Villa Maya’s story goes back many years to a time when Arumana ammaveedu held a prestigious place in the hearts of the kings of Travancore. Its tryst with royalty delves far beyond its 18th century avatar as a Dutch manor, dating back probably to the time when Maharajah Karthika Thirunal Dharma Raja shifted his capital from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) taking along with him his four wives one of whom belonged to the Arumana Ammaveedu.
The famous Arumana Ammaveedu was one of four ammaveedus to rise to prominence towards the end of the 18th century. Ammaveedus were the residences of the consorts of the Maharajahs of Travancore in Trivandrum. The royal consorts were given the title Panapillai Amma and were entitled to certain royal privileges except the fortune of inheriting the throne.
The male members of ammaveedu families were called Thampi and the women were called Thankachi. The literal translation means brother and sister respectively. This indicated their position as relatives of the Royal House of Travancore. Marriage did not entitle consorts or their descendents with inheritance to the throne. The royal family of Travancore was strictly matrilineal meaning that the throne was inherited by the descendents of the king’s sister, and not by the king’s son or daughter.
Arumana ammaveedu has an interesting tale to tell. Like all ammaveedus it started off with humble beginnings gaining stature through marriage into the royal families of Travancore. The thankachis of Arumana Ammaveedu were the consorts to many kings, starting from Dharmaraja , Bala Rama Varma and Visakam Tirunal Rama Varma.
It is said that the consort of Bala Rama Varma played an important role during the British rule. When Travancore revolted against the British it was under the leadership of Velu Thampi who had secured palace secrets and confidential information from Arumana Amma, the then wife of Maharaja Bala Rama Varma.
Visakam Thirunal was a very learned and scholarly king. During his reign he introduced a number of reforms in education, the police department and the judiciary. In 1859 at the age of 22 he defied his uncle and married the woman he loved, Srimathi Lakshmi Pillai Kochamma of Arumana Ammaveedu. She was privately educated in English and became the first lady of the Travancore nobility to have an English education.
Later his son, Sree Narayanan Thampi, founded Travancore’s first bus service. In 1910, he registered the company Commercial Transport Corporation which ran a transport service from Trivandrum to Nagercoil and from Trivandrum to Kollam.
The original ammaveedu was an ettukettu, a traditional Kerala house with two courtyards. Parts of it were demolished and replaced by European architecture during the time of Maharaja Visakam Tirunal. In its renaissance as Villa Maya its fabled past continues to linger in its classical architecture, traditional cuisine and sophisticated style, mindful of its illustrious legacy.