. Baby, in “Contribution of Swati Tirunal to Kerala unparalleled]
  • Both intellectually and morally, he was indeed far beyond his country and equals in rank; in both respects he might have taken a high place among the most enlightened of European Sovereigns had his destiny been so cast.
    • Obituary in Allen’s Indian Mail and Register of Intelligence of British &Foreign India, China, & All Parts of the East on Swati Tirunal's death, quoted in "The Monarch musician"

Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of ... edit

Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma

Amanda J. Weidman in Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of ...27 June 2006

  • He assumed the rule of Travancore state in 1829, at the age of sixteen. At the suggestion of Colonel John Munroe, the British Resident of Travancore, Swati Tirunal had been tutored in English, Sanskrit, Marathi, political science, and Karnatic music by Subba Rao from Tanjavur, also known as English Subba Rao for his skill in the English language.
  • In 1980, Swati Tirunal appointed Subba Rao as Dewan. Together they attempted to make the kingship – an example of enlightened leadership and Travancore, a center of learning.
    • Amanda J. Weidman, in p. 63
  • Under Swati Tirunal’s rule, the forms of music and dance peculiar to Travancore, including - the sapna sangitam (literally: step music) sung on the steps of temples and the dance form of Mohiniattam – were significantly altered, brought closer to the forms of music and dance practiced at Tanjavur. Swapna Sangitam known for its slow renditions and limited improvisation, was altered not only by the influx of new style of composing and singing represented by Vadivelu and other Tanjavur Musicians but also by the very structure of music that Swati Tirunal’s court suggested.
  • Instead of taking place at the temple steps, music making took place in Swati Tirunal’s [[durbar hall as a recital, with the king himself as the audience; musicians were invited to his courth because of their skill. Swati Tirunal himself is said to have kept a small room in his palace with a view of Padmanabhaswamy Temple as his composing room. The palace structure thus introduced the idea of a space for music that was separate from the temple and other living spaces. Meanwhile, the economic structure in which musicians were supported out of the palace budget, with some holding official positions like chief palace musician, created the atmosphere in which music became a profession
    • In p. 644
  • What Swati Tirunal’s court introduced, as had Surfoji’s before and the Mysore and Vizianagaram courts later, was the idea of the court as a showpiece of culture, a collection of the best musicians from around the world.
    • In P.64
  • In 1840 a new resident of Travancore state who aspired to be Dewan reported to Madras that Swati Tirunal’s authority spending on his court musicians was extravagant and unnecessary. The resident’s continuous complaints effectively undermined Swati Tirunal’s authority several years before his death in 1846.

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