The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore

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In 1498, when Vasco da Gama set foot in Kerala looking for Christians and spices, he unleashed a wave of political fury that would topple local powers like a house of cards. The cosmopolitan fabric of a vibrant trading society – with its Jewish and Arab merchants, Chinese pirate heroes and masterful Hindu Zamorins – was ripped apart, heralding an age of violence and bloodshed. One prince, however, emerged triumphant from this descent into chaos. Shrewdly marrying Western arms to Eastern strategy, Martanda Varma consecrated the dominion of Travancore, destined to become one of the most dutiful pillars of the British Raj. What followed was two centuries of internecine conflict in one of India’s premier princely states, culminating in a dynastic feud between two sisters battling to steer the fortunes of their house on the eve of Independence.

Manu S. Pillai’s retelling of this sprawling saga focuses on the remarkable life and work of Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, the last – and forgotten – queen of the House of Travancore. The supporting cast includes the flamboyant painter Raja Ravi Varma and his wrathful wife, scheming matriarchs of ‘violent, profligate and sordid’ character, wife-swapping court favourites, vigilant English agents, quarrelling consorts and lustful kings. Extensively researched and vividly rendered, The Ivory Throne conjures up a dramatic world of political intrigues and factions, black magic and conspiracies, crafty ceremonies and splendorous temple treasures, all harnessed in a tragic contest for power and authority in the age of empire.

Reviews for The Ivory Throne

“…a gem of a book…”- The Indian Express

“…the wealth of information crammed into this book is bewildering…Especially when you keep in mind that Pillai is only 25 and this is his first book, The Ivory Throne is a magnificent effort.”- Mint

“This 700-page whopper of a book…swirls through Kerala’s history like a dervish possessed by the intention of telling a magnificent story, and telling it marvellously well.”- The New Indian Express

“A detailed work of history…The achievement of the book matches its ambition…You will not regret the many hours you commit: It is an absolute delight.”- Business Standard

“…a brilliant debut…The Ivory Throne is an exceptional work; the achievement falls into perspective when you realise that Pillai is just 25 years old.”- DNA

“…a particularly fascinating account…The Ivory Throne is also a sociological study– perhaps the first of its kind…”- The Tribune

“A riveting read…Even a cursory glance makes one forget that it is a debut work by a writer in his mid-twenties…an awesome achievement.”- The Hindustan Times

“…a gripping historical account…”- The Telegraph

“A clear-headed history…Well-researched and well-written, The Ivory Throne adds a new point of view to the study of Kerala.”- Outlook Magazine

“…vast and learned…Pillai has given us a wonderful book.”- Asian Review of Books

“…a distinguished piece of work…”- The Deccan Herald

“…Pillai’s work breaks new ground…”- Fountain Ink

“…a thoroughly enjoyable read…”- India Currents

Publisher: HarperCollins India
Buy: Amazon India 

Serena Chopra: Bhutan Echoes (with an essay by Manu S Pillai)


Bhutan Echoes features a selection of evocative black and white photographs taken over a decade ago by Serena Chopra in Bhutan, that form a unique personal photographic study of the landlocked Himalayan country. The publication, produced in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name, also features an introductory essay by Manu S Pillai.

Having travelled extensively across the length and breadth of Bhutan, Chopra captures the unique landscape of this country with its surprising blend of the secular and the religious, myth and reality, the traditional with the modern, and the immense contrast between its smaller townships and faraway ancient villages. A rich archive of human emotions, these photographs offer a window into the lives of the Bhutanese people as they move towards a certain modernity.

Publisher: Tasveer
Buy: Amazon India