The Ivory Throne

The Ivory Throne_cover copy 2

The book:

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.

About me:


Manu S. Pillai was born in Kerala in 1990 and educated at Fergusson College, Pune, and at King’s College London. Following the completion of his master’s degree, where he presented his thesis on the emergence of religious nationalism in nineteenth century India, in 2011–12, he managed the parliamentary office of Dr Shashi Tharoor in New Delhi and was then aide to Lord Bilimoria CBE DL, a crossbencher at the House of Lords in London in 2012–13. That same year he was commissioned by the BBC as a researcher to work with Sunil Khilnani on the ‘Incarnations’ history series, which tells the story of India through fifty great lives. The Ivory Throne is Manu’s first book.


Interviews and Features:

Interview in The Hindu.

Interview in the Mirror.

Feature in The Hindu.

Interview in the Deccan Chronicle (Bangalore).

Feature in the Deccan Chronicle (Trivandrum)

Feature in The Hindu.

Report in the Times of India.

Feature in The Express Tribune (Pakistan).

Interview in The Asian Age.

Report in The Hindu (Chennai).

Feature in The Times of India (Bangalore).

Feature in The Telegraph.

Interview with FWD Life Magazine

Interview with Business Standard



In Kafila.


In The Caravan.

In Swarajya.

Book Essay in Open Magazine.

Book Essay in The News Minute.

Book Essay in Mint Lounge.

In The Hindu Business Line.



The Ivory Throne…is marvellously written and meticulously researched…Manu Pillai is definitely an author to be watched.”- Jaishree Misra

“…magnificent, magisterial…brilliantly written, thoroughly researched, richly anecdotal. Superb…The Ivory Throne is the finest work on Kerala history I’ve read. Both authoritative and entertaining, it’s compulsive reading.”- Shashi Tharoor

“Manu Pillai’s The Ivory Throne is eminently readable…[and] wades through the labyrinth of history and recaptures the past effortlessly.”- Sethu

“…the wealth of information crammed into this book is bewildering. If Mastermind did a special episode on Travancore, all you would have to read to max it is The Ivory Throne…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

“Thoroughly researched, beautifully written, this is an insightful book about the royals of Kerala and their customs…a canvas that is vivid and gripping…The Ivory Throne is as robust and enlightening as the queen it honours.”-

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

“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

The Ivory Throne was nominated for the Crossword Book Prize, the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, and the BLF-Atta Galatta Prize. It won the Tata Lit Live Prize for best first book of non-fiction (2016) and the Sahitya Akademi’s Yuva Puraskar for best book (English, 2017).

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