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After 1888


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Travancore State rose in eighteenth century Malabar dominated by Dutch and English trade powers. Marthanda Varma, who ruled 1729 -1758, is considered as its founder. He expanded the territory of the Kingdom from Kanyakumari in the South to Kodungallur in the North. He signed a treaty with the British East India company and with their help destroyed the power of the eight feudal land lords. From then on the kingdom slowly came within the orbit of the British East India Company. On January 3, 1750 A.D., he dedicated his Kingdom to his tutelary deity Sri Padmanabha (Lord Vishnu) of Trivandrum (the Trippadidaanam) and from then on the rulers of Travancore ruled the Kingdom as the servants of Sri Padmanabha (Padmanabhadasan).

Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore attacked Travancore in A.D.1791 mainly because Dharma Raja  (1758-1798) rejected his overtures and was moving for alliance with the English East India Company. The Travancore forces withstood the Sultan for less than 6 months and then the Maharajah appealed to the British East India Company for aid, starting a precedent which later led to the installation of a British resident in the country and a military alliance with the English East India Company. In 1795 the British resident, Colonel Macaulay, managed to engage the ruler in treaties which effectively made the state a protectorate of the East India Company and ended its autonomy. The protectorate was continued by the British Raj and ended on 1 July 1949 when the state of Travancore-Cochin was established.


Rulers of Travancore


Rama Varma


Aditya Varma


Umayamma Rani


Ravi Varma


Aditya Varma


Unni Kerala Varma


Rajah Rama Varma


Marthanda Varma


Dharma Raja


Balarama Varma


Gowri Lakshmi Bayi


Rani Parvathi Bai

Regent 1815-1829

Rama Varma III


Martanda Varma II


Rama Varma IV


Rama Varma V


Rama Varma VI


Bala Rama Varma II



From 1721 until 1949 Travancore has been ruled by princes from the House of Kulasekhara of which there have been thirteen maharaja’s. A landmark was reached when in 1888 a Legislative Council was founded, the very first of an Indian Princely State. The last maharaja,  Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma II (1924/’31-1949), was appointed the first rajapramukh of Travancore-Cochin State but was deposed when Kerala State came into existence on 1 November 1956. He was stripped of all his ranks and titles as a result of the 26th amendment of the Indian Constitution act of 31 July 1971




As a matter of course the emblem of the House of Kulasekhra was borrowed from the attributes of Vishnu, who was the household divinity from 1750 onwards. As we know, these emblems were the cakra (wheel), the śankha (conch), the padma (lotus) and the gada (club). From these the śankha sankha was the special emblem of the Sri Padmanabha  incarnation on Vishnu.



Sri Padmanabha; Vishnu, lying on a snake with his consort, Lakshmi.

The lying deity keeps a śankha in his left hand, identifying him as Sri Padmanabha [1]



A Śankha (conch-shell)  is the special symbol of Vishnu. His conch is known as Pañ-chajanya, being made from the body of the demon Pañchajana. It is symbolic of the spoken word, a tradition originating in Vedic India.  It is thought to make a frightening noise that terrifies the enemies of Vishnu. In sculptural representations, the conch appears plain or ornamental. In the latter case, its head is covered with a decorative metal cap, surmounted by a lion-head and having a cloth tied round it. Tassels of pearls may also hang from the sides.

Generally speaking the Śankha is the symbol of religious authority exercised by the word.


However, the first proof of an emblem of the House of Kulasekhra shows a trident which is the attribute of Shiva and a symbol of armed power. We may suppose that this has to do with the longlasting state of war at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century.  The trident is on Travancore coins struck by Rani Parvati Bai (1815-’29). The śankha only appears on coins struck in 1830. From then on the śankha is shown within a garland, together with the royal cypher RV, also within a garland on the reverse. Its definite form was achieved on coins struck in 1877 during the reign of  Rama Varma IV (1860-’80).

This ruler was honoured with an achievement European style for the occasion of the Durbar in Delhi in 1877. It was:



Arms: Argent, on a fesse Azure three reversed conches Or

Crest: On a helmet guardant, lambrequined Argent and Azure a seahorse.

Supporters: Two elephants.

Motto: Dharmo Smat Kuladewatam  (Dharmo is our Household Divinity).

(T. 89 [2])



The term dharma in this motto is an Indian spiritual and religious term, that means one’s righteous duty or any virtuous path in the common sense of the term. In Indian languages it can be equivalent simply to “religion”, depending on the context. The word dharma literally translates as that which upholds or supports, and is generally translated into English as law.


Very shortly after, a new achievement appears, possibly because of the many mistakes the designer, Robert Taylor, has made in the Durbar achievement.

The new achievement shows:



Arms: The Royal Cypher RV, surrounded by a strap with the motto DHARMA IS OUR HOUSEHOLD DIVINITY

Crest: A śankha within a garland

Supporters: Two elephants passant, trunks erect.

Motto: Dharmo Smat Kuladewatam in devanagiri script



From about the same time an emblem is known consisting of a golden śankha on a red sixteen-pointed halo. Below is a motto on a yellow ribbon.  It is on a painting showing a visit of the governor general of  Madras to the maharaja in 1880 .

On this very interesting painting also the royal banner is seen. [3]



Royal seal as on a regulation dated 11th of May 1885: śankha between the royal cypher.

After 1888


One fanam coin struck 1919-’29,

showing the royal cypher and the national emblem

The next stage in the development of the heraldic emblems of Travancore is the separation of the royal emblem and the emblem of state. Maybe this.was a result of the foundation of the Travnacore Legislative Council in 1888. The royal emblem consisted of the royal cypher within a garland. This emblem was the nucleus of the royal achievement which consisted of the royal cypher crested by the śankha and two elephants passant, trunks erect.




Royal achievement on the letterhead of Rama Varma VI, 1893. [4]


This shows: The royal cypher RV, crowned with the royal crown of Travancore and crested with the śankha. Supported by two elephans rampant, standing on a ribbon with a motto. Below is the jewel of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India of which he was a Grand Commander (1888). Behind the star are two crossed swords, a symbol of the army.



Royal achievement as on publications of the thirties of the 20th century


The arms of state consisted of the śankha, sometimes placed on a circular shield,  within a garland.

For the achievement the version without the shield was supported by two elephants passant, trunks erect and with the motto on a ribbon below.


The description supplied from the government of Travancore is:

“The coat of arms of the Travancore State is represented by a conch, supported by two elephants, one on either side thereof, together with a motto in Sanskrit “Dharmosmatkuladaivatam”, which means “Dharma is our household divinity”. The conch is one of the prominent weapons of Sri Padmanabha (an aspect of Mahavishnu, the sustaining and protecting god of the Hindu Trinity), the family deity of the Maharajas of Travancore. It is believed to be an emblem of purity, auspiciousness, victory and prosperity. The conch is a product of the sea, and Travancore, which has the longest seaboard among the Indian States, is aptly symbolized by it. The elephants form a distinguishing feature of Travancore, being very common in its forests. They, too, are emblematic of auspiciousness and victory. The motto signifies that righteousness is the watchword of the rulers of Travancore.” [5]



This achievement appeared in colour at the end of the 19th century on the national flag which was red, the conch white, the garland green, the elephants turqoise, the compartment green and the ribbon white with black devanagiri script.



Royal cypher of Balai Rama Varma II .



National emblem as on coins struck 1938 -’41.



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© Hubert de Vries 2009-10-26


[1]) British Library collection with the annotation: This image comes from a set of 35 printed and coloured illustrations of the Hindu epic stories, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. They were made in Calcutta during the 19th century by artists including the famous engraver, Madhav Chandra Das, who produced this picture. Each illustration has the artist’s name in Bengali incorporated into its bottom border. (full resolution)

[2]) Taylor, Robert M.A. Cantab Bengal Civil Service.The Princely Armory. Being a display of the arms of the ruling chiefs of India prepared for the Imperial Assembly held at Delhi on the 1st day of January 1877. Printed for the Government of India at the Government Central Printing Office, 8 Hastings Street, Calcutta 1902.

[3]) muralirvarma.blogspot.com/2008_09_01_archive.html. The “motto” is said to be a welcoming message to the G.G..

[4]) ibid.

[5]) Pine, L.G.: International Heraldry. David and Charles Newton Abbot. 1970. Pp. 208-210


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