The end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th saw an extraordinary creative resurgence of music. On the banks of the Cauvery, the great musical Trinity, glorified the Bhakthi cult through their brilliant and immortal compositions.
In the same period, was born in Travancore, a prince, who was to make, an everlasting contribution to the musical lore of India. This prince was the 48th sovereign in the ruling dynasty of Travancore. Born on April, 16, 1813, to Maharani Laxmibai, he was Sree Rama Varma, later known as Swati Thirunal.
The first male child in the royal family, he was considered as the Maharajah. Subsequent to the death of his mother Rani Lakshmibai, when Swathi Thirunal was hardly two years old, his aunt Parvathibai took custody of the child, and under her guidance, the prince got the best of education and acquired a great love for music.
He surprised all those who came across him, with his knowledge of the classics, and everybody appreciated the amazing intellect of the prince, his proficiency in languages and erudition, in all matters of the state.
From his early childhood, Swathi Thirunal developed a sense of devotion to Sree Padmanabha and this was the guiding inspiration of his entire life. Apart from attaining scholastic attainments, the prince developed a keen sense of aesthetic appreciation. He ascended the throne in his 16th year and proved himself a capable and progressive ruler and good administrator.
When he found that he himself had become a vassal, a virtual servant of the British and could not trust his own officers, he had no peace of mind. There came a radical moral change in his attitude and he spent more of his time in religious observances. He made use of his literary achievements, composing great poetic and musical compositions.
To assess the works of a Vaggeyakar is no easy task; there can never be any finality about any judgment. However there are well defined features which mark Swati Thirunal from his contemporaries, which merit special mention.
The Maharaja’s devotion to Lord Padmanabha, was translated, into the finest gems of musical compositions. Nothing in the material world would satisfy his emotional and psychological needs and gradually he withdrew more and more into himself.
On December 25, 1847, in his thirty fourth year of life, the soul of Swati Thirunal slipped quietly away from his mortal body and joined his maker.
(The writer is a well known music critic who has won awards both in India and abroad for propagation of classical arts and music)