Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam, is a unique institution for higher education in several ways. Its rich tradition and enviable achievements in all arenas of human enterprise—production and dissemination of knowledge, inculcation of secular and liberal values, measures to achieve inclusive growth and development, schemes which help the marginalised achieve upward social mobility, inter alia— have transformed it into a motor force for progressive social change. Spread over a 25-acre campus, the college stands right in the heart of the happening city of Kochi, with easy accessibility by road, rail, air, metro rail and waterways. The college campus is refreshingly lush and verdant because of the shady trees and their thick foliage and fresh water ponds that lend a sylvan ambience to the premises.
From its extremely modest beginning as an elementary English school that was founded way back in 1845 in the former princely state of Cochin with the express aim of imparting “such instruction to the students as would enable them to converse with Englishmen without the aid of interpreters,” Maharaja’s College grew in stature, slowly but steadily over the decades, to its present status of “Centre of Excellence” conferred by the Government of Kerala and a “College with Potential for Excellence” recognized by the University Grants Commission.
The aforesaid elementary school metamorphosed into a high school in 1868 and then into a college in 1875 responding to the rising demand for higher education within Cochin and nearby states of Travancore and British Malabar. The college, originally named ‘The Ernakulam College’, and affiliated to the University of Madras, offered First Arts courses. It soon became one of the leading educational institutions in the Madras Presidency. Like other colonial institutions elsewhere in the country, Maharaja’s too had the British at the helm as Principals. Without exception these were enlightened men who played a crucial role in popularizing English education in the state of Cochin. Professor A.F. Sealy (1875-1892), the first Principal, who described himself and his compatriots in his farewell speech as a “labourers in educational work” engaged in “bringing light to one of the dark regions of Asia” nevertheless acknowledged that their work was only “a just repayment of an old debt of gratitude which the West owes to the East.”
The Golden Jubilee Year (1925) proved memorable in more than one way. The college was permanently rechristened as Maharaja’s College. It started offering Bachelor of Arts programmes in a number of disciplines thereby raising itself to the status of a first grade college, turned residential by building hostels and formed an Old Students’ Association which must surely be one of the oldest (if not the oldest) in the country. The next decade would witness a spurt in the number of programmes offered, especially in sciences and the addition of a 15- acre playground, on the land donated by the aristocratic Thottekat family.
By the time World War II broke out in 1939, a new science block had been built and the departments of physics and chemistry had become beehives of research activity. Old timers wistfully recall how an encrypted message in German about Hitler’s move on the U.S.S.R. was received on an admittedly crude wireless set devised by Prof. N.R. Ramachandra Aiyer after months of research and how it was deciphered by Dr. L.V. Ramaswamy Aiyer, a polyglot and scholar par excellence in Dravidian linguistics. They also recall with pride how the department of chemistry chipped in to the war effort by producing tincture in its laboratories to meet the shortage in hospitals. If today the Maharaja’s fraternity takes pride in the fact that several prominent political leaders cut their political teeth on the campus of this college, it is also because it forms part of a tradition nurtured for long by this college. Even before Gandhi’s visit on 11 October 1927 the resonance of nationalist thought had been felt in the campus but it received an added impetus with his visit. In fact, Maharaja’s campus consistently kept up with the nationalist movement.
After independence, and especially after the formation of the linguistic state of Kerala, the college started offering more postgraduate programmes. It also shed its elitist image and became more inclusive by admitting students from marginalized and disadvantaged social strata. Through the 1970s and 80s the college continued to grow in terms of enrolment. The year 1975 witnessed grand centenary celebrations. The growth in the number of women students and teachers has been nothing short of phenomenal. In the 1990s the gender ratio became skewed in favour of the female. It was again in the 1990s that the college started new generation courses like B.Sc. Instrumentation and B.Sc. Environment & Water Management.
The turn of the millennium witnessed greater emphasis on technology enhanced teaching and learning with the establishment of ICT facilities. There was a surge in research activity with the number of researchers increasing several folds. Now the college is a Centre of Excellence with 17 departments offering research leading to the degree of Ph.D. and 18 offering postgraduate programmes. Among the undergraduate courses also there is diversity, ranging from music, commerce and computer application. The college has three hostels for the students, a 15- acre playground with state of the art synthetic track, pavilion, etc. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) identified all the science departments of the college for special assistance under the programme Fund for Improvement of S&T Infrastructure (FIST) in 2010. The UGC has capped it all with the title College with Potential for Excellence. The NAAC successively re-accredited the college in 2006 and 2013 with A grade.
The College has been doing well in the Mahatma Gandhi University youth festival, bagging the first place or runner-up position consistently. Many of the winners have cut a niche for themselves in the fields of cinema, television or other media. In terms of achievements in academic evaluation, the college has managed to maintain the streak of success successively. The college got a shot in the arm with its inclusion in the Cluster of Colleges –a body exclusively formed to share the resources of a few select colleges in and around the city. Various activities were undertaken by the Cluster in the last few years. In 2014-15, the college was elevated to the status of an autonomous college. It is the first and the only government autonomous college in Kerala.