Ammachi Panapillai Amma
Its literal translation is 'consort' since as per the formerly existent matriarchal system in Travancore, the Maharajah's sister was the Maharani, and not his wife. Thus the wife, a non-royal, took the title of Ammachi Panapillai Amma.
The Maharajahs of Travancore (current south Kerala) adopted the Matrilineal custom and inheritance prevalent in the land around the 14th Century AD. Accordingly, when a king died, his nephew (sister's son) would become the next ruler.
Families from where Maharajas got married were known as Ammaveedus. It is believed that when the then Travancore King, Maharajah Sree Karthika Thirunal Dharamaraja shifted capital from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram, he brought along his four wives who belonged to the places namely Vadasseri, Nagercoil, Arumana, and Thiruvattar. The new houses, referred to as Ammaveedus (ancestral homes of Ammachis) were constructed in the new capital and were named Arumana Ammaveedu, Vadasseri Ammaveedu, Nagercoil Ammaveedu, Thiruvattar Ammaveedu. The Maharajah also passed a rule that all the Royal male members should only marry from one of the above-mentioned four Ammaveedus. This gave social prominence to the Ammachis as well as their homes.
The Kings of Travancore traditionally took wives from Ammaveedus and the Consorts, known as Ammachis would get the additional title of Panapillai Amma. If at all another lady from outside the Ammaveedu's was to be married to the King, she would be adopted to one of the Ammaveedus first and then wed to the King. This was the case in the marriage of Maharajah Swathi Thirunal, Maharajah Ayilyam Thirunal and Maharajah Moolam Thirunal.
Even though Ammachis and her children were held in high social esteem, they had neither any royal titles nor any political power. They remained outsiders and were considered inferior to her husband and his family, and neither they had any communications with other royal members. The Ammachis were not supposed to be seen publicly with their royal spouses; they couldn't travel in the same carriages. If at all they travelled with the Maharajah they were to be seated opposite to their spouses and never beside them. The Maharajahs neither partook any food cooked by their consorts nor the consorts were allowed to take food alongside royal members. As times changed, the restrictions also got reduced.
Rev. Samuel Mateer in 19th Century observed the following about the position of Ammachis of Travancore:
..... The Ammachi has no communication with the reigning Ranis. She is not a member of the royal household, has neither official nor social position at court, and cannot even be seen in public with the ruler whose associate she is. Her issue occupy the same position as herself, and the law of Malabar excludes them from all claims of public recognition. A number of splendid cloths are sent, and she is brought to the palace of her consort. But, unlike other Sudra unions, the Ammachi, having once been married to a Rajah, is required to remain single all the remainder of her days; and is shut up and guarded in her own residence. Hence it is not all parents that are willing to give their daughters on these terms. The bereaved lady is comfortably provided for by endowment during the life of the husband, and pension after his decease. Precisely similar is the custom in China, where, on the death of an emperor, his women are removed to a portion of the palace, in which they are shut up for the remainder of their lives. ....
Despite all these limitations, historians point out that the Ammachis were compensated with material benefits like tax exemption to land and other properties, comfortable living provisions as well as other honours.
- Travancore State Manual Vol ii 1940 by TK Velu Pillai and TSM Vol II 1906 by V Nagam Aiya
- Dr. Ivy Peter, Dr. D. Peter (November 2009). Liberation of the Oppressed a Continuous Struggle- A Case Study (since 1822 A.D). Nagercoil: Kanyakumari Institute of Development Studies. pp. 24–26.
- Mateer, Rev. Samuel. Native Life in Travancore.
- Travancore State Manual by V.Nagam Aiya