Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Palace intrigue

This is a blog entry was written in 2003 on my first of many visits to Kerala.

As a guest of the wife of Prince Thirunal of Travancore, the dynasty that ruled Kerala state for much of its history, I was invited for dinner and a stay at Kowdiar Palace. His wife, Gopika, is one of my dance teachers in Chennai; teaching the traditional feminine Kerala dance Mohini Attam.

Her mother in law, the Maharani, was a young princess when Independence broke up the royal lands and changed her world forever. Their culture has a matrilineal system and the women are very strong and relatively independent. They are direct descendants of Raja Ravi Varma, the famous indian painter (we sat in the dining room surrounded by some of his originals) and Swathi Thirunal, one of the 4 most famous south Indian (Carnatic)composers who wrote hundreds of compositions that are still popular.

This occasion necessitated my running out and buying a Kerala style sari (hand loom white cotton with gold border) and having the blouse made, in one hour - nearly impossible! - Total cost: about $14.00.

I stayed 3 nights in the guest house within the large palace grounds, where the servants instructed me not to leave my shoes outside the door,
as is the usual custom, because of the local wildlife. They are leather yes? The jackals surely will take them. You have jackals?, I asked, thinking he might just mean stray dogs. No, jackals. Cobra also. Careful Madam.

Jackals and cobras on the palace grounds; sleeping sweaty under a lace mosquito net; being served tea on the royal crest china, waking to the call of the whooping Koel bird, the snow shower of white blossoms beneath the plumeria tree heady with tropical perfume - I suddenly felt like a character in a Rudyard Kipling story. Some killjoy will probably have to write in accusing me of having "Orientalist fantasies."

The following day the Princess said, "Caroline, everyone is quite impressed with you" - because I had managed to get a blouse stitched in one hour. The ladies of the royal family all wanted to know what tailor I had found and how much I paid!

Strangest of all, the other Prince - the unmarried one - is a Carnatic classical singer who has performed in Nashville, and has sent me a flurry of emails since that evening. So maybe I will have royal email buddy.

more later, the nightly power cut is about to take place....

Related Reading: 
Drāvida and Kerala in the art of Travancore (Artibus Asiae)Political evolution in Kerala: Travancore, 1859-1938 

A Survey of Kerala History - 



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Anonymous said...

Enjoy reading your posts.
Sounds like it was a great experience and something you'll remember the rest of your life.