Marthanda Varma: Forgotten Indian King who crushed the ambitions of The Dutch East Indian Company and adopted the title of “Servant of the Lord”

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The image of Indian kings had been portrayed as the defeat specialist. We are not aware of any of the battles that we had won decisively. Many of our great kings were fighting to protect this country from the repeated invasion of barbaric invaders. From the beginning of 8th CE, the North-Western boundary of our country had witnessed invasions from the Arabs which were later followed by the Turks.

But the story of the invasion didn’t end here. After the Turks, the Europeans took the charge of invading our country this time via sea routes. From the 16th century European powerhouses like the Portuguese, French, Spain, British, and Dutch all started to establish their factories across India.

Marthanda Varma
The king who defeated the Dutch East Indian Company in the Battle of Colachel.
Marthanda Varma
The Hero of the Battle of Colachel
Image source: Wikipedia

One by one these Europeans entered India and established a firm grip on the trade market of this country. One of them was the Dutch who wanted to control the pepper trade of the Kerala region. But their dream was ultimately shattered when the young king of Travancore crushed them at the Battle of Colachel in 1741. He defeated the dexterous Dutch army and freed the region of Kerala from its influence.

His name was Marthanda Varma.    

Dutch East Indian Company

We all are familiar with the name of the East Indian Company of the British Empire which was formed in 1600 CE after the passing of the Royal Charter. The primary aim of this company was to trade with the Indian ruler but actually, their main objective was to subjugate the vast wealth and resources of India.

But perhaps the East Indian Company was not the only European power that settled its foot on the Indian subcontinent. Two years after the formation of the EIC (British), the Dutch Republic (Netherlands) also formed their Dutch East Indian Company also known as Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC) to trade with the Far East countries.

Note: Do you know many eminent historians believed that the Dutch East Indian Company was the first ever Joint Stock Company of the world.

Dutch East Indian Company's Logo
Logo of Dutch East Indian Company
Image Source: Wikipedia

After its formation, this company achieved a significant amount of success in trading. The Dutch Republic even gave it the monopoly over trading rights. It emerged as the most powerful and successful trading company that established the Dutch authorities in several Asian countries. In the year 1619, the Dutch EIC established a firm grip over the city of Jakarta (capital of modern-day Indonesia) and made it their capital.

They used the land of these South East Asian countries as cultivation land. They cultivated tea, coffee, tobacco, sugarcane, Rubber, etc., and earned huge profit probably much more than their rivals i.e. the British and the Portuguese.

Both Portuguese and the British tried to occupy the southeastern countries and were successful initially. But by the end of 1700, the Dutch completely eliminated every settlement of its rivals.

Dutch Factories in India

The Dutch in the year 1605 established their 1st factory at Masulipatnam. Then in 1605, they open another factory at Coromandal Coast. After this Surat, Bengal, Malabar, and even Burma had Dutch factories. This shows their dominance in the international market and warfare.

Rise of Marthanda Varma

Anizham Thirunal Mathanda Varma was born in 1705 at Travancore (located in present-day Kerala). His father was Raghava Varma who belonged to the Royal house of Killimanur while his mother’s name was Karthika Thirunal.

In the year 1729 when Marhanda Varma was only 24 years old, he ascended the throne of the Travancore Kingdom. At this time the position of the Travancore kingdom was vulnerable. Due to this the young prudent king of Travancore soon started to attack the neighboring kingdoms. As a result of this ambitious move, the kingdom of Attignal and Venad was captured.

Soon after this, the kingdom of Travancore emerged as a rising threat for the neighboring and western powers. When Marthanda Varma annexed the region of Kollam and Kayamkulam the Europeans especially the Dutch became anxious than ever.

To add more worries Marthanda Varma then decided to bring down the kingdom of Odanad under his rule. The kingdom of Odanad had signed an agreement with the Dutch company to sell all the Pepper (Black) to the latter. Furthermore, the friendly relation between Marthanda Varma and the rivals of the Dutch i.e. the British gave the Dutch glimpses of the upcoming storm.

Battle of Colachel

To tackle this rising threat from the shrewd king of Travancore the Dutch Governor of Ceylon, Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff decided to discuss and offer terms with the former. The Dutch governor ordered the Varma to put an end to his expansionist policy. But Marthanda Varma refused to agree on any terms. Due to this a fierce encounter between the two powerhouses became inevitable.

In the year 1741, the adamant Dutch army under the leadership of Captain De Lannoy landed on Colachel with the support of strong artillery. The Dutch army set up their base which was about 13km away from the capital of Travancore kingdom i.e. Padmanabhapuram.

After this, the Dutch forces decided to move towards the Travancore kingdom and even laid a siege on the fort of Kalkulam.

Dutch East Indian Company
Arrival on the coast of Malabar
Battle of Colachel
Arrival of Dutch on Malabar Coast

 When the invaders were busing in raising the siege the king of Travancore was conducting his prewar ritual of worshipping LORD ADI KESAVA at the Thiruvattar temple. After this, the Travancore army crossed swords with the invaders. The battle resulted in total carnage for the invader. The Dutch incur several casualties and were forced to retreat back to their base at Colachel.

Note: Marthanda Varma had a special force known as NAIR PATTALAM which played important role in the battle.

The Hunters Became Hunted

As happed before Indian kings were known for their chivalry and for them attacking the retreating enemy would be a violation of war discipline. Due to this India had suffered a lot. These war discipline should be applied on those enemies who resects other too.

Marthanda Varma chased the retreating enemy all the way back to Colachel and laid the siege on the Dutch camps. To distract the Travancore soldier the Dutch attacked from the seas but all their attacks were repulsed by the Travancore army. The battle resulted in a decisive victory for the Travancore army. It is also believed that the Dutch never recovered from this defeat and their empire soon started declining after it.

Surrender of the Dutch in front of Marthanda Varma
Battle of Colachel
Surrender of Captain De Lanoy in front of
Marthanda Varma
Image Source: Wikipedia

This was the first time a major European power was decisively defeat in Asia.

The Dutch Caption i.e. De Lanoy was captured. But following the code of Dharma chivalrous Marthanda Varma spared the life of De Lanoy.

This was perhaps the first time when a western power that had established its dominion all over South East Asia and over countries like Sri Lanka was badly defeated by an Indian King.

The battle of Colachel was a major factor that ended the dominance of the Dutch in the modern-day Kerala region furthermore the Dutch signed the Treaty of Mavelikkara in 1753.

Note: To celebrate this victory over the giant colonial power the Travancore State erected the Victory Pillar near Colachel beach. 

Due to this treaty, Captain De Lannoy agreed to join the Travancore army and help king Marthanda Varma to westernize the Travancore army. Later Marthanda Varma established his monopoly over the pepper trade.

In 1750, this visionary king surrendered all his wealth at the door of Lord Padmanabhaswamy and adopted the title Servant of the Lord (Sri Padmanabhadasa).


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