HH Senior Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi , (1924 - 1931) (1895 - 1985)

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Birthdate:
Death: Died in Thiruvananthapuram, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
Managed by: Nanditha Chettur
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Immediate Family

    • Rama Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran
      husband
    • Mahaprabha Thampuratti
      mother

About HH Senior Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi , (1924 - 1931)

Maharani Regent of Travancore from 1924-1932. “ No one who met her once could ever forget her. She stands as a shining example to womanhood as a great queen and a great woman - Lord Mountbatten on the Maharani.”

Maharani Pooradam Thirunal Sethu Lakshmi Bayi CI (1895–1985) was the ruler of Travancore (now part of Kerala, India) as regent for her nephew, Chithira Tirunal from 1924 until late 1931. She is known for continuing the progressive tradition of the Travancore rulers preceding her with many social and economic reforms. Sethu Lakshmi Bayi was born on the 19th of November 1895 to Ayilyam Nal Mahaprabha Thampuratti of the Utsavamadhom Palace in Mavelikara. Her mother belonged to a branch of the Kolathunad Royal Family that had settled in Travancore towards the end of the 18th century and was the daughter of the celebrated artist Raja Ravi Varma. Her father Kerala Varma Koil Thampuran was a nephew of her grandfather from Kilimanoor palace. The Mavelikara family was closely associated with the Travancore Royal Family as Mahaprabha's direct aunts, Lakshmi Bayi and Parvathi Bayi had been adopted and installed as the Ranis of Travancore in 1858. This adoption, which was the 6th in the Travancore House, was without results as the Senior Rani Lakshmi Bayi, who was married to Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran was childless while the Junior Rani Parvathi Bayi had only sons. In the prevalent matrilineal system of inheritance known as Marumakkathayam, the presence of females to continue the line and dynasty was crucial. With the death of the Junior Rani in 1893, followed by that of the eldest of her three sons in 1895 the royal family came to consist solely of Maharajah Moolam Thirunal, Rani Lakshmi Bayi and her two nephews. The Rani now looked upon her nieces, Mahaprabha and Kochukunji of Mavelikara, to bring forth females who could subsequently be adopted into the royal family. The Rani, accompanied by her nieces, went on a pilgrimage to Rameswaram (Sethusamudram) and performed several religious ceremonies there in early 1895. Within months of their return, news reached her that Mahaprabha had conceived. Subsequently a daughter was born to her. Since her birth was believed to be a direct result of the Rani's pilgrimage to Sethusamudram, the child was named Sethu Lakshmi Bayi. The next year in 1896 Kochukunji gave birth to a daughter who was similarly named Sethu Parvathi Bayi. In 1900 Rani Lakshmi Bayi formally petitioned Maharajah Moolam Thirunal that time had come for an adoption to perpetuate the ruling line and hence the two children were adopted. The adoption itself was met with some opposition from other branches of the Kolathunad family who nominated females from their families as also objections from the First Prince Chathayam Thirunal Rama Varma, but these were overcome and Sethu Lakshmi Bayi was adopted into the Travancore Royal Family as Junior Rani as Sethu Parvathi Bayi was First Princess. [edit]Senior Rani

Within a year of the adoption in 1900 the two princes, Chathayam Thirunal and Aswathy Thirunal died followed by Rani Lakshmi Bayi herself in 1901. Thus at the age of six Sethu Lakshmi Bayi succeeded her as Senior Rani of Attingal and Travancore while Sethu Parvathi Bayi became Junior Rani. Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran was appointed the guardian of the Ranis and tutors were appointed to teach them. In 1906 when she was still ten years old the Senior Rani was married to Sri Rama Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran, a grandnephew of her guardian who belonged to the royal house of Haripad. Four years later in 1910 the marriage was consummated and the couple started living together, before which they were allowed to see each other only briefly for an hour every day. Meanwhile, after her adoption and subsequent separation from her family she was permitted to meet her relations only after 6 month intervals and this separation caused her to grow closer to her consort. In 1910 she was found to be pregnant but suffered a miscarriage. In 1912 having passed her minority the Maharajah granted her the rights to assume control of the Sreepadom Estate which consisted of revenues from Attingal and large landed properties traditionally held by the Senior Rani. Meanwhile the Junior Rani gave birth to her eldest son Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the last ruling Maharajah of Travancore. He was on birth proclaimed heir apparent to Moolam Thirunal and this greatly changed the position of the Junior Rani whose status was always thus far below that of the Senior Rani. The Junior Rani was granted a separate palace and establishment after her demand that the Sreepadom be granted to her could not be met. Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, in the meantime, it was found, was unable to conceive and bear a child. Gradually the relations between the two Ranis grew distant. The Rani's chief counsellor after the death of her guardian in 1913 was her consort. The Maharajah objected to this and took a further disaffection to the Senior Rani on her refusal to entertain his principal favorite, a certain Sankaran Thampi, who was his consort Vadasseri Ammachi's first husband, and later, on her espousal by the Maharajah, married her sister. Thus he was closely related to the Maharajah and was further influential as the Comptroller of the Palace. In addition, her inability to bear an heir further strained her relations with the Maharajah, to whom the principal objective of the 1900 adoption was to ensure the continuation of the dynasty. The Senior Rani was increasingly confined to Trivandrum by the Maharajah and her meetings with her family members were further curtailed. At the same time the Junior Rani was allowed adequate liberty as she had borne two more children namely Karthika Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi in 1916 and Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma in 1922. Finally in 1923 Sethu Lakshmi Bayi became pregnant and gave birth to her elder daughter, Uthram Thirunal Lalithamba Bayi. [edit]Maharani Regent of Travancore

“ No one who met her once could ever forget her. She stands as a shining example to womanhood as a great queen and a great woman - Lord Mountbatten on the Maharani ” In 1924 while on a sojourn in Madurai, her first trip outside Travancore, the Senior Rani received news that Moolam Thirunal was critical due to septicemia. The Maharajah died after her return leaving behind the 12 year old Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma as heir to the throne. Since the boy Maharajah was still a minor it was decided that the Senior Rani should assume power and be Regent ruler until he came of age in 1930. Accordingly Sethu Lakshmi Bayi was proclaimed Maharani Regent of Travancore and commenced the regency in September 1924. Soon after this the Junior Maharani Sethu Parvathi Bayi represented to the Paramount Power that as she was the mother of the Maharajah, the regency should belong to her. However the Senior Maharani sent a clarification to the Government of India that under the Marumakkathayam system in the event of the minority of a male member, the Senior Rani, irrespective of her relation to the Maharajah, was by inherent right, to be the interim ruler. In fact when the regency was proclaimed, the title of the Senior Rani was read out as "...Rani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi Maharajah..." to imply that she reigned in her own right as Head of the royal house and not as wife or mother of a Maharajah. The relations between the Junior and Senior Maharanis were further strained during the Regency. Often attempts were made to replace the Maharani's regency by establishing a Regency Council. However none of these propositions were accepted. In 1929 the Junior Maharani once again complained to the Viceroy regarding the regency but the same year Sethu Lakshmi Bayi was decorated with the Order of the Crown of India. [edit]The Regency

The regency had opened amidst many troubles including a Satyagraha at Vaikom. Soon after in 1925 the Maharani was visited by Mahatma Gandhi. Their meeting resulted in a royal proclamation by which all the public roads and streets in Travancore were thrown open to all Hindus irrespective of caste. Mahatma Gandhi called it a "bedrock of freedom" in his Young India (26 March 1925) magazine while describing the Maharani thus: “ My visit to Her Highness was an agreeable surprise for me. Instead of being ushered into the presence of an over decorated woman sporting diamond pendants and necklaces, I found myself in the presence of a modest young woman who relied not upon jewels or gaudy dresses for beauty but on her own naturally well formed features and exactness of manners. Her room was as plainly furnished as she was dressed. Her severe simplicity became an object of my envy. She seemed to me an object lesson for many a prince and many a millionaire whose loud ornamentation, ugly looking diamonds, rings and studs and still more loud and almost vulgar furniture offend the taste and present a terrible and sad contrast between them and the masses from whom they derive their wealth. ” The regency was marked by many social reforms in Travancore. In 1925 less than a year after she assumed power, animal sacrifice was banned in Travancore. In 1926 the Maharani abolished the Devadasi system in temples. She broke an orthodox tradition of appointing upper-caste Brahmins and Nairs as Dewans and appointed M.E. Watts, a TravancoreAnglo Indian Christian as her Dewan in 1925. Amendments were brought about in the same year in the Travancore Nayar Act pertaining to the Marumakkathayam system of inheritance and family which was being found more and more unsuitable in modern times, and eventually in 1928 the system was altogether done away with, introducing patrilineal nuclear family system in Travancore. Also a law was passed in 1925 fostering and developing local self government in rural areas in the form of Panchayats. The Panchayats even held the power to act as juries in small and petty civil cases. In 1926 the Maharani passed a Newspaper Regulation to curb the misuse of press which became a controversial topic as it curbed many rights of the press. Meanwhile the College for Women in Travancore was raised to First Grade by the Maharani Regent and the Scouts movement was given impetus. The Medical Department was bettered and modernized so as to provide better services. The Maharani also appointed the first female doctor in Travancore as Durbar Physician and head of the Medical Department. In 1928 a Central Road Board was established and several new highways and roads were constructed across Travancore. The Quilon Ernakulam Railway was completed and Telephone services were thrown open for the public. In 1929 Trivandrum was lighted with electricity for the first time. The Maharani also began work on the establishment of a Travancore University, which was accomplished by Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma later. By the end of the regency, the Maharani was spending nearly 1/5 of the state's revenue on the Education Department. Meanwhile owing to several complaints from the Junior Maharani pertaining to the Regent's refusal to permit her complete control over the Maharajah's Civil List funds, once again attempts were made to replace the Maharani's rule with a Regency Council. However, the Viceroy being satisfied with the regency of the Senior Maharani, did not permit any such changes. Amidst all this, in 1929 came an episode of Black Magic. The Maharani and the British resident received intelligence that secret ceremonies, involving animal sacrifice, were being performed in the Kowdiar Palace under the supervision of the Junior Maharani's brothers. The three brothers and the Junior Maharani's mother were thereafter asked by the Resident to leave the Palace and to seek prior permission from him before any further interaction with the Maharajah or Junior Maharani. Following this episode the Resident decided it would be prudent to send the Maharajah to Mysore for administrative training, without the Junior Maharani accompanying him. However by personally applying to the Viceroy the Junior Maharani was permitted to reside close to her son in Bangalore. Meanwhile the Travancore Government began work on developing Cochin Harbor and a special Banking Enquiry Committee was set up to look into providing rural credit facilities. In 1929 the Maharani was informed that the Maharajah would not accede to full powers on his 18th birthday in November 1930, but when he turned 19 and a half in May 1932. Thus the regency was extended for a period. However by mid 1931 it was decided that the accession should take place after the Maharajah's 19th birthday. Thus accordingly in November 1931, after almost 8 years the regency of Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi terminated and Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma was proclaimed ruler of Travancore. During the regency the Senior Maharani had been drawing Rs. 200,000/- per annum for expenses. The revenues of Travancore had risen to more than Rs. 250,00,000/- during this period. Since the Senior and Junior Maharanis were on bad terms with each other, to protect her interests Sethu Lakshmi Bayi applied to the Viceroy to allow her to retain her allowance and all the dignities and privileges that she had enjoyed as Maharani Regent. However these were not met and the Maharani was retired on a pension of Rs. 75,000/- per annum, given by the Maharajah who had full rights to withdraw this allowance as well. [edit]After the Regency

After the regency the Maharani retired from active involvement in the affairs to the state. She continued to look after affairs of the Sreepadom estate for sometime after which in 1939 the Maharajah assumed control of the estate and placed it in a trust from which all the female members of the royal family would receive allowances. Thus the traditional holdings of Sethu Lakshmi Bayi as Senior Rani of Attingal were taken away. Complaints to the Viceroy were met with no benefit to her. Similarly the Maharajah initiated a move to secure the Maharani's summer estate at Peermade which however did not succeed due to the timely intervention of the Resident. In 1935 and 1937 respectively the Maharani received the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal and the King George VI Coronation Medal respectively. Around this time all the official papers and records of the Travancore Government pertaining to the regency were destroyed in a mysterious fire. The Maharani spent only a few months at her palace in Trivandrum (Satelmond Palace). She preferred otherwise to reside at her "country residence" on the banks of the Vellayani lake, Lalindloch Palace. The monsoons were spent at Halcyon Castle on the beach at Kovalam and for the summers she retired to her estate in Peermade. Her husband also owned a villa at Pothencode where the family lived sometimes. The Maharani thus spent her time until 1947 in Travancore with her husband and two daughters. Her second daughter, Karthika Thirunal Indira Bayi was born in 1926. In 1936 the Maharani was informed that her allowance would be withheld as she was failing to make courtesy calls on the Maharajah from time to time. The Maharani replied that as the eldest member in the royal family, it was her nephew, the Maharajah who should be calling on her and not the other way round, yet she conceded to do as she was asked to. She was asked to return to Satelmond Palace in Trivandrum which was under the control of the Maharajah. In 1938 her elder daughter Princess Lalithamba Bayi was married to Sri. Kerala Varma Avargal of Kilimanoor. In 1940 her eldest granddaughter, Bharani Thirunal Rukmini Bayi (Rukmini Varma) was born. Later in 1945 her younger daughter Princess Indira Bayi was married to a member of the Haripad family who, however, died in 1949. Thereafter in 1952 she was married to Kerala Varma of Kilimanoor, a cousin of her brother in law. [edit]After Independence

After Independence in 1947 and the creation of Travancore-Cochin in 1949, Lalithamba Bayi moved away to Bangalore and settled there with her children. In the early 1950s even Indira Bayi settled in Madras and the Maharani was alone in Trivandrum. Slowly she started disposing the many properties and palaces she privately owned and by the late 1950s was greatly lonely and contemplating moving to Bangalore to be with her daughter and grandchildren. This was hastened in 1957 by her servants in the Palace forming a Union and creating problems. While it was strictly controlled and put down initially, it resurfaced in 1958 and the servants went on strike. About this time the Maharani suffered a mild heart attack as well. Thereafter it was decided that she should stay with her family members in Bangalore. Thus in 1958 the Maharani arrived in Madras after leaving Trivandrum hastily, and by early 1959 moved to Bangalore where she constructed a bungalow for herself close to her daughter's house and took up residence there. She never came back to Travancore. The Maharani lived in Bangalore for more than 25 years. Her consort, the Valiya Koil Thampuran, occasionally visited Kerala where he had his own properties and estates. In 1971 the Government of India abolished the Privy Purse in India given to former rulers and their families and thus the Maharani stopped receiving her allowances. However after a prolonged legal battle, a few years before her death, the pension granted her after the regency was reinstated. Since many years she had been bedridden and ill in Bangalore and in February, 1985 the Maharani died in Bangalore. She was at that time the last surviving member in the Order of the Crown of India. Prominent among her descendants are artists Rukmini Varma and Jay Varma, writers Shreekumar Varma and Dr. Lakshmi Raghunandan. The Malayala Manorama describes the reign of Sethu Lakshmi Bayi as follows: “ The reign of Setu Lakshmi Bayi was the Golden Age of Travancore. At the time these words echoed through the land: "When the Rani of Vanchi rules, there is everlasting Thiru Onam in Vanchinadu" ” Every year the Maharani Setu Lakshmi Bayi Memorial lecture is held in Trivandrum. In 1995, on her 100th birth anniversary, her biography At the Turn of the Tide was published by the Maharani Setu Lakshmi Bayi Memorial Charitable Trust, Bangalore. [edit]Full Title

As Senior Maharani of Travancore, Sethu Lakshmi Bayi's full title was: Her Highness Sree Padmanabha Sevini Vanchi Dharma Vardhini Raja Rajeshwari Rani Pooradam Thirunal Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, Attingal Mootha Thampuran, Companion of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, Maharani of Travancore.

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HH Senior Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi , (1924 - 1931)'s Timeline

1895
November 19, 1895
1985
February 22, 1985
Age 89
Thiruvananthapuram, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India