Ammaveedu and their link with the Royal family of Travancore - historical houses need to be preserved

Arumana Ammaveedu

Above image: . Arumana Ammaveedu at Perumthanni, Thiruvananthapuram, is now a heritage hotel (Courtesy: Amiya Jemeemah Hisham).........................

Thanjavur Ammaveedu.Thiruvananthapuram Facebook

Above image: Thanjavur Ammaveedu. It came up in the middle of 19th century. The architecture is that of native blended with a bit of European and Rajasthani style as one see from the design of the gables and windows facing the road section.........

The Amma Veedu, a  historical site in Thiruvananthapuram is intertwined with the history of the Travancore royal family and is a legacy of the family's long held tradition and customs being followed by the descendants.  No doubt, it takes  us back down the memory lane with respect to the consorts of the ruler, their matrimonial connection, social integration, role and privileges in the family and their genealogy.

Above image : The name of the house - Thiruvattur Ammaveedu is often associated with Swathi Tirunal Rama Varma, the King of Travancore, who had two wives.  They were adopted to Thiruvattar Ammaveedu which is in Perumthanni, Thiruvananthapuram was expanded and reconstructed following Swathi’s orders...................

Tracing their origin back to more than 1000 years to Karyathurai in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu the  inscriptions on the Atoor copper plate (AD 423) of Veera Udaya Marthanda Varma  mention grants and privileges of Uranma of the Keralapuram temple to  Keraladicha Varma of Karyathurai or the Karyathurai Tampi. So, it is obvious the Karyathura  was the ancestral home of Ammaveedu. 


Bestowed with special grants and privileges from the local ruler, the AmmaVeedu, over a period, evolved into  some branches and when the capital was shifted from Padmanabhapuram,now in Tamil nadu to Thiruvananthapuram,  the various branched families of Ammaveedu also moved over along with the royal families and settled  down at different places. Each branch of Ammaveedu carried its name to establish its specific  identity that includes  the name of original place where they settled.

 There are four major Ammaveedus and they are: the Arumana, Vadasseri, Thiruvattar and Nagercoil Ammaveedus. There are many other important Ammaveedus  like Thanjavur Ammaveedu, Puthumana Ammaveedu (of Ravi Varman Thampi), etc.  An interesting historical fact is the Maharajah of Travancore royal family is not allowed to marry outside the four major ones.  Nair women  adopted by Ammaveedu  are also eligible to become the consort of Maharajah. In case of  a girl from other than four veedus, then prevailing custom had been  that bride  had to be adopted by one of the Ammaveedus, then only the marriage would be  solemnized.  The perception has been that this way they could maintain the unbroken genealogy right from the inception having blood relationship with a common hereditary line. It is to be noted that  the descendants of  Maharajahs were considered Ammaveedu but they had  a status subordinate only to royalty because the royal family strictly followed 'matriarchal succession'.

As for other princes they can chose a bride from other than the primary ones, but the  strange and weird custom is her relatives must be adopted and bestoved with titulary privileges and entitled to properties. Hence  male and female members of the Amma Veedu (born out of this wedlock are referred to as ‘Tampis’(males) and  Tankachis’ or ‘Kochammas’ respectively. Therefore the consort of the ruler is treated with respect and is revered  carrying the  title –‘Panapilla Ammachi’ or ‘Kochamma. Being a royal consort, she is entitled to all the honors, privileges  and property rights in the royal household. In accordance with the Marumakkathayam law of inheritance and succession in the Royal family of Travancore  the nephews from their sisters, the Maharanis could succeed the Maharajahs. 

After independence the princely state of Travancore became part of the Indian Union  and Ammaveedu had further produced numerous branches Those  who once enjoyed royal privileges, in  the present scenario, have to be content with a humble life without compromising on their dignity, respect  and social norms. 

That  Time and tide wait for none is true  and it  highlights the fact the rich past era and the heyday of a kingdom are subject to changes. So is the glorious past of the princely state of Travancore and the age old customs. However,  the residences of Ammaveedu  are a legacy of the past acclaimed  era of the erstwhile royal family of  Travancore. The royal palaces and Ammaveedu still stand as historical vestiges, reminding us the ethos of  the structure and the royal dwellers of a  bygone era in the history of this region. It is important  they need to be properly repaired, restored and retained for the posterity.  

Designed as  Naalukettus/Ettukettu in native architecture with features like  courtyard yard,  Ammaveedu is an imposing masonry structure in which wood is widely used and has features like gables, numerous windows rich wooden panelings, protruding Mukhappus. The inclusion of some European  design feature like gothic styled windows, entrances, hanging eaves or corbels may be due to the impact of colonialism. The royal family of Travancore had a close rapport, particularly when Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, alegal luminary, was the Diwan of Travancore.