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Book Review

Book Review: Putting the Record Straight

G Sreedathan

G SreedathanOct 16, 2021, 01:30 PM IST

Book Review: Putting the Record Straight

History Liberated: The Sree Chithra Saga,Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi, Konark Publications,
pp 473, Rs 2500

Sree Chithira Thirunal, the last monarch of erstwhile Travancore princely state, ascended the throne when India was witnessing cyclonic changes. The author turns the spotlight on this period to dispel certain misconceptions and misrepresentations—To liberate a part of history


Hinduism has always displayed a remarkable genius for reforming itself without much bloodshed or loss of lives.  When encountered with external challenges, great men and women from all strata of society came together and rose to the occasion to do away with evils which held the society to ransom. The Temple Entry Proclamation by the ruler of the erstwhile Travancore Princely State, Sree Chithira Thirunal, is one such ground-breaking event in the history of India. Though political situation and several reform movements preceded the event that played a role in shaping public opinion, the readiness of the society to accept change without much opposition is a 
remarkable feature.

Regardless of the chronological inconsistencies, the Communists have had no qualms in taking parenthood of all progressive movements in the State and in portraying themselves as the harbingers of social change.  Political exigencies forced the Leftist historians to push a class-war angle in anything and everything. History Liberated: The Sree Chithra Saga,written by Travancore royal family member Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi, busts many such myths. It was visionary leaders belonging to the upper castes who spearheaded the temple entry movement. The demand for allowing entry of Avarnas (low-castes) in temples was first made by Shri C Raman Pillai, a retired High Court Judge in 1917. Later, Kakinada Congress meeting constituted the Kerala Untouchability Committee to campaign for removal of caste discrimination. “It is extremely significant that the Avarna cause received solid support from the Savarnas which was impressive,” writes Gouri Lakshmi Bayi. Upper caste organisations such as Kerala Hindu Sabha, Nair Service Society, Yogakshema Sabha of Brahmins and Kshatriya Maha Sabha had not only extended their support but leaders of these organisations led from the front. “It is a matter of lament that while the undeniable ills were generated due to long standing Savarna attitudes and actions which have invited  repeated negative exposure in the modern age, the part they played in the peaceful success of the implementation of the Temple Entry Proclamation (1936) is also undeniable, but oft banished behind shadows,” Gouri Lakshmi Bayi writes.

The Communists continue to bask in the reflected glory of the much-hyped ‘Kerala Model’. In reality, they had done nothing for the promotion of the model. They had done much in hiding the role of the predecessors or appropriating the credit for the great work done by the royals who had ruled the kingdom as dasas (servants) of Padmanabha—Bhagwan Vishnu.   

The erstwhile rulers of Travancore led simple lives. They were far-sighted and progressive. They laid the foundation for formidable public health infrastructure and promoted modern medicine. This was not done at the cost of Ayurveda for which they had earmarked generous funds and set up institutions. Sree Chithira Thirunal promoted scientific research in Ayurveda.

When chicken pox lashed the state, it was the king who along with his mother were inoculated first when it was found that there was public resistance over vaccination. 

In 1935, Malaria epidemic broke out. To draw up a comprehensive strategy, the State undertook a survey. Dispensaries and Ayurvedic facilities were set up. When the epidemic brought with it economic distress, the State extended relief which included free food and mid-day meal for children. “In 1939, Radium Therapy was implemented…By now there were 32 government hospitals and 55 dispensaries other than the already existing ones along with 21 private hospitals. Government hospitals offered free food and treatment to the poor and needy,” she writes.

Gandhiji with the Harijans coming out of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in 1937 after the Temple Entry Proclamation

Kerala owes much to Travancore for the part played by it in making the Southern state fully literate. In 1880s, Kerala had Government Schools for Girls. The first English medium school for girls was also started in Travancore. It was the first State in India which set up schools for Muslim girls, introduced compulsory primary education and free education for depressed classes. “…(W)hen the Indian Constitution came into force, compulsory, universal and free primary education did not find a place among the Fundamental Rights. It was only decades hence that an amendment in this direction was effected in the Indian Constitution. … A line from The Travancore State Manual is quoted in conclusion. ‘Every educated native….is a radiant point of enlightenment.’

Kerala achieved much more during Chithira Thirunal’s reign in terms of industrialisation than during the post-monarchy period. Almost all the major industries were set up during this period.  Most of the industries started during this time had to face shutdown due to various reasons, including militant trade unionism of the Communists.

Similarly, almost all the major hydroelectric and irrigation projects were set up during Sree Chithira Thirunal’s time. In several areas, Travancore fared much better compared to other princely states. In fact, Gandhiji was right in hailing Travancore as a ‘Miracle of Modern India’.

History Liberated: The Sree Chithra Saga strives to encompass a decisive period of Travancore’s significant history, its rulers and the royalty of the period. It is an attempt by the author to shed light on a part of history which has been misrepresented. The book is very interesting, informative, intriguing and explosive. 


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