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Travancore, an erstwhile princely state of India, occupied areas of the southern parts of present-day Kerala. The origins of the Travancore dynasty can be traced back to the Kulasekharas. The dynasty was at the zenith of glory at the dawn of the 14th century under Ravi Varma Kulasekhara. Marco Polo is said to have visited his capital at Kollam, then a center of commerce and trade with China and the Levant.

Originally called Thiruvithamcoore in Malayalam, the history of modern Travancore begins with the rule of Marthanda Varma who first inherited the small kingdom of Venad. An able ruler, he redrew the map of his kingdom and expanded it. During his reign from 1729 to 1758, Marthanda Varma defeated and absorbed all kingdoms right up to Kochi. This included the present-day areas of Attingal, Kollam, Kayamkulam, Kottarkara and Ambalapuzha. His capital was at Padmanabhapuram in Tamil Nadu. The famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple at Thiruvananthapuram was constructed during his time. The rulers of this state since that time have been known as Sree Padmanabhadasar (meaning 'servants of Sree Padmanabha.')

Marthanda Varma was also able to crush foreign powers during his exemplary rule. He succeeded in defeating the Dutch East India Company during the Travancore-Dutch war and the most decisive engagement was the battle of Colachel in which he routed the Dutch. Also, Marthanda Varma re-organized the tax system.

He was succeeded by Rama Varma, popularly known as Dharma Raja. He shifted the capital in 1795 from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram. In 1791, Tipu Sultan attacked Travancore. Dharma Raja appealed to the English East India Company for aid. Setting a precedent, it led to the installation of a British Resident Officer in Travancore.

On Dharma Raja's death in 1798, Balarama Varma took over the reins of the kingdom at the age of 16. During his reign, Velu Thampi, an able minister, revolted against the British with the aid of Paliath Achan, a minister of the erstwhile Cochin State. The British defeated Velu Thampi and eventually he fell out of the favor of Maharajah. Thampi finally chose to commit suicide rather than yield to the foriegn power.

Balarama Varma was succeeded by Rani Gowri Lakshmi Bai (1810-1815.) When Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma was born to her in 1813, the infant was declared the King, but the Rani continued to rule as the Regent. On her death in 1815, Rani Parvathi Bai continued as Regent. Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma assumed the throne in 1829. He was an enthusiastic exponent of Carnatic and Hindustani music. He abolished many unnecessary taxes, and started an English school and a charity hospital in Thiruvananthapuram in 1834.

Utram Tirunal Marthanda Varma (1847-1860), the next ruler, abolished slavery and removed the restrictions on the dress codes of certain castes. He started the postal system in Travancore in 1857 and a school for girls in 1859. He was succeeded by Ayilyam Tirunal (1860-1880). Rama Varma Visakham Tirunal ruled Travancore from 1880 to 1885. The reign of Shri Mulam Tiruanl Rama Varma (1885-1924) saw the establishment of a Legislative Council in 1888, the first of its kind in an Indian state. Setu Lakshmi Bai ruled as Regent from 1924 to 1931.

The last ruler of Travancore was Shri Chitra Thirunal Balarama Varma (1931-1949.) He made the temple entry proclamation on 12 November 1936, which opened the temples of the state to all Hindus, a privilege that had been reserved only to the upper caste Hindus till then. His minister Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer was very unpopular. When the British decided to grant independence to India, the minister declared that Travancore would remain as an independent country. Sardar Patel intervened and the Maharajah agreed to join the Union of India.

Updated on 10th October, 2023

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