Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Marthanda Varma - The lion among lambs.

Marthanda Varma. The lion among lambs.

The kings of the Travancore dynasty were invariably pious god fearing and innocent,But this one was different who could get in to the den of any lion and offer a challenge. Well versed in martial arts he rose to the status of a jack of all games. In administration tactics and strategies he matched Chanakya and in sky high ambition he nurtured, could match Alexander the great. By any means this king stands as a towering personality and his heroic deeds crown the pages of Kerala history.

His full official name was “Shree Padmanabadasa Vanchipala Marthandavarma Kulasekharapperumal”.Born on 1723 and crowned as the king of Travancore on 1729 at the age of 23. He had that quality what the generations of other kings of Kerala dynasty lacked, the ‘killer instinct”. Marthandavarma was terror personified for his opponents, while a model king for the country and the people.

At that time the land was divided in separate fiefdoms controlled by feudal lords. The eight families which controlled major portion of the country with feudal rights never heeded the advices of the pious kings. They continued to torture the people with hefty taxation and all other misdeeds. Same time they were also engaged in plotting against the dynasty.The former kings as well as well as the members of the royal families lived in perpetual fear of these formidable foes numbering eight! (They were known as the “Ettuveettil Pillamar”) and their cronies.

Ammachi plavu (Mother jackfruit tree) in his teen ages Marthandavarma was chased by these cronies of the conspirators and he had to escape from them by hiding in a big pothole in a jackfruit tree. This tree stood at the premises of the Sri Krishna temple at Neyyattinkara was live until recent times. People treated as a divine tree which saved the life of their beloved king. They named the tree as “Ammatchi plavu”, giving the tree the status of mother.

At the time of his taking over the reign, the economy was in shambles, army was obsolete and internal strife was rampant. As per the agreement reached between his uncle Ramavarma three thousand Rupees were to be paid to the king of Trichinapally as royalty. There was not even money to pay for the soldiers, and they became rebellious. Some soldiers captured his minister and kept him captive. Marthandavarma who never stooped before threats, he did not choose to negotiate with the captors, but sent an army and released him by force. This was perhaps the first challenge he had successfully overcome.

Marthandavarma inherited the throne from king Ramavarma his uncle as per the traditions existed. The two sons (Pappu thambi and Raman thambi)of the former king were angered at this and they were up in arms against the king from the very beginning. They conspired with the feudal land lords to eliminate the king. They approached the Pandya king of Trichinapally and complained that the king has illegitimately occupied the throne which was due to them. The Pandya king who also had scores to settle (as the royalty due to him was overdue) sent an army (under Alagappa Muthaliar) to Travancore. The master strategist in Marthandavarma was able to convince the chief of the army about the legitimacy of him in occupying the throne. Relevant records also were produced to substantiate his arguments.

That was a time Marthandavarma had just begun his career and a war with the Pandya king was not desirable at that time. So the master strategist in him chose the route of convincing the Muthaliyar- the chief- using documents with liberal dose icing in the form of generous gifts! As per the agreement reached with the chief he earned a portion of the army brought by the chief (a battalion of cavalry and two battalions of infantry) belonged to the Pandya king. This was sufficient for the occasion to intimidate the ever plotting feudal land lords.

As peace returned to the country he could concentrate his attention in building the nation. The renovation of Sri Padmanabha temple was done at this time in 1731A.D. The king was busy in building roads, markets, irrigation systems and dams (Ponmana and Puthen dams) The attention he paid in building infrastructure for agriculture, trade and commerce were examples for his farsightedness. The army he acquired from the Pandya king was used to train a good set of soldiers for him (Nairs and Maravar soldiers). One of the wisest things he did was to organise a good and efficient spy network. This network leaked to him the plots hatched by the feudal lords.

He took timely and brutal actions against the culprits sending right signals to the opponents that the king meant business. The message was loud and clear “don’t meddle with me”. Some of the feudal lords failed to sense it had to pay for it. One day while Marthandavarma was relaxing at Nagercoil palace Pappu thambi and Ramanthambi tried to sneak in to the palace. The smart king who was aware of the plots was prepared. Papputhambi was killed by the guards at the entrance itself. The other one stormed in to the king’s room, tried to cut the king with his sword, but the sword struck on the ceiling of the room. The king sprang on him and sent his personal knife straight in to Ramanthambi’s heart (this incidence took place on 1733 AD.

Marthandavarma did not spare the well wishers of Thamhi brothers, who flocked knowing the tragedy, occurred to them. The king was no weakling to forget and forgive. All the conspirators (totaling 42 in numbers) including the Ettuveettil Pllays were hanged in public. Their houses were dismantled and the materials recovered taken to Trivandrum and utilized it for building purposes, their women were given as gift to poor fisher folks!! The long history of revenges and plotting against the dynasty thus came to a decisive and tragic end.

Marthandvarma “a war machine” as he was, never wanted to rest on the oars; his next aim was to expand the territories of his country. The Kollam dynasty (at that time known as the Desinganad dynasty) which was just north to his country was his next target. When surrounded by the Marthandavarma’s army the Kollam king signed every thing as directed and surrendered before him. The king of Kayamkulam was made of sterner stuff; he offered a stiff challenge stiffer than Varma thought! As the war was got prolonged, the king of Kayamkulam took over as chief of army and jumped in to the battle field on horseback. In the ongoing fight the king was shot at by a soldier and he fell dead.

Kayamkulam did not succumb with the fall of the king, the king’s brother took over charge and morale of the Kayamkulam army was restored. As casualties on both sides mounted Marthandavarma had to retreat to Trivandrum. The failure of Varma was celebration to the mini kings of Kollam Kayamkulam Changanchery etc, As they viewed a rising monster in Marthandavarma. They formed an alliance with the king of Kochi. Mr. Ramayyan the chief who led the Varma’s army, proceeded to Thirunelveli acquired reinforcements (both infantry and cavalry) under Ponnan Devan Pandyan, then came back after negotiations a new strategy was formed. Ramayyan took over charge as chief of army and took on Kayamkulam with renewed vigour.

The second battle was rather prolonged and final victory was that of Ramayyan, he entered in to Kayamkulam as a victorious general. Thereafter a lot provinces were added to Travancore during 1734 AD.(Chengotta, Kalakkad, Kerakkudi, Valliyoor etc. By this time the Dutch who had business as well as political interests in Kochi, Kayamkulam, Travancore etc. smelled a potential foe in Varma and they tried to correct the king in political matters. King’s reply to the letter sent by Mr. M. A. Matton read as follows “The Travancore government has always done much for the promotion of business with the Dutch, and I regret to inform that Your interference in political matters is unwelcome” 1737 AD, Sri. Ramayyan was promoted to the post of Prime minister with the deaths of Arumugham pillay and Thanupillay (his younger brother, who also died after a short spell). The war machine’s next plan was to launch a greater war on Kayamkulam, As Kayamkulam was emboldened by the support of the Dutch. The Dutch irked by the provocating letter by Marthandavarma who asked them to mind “Your business”.

The Kulatchal War.August 10, 1741.

Marthandavarma’s next target was Elayidathu swaroopam, a small kingdom where after the death of the ruling king the Dutch sponsored a lady to wear the crown. (This action was against the wish of Marthandavarma). The queen fled along with the Dutch securities to Kochi and sought asylum under Van Imholf.(the Dutch governor of that time) By this time a battalion of Dutch army sent from Ceylon (the present Sri Lanka) landed at Kulatchal beach and started looting houses and markets, they even attacked a small contingent of army belonging to Marthandavarma. Emboldened by the initial successes the Dutch army captured lands ranging from Kulatchal to Kottar, and planned to attack Thiruvananthapuram

Marthandavarma sent a large army under Ramayyan. The Ramayyan’s army was positioned between Nagarcoil and Eraniel. Ramayyan led the army from the middle. The war began in the morning ofAugust 10 at Kulatchal. The strong cavalry under Ramayyan did immense help toMarthandavarma’s army as the Dutch who came via sea route could not bring any. The cavalry could break the formidable infantry positions of the Dutch army. The Dutch army had to flee in to the fort leaving the injured and captured. The captured soldiers were sent to the fort at Udayagiri.

On that day itself (August 10) the Kulatchal fort was surrounded by Marthandavarma’s army. The Dutch had to jump in to the sea and swim to board the waiting ships; they left all their arms and ammunitions to be taken over by Marthandavarma’s army. The king was exceptionally generous to the prisoners of war. Of the 24 soldiers who were captured two persons attracted the attention of the king. One Mr. Donady and the other was none other than Mr. Dilanoy. Both were natives of Belgium. Marthandavarma was shrewd enough to utilize these able officers’ service giving them the rank of Captain. Mr. Dilanoy was posted as the chief of the king’s security wing.

Mr. Dilanoy who was promoted to the position of captain was, responsible for imparting modern warfare techniques to the king’s army. He was given the responsibility of constructing the new fort at Udayagiri. By this time the nawab of Arcot entered within the boundaries of Travancore They were engaged inlooting temples and markets. Marthandavarma sent a consignment under Ramayyan, But this time not lucky. Ramayyan had to retreat. In 1741 Varma had to suffer serious losses in battles with Kayamkulam dynasty. The combined forces of Kayamkulam and Dutch attacked Kilimanoor and captured it. The war machine who was in Sucheendram at that time, rushed to the spot, prepared a master plan for the ultimate war. He acquired arms and ammunitions from the French and English. An infantry was instantly formed with more than five thousand Maravar and Nair soldiers. He did not miss to add trench –diggers, and all paraphernalia for a long drawn battle. Special caliber cannons were brought from distant places.

On 1742 Marthandavarma surrounded the Kilimanoor fort, the king himself was the supreme commandant of the forces, Mr. Dilanoy, Ramayyan and the crown prince (his successor) were given charge of the three forces. Finally the war machine won the battle. In the ensuing agreement Travancore gained a lot of land portions. Kayamkulam king agreed to pay Rs. 1000 royalty to Travancore. Marthandavarma was not satisfied he went in hunt of the allies who stood with the Kayamkulam king, Ettumanoor and Vadakkumkoor etc were brought under the control of Travancore in the battles which followed. The war machine was in no mood to take rest, He directed his army next to Kollam which was in alliance with the Dutch and captured it. Sword of Marthandavarma later turned to the Ambalapuzha kingdom.

Ambalpuzha though was a very small country it had well trained army in using bows and arrows. The king had a batch of experts in using poison edged arrows. The battle was brief Marthandavarma had to see his soldiers falling dead one by one. He had to retreat as Rumours spread that “Bhagawan Sri Krishna was one among the soldiers belonging to Ambalapuzha. Marthandavarma’s soldiers got frightened and they refused to fight against the god almighty!
Marthandavarma was not scared, even though he was an ardent believer in god, he used the help of Muslin and Christian sharpshooters to take on the poison arrow shooters. Varma won the battle and his commanders entered the Ambalpuzha palace. There the king, unaware of what was happening was going on outside was enjoying himself by playing chess! The “chess player” was immediately parceled and forwarded to Trivandrum by Ramayyan the chief.

Marthandavarma got help from Mathur Panicker and Mr.Bhattathiri in conquering Ambalapuzha.The thankful king granted certain benefits to them. The king of Changanacherry was the next target of our machine. The foolish king of that country gave enough reasons for an aggression; he joined the group of some weaklings to fight against Travancore. Kochi, Thkkumkoor, Ettumanoor etc were part of the alliance. The wheels of the warmachine rolled to Changanacherry and that kingdom became the part and parcel of Travancore as usual. Marthandavarma’s army under Ramayyan marched to north and adjoined all lands that belonged to the members of the alliance which spread up to the southern banks of river periyar. Kochi even though was part of the alliance was spared. The pious king of Kochi was actually drawn in to an alliance by some mini kings and land lords. Prior information handed over by the Dutch governor about the movements of the alliance army was helpful for the king to take timely action and early victory.

By 1754 AD it was the turn of the Samoothiri of Calicut, who enjoyed more clout among the small kings had begun to raise his head, he conspired with the small kings of the southern parts like Ettumanoor and Changanacherry etc. The kings under the influence of Samoothiri raised flags of descent. In the next year (1755 AD.), Samoothiri overcome by his big ego was stupid enough to send a big consignment of army through sea to conquer Travancore. Poor Samoothiri did not foresee that he was putting his hands in to the mouth of a tiger. Marthandavarma’s army was waiting in the seashore to give a “warm welcome” to the Samoothire’s hopless consignment. Most of the Calicut army perished in the war others drowned in the sea. All ammunitions and most of the boats were captured by Varma’s forces under the able leadership of Delanoy and Ramayyan.

Marthandavarma, though described as a war machine was very human at his heart. He never spent a rupee for his personal luxury. He never spent money in grand palaces or in costly costumes and ornaments. The coffers were never used as his personal fiefdom. The life of Marthandavarma as given in the above paragraphs was filled with strives and hardships. The wars he fought were numerous as the cases mentioned are not comprehensive. For the purpose of brevity some of the battles are avoided. The unavailability of clear cut records which, is a curse of Travancore history also has played its part in leaving many events unrecorded.

He did everything for his country as a just and principled king ignoring his personal comforts. Marthandavarma could lead a happy life in the comforts of the palace. Instead he toiled in the war fields all through his life. He was a real king and he acted like a king. A great visionary as he was, did much to enhance the security and prosperity of his people. Marthandavarma in his tenure liberated millions of people from the clutches of feudal land lords. He developed roads for the people, irrigation systems for farmers, markets and trading centers for marketing agricultural products etc. In this process he had to kill thousands of soldiers, land lords and kings. As a king it was his duty after all he was not a monk. When all other kings of Travancore lived like monks Marthandavarma had no such double roles in his life he was a king and lived like one. Forgetting and forgiving serious crimes were not in his dictionary. It was the gravity of the crime that determined the intensity of the punishment whoever the criminal was.

In the later years of his life he was gracious enough to surrender his powers before his deity, The Sri. Padmanba of the Padmanabha Swamy temple. This process was discribed as the “thrippadithanam”, meaning offering all before the deity on January the 17th 1750. He breathed his last on 1758, leaving his kingdom to his nephew Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma (Dharma Raja).

Marthandavarma was a war machine; yes a machine that relentlessly fought many battles for the betterment of the land and its people. He had no pretensions; he who spent most part of life in battle fields had no time for that. Long live Marthandavarma in the hearts of any one who has no time for pretensions. As Paolinda Bartolomeo has rightly stated in his work “Voyages to East India” he killed those who deserved to be killed. And the deaths of these feudal lords emancipated the poor people from slavery and unparalleled hardships.

Victory to Marthandavarma Maharaja!!!!!!!

1 comment:

mainlymilitary said...

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