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The Demise of Swathi Thirunal: New Facts
by Dr Achuthsankar S. Nair.

The death of Swathi Thirunal is shrouded in mystery, having been documented by historians like P Shangunni Menon without much clues on the medical side. It is known that even the physician attached to the Maharajah could not get any correct information regarding the state of his health. Also his brother, the Eliah Rajah, who had a good knowledge of medical sciences, and who was like a medical attendant to Swathi Thirunal, himself could not go to see his brother without special permission during his last days. Dr. K. Rajasekharan Nair in his recent article in the Samakaleena Malayalam Varika has opined that Swathi Thirunal was suffering from stress related diseases. His conclusion is that the death was due to cerebral hemorrhage.

A new fact has now surfaced in the form of a news item from The Times, London, dated 8th December 1846 (Tuesday), in page 8, classified as an advertisement. It reads as follows:

"The Raja of Travancore and Holloway’s ointment—On the 11th of July 1846, Professor Holloway was honored with an order for six of the largest pots of Holloways ointment  from no less a personage than his Royal Highness the Rajah, or reigning sovereign of Travancore, through the eminent firm of Messers J. Cockburn and Co, East India merchants, No 15, New Broad Street, London. The ointment, it appears, is for the personal use of the rajah, and will be employed under the superintendence of his private physician. Holloways ointment is sold all over India, being a certain cure for ulcers, wounds, sores, even if of 28 years standing and may be obtained of the proprietor….London, and of every medical vendor".

Holloways ointment is known to have been created by Thomas Holloway, who termed it a cure anything ointment, and made him rich. It is also today known that Holloways medicines contained aloe, myrrh and saffron, which are unlikely to cure anything in the modern view. However, the diseases claimed to be cured are pointers to the medical conditions of Swathi Thirunal and requires further research by medical practitioners.

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"History of Travancore"
Chapter on Swathi Thirunal
by P.Shangunni Menon.

In this year, the Maha Rajah's father died. This was an irreparable and deeply felt loss to the State. From this date, the Maha Rajah's ailments began to increase. He loved seclusion and solitude, and as his malady increased, his habit became more sedentary. No person had access to His Highness, save his personal attendants, of whom one man waited at a suitable place to attend when summoned. Even the physician attached to the Maha Rajah could not get any correct information regarding the State of His Highness’ health. His Highness' brother, the Elia Rajah, who had a good knowledge of the medical science was his only medical attendant. Even the Elia Rajah himself could not go to see his brother without special permission. There were several native practitioners of some note and ability at hand, but they were of no use, as His highness refused to admit any of them to the royal presence. The Maha Rajah at this time was unable even to walk a few paces.

His Highness one day called his brother the Elia Rajah, and observed that Sreenevasa Row , being a quiet man, would not be able to cope with the opposition of the Resident, General Cullen, and do his duties satisfactorily, and as His Highness had already permitted Krishna Row to return to Trivandrum and reside there, His Highness intended giving him a fresh trial, as he wished to see what effect that measure would produce in General Cullen's mind . His Highness the Elia Rajah entirely agreed with the views of the Maha Rajah and went to bathe in the tank, His Highness sitting there called the palace Rayasom (writer), and dictated a Neetu (commission) of appointment to Krishna Row as Dewan Peishcar. After this, Krishna Row was summoned to the Royal presence. Not knowing for what purpose he was so suddenly called to the palace, Krishna Row was frightened, but no sooner was he ushered into the presence of the Maharajah, than His Highness in a very unusual way, smiled and said, Here , Krishna Row accept your re-appointment into my service. I forgive and forget all what is past; from this day you are my man and not General Cullen's . Go, work honestly for the advancement of my country and render every possible assistance to Sreenevasa Row.

Krishna Row became speechless, shed tears copiously, and all that he could say in his own Telugu tongue was, Maha Rajah! Maha Rajah! I am your Highness' slave and waiting boy, protect me, protect me. This was the last commission of appointment signed by the Maha Raja and it took place on the 26th Vrichigum 1022 M.E ( 10th December 1846).

Though the Maha Rajah now began to sink day by day, he kept this fact concealed from the notice of every one of his attendants, nor did he confine himself to his bed- chamber for any number of days. On the morning of the 12th Dhanu 1022 M.E. ( 25th December 1846) His Highness did not go to his bathroom as usual, neither did he stir out of his bed till 9 P.M. This created some alarm, and the servants soon communicated the matter to His Highness the Elia Rajah, but his Highness would not venture to enter the chamber without being called in by his brother: such was the fear, even the heir apparent and immediate brother, had of the Maha Rajah. The alarm reached Her Highness Parvathi Ranee, the Maha Rajah’s aunt, and Her Highness together with His Highness' brother-in -law hastened to the palace and all the three stood near the door. But none attempted either to enter or to rouse the slumbering Maha Rajah. At about 1 A. M., the Maha Rajah hearing a whisper at the door, and recognizing the voice of his Highness' aunt whom His Highness held in great regard, called out to the attendants, and inquired of them if Her Highness was there and what the time was. There were only two attendants privileged to enter into the bed-chamber, and one of whom informed the Maha Rajah that it was then 10 O' clock and that the Princess and the Elia Rajah were there, in consequence of the Maha Rajah's not stirring out of bed even at such a late hour. The Maha Rajah got up, but so weak had he become that his legs failed to support him and when about to fall back, the attendant approached to help him. His Highness turning, stared at his face, holding the wall by one of his hands, and said ‘What! Are you trying to trifle with me? I am not going to fall, neither am I in such a state of health'. So saying, the Maha Rajah boldly walked out and seeing his sorrow-stricken relatives, asked Her Highness the Ranee with a respectful smile: - 'Ammachee, amruthethu Kazhinjo?' i.e., “mother, have you taken your breakfast? Turning to the Elia Rajah, His Highness observed that he had slept a little longer than usual, and then gave them leave to depart. Her Highness took his breakfast. His Highness, though fast sinking, endeavored to conceal his weakness, but being unable to reach the bathing place, he said that he would perform his ablutions in one of the adjoining rooms, and while seated there His Highness sent for the head cook and gave him instructions to prepare a very light meal which was served at about 11 O' clock, but His Highness partook of it very sparingly, and then again bidding the sad group of relations adieu, re- entered the chamber and laid himself on the bed.

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His Highness the Elia Rajah returned to his palace, and sent for the palace doctor, and told him in what state his royal brother was. The doctor wished for an interview with the sovereign, but this was found impracticable. Dewan Peishcar Krishna Row was ordered by His Highness to initiate at once to General Cullen the state of his Highness' health. During the course of the day, the Elia Rajah went more than ten times to the palace, but did not venture to enter the room or enquire personally how his brother was, for fear of disturbing him. Towards evening, however, His Highness went again to the palace then taking courage, he approached the door and found the Maha Rajah still lying on his bed in the same state as in the morning. They exchanged a few words after which the Maha Rajah still lying on his bed, after which the Maha Rajah permitted his brother to retire. His Highness left after ordering the attendants to inform him of any change in the state of the Maha Rajah.

At about 10 P. M. the Maha Rajah called out to his attendants and ordered a little liquid food, which, being brought, His Highness sipped a little of it and then told them to leave the room. He reclined as usual on his bed, and apparently went to sleep. Towards morning, at about 3’O clock one of the attendants looking in observed that the Maha Rajah lay in his bed motionless and breathless. He called out to another attendant who was also watching there. They both attentively looked from the door, and then slowly entered and went close to the bedside, but alas! There were no symptoms of life discernibly. One of them ran to His Highness the Elia Rajah's palace and gave the alarm, when the heir apparent got up from his bed and ran to the palace, loudly lamenting the loss of his brother. But all had been over some few hours before. Even the attendants knew nothing as to the real state in which the sovereign was.

The scene at the palace on the occasion defies description. His Highness the Elia Rajah lamented and cried like a child, while Her Highness the Ranee, who had also hastened to the palace at once, tore her hair and wept most bitterly. All the other members of the royal family followed her Highness. Before daybreak, the palace was thronged and filled by people. Officials, as well as all the immediate attendants at the palace, the nobles and other principal men of the town of Trivandrum, crowded in. Nothing but cries and lamentations could be heard in the palace until 7 A. M., when funeral procession started. The mourning population, who followed with heart-rending cries and sorrowing ejaculations, crowded the four main streets of the fort. His Highness the Elia Rajah walked bareheaded and bare footed, close to the State conveyance wherein the deceased Maha Rajah's remains were placed. All the other male members of the royal family walked behind the heir apparent.

Every class of people observed deep mourning voluntarily. The bazaars were all shut, so were the gates of all the houses where in weeping and cries could alone be heard. Groups of females, with disheveled hair, were seen at different places in the streets and gardens, beating their bosoms and heads with loud cries of grief and lamentations.

His Highness the Elia Rajah, the chief mourner, performed all the ceremonies, and under took to perform the daily ceremonies called 'Deeksha' for one year; during which period, His Highness was to abstain from all luxurious living and lead the life of a hermit in grief and mourning in accordance with the customs of the Hindus.

Thus ended the worthy career of this Maha Rajah in the thirty-fourth year of his age and in the eighteenth year of his glorious reign. Compared with the majority of his predecessors His Highness had highly distinguished himself and eclipsed many of his contemporaries in India, and from whom his subjects and dependents had always reason to expect reforms and other benefits.

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