Manu S.Pillai’s book from Harper Collins, The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore throws interesting light on gender and political power in the matrilineal royal houses, and offers tantalizing hints about the pre-colonial roots of brahminical patriarchy in the region. The exclusion of women from full political power seems to have begun here in the 18th century, from the time of the much-revered modernizer Marthanda Varma, and colonial power seems to have built its patriarchal structures on it. Nevertheless, the memory of women ruling as full potentates — Queens – and not as Queen-Mothers, remained in popular memory and indeed surfaced in the early twentieth century in Travancore. These were of course times in which modern politics was taking shape and modern gender was becoming a taken-for-granted truth.
Manu’s book retells the story of the transition of the female ruler in Travancore from Queen to merely the Queen-Mother in fascinating detail.