The Marriage of Lalitamba

The Marriage of Lalitamba

The carriage with the two princesses proceeded at an even pace towards the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Princess Lalitamba Bayi waved merrily at a little girl from the crowd who threw a rose at her. The rose did not reach anywhere near the carriage. “We should stop the coach,” said Lalitamba, “and pick up that rose.” And she would do it too, thought Indira. “Akke, for god’s sake,“ she exclaimed “don’t!”.

During the last four months Princess Lalitamba had been endeavouring with all her might to ward off dire threats from a persistence source. The inevitable had happened..... marriage proposals! All the Uncles, the Maharani’s brothers, had been on the lookout for weeks, under the Maharani’s command.

Lalitamba was getting too unmanageable. Besides marriage was long overdue. The Maharani herself had been married at the age of ten.

“No, no, I don’t want to marry!” Lalita had cried ,”let Kochanthee do it.“
“Kunje, you have to get married,” her mother said sharply, “you simply cannot avoid it! You’re already nearly thirteen years of age! At this rate you’ll end up a spinster! This is simply unheard of in our family traditions.”
But Lalita had been fiercely rebelling and refusing every prospective groom that her uncles brought forward. Lalita was adamant. The Maharani was at her wits’ end. She was now preparing to enforce it. There was little else to do in the circumstances. Pressure was mounting from all sides. The State demanded it.
At last, the Valiya Koil Thampuran suggested his nephew. The Maharani approved.
“Absolutely not!” exclaimed Lalita.
The Maharani was extremely disturbed over this state of affairs. What was to be done?
Indira was greatly apprehensive over her sister’s continuous refusals. She feared the consequences. She ran over the black and white marble floor of her vast bedroom to a corner of it, and stood facing East with folded hands.
“Please, dear Lord,” Indira prayed fervently to Sree Padmanabha, the Family Deity, “make Akka agree!”

The Royal coach carrying the two young princesses turned a bend in the Fort Area and reached the relatively secluded street that passed before the Moodathu Mattom Kottaram.

Lalitamba had been talking and laughing during the whole journey. Suddenly, without warning, she ceased. She fell silent.
“What’s the matter, Akke? “ Indira asked, “why did you stop speaking? Are you all right?” Her sister did not reply. Indira was alarmed. Her continued insistence for an answer from her sister met with no response. “Akke, Akke! Speak to me!”

Lalita sat silent.
Should the matter be brought to the notice of Ammachies, Indira wondered, anxious. This had never ever happened before.
The coach turned the bend and was now nearing the Temple premises. There was no time to react now.
The temple officials waiting at the private entrance bowed low as the princesses with the aunts following at a prescribed distance, alighted and climbed the steps of the special temple gate reserved only for members of the Royal Family. One of the temple personnel hurried forward holding the traditional “ola kuda” a wide umbrella made of dried palm fronds, over their heads, while another followed with a silver container of water and a “thorthu” over his arm, and a third walked in front with a “thookku vilakku” — a lamp hung at the end of a chain.
As they reached the outer Temple Courtyard, the temple guards surrounding the inner temple enclosure, clad in white mundus with yellow cummerbunds, their torsos bare as custom demanded, carrying short wands, in one movement placed their wands under their arms, folded their hands simultaneously and briskly bent their heads in unison. It was a sight they loved to witness, but Princess Lalitamba seemed unaware of it now. Indira grew more and more worried.

They passed before the Sri Narasimha Door and paid the required obeisance, leaving a silver rupee at the door, as was the custom. They gained the mandapam. From here on, none but a Royal member could proceed. They climbed the Steps to the Three Sacred nadas of the enormous reclining Deity, offered their prayers and received the special prasadam of sandal paste and jasmine garland rolled into a ball in a silver dish, and descended to do the pradakshanom and darshan at various nadas on the way.
And all this while, not a sound or reaction from Lalitamba! She walked as if in a daze.

That was not all. Lalitamba, unaccountably turning quiet, pensive and unresponsive, remained so throughout the day, and what was matter for concern, continued to do so. At first, only Indira had been aware of it, but soon everyone began to notice the change in Lalitamba. She toyed with her food and was inattentive during Sanskrit lessons. Aasaan had to reprimand her sharply many times. She went through the daily routine in an absentminded manner. This continued in the days that followed.

Meanwhile, it was now decided that the Valiya Koil Thampuran’s choice was by far the best groom for Lalitamba.
Lalita stood before her mother.
“Kunje” the Maharani said in a soft, conciliating manner, “you must no longer object to marriage. I have had several enquiries from the Resident as to whether a decision has been taken yet.”
Lalita was silent. The Maharani was surprised. At least there was no vehement protest from her daughter this time!
“I am glad you have come to your senses.” the Maharani smiled, “so it is agreed then?”
“No” said Lalita, suddenly.
The Maharani started. “Does this mean you do not wish to ever marry in your life?” asked the Maharani, sharply.
“No” replied Lalita.
“What on earth do you mean, Kunje! You don’t make sense.”
“Yes, I do!” Lalita was suddenly her old self,“ what I mean is, not someone you or father or uncles find for me! I have found the man I want to marry. I will marry only him and no other!”
For the first time the Maharani lost her composure. She was so startled that she was unable to speak.

Princess Lalita revealed her mind at last to her mother.

During the course of her birthday procession through the street towards the Temple she had seen the man she considered the one and only candidate for her hand in marriage. It had happened when the coach carrying the princesses passed near the Moodathu Mattom premises. They could see over the wall into the compound where some young men were standing conversing with each other.

One among them was so striking in appearance he stood out from the rest. He instantly caught Lalita’s attention. Her heart missed several beats. The young man, however, was unaware of being the object of her gaze.
“This is quite impossible!” exclaimed the Maharani shocked beyond words, “are you out of your mind? Do you realise what you are saying, Kunje? How do we know who this young man is? He might not be of the right lineage! Why, he could even be of a different caste altogether!“
“I don’t care,” said Lalita, “it’s not important.”
“It certainly is!” the Maharani was outraged, “it is of the utmost importance! This will cause an unpardonable and unprecedented scandal!”
But the princess remained adamant in her decision.

There was furore in the palace. The news spread like wildfire. Everyone was shocked to the core. The Maharani took instant measures to see that the matter would not go beyond the palace walls.

One by one, the Uncles and Aunts endeavoured to persuade the princess to abandon her desire, to no avail. Lalitamba’s decision strengthened with each dissuasion.
“I have supported you in many of what your mother deems wild schemes,” the Valiya Koil Thampuran told her, sternly, “but this I will not! You had better give up this ridiculous notion of yours.”
She had hoped her father would understand, but even he had not complied.
She was disappointed, but it did not deter her from her determination. Pandemonium reigned in the palace.
“Akke, you have gone really too far this time,” Indira said, paling with dread ,”you better give in now before things get terribly difficult!”
“I’m not going to ever change my mind. Kochanthee, you’ve no idea what you’re talking about.“
“But Akke, even for you, this is too much! You’ve seen some man on the road, and you want to marry him!!”
“He wasn’t some man on the road! He was THE man! And he wasn’t on the road! He was inside Moodathu Mutt compound! “
“Even then! How do we know if he’s the right type?”
“I know, and that’s all that matters.”

In the days that followed, tension mounted.
Even though strict orders had been issued that the matter should not go beyond the palace walls, whispers of it did leak out. The Resident, hearing a garbled version and wishing to be apprised of the truth, but not wanting to appear unduly inquisitive over palace internal matters, sent a carefully guarded missive to the Maharani.

“Your Highness may appreciate my anxieties concerning the matter of the apparent delay in conducting Her Highness the elder Princess’s nuptials. If there is aught that I may do to be of assistance I most respectfully offer my services to Your Highness. “

To which the Maharani replied, “Dear Mr. Skrine, while thanking you for your kind consideration I affirm there is nothing that is incapable of being handled in the matter. We are making the necessary arrangements.”
But that was far from the case. Lalitamba refused to yield. Her Aunts, her Uncles and other members of the family , all tried their very best to persuade her to come to her senses , to no avail. She firmly held her ground and refused to budge.

“I’ll marry him or not at all.” she stated.
When things became too disturbing the Maharani decided to move to the Vellayani Palace, some eight miles away. She thought a change of scene would benefit in the circumstances and help her daughter come to her senses.

Vellayani Palace Lalind — named after the two princesses— was set in idyllic surroundings, on the banks of a picturesque lake, highlighting the Arcadian beauties of nature that abound in this land of luscious pastoral greenery. The sprawling building, artistically designed, combining Italian with indigenous architecture shone like a jewel amongst the rich emerald green verdure. On the right side of its front facade the land sloped through flowering plants and shrubs towards a cross bridge leading to the lake, constructed reminiscent of the famous ones of Bernini’s Palazzos. Private boats, belonging to the palace were moored on the banks of the lake. Surely, this paradisiacal setting was the ideal spot to relax and forget that worries and anxieties ever existed in one’s life.

Everyone breathed the fresh air with relief. Lalitamba was sure to relent in this lovely little heaven on earth.
But she did not.
Listless, dispirited, she lay upon her bed. In Vellayani, she had always found a hundred more things to do than in Satelmond. She had run around the compound in complete enjoyment, gone boating on the lake, played innumerable games , darted through the bushes in abandonment, gone for walks in the countryside, defying orders.
But now all that changed. She hardly ate and did not respond to coaxing and cajoling .
“Kunje, come and see this paadasaram I made for you,” the Maharani said, “it’s a new pattern the jeweller designed.”
“Give it to Kochanthee, Mother, “ Lalita said.
“I have also ordered a number of silks for your wedding dress,” the Maharani continued undeterred, “the cloth merchant will be here in the afternoon. Choose what you like. I am told he has a great many new varieties of pattu.”
“Mother, I simply do not feel like dressing up for anything, let alone marriage. I told you. No-one seems to realise. I won’t marry anyone other than the man I saw.”
The refreshing air and enticing verdure of Vellayani had no effect on Lalitamba’s decision.
The Maharani did not give up. Everything was at stake. Lalita simply had to comply. So she renewed her efforts of persuasion.
“Kunje, I am sure you will see reason soon,” the Maharani said.
Lalitamba suddenly jumped up from her bed and ran towards the tiled verandah skirting the balcony. She reached the pillars of the colonnade.
Indira ran after her.
“Oh, please come quickly, Mother! Father! Everyone!” Indira cried.
Everyone was alarmed, and hastened towards the balcony . A beautiful view stretched before them, gardens sloping towards the sparkling lake.
Lalitamba was leaning dangerously over the railings.
“If I don’t have my way I will jump over and commit suicide!” she said.
“Stop, don’t! Have your way,” at last conceded her parents, disturbed to the core.

The Maharani endeavoured to discover who the young man in question was. But it was like searching for a needle in a haystack. No one had any clue or lead to go upon.
At last, it was “Guest House” Uncle who came to the rescue. He was fondly called that since whenever he came to visit the Maharani, he always opted to stay in the Guest House away from the main building.
“I will get photographs of all the young men who had frequented the Moodathu Mutt in the last fortnight, if Valiyakka Thirumanassu will agree,” he offered .
No one had any tangible hope that the young man would be found. Yet this was now the only course of action.
Now that pressure had been removed, Lalitamba underwent a significant change. Slowly she regained her former enthusiasm.
Soon ‘Guest House Uncle’ brought a whole lot of photographs of young men who had frequented Moodathu Mutt in the last few weeks. Moodathu Mutt was a spacious, many chambered building constructed in the old style following the norms of thachushastra, resembling ancient tharavaduhomes. It belonged to the Kilimanoor clan and was used by the members of the Kilimanoor family when it was required for the stay of any individual among them who needed to be in Thiruvananthupuram on business or government or personal work of any kind. Also it was used as a family hostel for its young men who were pursuing studies in the Centre. Moodathu Mutt was always fully occupied and had resident cooks and retainers in service of the thampurans of Kilimanoor.
The first lot of photographs yielded no result.
“This is a wild goose chase” the Valiya Koil Thampuran opined, caustically. His patience had worn thin.
“Kunje, “ exclaimed Mootha Ammathampuran, “you should be ashamed of yourself, causing so much bother for everyone! Why don’t you realise that whatever number of photos he brings, poor Appa will never be able to succeed in finding this man! God alone knows who he is or where he is from! And suppose we find him to be one of the Kilimanor retainers! How shocking that would be!”
“Please do reconsider, dear Kunje” the younger Aammathampuran pleaded, in conciliatory tones, “it is not too late for you to put a stop to this and agree to marry your father’s nephew. Then everyone will be happy. You will too. He is a personable young man.”
“Ammachies!” Lalita was unshaken from her resolve, “neither of you realise what I am trying to say! I simply do not wish to marry anyone other than the one I saw, be he a tribal from anywhere!” she added in her characteristic spark of humour.

But Destiny had a surprise in store!
After several rounds of photo viewings, at last the image of the young man surfaced! “Yes, this is him!” Lalita exclaimed, ecstatically.
It was no wonder he had caught the eye of the young princess. He was strikingly good looking. It remained now to find out who he was.
Destiny smiled indulgently.
It was soon discovered that he was of aristocratic lineage and very eligible for the princess, being a scion of Kilimanoor, the son of Makeeram nal Cherooty Thampuratty and Vasudevan Namboodiri of a respected Illom. He had been staying at Moodathu Mutt to attend university.

Satelmond Palace was a whirlwind of activity!

Resident Skrine sought an audience of the Princess in order to report to his superior the Viceroy, an assurance that the Princess had consented of her own free will, the tradition followed by the British, presumably to ensure there was no coercion involved, and secretly to keep well informed of palace politics in order to exert their influence on all matters private or public, a precaution preventing the reins from slipping from their hands.

The Pallikettu of Princess Lalitamba and Sree Kerala Varma of Kilimanoor Kovilakom was celebrated with great pomp and splendour. The Royal Festivities lasted for seven days. Accounts of it have been preserved for posterity in records that detail the annals of Travancore history. Kulathu Iyer wrote about it with great fervour and devotion in the State Manual.
Years later, I was to overhear a conversation between my father Sree Kerala Varma of Kilimanoor and his cousin Rama Varma on the royal marriage that had taken place. They were in the private verandah adjoining my parents’ suite on the second storey of Satelmond Palace. This was where my mother and father often relaxed.
“I have never asked you, Keluthaan, about your first meeting with the princess, at the end of the ceremonies.“ Rama Varma said, “It must have been an overwhelming experience! You must have felt awkward!”
“Of course I did,” my father said.
“How was the ice broken?”
“She burst into giggles,” replied my father.

Rukmini Varma

Rukmini Varma is a leading Indian artist who paints in the classical tradition.