SRI RAMA VARMA ,MAKER OF KOVALAM PALACE
Sri Rama Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran
The architect of Halcyon Castle, Kovalam and of many other historical monuments in Thiruvananthapuram, such as Satelmond Palace, Poojapura, which is now Chitra Medical Centre, and Lalindloch Palace, Vellayini, which is now the Agricultural University, and Villa Manimala, Pothencode, was no less a person than Sri Rama Varma, consort of Regent Maharani Setu Lakshmi Bayi, who ruled the erstwhile State of Travancore from 1924 to 1931. Born into the aristocratic family of Harippad, Ananthapuram Palace, on January 14th 1889 (M.E. 1064, Makaram 2, Makayiram Nakshatram),1 he was the youngest of five children. His mother, Smt. Lakshmi Thampuratty (Thriketta Nal)2 dying soon after she gave birth to him, he was brought up by his grandmother Smt. Amba Devi Thampuratty (Karthika Nal). As was the custom in those days, his father Sri Kallampally Namboodiripad left the tharawad3 and returned to his illam,4 hence Rama Varma had little contact with him. Growing up in a joint family where the matriarchal system prevailed, he had many bitter experiences that he would later recount with sadness. However, it taught him to be self reliant and at an early age, he determined that he would devote much time to his studies. His marriage to the young princess Setu Lakshmi Bayi was solemnized when he had just turned seventeen, and thereafter his scholarly pursuits turned towards a system of self learning which he followed assiduously. Sanskrit, Malayalam English and later Tamil, were his main interests and continued to give him many hours of useful preoccupation all through his life. He enjoyed riding, photography and would go on long treks through the jungles in search of wild animals that threatened the hill tribes. During the years of his wife's Regency, his astuteness and keen sense of legality in all proceedings was a great help to Maharani Setu Lakshmi Bayi.
Kovalam was bought in 1931 from the Bishop of Quilon, and Halcyon Castle was built there, with granite slabs readily available from the rocks in the surrounding area. Probably taking the design from an English model, he adapted it to conform to his needs, a large drawing room on the left of the entrance hall and a spacious study well lined with books, on the right. The imposing staircase led up to two bedrooms, and a watch tower from which point he could watch ships sailing by. A powerful telescope on the balcony gave him visual treats of the heavens above and the distant gleam of lights on the liners.Later he built an elaborate garden with stone sofa sets and dining table sets, surrounded by palm fronds and hibiscus, and steps that led down to the beach, with a shower room, which had water from a natural spring underground.
It was acquired by the Kerala Government, and it changed hands from Kerala Tourism Ministry to ITDC and it was made into a five star hotel. Today, the building lies locked up, in the middle of a controversy, though the Government has given an assurance that it will be used as a heritage site, in memory of Regent Maharani Setu Lakshmi Bayi and Sri Rama Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran, who did much during their short tenure to develop and modernize Travancore.
1. M.E refers to the Malayalam Era, Makaram is the Malayalam month beginning on January 15th and ending on February 12th and Makayiram is the star of his birth.2. It was a common practice to use the name of the star when referring to a person, hence thriketta and karthika were the stars of the two ladies here mentioned. (nal meaning star).3. Tharawad: The family abode.4. Illam: The abode of Namboodiris (Kerala Brahmins).