Parukutty Nethyar Amma - a maverick consort of Cochin ruler

Parukutty Nethyar Amma.

Statue of Rama Varma XVI,Thrissur city.

''The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.”  ― Walt Disney Company, Mulan

Throughout the British India  history, after the  take over  of  the huge  province of  Bengal in the late 1600s from  Nawob  Siraj-ud  dualah, the British East India company  had  been on a land  grabbing  spree  from the Indian rulers  across the  land and many  of  them lost their kingdoms, pelf and power. The British took  over their  lands, palaces, etc., through  dishonest and  diabolic means, following  the dictum  of ''divide and rule''. For instance  in  the  north,  the  last  Mogul  emperor  Bahadur Shah II  (1775 -1862)  was   deposed  mercilessly  in  1858 by the British East India  company  and  exiled him to  Burma. His  death  marked  the  end  of  the Mogul  dynasty in the Indian subcontinent. The last  young Mogul princes were murdered right before a big crowd by a mad British military officer by shooting them point blank at Khoon Dharwaza near Delhi towards the end of 1857 Sepoy  Mutiny. 

Rama Varma XV better known as His Abdicated Highness.

In  the  south, as early as 18th century,  Rani Velu  Nachiyar, the queen of  Siva Gangai, was in exile  along  with  her daughter for eight  long  years  near  Dindukal  under the protection of Hyder Ali and one Gopala Naicker. Being  a  courageous woman, she  took  revenge  on  the  British, who  killed  her husband, the first queen, their son  and some of  her  close relatives. In 1780, she fought the  British along  with  support from Gopala Nayaker  and  won the decisive battle  and   got  back her  kingdom. The British gave all  kinds of  problems to the  Maratha rulers of   Tanjore (Thanjavur,TN)  and  rulers of Mysore  kingdom  during  the same period.

Cochin kingdom,
When the British had  set their  eyes on the State of Cochin, a land endowed with nature's beauty, Paraukutty  Amma, the consort of Maharajah Rama Verma of Cochin,  was more or less in the same situation  of  loosing  her  small  kingdom - a tough  and hostile situation  she had to solve with meticulous care and careful diplomacy. Unmoved,  with lot of nerve, she chose a different path not taken by other Indian rulers by becoming  a  nationalist  and fought  the  British  along  with  other  prominent  freedom  fighters. It was  an intelligent  and courageous move, because  the  entire India would be behind  Paraukutty  Amma, if  the British  had made a wrong and  an aggressive approach to grab the kingdom by force. That  she  did not let the British  cow her  down shows her innate fighting qualities as commonly one finds among the women from Kerala. In this respect,  she was a maverick, not many princely classes would tread a path wrought with dangers. But, Parukutty Amma  was a courageous and an intelligent  woman, not to be intimidated that easily.

Maharajah Rama Verma.

Parukutty  Nethyar  Amma (b. 1874), (the daughter of Kurur Narayanan   Namboodiripad  and Chinnammu Amma Vadakkeruppa)  was the wife of  Rama  Varma  Thampuran 
(reign:1914-1932).   He was popularly known  as  Madrassil  Theepetta Thampuran, because  he  died  in  Madras  (now Chennai). The Nethyar  Amma, a  talented  woman,  was a member   of  the  family  that  had  the  traditional  honor  of  anointing  the  kings  of  Palakkad, Kerala. She had the rare distinction  of  being  the  first  woman  from  the  royal  family  of Kerala  to  have  been   awarded  the  Kaiser-i-Hind  Medal  by  King George V  in 1919  for public  work  and  since  then  she  had  been  known  as  Lady  Rama  Varma  of  Cochin. On  her  maternal side,  her  mother  was  a  member  Padinjare  Shrambhi  house  of  the  aristocratic  Vadakke  Kuruppath  house  of  Thrissur.

Unexpected  turn  of  events  in  the royal  family  put  the  ruling  members  in  a  fix  with respect to successor  to  the throne  in  the aftermath  of  abdication  of  the  present  ruler. As fate would have it, Rama  Varma  Thampuran  had  to  become  a  ruler  again. In the olden  days, Indian  royal   rulers  seldom  ever  allowed  the women  of ruling class to  take  the  responsibility  of  administration, part of the reason is their being prone to emotional outbursts and fatigue due to over work  and tense situation regarding decision-making,  the task that needed discretion and patience.   As for  Rama  Varma  of Cochin, a scholar,  he  believed in women's equality. No doubt, the Nethyar Amma  was  entrusted  with  the management of state  finance.  Through  various  fiscal measures,  trimming  unwanted expenses, etc.,  she  vastly  improved  the  revenue  and  the government coffers, for  the  first  time,  showed   increased  revenue  and  surplus funds.
Being  a  just woman of  integrity,  she  had  treated  her  palace workers  well  and,  as  an incentive, she increased  their salaries.  This move  would  make  the  enthusiastic  workers  work  with better efficiency. Parukutty  Nethyar  Amma  earned  a special  honor - a 17-gun salute in  recognition  of  her  talents  for  improving  the  state  revenue. The Nethyar  Amma  was   not  only  a  good administrator  but  also  a  true  patriot. She  was absolutely  against  foreign  rule  and  had  utter disregard  for  the  British  rulers. After the direct control  of  the  British  Crown  from London   in 1857 soon  after  Sepoy  Mutiny, things  had  not  changed  a bit with respect  to  unwanted interference  in  the  internal  affairs  of  the  Indian rulers. Naturally,  the Nethyar  Amma  became a nationalist  and  had developed  close  contacts  with  Gandhiji  and  other  leaders.  One Kurur Nilakantan Namboodiripad, the head of the Congress party in Cochin,  was  her cousin.  In those colonial days, Congress leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, and others  used to stay  at Cochin with one Narayana Menon, father-in-law of the Maharajah's second son. When Gandhiji visited Cochin,  he was well taken care of by Nethyar Amma's son. Obviously, the  British  rulers were  not  enthused  about  the  activities  of  the  royal  member  of  Cochin  and  her  close  rapport  with  the freedom  fighters. They did not want the Nethyar Amma to slip past their grip on her and fall in the dragnet of the nationalists.

The  British rulers, who  had  the  nasty   ability to outwit  the  villains  of  Shakespearean dramas when it came to  diabolism  and intrigues, decided  to dethrone  the  Maharajah  under  some  pretext  because  active, but  subtle  participation  of  the Nethyar  Amma  in the freedom  struggle, went  beyond the  limits of their tolerance. As planned before hand, the British  higher ups  succeeded  in  the  abdication  of  the  ruler  on  grounds of  insanity  and senility due  to  his old  age  with a falsified medical certificate  from an English  doctor  who  was  specially  brought  (for this purpose) to Cochin all the way from England. Subsequently,  the British got  what  they  wanted  and  their  British  interests  stood  unopposed.

After  the  death of  her husband, Maharajah  Rama Verma in 1932, she  limited  her  public  participation. However,  Nethyar Amma's close relations and her sons,  like her,  were nationalists and  had  close  contact with  Congress stalwarts and made valid contribution  toward  the  development of  Kochi.  

 “To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage?  Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?"  - Gandhi; To the Women of India (Young India, Oct. 4, 1930)
Following   the  preaching  of  Gandhiji, Parukutty  Nethyar  Amma had  become  an  immortal  figure in the history of Kerala and  of  Kochi, in particular. A great, gentle aristocratic lady of Cochin.


01. ''Cochin  Royal  Family  followed  the  system  of Matrilineal succession  known  as  Marumakkatayam - Traditionally  the  female members  of  the  family  have  hypergamous  union (Sambandham)  with  Namboodiri  Brahmins,  while male  members  marry   ladies of  the  Samanthan Nair class. These  wives of  the male  members  are not  Ranis  as  per  the  matrilineal  system,  but instead  they get  the  title of  Nethyar  Amma. Currently the family  members marry  mostly  within  the  Malayala Kshatriya class.'' (from En. wikipedia. org)

02. The Nethyar Amma, when she was just fourteen years old in 1888, married the Maharaja Rama Varma, then fourth in line to the succession. It was believed that she was blessed by the goddess (Amman) of Chottanikkara Temple.

03. The Maharaja, being  a scholar,  had other interests like herbal medicine and Gawli Shashtra - the language of home lizards. He is also believed to have cure for snake bites, etc.

04. According to the British intelligence report, "The hill palace is the center of nationalist activity and Charkhas have been introduced to assist the weaving of khadi."
Pillai, Elamkulam Kunjan. Studies in Kerala History.
Thampuran, Rameshan (2007). "Emergence Of Kingdom of Cochin and Cochin Royal Family". Retrieved 6 January 2008.