The Kulusekhara Dynasty of Travancore (or Tiruvankur) is of very ancient lineage, tracing its origins to the Royal House of Vanad and dating from 1100 AD. They attained considerable power during the reign of Ravi Varma Kulasekhara, during the early years of the fourteenth century. Marco Polo claimed to have visited his capital at Quilon, a centre of commerce and trade with China and the Levant.
Europeans were attracted to the region during the late fifteenth century, primarily in pursuit of the then rare commodity, pepper. The Portuguese were the first to arrive, followed by their later rivals, the Dutch, during the seventeenth century.
Following the failure of the senior Kolatbunad matrilineal line, two sisters were adopted from the Kolathunadu house in 1749. The succession has continued in the female line of that family ever since.
Raja Martanda Varma I is judged as one of the greatest and most able rulers of the state. He expanded his domains by annexing several petty principalities and reducing the powers of his vassals. Extremely devout, he surrendered the realm to Sri Padmanabha (Vishnu), thereafter ruling as a deputy or representative of the deity on earth. His nephew and successor, Rama Varma, consolidated his inheritance and kept Hyder 'Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore at bay. He encouraged poets and musicians and patronised the arts to the end of his long, forty-year, reign.
Rama Varm's successors entered into an alliance with the British in response to the threats to their independence from Tipu Sultan. A British resident was appointed to the court and a modern military force established. The Nayyar Brigade served with distinction in many of the campaigns in South India, during the early nineteenth century.
Raja Pala Rama Varma III, who ascended the throne in 1813, has an unrivalled reputation as a scholar, composer and polyglot. Great advances in education, medicine, industry and welfare were made during the Sri Rama Varma VI (r. 1885-1924) and Bala Rama Varma II (r. 1924-1971). They selected the very best administrators from all over India to fill positions in the government. By the advent of India independence, the state had achieved an envied place as a model government. Many reforms, especially those in the fields of education, religious toleration, and advances of the lower castes, being ahead of the rest of the country.
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