Marthanda Varma


Maharaja Uthradam Marthanda Varma of Thriuvananthapuram Samsthanam was a noble king, a simple man.


We had the opportunity of meeting him many years ago when we went to pray at the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.


Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple

This temple has been in news recently for the enormous wealth that it possesses in its vaults. All this wealth – gold, silver and precious gems is a result of consistent donations by the royal family, for the last 500 years.

Marthanda Varma 1.jpg

While the existence of this wealth is news to us today, this King Marthanda Varma as well as his predecessors were all well aware of this huge wealth that was safely kept in the vaults of the temple.

What is pertinent to note in this connection is that, even in this day and age of avarice, this noble King Marthanda Varma, had not shown any interest in this amazing wealth nor laid a finger on it.

Let us look at his illustrious lineage.

The Travancore Dynasty

Forerunner of the Padmanabha Dasa

The most famous king of the Travancore lineage was Maharaja Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma.


Maharaja Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma

He, in a decisive move, handed over the reign of the kingdom to the presiding deity of Travancore, Lord Anantha Padmanabha and vowed that he and his descendants would from thereon serve the kingdom on behalf of the Lord as His servant. For this, he and his successors would take on the title Padmanabha Dasa, the servant of Padmanabha.

Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, the composer musician

The other famous king of this lineage was Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma from 1813 till 1846. This king was also a great musician and composer of songs.


Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma

Gopalaka Paahimam  – A Sopanam which is popularly sung in Krishna temples in Kerala from ancient times, was composed by Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma.

There is an interesting story about the birth of this king. When the king was still in the Queen Mother’s womb, the earlier King had passed away.

As per the doctrine of Dalhousie, imposed by the British rule then, if a kingdom did not have a successor, the kingdom had to be handed over to the British. It was using this doctrine, that the British had taken over many of the kingdoms in central India.


Lord Dalhousie

The agent for the British in the Travancore court then, was Thomas Munro who had much faith in the Indian thought and was a confidant and advisor to the Queen mother.  To safeguard the kingdom from a claim to the throne laid by a rival to the royalty as well as to ensure British interests, even as the Queen Mother was still pregnant, Munro informed his superiors that the Queen Mother had already given birth to a boy, a legitimate heir to the kingdom and hence neither the claim of the rival nor the Dalhousie doctrine would be applicable. He thus saved the Travancore kingdom from falling into rival hands.

This he did with the confidence that, on conception, the Queen Mother had undergone the ritual known as Pumsavanam, a ritual to facilitate a male progeny. It is also said that in order that his ploy would not go in vain, he had prayed to Lord Anantha Padmanabha that the Queen Mother should deliver a male baby, failing which he threatened the Lord that he would blow up His temple.


Col. Thomas Munro

Lord Anantha Padmanabha did not fail Munro nor the people of Kerala. A baby boy was born to the Queen Mother who grew up to become the famous music composer, Swathi Thirunal.

This gamble of Thomas Munro not only saved the Travancore kingdom but it also shows the faith Thomas Munro had reposed in the traditional Indian systems.

Unique Customs

An interesting aspect to be noted about this lineage is that it is not the King’s son who becomes the king as in the patriarchal system. The kingdom of Travancore followed a matrilineal system.

Another unique custom of this lineage is that the royalty are not referred to by their given name. They are respectfully referred to by the star they were born in. This holds good for both male and female members of royalty. For example Maharaja Swati Tirunal was born in the Swati star.

Wealth of the Travancore Dynasty

All the wealth of this kingdom, of its kings and its temple did not come about by plunder, but were internally generated in this kingdom and from its trade with lands far away across the seas such as Arabia and beyond.

This brings forth to us that the prosperity that was prevalent in this kingdom through the ages was of a sustainable nature and it brought untold wealth to this kingdom.

Obviously, just a portion of this would have been donated to the temple.

If this was just a portion, then one can well imagine what would have been the whole wealth of this small but prosperous kingdom?

It is to such an illustrious lineage that Raja Martanda Varma belonged to. Kerala should be proud of this noble son of a noble lineage that had once ruled it benevolently.

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