The government body that governs Hindu temples in south Kerala has been forced to withdraw a leaflet that glorified the erstwhile royals of Travancore and credited the historic Temple Entry Proclamation to the then ruler apart from describing his descendants as "queens".
The leaflet from the Travancore Devaswom Board announced the 87th anniversary of the Temple Entry Proclamation, signed by the then maharaja, Sree Chitra Thirunal Balarama Varma, on November 12, 1936. The proclamation allowed backward caste Hindus to enter temples, overturning a traditional ban.
The erstwhile royal family is still revered in Thiruvananthapuram and its surroundings despite Travancore's initial refusal to join the Indian Union after Independence. However, the royal salutations used in the leaflet sparked a row.
Progressive writers slammed the temple board and underlined that the then ruler had been left with no option but to sign the Temple Entry Proclamation since a huge majority of lower caste Hindus were on the verge of embracing other faiths.
"It's not the magnanimity of Chitra Thirunal that made the proclamation possible; it was the power of the agitation. That's what historical evidence proves," author and social critic T.S. Syam Kumar said.
Kumar’s remarks were made in a commentary on the TrueCopy Think web portal.
The state minister for Devaswom and SC/ST affairs, K. Radhakrishnan, said the contents of the leaflet showed that “some people are not yet out of the casteist mindset”.
Radhakrishnan promised to examine why and how such descriptions were used in a public document, that too by a government body.
While the event, slated for Monday, is to be inaugurated by Travancore Devaswom Board president K. Ananthagopan, the leaflet introduced the two “queens” who would light the ceremonial lamp as “HH Pooyam Thirunal Gauri Parvathi Bai Thamburatti and HH Ashwathi Thirunal Gauri Lakshmi Bai Thamburatti”.
“HH” stands for “Her Highness”. “Thamburatti” is an honorific used in addressing or referring to a princess or a queen. “Pooyam Thirunal” and “Ashwathi Thirunal” denote birth stars, and are ascribed only to royals.
The recent claim made by Gauri Lakshmi — one of the two royal family members invited to Monday’s event — that plants would wilt if touched by menstruating women also got catapulted into the public debate triggered by the language used in the leaflet.
In an interview with a Malayalam channel, Gauri Lakshmi had linked her claim to a “scientific” study at Calcutta’s Bose Institute.
Earlier, a government school in Thiruvananthapuram had stoked controversy by referring to Adithya Varma, a descendant of the erstwhile royal family, as “prince”.
The chief guest at a school event, Varma was received with an obeisance once reserved for royals.
The latest controversy comes as the Left-ruled state marks the centenary of the Vaikom Satyagraha, a mass agitation that pressed for the so-called lower castes’ right to walk on roads around the Vaikom Shiva Temple in Kottayam district.
The yearlong celebration looks to celebrate the epoch-making event, which led to the movement for the right of all castes to enter temples.
The Vaikom Satyagraha had brought Mahatma Gandhi and the social reformers Sree Narayana Guru and E.V. Ramaswamy — better known as Periyar — to Vaikom.