Music came from the band played by the Nair Brigade. Elephants stood caparisoned and cannons were fired as Ayilyam Thirunal Maharaja – King of Travancore – laid the foundation stone to a building. It was December 7, 1865. Four years later, the work was complete. The same year that Mahatma Gandhi was born, Kerala got its permanent Secretariat.
Kerala is celebrating 150 years of the Secretariat, where five kings of Travancore, 18 dewans, five chief ministers of Thirukochi and 22 chief ministers of Kerala have governed the state from. The 22nd CM – Pinarayi Vijayan – inaugurated the anniversary celebrations; a photo exhibition was opened for the public at the South Sandwich Block.
Kerala CMs -- Oommen Chandy, Nayanar, Pinarayi Vijayan, EMS and Karunakaran at Secretariat
“All these came later – the north and the south blocks and the sandwich blocks. At first it was just the main block, designed in a style called Palladian, by William Barton, then Chief Engineer at the Public Works Department. We owe it to three people for the Secretariat that we see today – Ayilyam Thirunal Maharaja, Sir T Madhava Rao, the dewan, and William Barton,” says historian MG Sashibhooshan.
Huzur Kacheri and its location in Fort, where ‘untouchables’ weren’t allowed
Back then it was called the Huzur Kacheri, not the Secretariat. Huzur meant ruler, and Huzur Kacheri was where the ruler sat. There has always been a Huzur Kacheri, just not in one place. It moved with the dewan.
“Where the dewan – or the dalawa or the prime minister – was, that was where the Huzur Kacheri would be. So it was once in Mavelikkara, once in Alappuzha, and then in Kollam. During the reign of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, he wanted the Huzur Kacheri moved to Thiruvananthapuram, which was then made the capital of Travancore. But it was moved inside the Fort, and those days the ‘untouchable’ class could not enter the Fort,” says historian and journalist Malayinkeezhu Gopalakrishnan.
The marginalised people gave a petition to the Madras government (Travancore was then a princely state under it) through Christian missionaries about not being allowed inside the Fort. The Madras government said that the Secretariat should be in a public place. At the time, a small kacheri was built, in front of where Hotel Pankaj is located now in Thiruvananthapuram, to resolve the problem. It was called the ‘Aana Kacheri’ because engraved in front of it was the Travancore symbol of the conch shell surrounded by elephants.
Statue was once Puthen Chantha
“This area was then called Puthen Chantha, as there was a market there. The name Statue by which it is known now came later, after Thiruvananthapuram got its first statue, of Sir Madhava Rao,” Gopalakrishnan says. While a statue was built for Madhava Rao, William Barton had the place where he lived named after him – Barton Hill, and the place from where the sand for the building was taken came to be called Chengalchoola.
Old picture of an office section in Secretariat
Puthen Chantha extended from the present Statue to where the Ayurveda College is. And where the Secretariat now resides was then the barracks of the Nair Brigade. “It is Sir Madhava Rao who said that the Huzur Kacheri should be in a public place if the city has to develop. He asked William Barton to find a place – that’s where the Secretariat is now. But it was a big issue back then, many did not want it to be moved from the Fort area. But disregarding that, Barton went ahead with his plan to design a building, which was in the Roman-Dutch style,” Gopalakrishnan says.
Old picture of the Secretariat
Sashibhooshan adds that Barton was an admirer of Andrea Palladio, an Italian Renaissance architect. “There was criticism then that the Kerala style was not followed. At first the Durbar Hall was built, and later the assembly began functioning there. Much later there was the court too, before it was moved to Vanchiyoor and later Ernakulam,” he says.
Additions to main building
It was on July 8, 1869 that the main building was completed. On August 23, offices began functioning. Old pictures displayed as part of the ongoing photo exhibition mention the cost of the building as Rs 3 lakh, and the original estimate as Rs 170,000. The additions came a century later. The South Block was constructed in 1961 for Rs 9 lakh, the South Sandwich in 1971 for Rs 10.49 lakh. The North Sandwich was built for Rs 10 lakh in 1974, and finally the North Block – where the CM’s office is – came up on February 11, 1982. It cost Rs 67.63 lakh.
KR Gowri Amma addresses employees of Secretariat in 1969
There are pictures of politician KR Gowri Amma inaugurating the Secretariat canteen in 1968 and the dispensary in 1969. Two annex blocks were built outside the Secretariat, one in 1995 and the other in 2016.
“During the 125th anniversary celebrations, a memorial structure was built, but it was underground and not easy to reach. It later got buried under the sand. There have been good and bad aspects to the Secretariat. Sadly, it is still mired in red tape, and people are made to run from post to pillar. Outside the Secretariat too there are so many demonstrations and protests. Yes, these are part of a democracy but they should keep a respectable distance like in Chennai or Delhi or Bengaluru,” Sashibhooshan says.