The University of Kerala- An Evolutionary Saga

Prior to founding of University of Travancore, in 1937, by His Highness Sri Chitra Thirunal Bala Rama Varma, the then Maharaja of Travancore, 15 other universities existed in India. Earlier, roughly a century ago in 1857, the British Raj founded the universities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. And until 1937, the colleges of princely state of Travancore were affiliated to Madras University. However, college education dawned in the state of Travancore in 1837 with the founding of C,M.S. College, Kottayam- perhaps the first college in the British India to offer instruction in English language.

Perhaps, the movement for founding a university in Travancore state was born in 1913, when A.R. Raja Raja Varma, a Professor of Malayalam in the Maharaja’s College, Trivandrum, started writing and speaking for creating a university in the state. In fact, Prof Raja Raja Varma, prior to his death in 1918, headed a committee that drew up a report detailing the plan for founding a university. However, the sad demise of the then Maharaja of Travancore, His Highness Sri Moolam Thirunal in 1924, truly slowed down the momentum for founding the university infinitely.

But with the coronation of young Sri Chitra Thirunal Bala Rama Varma, at the age of 19 y, as the Maharaja of Travancore, and appointment of Maharaja’s one time tutor, Sri. C.P. Ramasamy Iyer as Diwan of Travancore in 1936, made a sea change in respect of founding the University of Travancore.

Sri. Iyer, the Diwan, in May 4, 1937, appointed Prof. C.V. Chandrasekharan, then Director of Public Instruction as a Special officer – the first step in creating a new university in the state. After consultations and discussions with the Mr. M.C. Leanen, the Registrar of Madras University, Prof. Chandrasekharan submitted a draft report to the government.

The Sri Moolam Assembly and Sri Chitra State Council considered this draft report on Oct. 23, 1937, and authorized a committee to examine and carryout suitable amendments on the clauses of the report, as was deemed essential and resubmit the same to the government, which in fact was approved by the government.

This report became the University act, on Maharaja Sri Chitra Thirunal Bala Rama Varma, affixing his signature and seal on his 25th birthday, i.e., on Nov.1, 1937 and thus marked the founding of the University of Travancore. The administration was determined to have a technology faculty in the newborn university. The government also envisioned in creation of other faculties that could fuel the growth and flourishing of agriculture and industry in the state.

Moreover, the research laboratories of the state were brought under the fold of the new University for better focus and co-ordination; for example keeping the Department of Physics and Observatory as one unit. Also the motto of the university (appearing in its seal) “Karmani Vajyathe Prajna” or demonstrate knowledge through work or knowledge manifests in action.

The Maharaja of Travancore, Sri Chitra Thirunal Bala Rama Varma (and later as Rajapramukh, in the independent and young India), continued till 1956, as the Chancellor of the University and made the appointments of Vice Chancellor and Pro-Vice Chancellor.

Thus the University of Travancore evolved into the University of Kerala, by the enactment of the Kerala University Act in 1957, by the state assembly, with Sri E.M.S. Namboothiripad as the Chief Minister of Kerala and Prof. Joseph Mundassery as the Minister of Education. Since then, the mother act of 1957 was amended a few times. With is the Maharaja’s connection with the University was severed.

Founder of the University of Travancore, Maharaja Sri Chitra Thirunal Bala Rama Varma, continued as the Chancellor from 1937-56, while Queen Mother Sethu Parvathy Bai was the Pro-Chancellor (1937-49), Diwan Sir C.P. Ramaswamy iyer was Vice-Chancellor (1937-47) and Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhran was Pro-Vice Chancellor (1937-49) of the university.

During 1947-49, University was led by Mr Harold Papworth, as the Vice Chacellor. Interestingly Mr Popworth also continued later as Pro-vice Chancellor while Prof. V.K. Nandan Menon, adorned the cloak of Vice Chancellor (1950-51).

In the early days, Dr A. Gopala Menon, a Professor of Commerce, and subsequently Director of Public Instruction, acted as the Registrar of the University and was ably assisted by Prof. P.R. Parameswara Panicker, as Assistant Registrar. Prof. Panicker later (1951-56) went on to be the Registrar and finally the Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Travancore.

During the tenure of Prof. Samuel Mathai, the Vice Chancellor (1963-69), the university went through a remarkable phase of expansion in Post Graduate education and research leading to the degree of Ph.D. An important milestone is the creation of university campuses at Kariyavattom, northwest of Trivandrum, and Univerity’s centers at Kochi and Kozhikod – the latter later became the University of Cochin and University of Calicut.

The Kariyavattom Campus built in the sixties is home to several PG departments of study and research, such as Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics (Founder: Prof A. Abraham); Dept. of Zoology (Founder: Dr. K.K. Nayar); Dept. of Geology (Founder: Prof.K.K.Menon); Dept. of Statistics (Founder: Prof. U.S. Nayar); Dept. of Psychology (Founder: Prof. E.I. George); Dept. of Malayalam (Founder: Prof. ); Dept. of Politics (Founder: Prof. V.K.Sukumaran Nair); Dept. of Linguistics (Prof. V.I.Subramoniam), Dept. of Economics (Founder: Prof. V.R.Pillay); Dept. of Sanskrit (Prof. Subramonia Iyer); Manuscripts Library (Prof. Raghavan Pillai), etc….. However, the departments of Applied Chemistry (Prof. Anantharaman), Biochemistry (Prof. Achutha Kurup), English (Prof. K.P.K. Menon) and German continued to function with in the Palayam administrative Campus of the University.