Travancore, a small Kingdom in the southern tip of Bharatvarsha has the pride of standing up for Dharma against various invasions. It is the first Kingdom of Asia to have defeated a colonial European force. The kingdom though had the history of defeating invaders like Mughals in the 17th century, was under the cloud of many political murders till Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma became the ruler and converted the then Venad Kingdom to the modern day Travancore Kingdom by defeating many local chieftains. Let us see about this forgotten King’s battle with the Dutch in Colachel which ended their colonization in Bharat.
Marthanda Varma was born in 1705 to Queen Karthika Thirunal and Raghava Varma of Kilimanur royal house. Clever and pragmatic, Varma prompted his uncle Maharaja Veera Rama Varma to sign a treaty with the Madurai Nayaks in order to check the nobles and other rebellious chieftains. After being pleased by this move of Marthanda Varma, which displayed his maturity and administrative talent, Rama Varma crowned him as the “Prince of Neyyattinkara”.
After this, many assassination bids were made on his life which made him flee the capital and live in hiding. On one such day during this period, he is said to have been protected by a small boy from the assassinators, who also showed him a safe place to stay for the night at Neyyattinkara, which was later revealed by Devaprashna as none other than Lord Krishna himself which made him erect a temple for Sri Krishna at that place during his tenure.
After his ascent to the throne of Travancore in 1729, at the age of 23, he went on to organize a standing army, crushing the powers of the Nair gentry who planned his assassination to retain power and planned to annex adjacent principalities. Within a short period of time, he had annexed Kollam, Kayamkulam and Kottarakara with his Kingdom giving birth to the modern day Travancore Kingdom which existed till independence in 1947.
During such battles with local chieftains, the Dutch who were supporting the Raja of Kayamkulam threatened the Raja of Travancore by asking him to restore the Kingdom of Kayamkulam or face a Dutch invasion. Marthanda Varma replied stoutly that the Dutch had no rights to intervene in the local affairs, and that in such a situation he would overcome any invading Dutch forces and attack Holland with the help of fishermen. This subsequently led to the Travancore – Dutch war.
In 1741, the Dutch installed a princess of the Elayadathu Swarupam principality as the ruler of Kottarakara in defiance of the demands of Marthanda Varma. The Travancore army inflicted a crushing defeat upon the combined Kottarakara-Dutch armies and assimilated Kottarakara into Travancore, forcing the Dutch to retreat to Cochin. Following this, Marthanda Varma captured all of the Dutch forts in the area.
Following the losses that the Dutch and their allies had suffered in the war, a force of Dutch artilleries from Ceylon under the leadership of Captain Eustachius De Lannoy landed with artillery in Colachel (Kulachal), then a small but important coastal town, to capture the capital of Travancore, Padmanabhapuram. They captured the territory up to Padmanabhapuram and laid siege to the Kalkulam fort. But the Dutch had to be in a defensive position because of the local fishermen who joined the fight against the foreigners. Marthanda Varma promptly marched south with his army and his timely arrival prevented the capture of Kalkulam fort by the Dutch, who, in turn, were forced to retreat to defensive positions in Kulachal.
On the 10th of August, 1741 both the armies met in battle and Marthanda Varma’s army won a decisive victory over the Dutch, capturing a large number of Dutch soldiers; apart from the rank and file, 24 officers including commander Eustachius De Lannoy and his second in command, Donadi were taken prisoners. Later, commander De Lannoy played a role in modernizing Travancore army and served for decades. The 9th and the 16th battalions of the Madras Regiment were formed by incorporating the erstwhile State Forces of Travancore, the Nair Pattalam units which fought the Dutch in 1741.
We can see a Victory Column at Colachel erected by the Travancore state to mark this historic triumph with these words engraved on it — “In remembrance of all the brave men of Travancore Army who laid down their lives in defeating the superior Dutch forces during the Battle of Colachel in 1741”. The Battle of Colachel shattered the Dutch dream of the conquest of Kerala. They signed a peace treaty with Travancore and later sold their forts, which helped in keeping Tipu Sultan’s army at bay. The Dutch could never recover from this debacle and they were no more a threat for Bharat.
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