By Manu S. Pillai

In 1498, whilst Vasco da Gama set foot in Kerala trying to find Christians and spices, he unleashed a wave of political fury that might topple neighborhood powers like a home of playing cards. The cosmopolitan textile of a colourful buying and selling society with its Jewish and Arab retailers, chinese language pirate heroes and masterful Hindu Zamorins was once ripped aside, heralding an age of violence and bloodshed. One prince, notwithstanding, emerged positive from this descent into chaos. Shrewdly marrying Western palms to jap technique, Martanda Varma consecrated the kingdom of Travancore, destined to develop into probably the most dutiful pillars of the British Raj. What was once centuries of internecine clash in a single of India s optimal princely states, culminating in a dynastic feud among sisters fighting to lead the fortunes in their condo at the eve of Independence. Manu S. Pillai s retelling of this sprawling saga specializes in the extraordinary lifestyles and paintings of Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, the final, and forgotten, queen of the home of Travancore. The assisting solid comprises the fancy painter Raja Ravi Varma and his wrathful spouse, scheming matriarchs of violent, profligate and sordid personality, wifeswapping court docket favourites, vigilant English brokers, quarrelling consorts and lustful kings. broadly researched and vividly rendered, The Ivory Throne evokes a dramatic international of political intrigues and factions, black magic and conspiracies, artful ceremonies and splendorous temple treasures, all harnessed in a sad contest for energy and authority within the age of empire.

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During his months in Kerala, he had learnt a fair deal about regional politics and identified a very useful chink in the Zamorin’s armour. And this was the port of Cochin in the south, held by a Rajah called Unni Goda Varma. This prince was a dynastic descendant of the Chera kings of yore and possessed a pedigree and caste superior to that of the haughty Zamorin. 9 Cochin resented this debasing treatment imposed by the Zamorin and so, when Cabral’s ships appeared by his shores, the Rajah received them with open arms, magnanimously granting several trade privileges and much pepper.

He was a Danish painter of no great ability but whose flawless white skin opened him many princely doors in the East. J. 8 Jensen got down to business and Ravi Varma promptly sought the honour of becoming his student, no doubt eager to learn from a bona fide ‘master’. The Dane, predictably enough, was no less unwelcoming than Naicker and the others, aware, as he was, that he too came only with the dubious distinction of oil painting with a white hand. At the Maharajah’s insistence, though, Ravi Varma was reluctantly granted permission to watch Jensen at work.

23 Naturally, then, the Christians of Kerala developed a unique personality of their own, quite unlike the version of their faith practised in faraway Europe. Identities were plastic and even Brahmins, who belonged to the highest Hindu echelons, often converted to St Thomas’s religion, seasoning its indigenous flavour. Many Christians served alongside Hindu soldiers in regional militias and at the end of the sixteenth century, for example, the Rajah of Cochin is said to have employed thousands of Christians in his service.

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