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Progressive Travancore Contemporary historian Ramanath Aiyar catalogued the ways in which Maharajah Moolam Thurunal led the way in modernising British India.

In two parts

Queen Victoria 1837-1901 to King Edward VII 1901-1910
Music: Ethel Smyth

Via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. Source

About this picture …

Sree Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma (r. 1885–1924), properly H. H. The Maharajah of Travancore Sree Padmanabhadasa Vanchipala Sir Rama Varma VI, in 1895. A great deal of the credit for his progressive rule should go to his Diwan, Sir T. Rama Rao, as Aiyar would have been the first to agree. At Rao’s prompting, on March 30th, 1888, the Maharajah set up a Legislative Council to advise the Prince on policy and law, India’s first popularly elected legislative assembly and a historic step towards democratic constitutional monarchy in India. Rao founded a hospital at Nedungolam with his own money; his daughter-in-law was married to the Diwan of Mysore in that state’s own ‘golden age’.

Progressive Travancore

Part 1 of 2

In 1885, His Highness Sir Rama Varma Moolam Thurunal became Maharajah of Travancore. A close confidant was historian Ramanath Aiyar, who some eighteen years later catalogued the various ways in which the Maharajah had moved Travancore forward in terms of society and industry.
Abridged and modernised

SINCE his accession, the country has progressed by giant strides.* The existence of four arts colleges; the establishment of training schools to teach the principles and practice of teaching; of agricultural schools to impart instruction in elementary theoretical and practical agriculture; of the Industrial School of Arts where a systematic course of instruction is given in drawing, designs, and painting; of a Sanskrit college to represent the Oriental faculty; of medical schools to train Hospital Assistants; of a Survey school to teach surveying to the Revenue and Judicial subordinates; prove beyond doubt that every facility which the practical sagacity of a ruler can suggest, is afforded for intellectual development.

Again, by the granting of agricultural loans; by the holding of agricultural exhibition; by the organisation of an agricultural demonstration farm and school; by the remission of various obnoxious taxes which pressed heavily on industry; by the settlement of the longstanding dispute between landlords and tenants; and by comprehensive land survey and assessment, the interests of the rural population have been considerably advanced.

Jump to Part 2

The Kingdom of Travancore in southwest India was founded in 1729 out of the much smaller kingdom of Venad by Marthanda Varma (r. 1729–1758), who chose to ally with the British rather than the Dutch. Under the British Raj (after 1857) Travancore was fortunate to have a series of enlightened Maharajahs, the last of whom, Maharajah Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, attempted to establish a state independent of the new Indian Union in 1947. Travancore narrowly escaped being taken over by Communists, and two years later was absorbed into the Indian Union. Since 1956 it has been more or less the State of Kerala.

Part Two

Via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. Source

About this picture …

A car bowls along one of the high range roads of Kerala, near Munnar close to the eastern border with Tamil Nadu. The network of narrow roads through dense forest, clinging to the sides of steep and rocky hills, was begun in the Raj using British engineering know-how, and formed a key part of the social and industrial progress which historian Ramanath Aiyar describes here, connecting villages and tea-plantations to the capital at Trivandrum and the port at Quilon (Kollam).

BESIDES these, several public works, designed for the protection and promotion of agriculture, such as the Kodayar Irrigation project;* the Paravur and Kaipuzha reclamation schemes; the Kainakary and Puthenchira bunds;* the restoration of the banks of several rivers; the construction of bridges and anicuts* across innumerable rivers and streams, have also been carried out. Similarly the installation of gaslight; the introduction of the Railway;* and the construction of the High Range road are other measures calculated to expand industry.*

Then again, the organisation of a Sanitary Department including Vaccination, vital statistics, rural sanitation and itinerant medical relief, and the contribution of medical grants to Hospitals, Dispensaries and Native Vaidyasalas* demonstrate how largely the health of the people is promoted. And above all, the establishment of the Legislative Council marks the inauguration of an important era.* Every administrative measure of His Highness’ reign is inspired by a genuine solicitude for the welfare of the people.

Copy Book

The Kodayar and Paralayar are the two principal tributaries of the River Thamirabarani (Tamaparani, Kuzhithuraiar). The Pechiparai Dam was constructed between 1897 and 1906 across the Kodayar near the village of Pechiparai in what is now Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu, India.

Aiyar’s placenames have been altered here to those used today, to make it easier to pursue further research: Paravur for Parur; Kaipuzha for Kaipuzhai; Kainakary for Kynagari; Puthenchira for Puthencara. A bund is a dam, embankment or causeway, such as those used for agricultural terracing. The word comes from Persian via Urdu.

Another Indian word for a dam used in irrigation.

Surveying for the Quilon–Chenkotta (Kollam-Sengottai) Railway began in 1888 and the line was opened to freight in 1902 and to passengers in 1904, reaching Trivandrum in 1918. The first bus services in the capital began running in 1908.

The high range roads cross the mountainous country of the Western Ghats between modern-day Kerala and Tamil Nadu to the east, and were first engineered by the British. The routes and views, as the roads wind past reservoirs and tea plantations in the shadow of tall mountains, are spectacular.

Ayurvedic medical centres. A Vaidya is a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine.

This legislature, founded by the Maharajah’s decree on March 30th, 1888, was summoned to advise the Prince on policy and law, and was a historic step towards democratic constitutional monarchy in India. The idea came from the Maharajah’s remarkable diwan, Sir T. Rama Rao.


Abridged from ‘Travancore, the Model State of India’ (1903) by S. Ramanath Aiyar.

Related Video

This 15-minute video shows scenes (with music, no commentary) from a road-trip through Munnar in eastern Kerala, among the Western Ghats. These routes through the tea-plantations and tall mountains of the former princely State of Travancore are a lasting tribute to the progressive Maharajahs of the Raj.]

Suggested Music

1 2

Serenade in D Major

1: Allegro Non Troppo

Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)

Performed by the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Odaline de Martinez.

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Serenade in D Major

4: Finale - Allegro Con Brio

Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)

Performed by the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Odaline de Martinez.

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