[By Dr. C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyar

(His highness Maharajah Swathi Thirunal was born in 1813 and succeeded to the Travancore Throneon the attainment of his sixteenth year. His firmness of temperament from his early years earned for him the title of Saktan Rajah and he was, throughout his life, noted for the steadfastness of his opinions and hisundeviating loyalty to his friends and followers. He died before he was 34 years of age, having reigned forseventeen years.During his life time, the British Government, in accordance with the policy then in vogue, did theirbest to minimise the importance of the Indian States and reduce them to a position of vassallage. Mysorewas annexed and there was a school of thought associated with the Marquess of Wellesly which convinceditself that complete British supremacy was alone in the interests of the people of India and that it wasnecessary to sacrifice the Princes for the good of the people. The era of what were called subsidiarytreaties led inevitably to continual pinpricks and Swathi Thirunal was under constant surveillance and heand all those who were attached to him were subject to many humiliations. His fortitude and his unflinching constancy which the British Administrators of those days called "foolish obstinacy" alone enabled him topreserve his poise of mind.In spite of handicaps and obstacles, His Highness initiated new policies and measures of wise reform.He started the Public Library in Trivandrum and the first Munsif's Court in Travancore; he brought intoexistence the first code of laws; he founded the first English High School and, following the example ofseveral Hindu and Muslim Sovereigns, he not only cultivated a taste for astronomy but founded the firstobservatory in South India taking the advice of well-known foreign experts. He was also responsible forthe compilation of a comprehensive Malayalam Grammar and Dictionary. He was himself a great scholar
and his early education included instruction in English, Malayalam and Tamil. Later, with infinite diligencehe mastered Hindi, Marathi, Canarese and Telugu. He had as his motto the couplet from Manavollasa :

"If you hold fast to the Arts, prosperity and felicity will be yours". In addition, he was an expertMusician and a master of poetical and musical composition in several languages. He was mainly responsible for the introduction of the Harikatha in South India; and, following the example the example set by theRajahs of Tanjore, he became a patron of Dancing and Music and Painting. Meruswami was one of thegreat musical pioneers who was invited to stay in the Court of Swathi Thirunal and it was he who introduced North Indian Bhajanas and Prabhata Pheris in Kerala.As already stated, the Paramount Power was unsympathetic towards him and his own Dewanswere often more under the influence of the British Government than of the Ruler. In these circumstances,Music and Literature became his only solaces. He wrote on aliteration and rhyme, he was the author ofBhaktha Manjari, Yayathicharitra, Kuchelopakhyana and Ajamilopakhyana and he composed hymns andsongs in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Canarese, Hindustani and Manipravala (an amalgam of Sanskrit andMalayalam). He was the author of literally hundreds of Kirtanams. They were his chosen musical vehicleand he also composed hymns and song recitals for the Navarathri and other festivals in the Padmanabhaswamy temple. Vadivelu Nattuvan was also included in his entourage and Kathakali waspopularised through him. In addition he was catholic in his tastes and in his admiration and encouragementof savants outside his State like Thyagaraja. In his appreciation of masters of Hindusthani music likeSulaiman Sahib, he displayed a wide-ranging appreciation which has had few equals even in India, the land of toleration.

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