Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma, also known as Prince Rama Varma, is a South Indian classical musician, a performing vocalist, veena player, teacher at the Rotterdam Conservatory of Music and writer. He was born as the youngest son of Princess Pooyam Thirunal Gowri Parvathi Bayi(Chairperson of Kerala Travels Ltd) of the Travancore Royal Family and Chembrol Raja Raja Varma, his elder sister is Princess Thiruvathira Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi(wife of Professor Madhava Das Nalapat).
Rama Varma was born on August 13, 1968 and is a member of the Royal Family of Travancore, although he does not care for this to be emphasised. His ancestors include Swati Tirunal and Raja Ravi Varma.
Varma harboured an early interest in becoming a veterinary surgeon but a chance opportunity to sing changed his path. He began learning music in 1982 with the encouragement and financial support of his great-grandmother. He was taught by Vechoor Harihara Subramania Iyer, Trivandrum R.Venkataraman and K. S. Narayanaswamy before becoming a disciple of Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna.
Rama Varma gave his maiden public performance in 1990 and released his first CD at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. He has taken influences from other forms of music and has performed in India and also in countries such as Dubai, France, Germany, Kuwait, The Netherlands, the UK and the US. Among his notable venues have been Zuiderpershuis in Belgium, the Royal Tropen Institute in Amsterdam and the Korzo Theatre in The Hague. He was invited to perform at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan by the then president of India, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.
Varma is regarded as an expert on the compositions of both Swathi Thirunal and Balamuralikrishna. He frequently gives lecture demonstrations in South Indian Classical Music particularly on Balamuralikrishna's compositions and regularly contributes articles about Indian music to newspapers such as The Hindu.
Varma is a fan of Indian singers Kishan Kishore and K. L. Saigal, as well as of world music stars such as Jade Eru, Fairouz and Googoosh. He spends up to 16 hours a day practicing, studying, experimenting with and listening to music.
Rama Varma performing at Swathi Sangeethotsavam
Varma organises Swathi Sangeethotsavam, a festival commemorating Swati Thirunal that is held annually at Kuthira Malika in Thiruvananthapuram.
The Navarathri Mandapam Concerts held every year in connection with the Navarathri Festival at Trivandrum are also organised by Varma. In 2006, he picked veteran Parasala Ponnammal to perform there, breaking a 300-year-old tradition of not allowing women inside the Mandapam.