Trivandrum, now better known as Thiruvananthapuram, is the capital city of the Indian state of Kerala.
The history of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) dates back to the 10th century AD. The city and several other places in the district occupy an important place in ancient tradition, folklores and literature of the State of Kerala. The southern part of the state, particularly Thiruvananthapuram, had a political and cultural history in the early past which was in some respects independent from that of the rest of Kerala.
According to legend, the site of Thiruvananthapuram was once a jungle known as Ananta Kādu, which was home to a Pulayar couple who cultivated rice. One day, the wife heard a baby crying as she was weeding. After a search, she found a child so beautiful that she assumed it was divine and was afraid to touch it. She fed the baby some milk and left it in the shade of a tree, whereupon a five headed cobra appeared, moved the baby to a hole in the tree and used its hood to shelter the child from the sun. Realizing it was an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu, the Pulayar and his wife made offerings of milk and congee in a coconut shell. Once the king of Travancore heard of the baby, he issued orders for the construction of a temple at the location.
The Ays were the leading political power till the beginning of the 10th century AD. During the Chera-Chola Wars from 999 to 1110 AD, the city of significance was Vizhinjam, which housed a university (Kanthalur Salai). Trivandrum housed the famous temple. All of the regions were attacked and sacked by the Chola army, till they were forced to retreat to Kottar in 1110 AD. The disappearance of the Ays synchronised with the emergence of the rulers of Venad. During theVenad rule, the trustees of the temple (Ettarayogam) became powerful enough to challenge the authority of the rulers. Raja Aditya Varma was poisoned by them, and five out of six children of Umayamma Rani were murdered by them. In 1684, during her regency, the English East India Company obtained a sandy piece of land at Anchuthengu (Anjengo) on the sea coast, about 32 km north of Thiruvananthapuram city, for erecting a factory and fortifying it. The place had earlier been frequented by the Portuguese and later by the Dutch. It was from here that the English gradually extended their domain to other parts of Thiruvithamcore, anglicised as Travancore.
During the regency of Umayamma Rani, Travancore was invaded by a Mughaladventurer, known as the Mughal Sirdar, forcing the Rani to take refuge in Nedumangad. The Sardar camped in the suburbs of the present day Trivandrum, till he was defeated by Kerala Varma, a prince from the Kottayam royal family, adopted into the Venad royal family. The Rani was brought back in triumph to Trivandrum, but in 1696 AD, Kottayam Kerala Varma was assassinated by the trustees within the precincts of his own palace.
During the regin of another Aditya Varma (1718–1721), the clashes between the royal officials and the temple trustees became more common. Failing to get redress at the hands of the king, the tenants of the temple lands marched to Trivandrum to present their grievances to the Yogakkar (trustees), indicating the low ebb of the power of the king.
Maharaja Marthanda Varma who reigned from 1729 to 1758, and who is regarded as the father of modern Travancore, modernised Thiruvananthapuram. The locals of Thiruvananthapuram supported him against the Ettuveetil Pillamar andEttara Yogam when he was the heir-apparent, and when he was attacked by the agents of the trustees, he fled to the safety of Trivandrum, from where he counterattacked . During his reign, he renovated the Padmanabhaswamy Temple and the walls of the fortress. He also shifted the capital legally from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram, which he made a great centre of intellectual and artistic activity. In 1791, the English East India Company signed a treaty to protect Travancore from the Kingdom of Mysore and under its terms was allowed to install a Resident and troops in Thiruvananthapuram. In 1799, Velu Thampi, then a Karyakar of Talakkulam, led a march of the local people to Thiruvananthapuram to protest against the corruption of the Kings’s ministers. The accession of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal who reigned from 1829 to 1847, ushered in an epoch of cultural progress and economic prosperity. The beginning of English education was marked in 1834 by the opening of an English school at Thiruvananthapuram. An observatory and a charity hospital were also established in 1836. During the reign of Maharaja Uthram Thirunal, Rev. Mead, an Anglican priest of the London Missionary Society (L.M.S.), was employed by the Maharajah to improve the quality of education. Schools, including one for girls, were started in Thiruvananthapuram.
During the reign of Maharaja Moolam Thirunal (1885–1924), a College of Fine Arts was opened here besides the several English, Malayalam and Tamil schools, all over the State. A large hospital with lying-in-facility and a lunatic asylum were also established in Thiruvananthapuram. The Trivandrum University College was started in 1873, with Dr. Read as its principal. A Law class was opened in Thiruvananthapuram in 1874, and the main building of the old Kerala Government Secretariat was designed and constructed by the Maharajah’s chief engineer, Mr. Barton. Mr. Barton also improved the sanitation of the city. It was during the reign of Sri Moolam Thirunal (1885–1924), that the Sanskrit College, Ayurveda College, Law College and a second grade College for Women were started here. A department for the preservation and publication of oriental manuscripts was also established.
One of the significant aspects associated with Maharaja Sree Moolam Thirunal’s reign was the inauguration of the Legislative Council in 1888. This was the first legislative chamber, instituted in an Indian State. The Sri Moolam Assembly came into being in 1904. The activities of the Indian National Congress echoed in Thiruvananthapuram and other parts of Kerala during the reign of Maharaja Sree Moolam Thirunal.
The cultural background of Thiruvananthapuram originates from the efforts of the rulers of erstwhile Travancore, who took an active interest in the development of arts and culture. Thiruvananthapuram has produced several great artists, the most famous ones being Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, Irayimman Thampi and Raja Ravi Varma.
Maharaja Swathi Thirunal was a great composer and played a vital role in the development of Carnatic music. There is a music college in his name in the city – Swathi Thirunal College of Music. Raja Ravi Varma was a famous painter of international renown. His contributions to Indian art are substantial. Most of his famous paintings are preserved at the Sree Chithra Art Gallery in the city. The Padmanabha Swamy Temple and the fort surrounding it, the Napier Museum and Zoo, the VJT hall are among the prominent heritage buildings in the city. The Veli lake and Shankumugham beach are home to various sculptures of the noted sculptor Kanayi Kunhiraman. Many people, including Mahatma Gandhi have admired the city’s greenery.
Thiruvananthapuram appears as a laid back and quiet city to a casual observer. However there are considerable cultural activities in the city. The cultural activities are more during the festival season of Onam in August/September, and during the tourist season later in the year. The state government organises the tourism week celebrations every year during the Onam with cultural events conducted at various centres in the city. The other major events include the annual flower show, the Attukal Pongala, theAaraat of Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Urs at Beemapally,etc. The CVN Kalari at East Fort is a well-known centre for training in Kerala’s indigenous martial art—the Kalaripayattu. The Margi centre offers training in many of Kerala’s traditional arts including Kathakali.
The general cuisine of the people is Keralite cuisine, which is characterised by an abundance of coconut and spices. This includes predominantly vegetarian Naadan ( country ) and non vegetarian Malabar and Kuttanad recipes.