Many areas in history that portray the heroic feats of great Indian kings in protecting this great land are hidden with purpose to glorify the colonial rule. One such heroic feat is the “Battle of Colachel” that happened on 10th August 1741. Colachel is located between Thiruvananthapuram to Kanyakumari. This strategic naval battle was fought between the Dutch navy and Travancore king Marthanda Varma and resulted in the Dutch’s defeat (the best naval force at that time). This naval battle marked our country as the strongest naval force in the entire world during that period. This deadly battle resulted in a situation where none dared to raise a naval battle on the coast of South India. This battle had suicidal consequences for the Dutch East India Company. But the saddest thing is, our books of history never speak of this instead they speak of the justification of slavery and kings
Root Cause Of The Colachel Battle
Dutch East India Company was importing pepper from the kingdom of Kayamkulam. Dutch intending to establish a monopoly over pepper trade and started plans to occupy this place. In this process, Captain Nieuhoff of Dutch East India Company sent an arrogant note to told Raja Karunagapalli that “we want the whole and would have nothing unpacked”. Apart from this, Dutch started creating disputes among the families of native princes and engaged them in the state of war. This raised an alarm with respect to Dutch’s intrusion into internal affairs, which ultimately created a power shallow and security in the kingdoms.
In Kerala, there have been huge internal conflicts among kingdoms. To add up, it was subjected to many invasions, like the one from Dutch and the other from the kings of Mysore who always tried to annex the kingdoms of Travancore. This internal tension resulted in weakening the security of neighboring kingdoms which in turn posed a great threat to the main capital Thiruvananthapuram. So, Marthandavarma, the king of Thiruvanthapuram decided to annex all the kingdoms and keep them under his control. This made him annex Quilon or Kollam in 1731, ruled by a branch of the Venad family. Later his focus shifted to Kayamkulam, which was also ruled by Venad family. In 1734, several battles were fought against Kayamkulam and Quilon.
In the final battle of that year, the Raja of Kayamkulam was killed and succeeded by his brother who soon appealed for peace, and hostilities were ended for the moment. MarthandaVarma then, in 1734, annexed the Elayadath Swaroopam or the Kottarakara kingdom. In the same year, the Raja of Quilon died and Kayamkulam king acquired the possessions of that king against the wishes of MarthandaVarma which was supported by Raja of Cochin and Dutch forces. Dutch forces took this as a great opportunity to establish their political dominance.
Moreover, the Raja of Kayamkulam was very weak and proved to be incapable of becoming a puppet of the Dutch. Understanding the threat Maharaja Marthandavarma started expeditions on the Kayamkulam kingdom. Realizing the strategic move of Marthandavarma, the Dutch Governor VanImhoffof Ceylon warned him to stop his aggressions on Kayamkulam, if not he would be crushed under the “superior power” of Dutch forces. Maharaja Marthanda Varma in reply to this stated:
”If the “superior” power should attack them there were forests in Travancore into which he and his people could retire in safety and that he had himself been planning to invade Europe with the help of his fishermen and further added: “that he would invade Holland in case the Dutch misbehaved in Malabar”.
He proved that he is an action more than words, by annexing the kingdoms of Attingal, Quilon, and Kayamkulam into his kingdom and continued to annex all the allies of the Dutch East India Company. In 1741 AD, the Dutch positioned ElayadathuSwarupam princess as the ruler of Kottarakara. The Travancore army got great victory over the combined Kottarakara-Dutch armies and annexed the kingdom, forcing the Dutch to retreat to Cochin. Following this, MarthandaVarma captured all the Dutch forts in the area.
Understanding the Strategy of Winning Colachel Battle
The irritated Dutch forces from Ceylon under the leadership of Captain Eustachius De Lannoy launched a surprise attack at Colachel to conquer Venad with artillery. They started looting houses and markets and they even attacked a small contingent of the stationed army and they continued to annex land from Colachel to Padmanabhapuram, the then capital of Travancore. As Marthandavarma and his commanders Dalawaa and Rama Iyen were in negotiation with Kayamkulam king. So, they instructed Ananthan Padmanabhan Nadar to lead the attack on Dutch, with an army joint of 108 Tamil Nadar Chilamba Kalangal, Tamil Meenavars, and, Tamil Islamiars.
He then simultaneously instructed Mankode Asan, Orappanavilai Asan, Chellamkonam Asan, Mekode Asan, AthankodeAsan, NadutheriAsan, and his disciples to send their men to Colachel. Anathan took a calculated risk and entered Colachel and charged into a large contingent of well-armored Dutch. This resulted in a massive attack on Dutch forces and the Dutch infantrymen and naval forces fell to the ground. On the other side, Asans also made a lightning strike and started decimating them, this attack was most ruthless.
They couldn’t recover at any point, facing ferocious clearing assault fire in which diminishing Dutch forces were unable to resist. Marthandavarma made a timely entry into the battle from the south of Colachel and started driving Dutch into defensive positions and finally won the war. To commemorate this victory a statue has been erected.
Post War Consequences
The result of the war had been suicidal for the Dutch where 24 men surrendered; among them was their captain, Eustachius De Lannoy.
Fig: De Lannoy’s surrendering in the Battle of Colachel at Padmanabhapuram Palace.
The battle put an end to Dutch’s desire to have political and trade dominancy in India and moreover their traces were cleared off from India. Impressed with De Lannoy’s skills Marthandavarma pardoned him and appointed him as the army commander. He modernized the forces of Travancore adopting European techniques. He played a major role in many battles in extending the Travancore kingdom. He planned and supervised the building of a few forts in northern parts of Travancore. De Lannoy died in AD 1777. His tomb was inscribed with the following words:
“Stop wayfarer! Here lieth Eustace Benedict de Lannoy, who as the General-in-Chief of the troops of Travancore was in command and about 37 years, served the king with the utmost fidelity. By the might of his arms and the fear(of his name), he subjected to his (the king’s) sway all the kingdoms from Kayamkulam to Cochin. He lived 62 years and 5 months and died on the 1st of June (of the year) 1777. May he rest in peace?”(As per sources of Wikipedia)
In the memory of this proud battle, the Government of India released a 5Rs/- stamp.
After this battle, Marthandavarma extended his kingdom and occupied half of Kerala. Major forces like Hyderali Khan and Tippu Sultan tried many times to occupy Kerala till their death but failed. Such is the scale of strength Marthandavarma raised the kingdom and military power. The Nair Pattalamwas was the major force in his military. They were known for their bravery and military skills. Later this force was made part of the Indian army as the 9th Battalion Madras Regiment and the 16th Battalion Madras Regiment in 1954.
Let us salute to the great hero Travancore King MarthandaVarma, who worked for the country. Let us draw inspiration from this great warrior and start working for the country. Jai Hind!