Thampi Lady (Arumana Ammachi Panapillai Amma Srinathi Lakshmi Pilai, Kochamma of the Arumana Ammaveedu, Wife of Visakham Thirumal, Maharajah of Travancore

1 September 2008

Dear John,

The understanding I have is that the old aunts dressed very much like this lady here. 

You can see what I mean about the ears! The jewellery she is wearing (necklaces) is traditional and symbolic, indicating her status and wealth. Jewellery and body ornaments are a central aspect of Nair families and a subject of much discussion amongst the women (even now!!!). Unfortunately, Nairs were originally invaders of the south and took ownership of lands — paddy fields, coconut groves, spice fields. Most have a spacious ‘tharavadu,’ or family home often set in the middle of the fields with a small shrine attached. Some of this changed abruptly in 1956, when communism was voted in to the great detriment of many wealthy Nair families! I recall that my grandmother had to dismiss her family goldsmith — a permanent member of the household — for safety’s sake. After that, he had to go and sell his services to shops and families on an ad hoc basis, something he had never done before. It was a very sad goodbye as the two families had been together for at least three generations, probably more. Later, when I was a child, he would come over and work inside the house (as opposed to having his own workplace on the grounds) when we visited and my grandmother wanted something special made for one of us grandchildren. In fact, come to think of it, Kerala was the first place on earth where communism was voted in! Suddenly people were naming their children ‘Lenin’ and calling each other ‘sakhav’ or comrade. It didn’t last long. By the 1970s, mass emigration to the Gulf began and people happily embraced the capitalist way of life. Now they’re all off to the US and Canada as well. 

Thanks, John, for opening so many doors via this suitcase.

Un abrazo,

[For more information on the Maharajahs of Travancore and Nair women see:]

[This portrait has been placed in the public domain by the Arumana Ammaveedu Family]


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