Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel



 
 The Victory Pillar at Colachel in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu which commemorates the victory of the Travancore forces over the Dutch in 1741, said to be the only Asian victory over Europeans in a naval encounter

Was the Battle of Colachel, in which forces of the Maharaja of Travancore defeated the Dutch in 1741, a naval engagement, as is claimed? If so, the question arises how the Maharaja, who did not have a navy, take on the Dutch at sea?
The Indian Army's Madras Regiment is due to celebrate the 273rd anniversary of the battle, said to be the only naval encounter in which an Asian force defeated a European force, with a function at Colachel tomorrow..

 The Travancore state had erected a Victory Column at Colachel to mark its historic triumph. Engraved on it are these words: “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 July 1741”.

In the History of Travancore, which was taught in schools in that princely state, the Battle of Colachel figured prominently.  It said the Dutch captain, Eustachius De Lannoy, who was taken prisoner, later served the Maharaja loyally and helped modernize the state forces. He, his wife and son died in Travancore and were buried in the Udayagiri Fort at Thackala.

                                                     The Conch, emblem of the Travancore State, atop the Victory Pillar

Maharaja Marthanda Varma (1706-1758) was fighting his northern neighbours to expand his kingdom when the Dutch forces under De Lannoy, after landing at Colachel, marched to Padmanabhapuram, then capital of the state. He came back to take them on, and they retreated to Colachel, where the decisive battle took place.

Colachel, Thuckala and Padmanabhapuram became part of Tamil Nadu when States were reorganized on linguistic basis in 1956.

 The cemetery  in the Udayagiri Fort at Thackala on
  the Thiruvananthapuram-Kanyakumari road where
  DeLannoy, his wife and son were buried

Colachel was then, and still is, a fishing village. Unrecorded in the history textbooks and the Victory Column is the part played by the local fishing community who responded to the King’s call and joined the fight against the foreigners. However, it is on record that when the Dutch threatened to attack his state, Marthanda Varma retorted that he and his people could seek the safety of forests (which he had done earlier when he was engaged in a succession battle with his cousins who had the backing of some feudal chieftains) and that he would plan an invasion of Europe with the help of fishermen.

One lesson the Maharaja could have learnt from the Colachel battle was that the best way to ensure the safety of the land was to involve the ordinary people in its defence. He could not do so because the Dharma he was committed to uphold was based on division of the people and their subjugation.

The New Indian Express report says tomorrow’s ceremony at Colachel will be attended by Brigadier Samir Salunke, Station Commander, Pangode Military Station, civil authorities, police officials, retired officers and local officials. Evidently, there will be none to represent the fishing community, who made the Travancore victory possible.

The Madras Regiment’s role as organizers of the function stems from the fact that after Travancore acceded to India in 1947 the state forces were merged in it.

The Madras Regiment, incidentally, has a history of at least 310 years. In 2004, its 9th Battalion had celebrated the tercentenary (300th anniversary) of its raising. That makes it a successor of the mercenary army put together by the English East India Company.  

3 comments:

63bees said...

Thank you for these thoughts, sir. When l learnt this in school, the impact never registered - a small princely state in Kerala crushed the Dutch for good - the Dutch never recovered from this and were never again a colonial threat to India. We were not even a naval power, but we defeated the mighty Dutch naval army. I wonder how many Indian kids know this today (including mine who both somehow missed studying Kerala history)...

Dr.S.D.SINGH said...

Some time back in middle 1980s I went to Colachal Thakkla area to see the tomb of Delannoy . with great difficulty I located it. Is it still there ?

michael leo said...

Thank you for the information, when I learned in school.We visited these places in my school days.