ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Of Crowns And Kings

The former 'princely state' of Cochin was not one of the hefty kingdoms in India at any point of time. At least in the last century of its existence (1850-1950) its *usually* weak and senile Kings (the rule of succession entailed the oldest surviving male member of a large extended family - almost a clan - becoming the Maharajah, and so the 'ruler' tended to be very well on in years, almost always; of course, I am not saying old => weak!) were often laughed at by their own 'subjects'; indeed,to this day, the folk memory of the 'Kochi Rajavu' is that of a generally well-meaning but inconsequential puppet-king, propped up by the British.

Nevertheless, the Maharajas of Cochin used to be proud custodians of a golden crown which I got to see a few days back - now, it is kept under high security, among other massive items of jewellery, in a glass case, in an air-conditioned hall within the 'Hill Palace', which stands atop a small hill about 10 kilometers from the heart of Cochin city (btw, the palace itself is no big deal in terms of opulence - it is more of a grand bungalow - although the estate surrounding it is vast and the view from the top is impressive; it is now a state-owned museum). The crown, more substantial than beautiful, is of solid gold and is studded with several dozens of emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Apparently, it was a gift from the Portuguese in return for some trade concessions (a kickback, Bofors ishtyle?)

Tradition says the Kings of Cochin stopped wearing the crown on their heads when some territory was lost to the Zamorin of Calicut. A pledge was made that it would be kept only on the lap until the lost territory was regained - it never was. One suspects the decision not to wear the crown on the head was also a pragmatic one - the whole thing weighs nearly two kilograms!

Note: I had never before seen a proper golden crown anywhere, not even in the Mysore palace, abode of an infinitely richer prince(ling).

Update (July 2011): Now, the secret 'nilavaras' at Padamanabha Temple, owned (or managed) by the Royal family of Travancore have been opened to reveal treasures running into hundreds (may be thousands) of billions of rupees - in comparison, the single crown and a few dozens of gold ornaments on display at Hill Palace is not even peanuts. And (shudder!), Travancore might not quite make the top 10 among the erstwhile royal families of this country in sheer wealth!

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