Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Queen of Venad Aswathi Thirunal Umayamma - Kerala

Like all royal families world over, where greed, lust and power made them go at each others throat in the past centuries, the Indian royal families were not exception to it. They had their own power struggles to get to the throne. Some inter and intra family feuds were subdued over a period of time through the policy of give and take. But, unfortunately, some nasty problems spewed into the open and became a subject discussion in the public. The royal family members of Travancore had a roller coaster ride and passed through the periods of upheavals and consolidation. The women royal members played a pivotal role during the time of internal turmoil to uphold the honor and dignity of their line of succession. When opportunities arose, they proved they could take the right decision and get the administration going without any hindrance.

Johan Nieuhof's audience with the Queen of
 Thirunal Umayamma, a queen of the Attingal house was from Kulasekhara Dynasty and had close links with the royal family of Travancore.  In the royal hierarchy, she was preceded by Rajah Aditya Varma,Rani of Venad, Attingal Mootha Thampuran 1677-1684 and succeeded  byRajah Ravi Varma.  On behalf  of her nephew Rajah Ravi Varma,  she  became the  Regent of Venad from 1677 to 1684,  taking  care of the state administration  with dedication and careful planning. Rajah Ravi Varma  ruled the state from 1684 till 1718.

 Venad or Travancore was, at that time, in a state of political uncertainty  and turbulence with respect to legal successor to the throne. The adoption of the two  predecessors of Umayamma Rani, Rama Varma and Aditya Varma,  from the Vellarapally branch of the Cochin Royal Family in 1630, became a serious legal tangle , a sort of convoluted plot of a TV soap opera, offending the legitimate claims of the collateral branches (same genealogy, but different lines) of the Venad royal family to the musnud. These collateral factions,  therefore,  had begun exercising independent authority in their domains such as  Elayadathu Swaroopam of Kottarakara, etc.,  On top of it, even within the limited domains of the kingdom remaining with the chief branch, factions were to the forefront due to stubborn  and rebellious  nobles or Madempis, most famous of whom were the members of Ettuveetil Pillamar.
Location map. Hamlet in Monsoon
The  main members at the time of Umayamma Rani's rule in the Royal family of Venad were Makayiram Thirunal, the Senior Rani of Attingal, Umayamma Rani herself as Junior Rani of Attingal and Makayiram Thirunal's son, Rajah Ravi Varma, exclusive of the collateral members.   Kerala Varma of Nedumangad claim to the musnud in 1677  was  categorically rejected. Umayamma adopted two boys exclusively for domestic reasons with no claims whatsoever to the throne. They were Raman Koyil Pandarathil, from Vellarapalli, Cochin and Kochu Raman Unni Pandarathil, a Brahmin boy. Kerala Verma of Nedumankadu along with Kottarakara branch in 1682 made an abortive coup and besides, their attempts to consolidate the position of  senior Rani Attingal Makayiram ended in fiasco.
It is quite true that the two collateral groups, emerging from the same genealogical stock had been at loggerheads for a long time  and both sides indulging in all kinds of accusations and counter accusations.  That the story of Umayamma had six sons and out of them five were killed except her eldest son Ravi Varma by a radical group called ettara yogam with support from Ettuveetil Pillamar and her husband Aditya Verma was poisoned to death was a subject of discussion. It is believed that it was not true based on  the temple records of Padmanabha Swami, Tiruvanthapuram along with other credible sources and the studies by historians. They point out  that  Rani Umayamma had no children and her husband Aditya Varma died a natural death in 1677 at Darpakulangara Palace. It was in 1862, upon the death of senior Rani (queen) Attangal, Umayamma legally succeeded as the principal queen of Venad.

In the state of Kerala, including the royal families, matrilineal system of inheritance and family had been in vogue for centuries and this system does exit among some communities. So, it was quite natural the Royal family followed Marumakkathayam or matrilineal system of inheritance and family. This allowed the presence of females in the royal family. In 1682 Umayamma Rani's adoption of   one male, Aditya Varma, and two females from the related Kolathunad Royal family angered already  enraged Kerala Varma of Nedumangad and this led to a war that turned in
favor of the Rani  and the claims of the Nedumangad family 
were found to be unacceptable. In the year in 1684, she was instrumental in  setting up an English  trading post in Travancore. Van Rheed, the Dutch governor of Cylon, had left an  
account of  her rule. In the same same  year Umayamma Rani also  adopted Kottayam  Kerala Verma,  a member of the  related
Royal family of Malabar, a branch of the Kolathunad house. 
Kerala Verma was bestowed with the  title of 'Prince of Hiranyasimhallur' (Eraniel). No sooner had he taken the mantle of the kingdom than he  asserted full power and set aside and silenced  the collateral branches, thus becoming the sole power of the main branch (of genealogy). Soon after defeating the Muslim invasion of Venad in 1684 with his powerful army  near Thuckalay. Kerala Verma went ahead with much assertion  and  in 1695 abolished certain repulsive customs known as Pulappedi, Mannapedi etc. In the wake of it, the nobles of the land and the temple trustees (Ettara Yogam)  not only lost the hold on the land but also their political clout. Unfortunately, it led to the murder of  Kerala Verma  in 1695. Ultimately. Ravi Varma became the Rajah and in 1688 adopted two males, Unni Kerala Varma and Rajah Rama Varma from Kolathunad, and two princesses from Kolathunad. The royal succession continued on these lines including  adoptions in 1705, 1718 and so on.