The Forgotten Hindu Victory

Marthanda Varma. An unknown name, isn’t it? Sadly, this is the general fate of most Hindu rulers barring the likes of Shivaji Maharaj or Chandragupta Maurya who’ve been kept alive by some mentions in textbooks and through television depictions who’s authenticity can be raised to question.

Marthanda Varma is a legend, and around him revolves a fascinating piece of history that’s not known to the common Indian.

Varma was the ruler of a very small kingdom called Travancore. Travancore was a principality smaller than today’s Delhi. However, the size of his kingdom didn’t hamper the bravery and tenacity that resided in his heart. He went on to challenge the Dutch, the biggest empire in the world back then.

It was the early 18th century and the Dutch had the most powerful navy. They had already taken over Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Their next target was India. Only Travancore and his ruler stood in the way. An apparently easy task considering the tiny size of the kingdom. But the Dutch had something else coming.

Marthanda Varma ascended the throne of Travancore in 1729 at the age of 23. Varma had gone on to annex the kingdom of Kayamkulam. The Dutch were supporting the Raja of Kayamkulam. They threatened Marthanda and asked him to restore the kingdom or face an invasion. Marthanda responded to the Dutch by saying that they had no right to intervene in his affairs and that if the Dutch attacked then he would overcome any invading forces and attack Holland with the help of his fishermen. This 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. In response, the Travancore army inflicted a crushing defeat upon the combined Kottarakara-Dutch armies and assimilated Kottarakara into Travancore. Then Marthanda Varma captured all Dutch forts in the area.

Reeling under the huge losses inflicted on them, the Dutch and their allies landed with artillery at Colachel under the leadership of Captain Eustachius De Lannoy to capture Travancore. They captured the territory up to Padmanabhapuram which was the capital of Travancore and laid siege to the Kalkulam fort.

But the Dutch had to be in a defensive position because the local fishermen had joined the fight against them. Marthanda Varma 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 at Colachel.

On 10 August 1741, both armies met in battle and Marthanda Varma’s army won a decisive victory over the Dutch taking prisoner a large number of their soldiers. A ‘victory column’ at Colachel was erected by the Travancore state to mark this historic triumph with the 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 1741”.

The Dutch went on to sign a peace treaty with Travancore and later sold their forts which helped in keeping Tipu Sultan’s army at bay. Because of Marthanda Varma’s leadership the Dutch were no longer a threat to India. Travancore became the first kingdom in Asia to defeat a colonial European force.

Our history is replete with such glorious events; it is the history that’s taught to us that is completely bereft of them. By a well-thought of and brilliantly executed plan, anything Hindu has been suppressed. Whether it be temples or monuments, idols or relics, tales of victories or sacrifice. Most of it has been kept hidden from common Hindus so as to not allow a Hindu renaissance of the mind and soul. We’ve been made to detach ourselves from our own proud history and instead study in laborious details the exploits of foreigners who landed on our earth to divide and rule.

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