“If you don’t withdraw your troops from Kayanglam and stop your aggression, we will have but no option other than to attack Travancore and you know we are the “superior” power here” – threatened the Dutch Governor Van Imhoff.
The Maharaja was unperturbed. He retorted back in his characteristic style “Should the so called “superior” power attack us, there are enough forests in Travancore to secure us safely. Besides, we ourselves are planning to invade Europe with our Navy.”
The Dutch Governor was taken aback by the gumption. He knew the Maharaja had already annexed the adjacent kingdoms of Quilon and Attingal and his sights are already beyond Kayankulam. If Kayankulam is lost, then the entire pepper trade of Dutch East India Company could close down. There was no option but to stop the King.
He immediately installed the princess of Elayadathu Swaroopam as the ruler of Kottarakkara against the King’s wishes, and soon paid the price for it as was handed a crushing defeat at the hands of the Travancore Army. The Maharaja took over the Dutch Forts in that area.
The Dutch had to retreat to Cochin and soon called for a fresh force of Marines from Ceylon led by the Flemish Commander Eustachius de Lannoy, who landed in Kulachal, near Kanyakumari with artillery and captured the territory upto Padmanabhapuram, the Capital of Travancore. The Maharaja and Travancore Army went southwards and soon what ensued was the most famous Battle of Kulachal (Colachal) on 10th August 1741, and the Travancore Army led by Maharaja won the decisive battle.
De Lannoy and his second in command, Donadi, along with a large number of Dutch soldiers were taken as prisoners who subsequently surrendered to the King. Impressed by the King and his treatment towards them, De Lannoy and the fellow Dutch Prisoners of War agreed to serve the King and refused to go back to the Dutch army, and he was honoured as the Valia Kapithan (The Senior Captain) by the King. De Lannoy modernized the Travancore army and with his able guidance, Travancore went on to capture Cochin, that forced the Dutch to sign a peace treaty in 1753 and eventually relinquish all their positions in Malabar Coast. De Lannoy was raised to the position of General and continued to serve Maharaja and Travancore, until his death in 1777 at Udayagiri Fort.
In a way, the most of what is known as the modern Kerala State had been once under this powerful warrior King, Anizham Tirunal Veerabala Marthanda Varma, known popularly as King Marthanda Varma, who established the Travancore Kingdom when he ascended the throne in 1729 and unified the entire Southern Kerala. He is also the first Asian king ever to defeat a superior European armed force that led to the disappearance of Dutch East India Company from Malabar coast.
Born in 1706 to one of the Attingal princesses who were adopted by the Queen Umayamma of Venad, Marthanda Varma had to fight for his existence right from childhood as the power of Venad including the Temple of Sree Padmanabha Swamy in Thiruvananthapuram was slowly being usurped by the Ettuveettil Pillamar who were a group of Nobles who wanted to eliminate the matriarchal dynasty.
These formative years of living in hiding and to keep a constant vigil against threats to his life to out-think his enemies made young Marthanda Varma, a brilliant tactician and warrior and one by one, he eliminated all of them. There are many legends and folklore of his brilliant out-maneuvers that led to his success in ascension to the throne finally.
As a King and administrator, Marthanda Varma was unparalleled. He brought in many administrative reforms and also made Thiruvananthapuram the capital of Travancore. His agricultural reforms and irrigation schemes doubled the production and it was said, many times the King himself would go and supervise on the fields and work along with the labourers. He revamped the Temple and the present day structure of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple was constructed during his time. He dedicated all his assets and also himself to the service of Lord Padmanabha in 1750 and since then all the Kings of the Travancore dynasty are being called as Sree Padmanabha Dasa (in service of the Lord), which explains the recent huge treasure find in that Temple.
He was also a shrewd Man Manager, as can be seen in how he made De Lannoy, the enemy Commander as his General and used him to drive away the Dutch for good. He introduced knighthood for able administrators in his team and honoured and promoted many of them. His biggest find was his closest ally, his Prime Minister Ramayyan Dalawa, a migrant Brahmin help, whom he met in one of the places where he had gone to dine. Ramayyan quickly earned the trust of the King and impressed by his abilities, the King eventually promoted him as the Dalawa – the Prime Minister and Commander of his Army, who played a pivotal role in the Battle of Colachal and many such battles. It is said that, the wily Dalawa, hoodwinked the Dutch Marines by placing a lot of coconut tree trunks at strategic positions in Colachal coast that they mistook as cannons! His friendship with Ramayyan was so deep that it is said, the death of Ramayyan in 1756 affected King’s health that led to his own demise.
As his health started deteriorating, he prepared his nephew Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma as his successor and gave him valuable advices like the State’s expenses should never exceed its revenue, not to meddle with the affairs of the Temple and its rituals, and that there should never be an infighting in the Royal family. Marthanda Varma passed away in 1758 and his successor Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma further consolidated the Kingdom and took it to even greater glory and was popularly known as “Dharma Raja”.
Marthanda Varma’s name will always glitter in the annals of Indian and Kerala history as the brave warrior who drove the Dutch away from Kerala coast. In the words of the noted historian, Prof. Sreedhara Menon – “A disaster of the first magnitude for the Dutch, the battle of Colachel shattered for all time their dream of the conquest of Kerala”.
Trivia: Maharaja’s personal guard which was a key element in the Battle of Colachel, known as Travancore Nair Brigade or Nair Pattalam, was later integrated into Indian Army as the 9th battalion of Madras Regiment and 16th battalion of Madras Regiment
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