top of page
Dewan Peishcar, Travancore kingdom
6. History - Section C: Modern History - Bala Rama Varma

Accession Kesava Das’s retirement and death

Sankaran Namburi appointed Dewan The end of the ministry

Velu Tampi becomes Dalawa His methods of Government

Intrigues against Velu Tampi Major Macaulay and the Maharajah

The mutiny of the Nayar troops

Modification of the subsidiary arrangements

Treaty of 1805 Financial Crises

Velu Tampi’s position Cochin affairs at the period

Velu Tampi’s insurrection Velu Tampi’s Proclamation

Effects of the Proclamation

Attack on the Subsidiary force at Quilon

Attack on Cochin - Wholesale murder of Europeans

The rebellion quelled Oommini Tampi Dewan

Domestic events Colonel Munro Resident

Demise of the Maharajah Conclusion


Bala Rama Varma 973-986 M.E / 1798-1810 A.D

The illustrious Rama Varma was succeeded by his nephew, Bala Rama Varma, at the early age of sixteen. He was installed on the musnud on the 7thKumbham 973 M.E (12th February 1798 A.D). He was naturally of a weak and vacillating disposition and being very young he was in the hands of a set of favourites, the chief of whom was one Udayari Jayantan Sankaran Namburi, a Malayali Brahmin from the Zamorins territories.

The Namburi was a stupid and unprincipled man and his only aim seems to have been to poison the Maharajah’s ears against the old and well-tried Dewan Rajah Kesava Das. He succeeded so well in this nefarious purpose that in a few days of his installation, the Maharajah refused to see the Dewan even on urgent public business. The Dewan was sorely vexed, as no business could go on without personal conference with the sovereign

. Two events brought matters to a crisis. In 974 M.E (1799 A.D), Jayantan Namburi succeeded in making the young Maharajah sign a document ceding Shertallay (Karappuram) to the Cochin Rajah and sent it by his friend, one Thottappai Namburi, for safe delivery at Cochin. The Dewan received private information of this huge betrayal and pursuing the Namburi messenger in hot haste overtook him at Paravur near Quilon and recovered the royal sunnad from his hands.

Another event, though of lesser importance, embittered the people’s feelings in the same manner. The Namburi was one day carried in procession through the streets of Trivandrum in the palanquin of the late Maharajah. This was a base insult offered to the memory of the late King and was specially mortifying to Kesava Das, his faithful minister and friend. Kesava Das remonstrated with the Namburi in plain terms saying that his conduct was scandalous and that the Maharajah’s kindness was not to be so abused.

Kesava Das’s retirement and death

Soon after this incident, Kesava Das received what is generally known in Travancore as Velakku neettu (a royal writ of retirement) and was immediately confined in his own house, where a short time after, he was found one day lying dead in his bedroom. This was a disastrous event both to the Namburi and his Royal master.

There are no two opinions about Dewan Kesava Das’s untimely end. He was a great and good man who served his sovereign and his country honestly and well. As Rama Rajah’s trusted minister and henchman he had rendered signal services to the Honourable East India Company and the Travancore State. His sudden death cast a gloom over the land. The people were in a state of excitement. They feared that he had been foully disposed of by poison at the instigation of the Namburi. On the day of his death— the Aurat day— the people uttered loud curses as the Royal procession passed from the fort to the beach and even threatened violence to the Namburi and his adherents. The Honourable the Court of Directors also seemed to have entertained the belief that the Dewan was poisoned. In their General letter to the Madras Government dated 29th September 1809, we read: —

“The late Diwan (Kesava Das) so much respected by the people was not suffered to live even in retirement. There is very strong reason to believe that he was taken off by poison, and the British Resident (Col. Macaulay) thought it his duty publicly to accuse Samprathy of this foul murder but after a short arrest and an appearance of enquiry, in which more solicitude was shown to avoid than to effect discovery, he was restored to his liberty and influence at the Durbar.”

Sankaran Namburi appointed Dewan

After the death of Rajah Kesava Das, the Namburi had no difficulty in attaining the object of his ambition and he was accordingly appointed Valia Sarvadhikariakar (or Dewan) on the 11th Medam 974 M. E. (April 1799 A.D).

The new minister, untrained and unfitted for the post, found himself helpless in his exalted office. He selected for his council Thuckalay Sankaran Narayanan Valia Melezhuthu (finance minister) and one Mathu Tarakan, an influential Syrian Christian of the north, who held the salt, tobacco and other contracts during the last reign. These two men were as unprincipled as himself.

“Thus the triumvirate of ignorance, profligacy and rapacity came to rule the destinies of this interesting principality in spite of the earnest wish which the Governor-General Lord Morington expressed that a really efficient ministry should be formed.”

The first act of the Namburi Dalawa (the old title was revived for a time) was to confiscate all the movable property of his predecessor even to the last ornament worn by his wife. For this ignoble and vindictive act he paid dearly soon enough.

He next turned his attention to freeing the country from its financial embarrassments, by raising general contributions from the whole people. Rules were framed for a systematic levying of such contributions. A list was prepared by the ministry of those who could afford to pay and they began to summon before them and demanded immediate payment of large sums inflicting corporal punishment in case of refusal to pay.

This system of extortion continued for a fortnight; a large sum of money was actually realised, and numbers of innocent people were tortured. The tyranny became intolerable and the people found their saviour in Velu Tampi, afterwards the famous Dalawa. With the undaunted spirit characteristic of him, he appeared before the ministry in obedience to their summons, and when asked to pay down Rs. 3,000 as his share of the contribution fixed by them, he prayed for three days’ time to raise the sum. This was granted and he went back. On the third day he appeared with a large body of armed men from Nanjanad preceded by a flourish of trumpets and drums, and encamped just outside the Trivandrum Fort. A large number of men in and about the capital seeing that relief was near flocked to his standard.

The end of the ministry

The Maharajah was quite alarmed at these proceedings of Velu Tampi. He deputed some of his high officials and the high priest to meet him and convey to him His Highness’ perfect willingness to accede to all reasonable demands. Velu Tampi and his followers demanded,

(1 that the Namburi Dalawa should be immediately dismissed and banished the kingdom

(2 that the Maharajah should execute an agreement distinctly binding himself not to recall him at any future time

(3 that his colleagues Sankaran Narayana Pillai and Mathu Tarakan should be publicly flogged and have their ears cut off and

(4 that the salt tax and other odious imposts should at once be abolished.

King John’s barons may be said to have been meek by the side of Velu Tampi.

The Maharajah agreed to these terms and the Namburi minister and his two colleagues were dismissed on the 6th Mithunam 974 M.E, (1799 A.D). But Velu Tampi was not to be satisfied with the simple dismissal of the Namburi and his councillors. He requested orders for the dismissed officers being given up to his followers with permission to deal with them according to their deserts. They were so made over; the Namburi was banished and the other two had their ears cut off and Sankaran Narayana Pillai was confined in the Udayagiri fort, while Mathu Tarakan was imprisoned at Trivandrum. The rebels now became all powerful and their leaders Velu Tampi and Chempakaraman Pillai dictated their own terms. The former was made commercial minister and the latter Dewan. Chempakaraman seems to have been a good administrator. On his death in 976 M.E (1801 A.D.), one Padmanabhan Chempakaraman was appointed Dalawa. He too was found weak and inefficient, and within eight months after his appointment was dismissed. He was accused of even complicity in certain Crimes.

Velu Tampi becomes Dalawa

Vein Tampi now coveted the Dalawa’s place. The chief men about the King, Samprati Kunjunilam Pillai, Valia Melezhuthu Muthu Pillai and Stanapati Subba Iyen offered him their help. But there were two able officers of the State, Chempakaraman Kumaran and Erayimman, brother and nephew of the late Kesava Das, whose claims could not be righteously overlooked.

Velu Tampi and his accomplices formed a conspiracy to get rid of these two men. Kunjunilam Pillai made false entries in the State accounts and showed a sum of a few lacs of rupees as due to the treasury from the late Kesava Das. The two kinsmen were in a fix and appealed to their European friends at Madras and Bombay asking for their advice and intercession. These letters were intercepted and their spirit misrepresented to the Maharajah as importing disaffection and other letters were forged to show treasonable correspondence of the two gentlemen with Europeans abroad. The King, then less than twenty and quite unequal to his high responsibilities, ordered their immediate execution. The two officers were accordingly murdered in cold blood, and Velu Tampi’s claim stood uncontested.

The way having been thus cleared, Velu Tampi was appointed Dalawa in 1801 A.D. The appointment received the approval of Col. Macaulay who had been appointed British Resident at the Travancore Court in 1800 A. D., and who, it may be mentioned, was the first to hold this important office. Velu Tampi was a daring and clever though unscrupulous man. Rebellion was his forte.

He was not in any sense a statesman, for he lacked prudence, probity, calmness and tact — qualities which earned for Rama lyen and Kesava Das immortal fame. He was cruel and vindictive in his actions. His utmost merit lay in the fact that he was a strong man and inspired dread. Within three years of the death of Kesava Das, the country was in a state of chaos; the central government became weak and corruption stalked the land. Velu Tampi’s severity, excessive and sometimes inhuman, completely extirpated corruption and crime from the country. His favourite modes of punishment were: imprisonment, confiscation of property, public flogging, cutting off the palm of the hand, the ears or the nose, impalement or crucifying people by driving down nails on their chests to trees, and such like, too abhorrent to record here. But it may be stated in palliation that the criminal law of the Hindus as laid down by their ancient lawgiver Manu was itself severe. The Indian Penal Code is also much severer than the code of punishment prevailing in England. What is considered necessary and proper in our own times may become reprehensible according to the ethical standard of a thousand years hence.

His methods of government

The Dalawa was always moving on official tours from one district to another with a select party of assistants, and public business was transacted in a rough and ready fashion as if the country was under military law. He held his court under the shade of trees or in the open air he would himself examine witnesses on both sides in the presence of his Sastri and Moftee and pronounce judgments then and there. If the accused was found guilty he would be hanged on the very tree under which the court was held and the execution took place before he left it for another village. Strict honesty was thus barbarously enforced among public servants and order prevailed throughout the kingdom. Velu Tampi became an object of universal dread. The race of thieves became extinct houses and bazaars and banks enjoyed an immunity from theft unknown in any previous age. Merchants and people of all descriptions travelled by the highways both by day and night without fear or molestation.

One instance of the dread which Velu Tampi inspired may be given here. A Nambudiri was robbed of his chellam* containing his gold rings and cash and a silver karandakam** &c., at Edawa, thirty miles north of Trivandrum. He immediately returned to Trivandrum and reported the theft to Velu Tampi Dalawa. The Dalawa had rubbed oil on his head and was about to bathe when this complaint was made to him; he rubbed out the oil off his head with a towel, gave up his bath and started forthwith to Edawa, asking the Nambudiri to meet him there next morning.

NOTEs: * A small brass box, generally oblong in size, 6 inches x 4 x 3, in which the betel-leaf, areca-nuts and tobacco are carried for purposes of chewing. Rings and coin and small things are also secured in it.

** A small utensil to hold 'chunam', a necessary ingredient for chewing betel and nut.

The Dalawa arrived in advance. What happened? The local Mahomedans had committed the robbery on the innocent Nambudiri. Of this fact Velu Tampi satisfied himself. He ordered the whole of the Mahomedan population of Edawa to be brought before him, and when they as a matter of course denied the charge, he mercilessly ordered them one after another being nailed to the tree under which he held court. When two or three Mahomedans had been thus disposed of, the others produced the Nambudiri’s chellam with all the stolen goods in it intact. The Nambudiri identified his property and went away mightly gratified. The thieves were thus brought to book, but this Draconian method of dispensing justice kept the people in perfect dread of its author. There are several similar stories of his doings but space does not permit their narration here.

The Dalawa caused a survey of lands and gardens to be made, and new pattahs were issued to landholders. A new Ayacut or settlement register was completed and a regular system of keeping accounts was introduced. By this means an increase in the land revenue was effected and the financial position of the country was considerably improved. He was able to pay off all the arrears of salaries due to Sirkar servants and also to clear off the heavy State debts. The town of Quilon was greatly improved by the construction of new bazaars, cutcheries, a pagoda and a palace and its commercial activity was revived.

The improvement of the town and port of Alleppey also engaged his earnest attention. He opened several roads for traffic from various directions and established a market at Changanachery, fifteen miles south-east, and another thoroughfare at Talayolaparambu near Vaikam, twenty-nine miles north of Alleppey; in these thoroughfares weekly and bi-weekly markets were held. He cleared the bushy island in the middle of the back-water north of Alleppey and planted it with cocoanut trees some portions also being converted into paddy fields. The Manjali market in the district of Alangad was established by him. The road from Quilon to Shencottah was opened and a feeding house for the convenience of travellers was established at Mampazhattura. In Trivandrum itself the old hall of audience attached to the palace was built under his supervision. The Karuvelappura palace upstairs was constructed and the four streets within the fort of Trivandrum round the temple were formed.

Intrigues against Velu Tampi

Velu Tampi’s undue severity and overbearing conduct were resented by his own colleagues.

A conspiracy against him was formed in the palace by Samprati Kunjunilam Pillai and his comrades, the very persons who had helped him to the Dalawaship. They prevailed upon the Maharajah to issue a royal warrant for his arrest and immediate execution. The Dalawa who was then at Alleppey got scent of this plot immediately. The Resident Major Macaulay and the Dalawa being now good friends, the latter at once went to Cochin and acquainted the Resident with the details of the conspiracy.

The Dalawa was advised to go to Trivandrum without loss of time and personally explain matters to His Highness. But owing to the intrigues of the conspirators he was refused audience at the Court. On this being communicated to the Resident, who was already aware of the fact that it was mainly at the instigation of the Samprati that the Maharajah signed the death-warrant of the two misfortunate kinsmen of the late Dewan Kesava Das, he came to Trivandrum with a few companies of the subsidiary force stationed at Quilon and held inquiries on the charges against the conspirators. Their guilt was established; they were all punished according to their deserts and Velu Tampi regained his former influence.

Major Macaulay and the Maharajah

The Maharajali resented such interference on the part of the Resident, and the favourites of the King fanned it into a flame. Every untoward circumstance was represented to the Maharajah as meaning disrespect and even contempt on the part of the Resident. The Maharajah wrote to the Governor-General, the Marquis of Wellesley, requesting the recall of Major Macaulay. His Excellency summoned Macaulay to Calcutta to offer his explanation in person. Macaulay went to Calcutta. After hearing him the Marquis sent him back to Trivandrum expressing the hope that he would now conduct himself to His Highness’ satisfaction. But in the result the Resident’s power and influence did not appear to have received a check as might have been expected, for we find a Proclamation was issued by the Madras Government in 1803, prohibiting

“All persons in the service of the Honourable Company and all others enjoying the protection of the British Government under the Presidency of Fort St. George from holding any communication, correspondence or any personal intercourse whatever with His Highness the Rajah of Travancore or with any of the ministers or officers of that Prince except with the express consent and concurrence and through the official channel of the British Resident.”

The mutiny of the Nayar troops

The arrears of subsidy due to the Honourable Company were still very large. To effect economy in the military expenditure, Velu Tampi proposed a reduction of the allowances to the Nayar troops and in this he was cordially supported by the Resident. The proposal caused great discontent among the sepoys. They resolved on the subversion of the British power and influence in Travancore and the assassination both of the Dewan and the British Resident. With the active co-operation of the Dalawa’s enemies they broke open jails and released the inmates, abandoned the military stations at which they were posted, marched to the capital 10,000 strong and demanded of the King the immediate dismissal of the Dalawa and the appointment of one of their own nominees. The Maharajah was as usual alarmed at these proceedings and did not know how to act. The Nayar troops at Alleppey, where the Dalawa was at the time, declared themselves for the insurgents and the Dalawa fled for his life to Cochin.

The life of the Resident having also been supposed to be in danger, he quitted Alleppey on the night of the 16th November 1804 and repaired to Cochin then garrisoned by a company of the 2nd battalion of the first Regiment. In consultation with the Resident, the Dalawa collected the Carnatic Brigade and marched to Quilon. The former had already issued instructions for the Tinnevelly troops to march to Trivandrum. The subsidiary force at Quilon was also ordered to be in readiness to march to the capital. The rebels when they heard of these movements fled in all directions. The leaders were seized and dealt with in Velu Tampi’s usual fashion. Some were hanged, some beheaded; others were blown off the cannon’s mouth.. One of them, Krishna Pillai, it is said, had his legs tied to two elephants and the animals were driven in opposite directions tearing the victim to pieces. History records but seldom such abominable tales of barbarity and vindictiveness.

Modification of the subsidiary arrangements

When the news of the insurrection of the Nayar troops reached Calcatta, the Governor-General sent on the 17th December 1804 a letter to the Madras Government advising the modification of the subsidiary engagements with the Maharajah with a view to restore his authority and that of the Dewan and for the preservation and strengthening of the English influence in the country. His Excellency wrote: —

“The treaty concluded between the British Government and the Rajah of Travancore in the year 1797 does not contain any express stipulation for the British power in quelling internal commotions within the territories of that Prince; but the spirit of the treaty certainly imposes upon us that obligation. The expediency, however, of affording such aid in the present crisis is obvious, especially under this consideration, that the avowed object of the insurrection is the subversion of the British influence in the Councils of the Rajah........................... I consider this occurrence to afford a favourable opportunity for the modification of our subsidiary engagements with the Rajah of Travancore. The modification which I propose is, that the British force at present subsidized by the Rajah be permanently stationed within his dominions, and that the British Government possess authority to regulate the dispositions of that force within the territories of the Rajah in such a manner as may appear best calculated to secure the object of its appointment.“

A copy of this letter was forwarded to the Resident by Lord William Bentinck, and the Resident after consulting Velu Tampi submitted the correspondence to the Maharajah. Though the Dalawa was not against the revision of the existing treaty in so far as it related to the internal defence of Travancore, the Maharajah was strongly opposed to any new arrangement. But his opposition to the Governor-General’s mandate was of no avail. After some delay and correspondence a new Treaty was signed by the Maharajah on the 12th January 1805, which was ratified by the Governor-General in Council on the 2nd May of the same year. This Treaty runs as follows —

Treaty of 1805. “Treaty of perpetual friendship and alliance between the Honourable English East India Company Bahadoor, and the Maharajah Ram Rajah Bahadoor, Rajah of Travancore:

“Whereas the Treaty, concluded hi the year 1795 between the Honourable Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies and His late Highness the Rajah of Travancore, was intended to defend and protect the Travancore country against foreign enemies, and to strengthen and fix the terms of the ancient friendship and alliance subsisting between the Company and the Rajah of Travancore and Whereas it is evident that the intentions of the contracting parties have not been duly fulfilled and Whereas the said Company and the Rajah of Travancore have judged it expedient that additional provisions should at this time be made for the purpose of supplying the defects in the said Treaty, and of establishing the connection between the said contracting parties on a permanent basis of security in all times to come: Therefore, in order to carry into effect the said intentions, the present Treaty is concluded by Lieutenant Colonel Colin Macaulay, the Resident at Travancore, on the part and in the name of His Excellency the Most Noble Marquis Wellesley, K.P and K. C, Governor General in Council of all the British possessions in the East Indies, and by His Highness the Rajah of Travancore for himself, agreeably to the following Articles, which shall be binding on the contracting parties as long as the sun and moon shall endure.

“Article 1. The friends and enemies of either of the contracting parties shall be considered as the friends and enemies of both; the Honourable Company especially engaging to defend and protect the territories of the Rajah of Travancore against all enemies whatsoever.

“2. Whereas by the seventh Article of the Treaty concluded in the year 1795 between the Ram Rajah Bahadoor and the English East India Company Bahadoor, it was stipulated ‘that when the Company shall require any aid of his troops to assist them in war, it shall be incumbent on the said reigning Rajah for the time being to furnish such aid, to such extent and in such numbers as may be in his power, from his regular infantry and cavalry, exclusive of the Native Nayrs of his country.’ and the Company being now willing entirely to release the Rajah from the obligation incurred under the said stipulation it is hereby concluded and agreed that the Ram Rajah Bahadoor is for ever discharged from the aforesaid burdensome obligation.

“3. In consideration of the stipulation and release contained in the first and second Articles, whereby the Company becomes liable to heavy and constant expense, while great relief is afforded to the finances of the Rajah, His Highness engages to pay annually to the said Company a sum equivalent to the expense of one regiment of native infantry in addition to the sum now payable for the force subsidised by the third Article of the subsidiary Treaty of 1795; the said amount to be paid in six equal instalments to commence from the first day of January one thousand eight hundred and five and His said Highness further agrees that the disposal of the said sum, together with the arrangement and employment of the troops to be maintained by it, whether stationed within the Travancore country or within the Company’s limits, shall be left entirely to the Company.

“4.. Should it become necessary for the Company to employ a larger Force than that which is stipulated for in the preceding Article, to protect the territories of the said Maharajah against attack or invasion, His Highness agrees to contribute jointly with the Company towards the discharge of the increased expense thereby occasioned such a sum as shall appear on an attentive consideration of the means of His said Highness to bear a just and reasonable proportion to the actual net revenues of His Highness,

“5. And whereas it is indispensably necessary that effectual and lasting security should be provided against any failure in the funds destined to defray either the expense of the permanent military force in time of peace, or the extraordinary expenses described in the preceding Article of the present Treaty, it is herein stipulated and agreed between the contracting parties that whenever the Governor General in Council at Fort William in Bengal shall have reason to apprehend such failure in the. funds so destined, the said Governor General in Council shall be at liberty and shall have full power and right either to introduce such regulations and ordinance, as he shall deem expedient for the internal management and collection of the revenues or for the better ordering of any other branch and department of the government of Travancore, or to assume and bring under direct management of the servants of the said Company Bahadoor such part or parts of the territorial possessions of His Highness the Maharajah Ram Rajah Bahadoor as shall appear to him, the said Governor General in Council necessary to render the said funds efficient and available either in lime of peace or war.

“6. And it is hereby further agreed that, whenever the said Governor General in Council shall signify to the said Maharajah Ram Rajah Bahadoor that it is become necessary to carry into effect the provisions of the fifth Article, the said Highness Maharajah Ram Rajah Bahadoor shall immediately issue orders to his amils or other officers either for carrying into effect the said regulations and ordinances according to the tenor of the fifth Article, or for placing the territories required under the exclusive authority and control of the English Company Bahadoor and in case His Highness shall not issue such orders within ten days from the time when the application shall have been formally made to him, then the said Governor General in Council shall be at liberty to issue orders by his own authority either for carrying into effect the said regulations and ordinances, or for assuming the management and collection of the said territories, as he shall judge most expedient for the purpose of securing the efficiency of the said military funds and of providing for the effectual protection of the country and the welfare of the people: Provided always that, whenever and so long as any part or parts of the said Highness’ territories shall be placed and shall remain under the exclusive authority and control of the said East India Company, the Governor General in Council shall render to His Highness a true and faithful account of the revenues and produce of the territory so assumed: Provided also that in no case whatever shall His Highness’s actual receipt or annual income, arising out of his territorial revenue be less than the sum of two lakhs of Rupees together with one-fifth part of the net revenues of the whole of his territories which sum of two lakhs of Rupees, together with the amount of one-fifth of the said net revenues, the East India Company engages at all times and in every possible case to secure and cause to be paid for his Highness’s use.

“7. His Highness Maharajah Ram Rajah Bahadoor engages that he will be guided by a sincere and cordial attention to the relations of peace and amity established between the English Company and their allies, and that he will carefully abstain from any interference in the affairs of any State in alliance with the said English Company Bahadoor, or of any State whatever and for securing the object of this stipulation it is further stipulated and agreed that no communication or correspondence with any foreign State whatever shall be holden by His said Highness without the previous knowledge and sanction of the said English Company Bahadoor.

“8. His Highness stipulates and agrees that he will not admit any European foreigners into his service without the concurrence of the English Company Bahadoor, and that he will apprehend and deliver to the Company’s Government all Europeans of whatever description, who shall be found within the territories of His said Highness without regular passports from the English Government it being His Highness’s determined resolution not to suffer even for a day any European to remain within his territories unless by consent of the said Company.

“ 9. Such parts of the Treaty of Anno Domini one thousand seven hundred and ninty-five (1795), between the English East India Company and the late Rajah of Travancore, as are calculated to strengthen the alliance to cement the friendship, and to identify the interests of the contracting parties, are hereby renewed and confirmed and accordingly His Highness hereby promises to pay at all times the utmost attention to such advice as the English Government shall occasionally judge it necessary to offer to him, with a view to the economy of his finances, the better collection of his revenues, the administration of justice, the extension of commerce, the encouragement of trade, agriculture, and industry, or any other objects connected with the advancement of His Highness’s interests, the happiness of his people, and the mutual welfare of both States.

“10. This Treaty, consisting of ten Articles, being this day, the twelfth day of January one thousand eight hundred and five, settled and concluded at the fortress of Teeroovanandapooram in Travancore by Lieutenant Colonel Colin Macaulay, on behalf and in the name of His Excellency the Most Noble Marquis Wellesley, K. P. and K. C. , Governor General in Council, with the Maharajah Ram Rajah Bahadoor; he has delivered to the said Maharajah one copy of the same in English and Persian signed and sealed by him, and His Highness has delivered to the Lieutenant Colonel aforesaid another copy, also in Persian and English, bearing his seal and signature, and signed and sealed by Valoo Tomby, Dewan to the Maharajah and the Lieutenant Colonel aforesaid has engaged to procure and deliver to the said Maharajah, without delay, a copy of the same under the seal and signature of His Excellency the Most Noble Marquis Wellesley, Governor General in Council, on the receipt of which by the said Maharajah, the present Treaty shall be deemed complete and binding on the Honourable the English East India Company and on the Maharajah Ram Rajah Bahadoor of Travancore, and the copy of it now delivered to the said Maharajah shall be returned.”*

NOTES: Aitchison's Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sunnuds. Vol. V. Page 315.

This Treaty still remains in force. The Rajah who by the Treaty of 1795 stood engaged to furnish the Company, when involved in war, with such part of his military force as he could spare with safety to his own country, had by the present Treaty been relieved from that obligation; but in lieu of it, he had stipulated to pay annually, in addition to the subsidy payable under the former Treaty, a sum equivalent to the expense of one regiment of native infantry, estimated to amount to Rs. 4,01,655 and the disposal of the whole subsidiary force, either within the country of Travancore or the limits of the Company’s dominions, had been left to the option of the British Government. The Rajah also became bound by the new Treaty to pay a due proportion of the expense of any troops, additional to the subsidiary force, which it might eventually be necessary to employ for the protection of his dominions. It was further expressly provided that whenever the Governor-General in Council should have reason to apprehend a failure in the funds destined to defray either the expenses of the permanent military force in time of peace or the extraordinary expenses in time of war, he should have full power to introduce regulations for the management and collection of the revenues or to assume, on behalf of the Company, the direct management of a part of the territorial possessions of the Rajah, as he might deem most expedient. And whereas the Treaty of 1795 had respect chiefly to the external defence of Travancore, the Rajah promised by the present one to pay at all times the utmost attention to such advice as the British Government should occasionally judge it necessary to offer him in respect to all the objects connected with the advancement of the internal interests of His Highness, the happiness of his people and the mutual welfare of both the States. Eventually the subsidy payable by the State had been fixed definitely at Rs. 800,000 per annum.

Financial crisis

The treasury was now empty. Zeal for the public service was waning; the revenues were not properly collected owing to personal bickering and retaliations at headquarters such as those which disfigured the relations between Velu Tampi and Kunjunilam Pillai. At such a juncture the Maharajah insisted on the due performance of his coronation ceremonies which had to be celebrated in a proper style. The State was not able to pay even the four lacs of rupees according to the original Treaty of 1795. The subsidy had now been doubled by the Treaty of 1805 A.D.

The Resident pressed for payment and the Dewan in order to secure a short respite proposed the payment of the additional burden in four instalments, to which the former agreed and wrote to the Supreme Government accordingly. The Supreme Government were even pleased to remit the payment of the additional subsidy for two years. Even this did not mend matters. Towards the end of 1808 A.D., the subsidy had fallen into a long arrear and the Resident peremptorily demanded payment. The Maharajah and the Dewan who had now recanted from his former allegiance to the Resident protested that the revenues of the State were incapable of supporting such a heavy burden as the charge of four battalions of the Company’s troops and requested a reduction in the subsidy In reply the Resident recommended the disbandment of the Carnatic Brigade by which a saving of 1½ lacs of rupees might be effected. The Maharajah regarded the dismissal of the brigade highly derogatory to his position; he looked upon it as an essential part of his dignity and indispensable to his personal safety.

Velu Tampi’s position

It is unnecessary to dwell here on the details of the correspondence between Velu Tampi and the Resident. When the Treaty of 1805 was formally ratified, there was a strong outburst of popular discontent against the Dalawa. The Maharajah, the favourites, and the people at large believed that Velu Tampi had acquiesced in the increased subsidy as well as the proposed disbandment of the Carnatic Brigade, both of which were humiliating to the King. This however was not true, for no one was more shocked than Velu Tampi himself at the turn affairs had taken.

While matters stood thus, the Resident again pressed Velu Tampi for the payment of the subsidy. A final day was appointed for the payment and the Dalawa was able to pay a portion of the amount, but a very large portion still remained undischarged. Macaulay was in a rage and he used strong language against the Dalawa who, arrogant and haughty by nature, bitterly resented such treatment from the Resident.

There was also another incident which embittered their feelings. The Dalawa demanded large sums from Mathu Tarakan, a Christian, as arrears of Sirkar revenue. The Resident opposed it writing to the Dalawa that ‘his conduct was dictated by a spirit of the barest treachery and tyranny’. This led to an open rupture and at last the Resident insisted on the dismissal of the Dalawa. The Maharajah, though not satisfied with the Dalawa’s conduct in the treaty negotiations, found, however, that he was quite a match to the Resident and that without him he could not at that juncture successfully carry on the administration.

His Highness wrote to the Madras Government praying again for the recall of the Resident, but without success. Matters took a serious turn. The Resident became more obstinate than ever. He relentlessly insisted on the dismissal of the Dalawa. The Dalawa professed his willingness to resign his office, “but under cover of his pretended acquiescence in the Resident’s will, he set himself to work to organise an insurrection of the Nayars and to accomplish the murder of the Resident whom he hated as the scourge of his country and his own avowed and inexorable foe.” His first act of hostility towards him was the murder of Stanapati Subba lyen *, the Resident’s agent or ambassador at the Court, whom he sent for on some pretext of business to Alleppey but only to be cruelly murdered there. Shungoonny Menon thus describes the tragic event—

NOTEs: * The circumstances of Stanpati Subba Iyen's cold-blooded murder with all its harrowing detail are well known to the present writer as a piece of family tradition, because the said Stanapati was in the first place a kinsman and also because his own lineal ancestor (Boppudi Seshachalam Aiya) was another such Stanapati in Travancore in the previous reign, he having been posted as such to the Tinnevelly Nawab's Court. Stanapati Subba Iyen informed the Maharajah that Velu Tampi had sinister designs in sending for him to Alleppey, and that if the Maharajah would permit he would stay away. The weak Prince, however was no proper judge of men and things and so he assured poor Subba Iyen that such could be the motive of Velu Tampi's requisition, but that it might be a genuine request to meet and discuss with him (Subba Iyen) matters of State, affecting the unpleasant relations between the Resident and the Dewan. The Maharajah probably thought Velu Tampi was not as black as he was painted to be, but Subba Iyen knew better and took final leave of the Maharajah and his own wife and children and went forth to Alleppey to meet his impending doom. The present writer is personaly acquainted with the grandson of this Stanapati Subba Iyen, and through him, with all the cruel incidents of the base murder.

“Subba lyen paid a visit to the Dewan at Alleppy, perhaps with a message from the Maharajah, and on a certain night while he was engaged in a private conference with the Dewan he (Subba lyen) retired to the garden at about midnight. But, alas! he never returned. He appears to have been seized by the Dewan’s people and strangled to death, and a report was given out that Subba lyen died by snake-bite, while he was in the garden. “

Mr. T. Vedadrisadasa Mudaliar, a retired Judge of the Travancore Sadar Court, has favoured me with extracts of two letters written by his grandfather Ramalinga Mudaliar, one to Col. Macaulay the Resident and the other to a Doctor Macaulay who subsequently acted as Resident. These letters nearly a century old throw a flood of light on the Dalawa’s iniquities in high office. On the 26th December 1807, Ramalinga Mudaliar writes to the Resident from Palamcottah —

“I am sorry for the Fate of Subiah; the bite of snake really appears to me to be a pretend and by the enclosed Note you will observe that Mr. Hughes gives his concurrence and that it is not possible to find the Broming (Brahmin) you allude to for he has taken my leave to go to Travancore just a few hours before. I despatched my last letter informing you of the Dewan’s reconciling Subiah, his wife and family living at Janardanam or red hill near Anjengo and I am of opinion, he (Brohming) will come to me (it is probable) in 3 or 4 days more as soon as he heared the death of the poor Subiah. He will it is probable come to me with that news for your information. He is understood by everybody at that place by the name of Moorally Bagavatten.*

NOTEs: * This means a man who plays upon Murali, a musical pipe like a flute said to have been the favourite pipe of Sri Krishna

“He was very favourite of late Pupoo Tombee one of the conspirators as he being capable of playing upon flute. He was the mediator between the said Papoo Tombee and the Dewan and made Subiah to take an oath for himself and the Diwan. I shall also send out some people privately to find him and if I effect it I shall carry him to Mr. Hughes. He informed me that lately Rajah was very friendly with Subiah and had in mind some displeasure upon the Dewan and expressed repeatedly to the people that attending immediately on his person that he will discharge the Dewan soon and give the situation or appointment to Subiah as it was former custom that Brahming (Brahmins) had the management; by which the Dewan acquired the friendship of one Aramany Ummen the present favourite girl of the Rajah and through her he got out every thing from the Rajah that what Subiah has enlightened to him the conduct of his Dewan and made Rajah through the same channel to believe to the contrary and turned him altogether against Subiah.

“This is the new matter the Brahming has told me................ Let me observe to you sir that how many men he has put to death from the time he came to this high office you may redeem from late Dewan’s brother the General. Tombee really is very bad and very cruel man that I have ever met with and I doubt not he will do great many curious circumstances before he finish his days. Since I heard the Fate of Subiah I have much fear about my brother Vadachellum and Paramasivam. Although they are very innocent I fear he may try the revenge he has to me will perhaps attempt some cruelty towards on them indirectly as he has done to Subiah. “

Again Ramalinga Mudaliar writes on the 10th January 1808 to Dr. Macaulay thus —

“As I have heard the Dewan have been with you lately I hope he has given satisfactory description of the fate of poor Subiah indeed if the report that so strongly prevails here to be believed then the conduct of the people there is shocking and I should flatter myself that I am lucky to wash off my hands of that country sooner than we expected. But I am sorry only for my brother Vadachellum whose life I prefer to those that is more dear to me in the world and as it appears that you suppose the Dewan would be very glad to see him outside of the gates; I fear he is watching for some opportunity and even should he meet no opportunity it is not difficulty for him to execute my brother in comparative to so many very clever men, he had executed since he assumed his present situation; so I doubt not it will be in his power to finish him (or any man that he thinks attached to me) with great secrecy and that no body may suspect him. So I most humbly entreat you will, when you meet with good opportunity, please to observe to my worthy master* and if you and him is same opinion with me I shall be glad you send him out; as it may tame the Dewan very much and in the meantime I hope Vadachellum guard against his bad design in eating; drinking; sleeping and going about.”

NOTEs: * * The 'worthy master' referred to is evidently Col. Macaulay, the Resident.

According to these extracts, the means employed by the unscrupulous Dalawa to get rid of those who obstructed him in his villainous designs were the usual patented ones adopted under similar circumstances by other ambitious men who have darkened the early histories of all countries more or less, large or small, ancient or modern. Comment is therefore superfluous. But Ramalinga Mudaliar, deeply concerned as he was in the personal safety of his brother Vedachalam, is an unconscious witness, and therefore a valuable one, to the various wicked devices used in Velu Tampi’s days to get rid of political adversaries, whom one feared as crossing one’s path to glory.

All the functions of nature were laid under a ban. The victim spotted by the man in power was not to eat, drink, sleep or go about freely, for poisoning and assassination were the two instruments unstintingly employed whenever the arm of the law was too weak to reach him and vindicate the authority of the powers that be acting in behalf of Government. The Rajah’s weakness as described by Ramalinga Mudaliar lay in the fact that he communicated to Arumana Amma whom he calls ‘his favourite girl’, probably one of the consorts at the time, the gist of all the conversations that took place between Subbaiya and himself (Rajah) about Velu Tampi and the Resident. Velu Tampi was therefore well posted in all that passed between the Maharajah, Subbaiya and the Resident. He accordingly spotted poor Subbaiya as his next victim. The incapable Rajah was thus unconsciously endangering the safety of his faithful dependents and working his own downfall.

The potion of the Rajah and his disposition towards his minister (Velu Tampi) and to the management of public affairs generally may be best described in the words of Sir. C. Metcalfe who in June 1822 wrote of another Native Potentate thus —

“His ministers unfortunately think less of their master’s interests than of their own, and to protect him against their usurpations has become a part of the anomalous duties of the British Resident at this court. His Highness continues abstracted from public business, and I have as yet made no progress in dispelling the cloud of mystery in which he is enveloped. In our personal intercourse, which has been rare, his manner is civil, and even kind; but he evidently labours under restraint and I fear that people interested in preventing a more unembarrassed communication, contrive to keep alive his jealousies and apprehensions. It is not clear to me, whether his abstraction from public business, which is of long standing, proceeds from natural indolence and love of ease or from disgust at the control exercised by his minister, with our support. Whatever may have been the cause, he has so long withdrawn himself from the affairs of government, that much as one would naturally desire to see the legitimate sovereign of the country in the exercise of his proper functions, there must be considerable risk, if ever he takes up the reins of actual rule, that much mismanagement will arise from his inexperience and want of habit. He is said to be perfectly sensible of the evils produced by the maladministration of his minister. It is generally supposed that His Highness has nothing so much at heart as the removal of_______ But he has never conveyed to me any expression of dissatisfaction at his minister’s conduct.”*

NOTEs: * Affairs of the East India Company, Commons Evidence VI Political. Page 257

Cochin affairs at the period

Affairs in the adjoining State of Cochin were in a similar state of confusion. The powerful minister of the State, Paliathu Achan, overthrew his master and became practically the ruler of the land. The Rajah retired to a small village near Alwaye. He had with him a trusted favourite in the person of one Kunjukrishna Menon whom the minister wanted to murder. The King concealed him for a time and then handed him over to the care of Colonel Macaulay, the Resident. Paliath Achan was very angry with Macaulay for the offer of protection to the Menon and made up his mind therefore to destroy both the Resident and his ward.

Velu Tampi’s insurrection

Paliathu Achan and Velu Tampi combined and determined upon the extirpation of Colonel Macaulay and his influence in the two States of Travancore and Cochin. Velu Tampi organised recruits, strengthened forts and stored up ammunition and arms. He also wrote to the Zamorin of Calicut and the Isle of France for help when required. The plan of operations was arranged. The garrisons at Alleppey and Parur were to unite and make an attack on the fort of Cochin and murder Macaulay, Kunjukrishna Menon and others; another force was at the same time to attack the British garrison at Quilon; the two armies were to march simultaneously to their respective destinations in covered boats.

The Resident soon discovered the object of these preparations of the Dalawa and immediately wrote to the Madras Government for reinforcements. His Majesty’s 12th regiment and two native battalions were ordered to march from Malabar, and H. M.’s 69th and three battalions of native infantry with artillery from Trichinopoly, to his aid. Velu Tampi pretended great alarm at these active measures and begged permission to resign his office and retire to the Company’s territories. Agreeably to this request arrangements were made for his removal from Alleppey to Calicut on the 28th December 1808; a sum of money was advanced for his expenses and owing to the alleged fears of the Dalawa that his person was not safe in Travancore, a large body of troops was also got ready at Alleppey to escort him, thereby weakening the force stationed at the Residency.

Taking advantage of this fact, a little after midnight that same day (28th December 1808), a body of armed men surrounded the Residency at Bolghatty and surprised the Resident with a volley of several pieces of musketry at all the openings of the house. Before an entrance could be forced into the house, the Resident with the help of a confidential clerk under him managed to escape to a recess in the lower chamber, the door of which was not easily distinguishable from the exterior wall. The insurgents having meanwhile forced their way into the house, searched every part of it for the object of their vengeance, and meeting with disappointment spent the night in plundering the house and putting to death the few sepoys and domestic servants attached to it. At day-break they beheld a British ship entering the harbour and other ships were seen at a distance making for the port. They immediately retreated to Travancore much disappointed, thus affording Col. Macaulay an opportunity to get on board the ship (Piedmonte) that had just arrived at the harbour with part of the reinforcements from Malabar. Kunjukrishna Menon also effected his escape and joined Col. Macaulay on board the ship. The disappointment affected Velu Tampi deeply, but there was no helping it. He encouraged the men as much as he could and proceeded to Quilon to make the best of the mad step he had taken.

Velu Tampi’s Proclamation. From Quilon Velu Tampi went to Kundara, where he issued the following proclamation to the people of Travancore under date the 1st Makaram 984 M.K. (January 1809 A.D.):—

“Whereas it is highly desirable to impress in the minds of the nobles, Brahmins, others of the State, Sudras, and all other classes of the nation, a clear idea of the nature and probable results of the measure now resolved open as necessitated by the present critical occasion in which it is inevitable that Travancore cannot maintain itself unless its utmost energies are put forth, it is hereby promulgated:

“That, never has this State been yet disturbed with any troubles nor subjected to question during the several thousand years comprising the period from the foundation of Malabar and Travancore by Parasu Ramen up to the close of Cheraman Peramal’s reign, nor during the sovereignty of the succeeding Thripada* Swaroopam Dyansty.

NOTEs: * Means the Royal family of Travancore

“That, the Maharajah who died in 933 M. E, foreseeing the evil days to come, and that his successor will not be able to keep the land, entrusted to their safe care from harm, made a gift of it, in due form (with flowers and water) to Sree Padmanabha Swamy and the country was to be governed by the succeeding Rajahs as the representatives of Padmanabha Swamy. In keeping within such a position, they preferred the practice of religious rites, austerities, to the personal enjoyment of worldly pleasures and were always bent upon the welfare and happiness of the subjects; and in order that the virtues and benefits accruing from such observances may always continue unabated, they initiated several religious ceremonies and practices for securing divine favour, established Bhadradeepam, Murajapam, Sathrams or feeding houses &c. Every one knows that it is for these reasons that in the present Kaliyuga there is not a single country from the Himalayas down to Cape Comerin which can rival Travancore as a land of charity. When Mohomed Ali had stipulated and established his power in Arcot, Trichinopoly and the Deccan, it was stipulated that Travancore should send him an annual Nuzoor of (6000) six thousand Rupees and an elephant to preserve friendly relationships with him, and the country has not been interfered with by any other power.

“While the land was thus in peace and tranquillity, two great powers appeared, Tippoo Sultan and the English East India Company. It was believed that of the two, the English East India Company was more to be relied on, and that they would not betray their trust, and in view to secure their friendship and assistance a very long time ago, they were allowed to build a fort aid to establish themselves at Anjengo, and this led to hostilities breaking out with Tippoo Sultan, but we have known to our cost how our trust was betrayed, and our friendliness taken advantage of to bring harm upon us by this very English nation, who, as is well known to the whole world, is unequalled for base ingratitude and treachery.

“Now see, what they have done. They gradually curtailed the power of the Nabob who gave them shelter and helped so much towards attaining their present importance, till they had destroyed his dynasty entirely and taken away his territories; next they laid hold of the neighbouring countries which were enjoying peace and comfort until at last the lights of their dwellings were extinguished, and themselves plunged into misery, and following up their treacherous inclination the English came over to Travancore; first, by craft, and then forcibly, they have taken steps to exterminate us from our land.

“We shall briefly mention here a few of the steps pursued by them: When Tippoo Sultan made war upon us, we sought their aid against him they treacherously got out of us, taking advantage of our exigency, ten lacs of pagodas in return for the promised help. After this, partly by craft and partly by threats, they stipulated that we should pay them an annual subsidy of six lacs of Rupees promising at the same time that so long as Travancore and the English nation existed they would not ask for a chuckrum over and above the said sum, nor interfere with any act, however unimportant of the Travancore Government, and these terms were solemnly ratified in writing by the treaty of the year 968.

“While Travancore had been faithfully adhering to fulfil in all integrity the terms of the treaty, the English in violation of it, sent a Resident to reside here, and stationed three of their Regiments at Quilon, and like giving milk to a serpent, this Government had to build at its own cost barracks and dwelling-houses for the men of the Regiments, and in addition to put up to this day with all the acts of violence practised by them. A little after, in Magaram 980 the English Government demanded that two lacs of Rupees should be annually paid, beyond the sum stipulated before, and threatened in failure of this extra requisition being paid, to make war upon us, and actually brought down several pieces of cannon into different parts of the country.

“Seeing no other means of getting over the difficult position, the Government of His Highness yielded to the impending calamitous fate and paid the extra two lacs also. But the English Government were not satisfied even with all these concessions, and the point they next assumed reached the unreasonable and unwarrantable climax, of requiring the abolition of all religious and charitable institutions, and the disbanding of the armies of the country and payment to themselves of the money that would be saved thereby it was required further that the Resident, Colonel Macaulay, should be consulted and communicated with in all matters connected with the Government of His Highness’ territories.

“In reply, the English Government was respectfully informed that according to the constitution of this country these demands could not be complied with, and our humbling ourselves to the very ground was of no avail. The English Government was inexorable, as we have been always opposed to these measures, and had taken active steps against them; we got a letter in Dhanu last from the English East India Company requesting us to resign our post and to quit Travancore, along with the whole of our family and some of the officials who had joined us, and to reside in British territory, and we were promised in the event of our complying with the request that every mark of respect and honour would be paid to us, the Resident, Colonel Macaulay, thereafter intending to introduce reforms, and practically administer the Government. We were at the same time informed that we should be the cause of war being declared, in case we delayed to agree to the conditions stated in the letter, the contents of which we were required to bring at once to the notice of His Highness-the Maharajah.

“We did not hesitate to reply that we should not, even should our refusal cost our life, be guilty of such treason to our sovereign and country, and once for all spurned the proposals made to us. The Resident Colonel Macaulay, thereupon and without having the slightest consideration or respect for the sovereign of Travancore or giving the least intimation, brought by the sea and landed a number of European soldiers to Quilon and shipped back all the European woman and children that were there, with all their property, and unjustly commenced war with Travancore. It had never before been nor is it now our intention to break out into war with the English. But now they have begun the war, if we do not adopt prompt measures in our defence or on gaining the first success, if we do not at once avail ourselves of them to follow up the victory, we should lose all advantages we had gained and the consequences would be that hardships would befall us such as not a single soul in this country would be able to bear and pass his days. We shall give a few instances of those hardships and miseries.

“It is the nature of the English nation to get possession of countries by treacherous means, and should they obtain ascendancy in Travancore, they will put their own guards in the palaces, Sircar buildings, and the fort gates, destroy the royal seal, do away with honorific palanquins, and other distinguishing marks, suppress the Brahmanical communities and worship in pagodas, make monopolies of salt and every other thing, measure up and assert themselves absolute owners of waste lands, impose exorbitant taxes on paddy lands, cocoanut trees, &c. get low caste people to inflict heavy punishments for slight faults, put up crosses and Christian flags in pagodas, compel intermarriages with Brahman women without reference to caste or creed and practise all the unjust and unlawful things which characterize Kaliyuga.

“Let us therefore exert ourselves to keep off impending calamities such as those we have sketched above, and endeavour so far as lies in our power that no disparagement or discredit may be imputed to us in guarding our homes, the charitable institutions, and the manners and customs of our land. The rest, of course, we must leave to the divine will. These measures which we have enumerated are incumbent upon us to adopt to defend ourselves against the action taken by the English’*

NOTEs: * Shungoonny Menon's History of Travancore. Page 343

Effects of the proclamation

This remarkable document had its desired effect. If Velu Tampi was most unscrupulous in his designs, he was undoubtedly also the ablest man of his time. He knew how to lead his countrymen like sheep and how to work upon their fears. Some passages of this proclamation seem powerful enough to move any senate however civilised or cultured, and considering that they were addressed to a credulous and rustic people, they may be said to be as persuasive as portions of the most brilliant orations of Cicero or Demosthenes, Burke or Sheridan. They might even have “moved the stones of Rome to mutiny and rage”. When it suited his purpose to join Macaulay, he discarded the Maharajah’s feelings, acquiesced in the disbandment of the Carnatic Brigade and agreed to the increase of the subsidy to the British Government.

When he fell out with the Resident, he exhorted the people to stand by their good-natured and simple-hearted sovereign who, he said, had dedicated his kingdom to Sri Padmanabhaswamy and was content to rule over it as the God’s vassal, if only to preserve intact the State religion, to continue unsullied their ancient customs and privileges, to guard their temples from defilement and their homes from desecration, to secure the purity of their caste and thus to save them from persecution by the faithless English aliens who had degraded their sovereign and spoliated their country. As for the English themselves, he persuaded the simple and ignorant folk to believe that —

“It is the nature of the English nation to get possession of countries by treacherous means, and should they obtain ascendancy in Travancore, they will put their own guards in the palaces, Sircar buildings, and the fort gates, destroy the royal seal, do away with honorific palanquins, and other distinguishing marks, suppress the Brahmanical communities and worship in pagodas, make monopolies on salt and every other thing, measure up and assert themselves absolute owners of waste lands, impose exorbitant taxes on paddy lands, cocoanut trees &c., get low caste people to inflict heavy punishments for slight faults, put up crosses and Christian flags in pagodas, compel intermarriages with Brahman women without reference to caste or creed and practise all the unjust and unlawful things which characterize Kaliyuga.’

He eloquently wound up by saying “let us therefore exert ourselves to keep off impending calamities such as those sketched above, and endeavour so far as lies in our power that no disparagement or discredit may be imputed to us in guarding our homes, the charitable institutions, and the manners and customs of our land. The rest, of course, we must leave to the divine will”.

Vein Tampi was of course playing a desperate game, but the arguments used and the exhortation urged were such as would, in any case and in any country and age, enable an ambitious and unscrupulous man like himself to create racial animosities, to widen the gulf between rival communities and stir up a whole nation of law-abiding, ignorant and agricultural folk into a sudden flood of mutiny. The whole country rose like one man. Their religious susceptibilities were touched, which in a conservative country like Travancore is like smoking in a gunpowder magazine. Their caste rights and privileges were threatened, their domestic and religious rites were invaded, in one word their vital interests were jeopardised.

Even the quiet and peace-loving Maharajah felt for once in his life that he had suffered grievous wrongs at the hands of the English Company and their local agent, the Resident, and that Velu Tampi was his only true friend and counsellor who at the hour of need nobly stood by him and championed his country’s cause. So great a spell had been cast by the ‘dangerous minister’ on the people as well as on their Prince.

Even the Governor in Council felt it necessary to assure the inhabitants of Travancore, in his Proclamation of the 17th January 1809, that “particular orders will also be given to the British troops to give no disturbance to the Brahmins and religious establishments throughout the country”.

Attack on the subsidiary force at Quilon

We have already stated that the Nayar troops had arranged for a simultaneous attack on the British cantonment at Quilon. On the 30th December 1808, they assembled in strong numbers at the Dewan’s residence which was at no great distance from the cantonment. Colonel Chalmers, the officer commanding the subsidiary troops, took prompt measures to resist the intended attack. Five companies of native sepoys were detached to occupy a low hill commanding the Dewan’s house. The Nayar troops attacked them stoutly and the British sepoys in spite of their inferiority in numbers were able to maintain their ground during the night, and being reinforced by a few more companies, the able commander advanced against the Travancore sepoys and severely defeated them in an engagement. The Dalawa did not lose heart. He collected a large force numbering about 20,000 to 30,000 men with 18 guns, and again attacked the British lines at Quilon on the 15th January 1809. Col. Chalmers divided his force, which consisted of one European regiment and three battalions of native sepoys, into two columns and advanced against the Travancore troops. A stout resistance was offered, but at last the Nayars were repulsed and driven off the field leaving 700 slain and losing 15 pieces of artillery.

Attack on Cochin —Wholesale murder of Europeans

The Dalawa thus disappointed for the second time in his attempt on Quilon, immediately sent a considerable division of his troops against Cochin which was then held by Major Hewitt. The Travancore force advanced on the 19th January in three columns of a thousand each. They were easily defeated but spreading round Cochin on the land side, they covered the sea with their boats with the object of cutting off all supplies to the British garrison. At this critical moment the Piedmontese frigate with the Resident on board anchored off the town, and her boats together with a few armed vessels belonging to Cochin quickly drove the enemy’s boats into the backwater, and pursuing set them on fire. The Nayar troops still continued in strong numbers near Quilon and Cochin, but they were not able to effect any serious loss on the British troops as they were soon called off in other directions.

It was during this interval that the Dalawa perpetrated a wholesale massacre of Europeans and thus disgraced himself and his country’s cause, for no Travancorean has been able since to justify this unaccountably wicked proceeding of Velu Tampi, and to that cursed day is attributed all the subsequent trials and misfortunes into which the country was plunged. This was the darkest page of Travancore history or, in the words of the eminent Historian, “those were days never to be recalled without a blush, the days of servitude without loyalty and sensuality without love, of dwarfish talents and gigantic vices, the paradise of cold hearts and narrow minds, the golden age of the coward, the bigot and the slave’.

Three of the European military officers including Surgeon Hume and a lady in one party, and thirty European soldiers of His Majesty’s 12th regiment in another were proceeding from Quilon to Cochin and while near Poracad they were seized by the Travancore troops and put in close confinement, one batch in the Poracad bankshall and the other at Alleppey. Velu Tampi ordered their wholesale butchery and they were all accordingly murdered in the beach at Poracad. The European soldiers were tied back to back in couples and thrown into the Pallathurithy river on the eastern side of Alleppey with heavy stones tied round their necks. The lady was allowed to pass unhurt to Cochin.

Wilson in his History of British India (1805 — 1835 A.D). thus refers to the massacre —

“During this interval they (the Nayar troops) disgraced their cause by acts of atrocity, which served no purpose except that of provoking retribution. An assistant-surgeon of the name of Hume, travelling at night on the 30th of January was seized on his route, and led into the presence of the Dewan; who, although he knew the young man personally, and had benefited by his professional advice, commanded him to be conducted to the sea-side, where he was put to death and buried in the sand. About the same time a small vessel, with some of the soldiers of the 12th regiment on board, having touched at Alepi for supplies, the men were induced to land by the appearance of cordiality among the people, and assurances that part of the subsidiary force was in the neighbourhood.”

“Unaware that hostilities had commenced, the men, thirty in number, disembarked, and as soon as they landed were made prisoners, and shortly afterwards murdered. This was also done by order of the Dewan, who thus effaced, by his perfidy and cruelty, whatever credit he might have claimed for zeal in the cause of his country and his prince.”

The Madras Government had already resolved on immediate and vigorous action. Col. Cuppage commanding in Malabar was ordered to march from the north and join Col. Chalmers with one European regiment and two battalions of native infantry and Col. St. Leger was ordered to march from Trichinopoly with a large force consisting of H. M’s 69th regiment of native cavalry and three battalions of native infantry together with a detachment of royal artillery.

The Madras Government also issued the following Proclamation to the inhabitants of Travancore, under date the 17th January 1809;—

“It is known to the inhabitants of Travancore that during many years the closest alliance has subsisted between the British Government and the Government of the Travancore country; that the British troops have long been employed in defence of Travancore, and that it was by the exertion of the British armies, that Travancore was saved from subjection to the power of Tippoo Sultan.

“Under these circumstances, the Honourable the Governor in Council of Fort St. George has heard with extreme surprise that military preparations of great extent have lately taken place in Travancore for purposes hostile to the interests of the British Government, that the person of the British Resident has been attacked by the Travancore troops and that an assault has been made on the subsidiary force stationed at Quilon.

“The Honourable the Governor in Council has reason to believe that these unprecedented outrages have proceeded from the desperate intrigues of the Dewan of Travancore, who has been also endeavouring by injurious insinuation to excite rebellion in the territories of the Honourable Company in order that the daring plans of the Dewan may be defeated, the Honourable the Governor in Council has directed a large body of troops to move into Travancore, who will, in a short time, put an end to the power of the Dewan, and restore order and peace in the country of Travancore. The Honourable the Governor in Council thinks it proper at the same time to make known to the inhabitants to Travancore that the approach of the British troops need occasion no alarm in their minds of those inhabitants who conduct themselves peaceably. The British Government has no other view in directing the movements of troops than to rescue the Raja of Travancore from the influence of the Dewan, to put an end to the power of that dangerous minister and to re-establish the connection of the two Governments on a secure and happy foundation.

“The Honourable the Governor in Council calls on the inhabitants of Travancore to co-operate in accomplishing these objects, and such of the inhabitants as shall not oppose the advance of the British troops may be assured of the entire protection of their persons and property particular orders will also be given to give no disturbance to the Brahmins and religious establishments throughout the Travancore country.”

The rebellion quelled

Colonel St. Leger with his force encamped near the Aramboly pass on the 6th February 1809. The pass was defended by formidable lines, consisting of a number of small well-built bastions each mounting two or three guns and connected by a strong wall masonry. The whole extended about two miles along the sides of steep and rugged hills and terminated at either extremity by a strongly fortified mountain flanked by impenetrable jungle. The high road from Palamcottah passed through the centre of the works, by a gateway which was covered with two large circular bastions and armed with several pieces of ordnance. It was resolved to take the lines by surprise as the force was not equipped with battering guns. On the morning of the 10th February, Major Welsh, one of the commandants, succeeded in taking the whole lines with very little resistance and loss of life, having during the previous night climbed the southern fortified hill which was defended by 50 pieces of cannon and 10,000 men. The Travancore troops fled in all directions and Velu Tampi himself fled back to Trivandrum

Having secured entrance into Travancore, the British force advanced into the interior on the 17th February. Their further operations were thus described by Major Welsh himself —

“On the 17th of February the army marched for the interior; the advance, commanded by Lieut. Col. M’Leod, consisted of the flanking companies of the 69th regiment, three hundred and fifty Caffres under Col. Morrice, and six native flank companies, and the cavalry under Major Nuthull, with six guns, worked by the royal artillery. This party moved off from the right of the line at three o’clock, A. M., the line following at half past four, and thus leaving a distance of three miles between them. Having got on six miles by day-break, they found the enemy strongly posted in a village, across a river with high banks, commanding the approach, and several cannon pointed down the high road. Their force was supposed to amount to six hundred men, and they had every advantage in point of position, that men could desire. Col. M’Leod immediately formed his line for the attack, and drove the enemy from their guns, after a very heavy fire of both cannon and musquetry; which unfortunately did considerable execution, from the exposed situation of our troops in advancing. The enemy were completely routed and dispersed in all directions for some miles........................Nine capital guns and several dead bodies were the fruits of this victory in addition to which we gained possession of two very fine villages, called Cotaur and Nagarcoil.”

A few days later, the forts of Udayagiri and Padmanabhapuram also fell into their hands having been abandoned by the Travancore troops.

“Remaining at Palpanaveram, to collect prize property, we succeeded at last in breaking open the treasury, and found all the cash chests open, with one solitary rupee on the floor, and two small jewels, evidently left on purpose for our annoyance. We had already captured sixteen elephants and about fifty thousand stand of arms, with some hundred guns but the greatest curiosities were a gun and mortar, both of exquisite workmanship, mounted on the parade, in Oodagherry, and cast in the place, by some European artist. They were made of brass, the gun sixteen feet long, and bored as a twenty-two pounder, was so extremely massive, that twelve hundred men, assisted by sixteen elephants, could not move it, even for a few yards. The mortar was equally heavy, and, I think, had an eighteen inch bore. They have since been removed, for I lately found only the old gun carriage in that place.” *

NOTEs: * Military Remininscences, Vol. I. Page 296.

Meanwhile the subsidiary force at Quilon was engaged in several actions with the Nayar troops. But as soon as they heard of the fall of the Aramboly lines, the Nayars losing all hopes of success dispersed in various directions. Col. Chalmers soon marched towards the capital and encamped at a place within twelve miles of it, while about the same time Col. St. Leger took up a similar position on the opposite side. Velu Tampi fled from Trivandrum.

All was now lost; the desperate game had been played out.

In his flight he touched at Kilmanur, the domain of the Kilimanur Koil Tampurans, a village about twenty-five miles north-west of Trivandrum. He halted there for two hours and this was an interesting event still remembered by the members of that family.

It was a little before midnight one day in the month of Kumbham 984 M.E (February 1809), that two travellers and a servant-boy carrying a leather-covered wooden box on his head were seen standing at the eastern gates of the Kilimanur Palace. There was no stir in the palace premises except that a few dim lights were burning. Not knowing what to do, the strangers stood out at one side of the palace gate. A servant then came out with a light in his hand, probably the night-watch examining all parts of the enclosure before shutting the gates of the palace.

The chief man among them called out to the palace servant and enquired. “Are there any of the Tampurans here (meaning Koil Tampurans)? Can we get some rice? We are hungry”. The servant of the palace replied, “Please wait, I may be able to get you some rice.” So saying he went in and reported the whole circumstance to the Kariastan (Manager) of the palace, one Arimangalathu Narayanan Nambudiripad who was the consort of the Senior Rani and was managing its affairs on her behalf as there were no adult male members in the family fit to manage. The Nambudiripad came downstairs, called in the strangers and seating them on a jamakal (carpet) before himself engaged them in conversation, making enquiries after their health and whereabouts, having already given orders for the preparation of their meal.

But the chief man of the strangers replied, “We are fearfully hungry. If you kindly give us plain rice without any curries, we shall be much obliged and thereafter we may be better able to talk “. On hearing this, the Nambudiripad got up and went in and ordered his cooks to get rice and curry ready for four people immediately, as by that late hour of the night all the balance of the cooked rice and condiments been exhausted and the cooking utensils themselves had been thrown out of the kitchen for cleaning. Meanwhile he sent to the visitors a silver plate with betel and other chewing materials for their use. The Nambudiripad returned to the guests and found that they had not used the chewing plate as intended by him. The chief visitor looked exhausted and care-worn and lay stretched on the caret with his hand for a pillow under the head. He was a tall and well-built man about fifty years of age. He wore a white fine hand-woven full-sized native mundoo cloth of South Travancore and had a handkerchief, nanamundoo (scarf) on his shoulder which he used as a handkerchief.

Though he looked a man of consequence and strength he was jaded and worn out and sighed hard at intervals. The junior visitor was equally fatigued and care-worn and sat at a respectable distance from the other man at one end of the carpet. No word passed between them.

The Nambudiripad remained quite silent for some minutes wondering who those could be. “They look like Nayars “, he thought within himself, “the elder who is stretched out on the carpet must be some big man, the other looks like his brother or kinsman. I judge so by his deferential attitude. Can these be Nayar madampis or are they ordinary landlords? They are not northerners. I judge so by their talk. Anyhow these are not ordinary folk and they are in a very sad plight I can find that out by and by.”

So revolving in his mind, he ventured to speak out. “You are very hungry, no doubt, but I see there is something else bothering you besides. Please tell me what it is about. Don’t entertain any suspicions or fears. I will do my best to help you.’’ “Yes, quite true”, replied the visitor, “I am very much pinched with hunger, nothing else in particular to speak of”. At this moment came the head cook of the palace to say that meal was ready for the visitors. Then the Nambudiripad told his guests, “Please get up if you wish to bathe, warm water too is ready”; whereupon the visitor said, “we shall sup at once, we don’t want to wash’’.

So saying the guests rose. Leaves were brought for them in that same place and meals served, and for their servant another leaf was placed in the outside verandah. As the meal was got up in a hurry, the cooks were not able to prepare all the dishes ordered by the Nambudiripad. There was good rice of course to eat and in addition only a curry of buttermilk, some good butter-milk itself, fried crisp-cakes and other fried things, some kinds of pickles, and hot water for drinking with dried ginger boiled in it. This was the whole menu. It should be remembered here that a true Travancorean’s hospitality to a distinguished guest consists of varieties of curries, scores of pickles, several kinds of fried condiments, several kinds of sweet kell in addition to rice and cereals. So this hurried preparation the good-natured host asked his guests to excuse as too humble a meal to be offered to such distinguished visitors. The Nambudiripad sat by their side ordering his servant to serve attentively and spoke words of comfort and sympathy to them while they ate.

They finished meals soon and washed their hands and the leaves were immediately removed by the women-servants of the palace. The visitors then resumed their seats on the jamakal as before. The chief visitor then chewed and feeling gratified by the Nambudiripad’s attention and hospitality said that he did not remember having had such a hearty meal in recent years. “This perhaps is my last meal, so I presume from the satisfaction I feel.” This statement quite embarrassed the Nambudiripad who said — “Very good. Please don’t speak of the meal. I am ashamed of having treated you to this poor supper. But I could not do better at this late hour of the night. You speak like the good guests that you are, but enough of this, let us talk of other matters concerning you. Who are you? What did you mean by saying this was your last meal? What is the truth about you? I shall help you and get your matters all righted. You can stay as my guests here until your affairs are all righted.”

To which the chief guest replied: — “Kindly forgive my not telling you any of our affairs. I have endeavoured my best during my iniquitous course in life to harm this royal household, where I have now been treated so hospitably, but by God’s help my intended harm did not affect the Kilimanur Palace. I am gratified to have had this opportunity of confessing to you my guilt to-day and of having taken a meal under this roof. Let this sword of mine be kept in this palace as a memento of my visit here to-day.” So saying the guest drew out his sabre with a gold-hilt on from its case and placed it before the Nambudiripad. He added, “It is not possible for you to help me out of my present difficulties. My remaining here may harm you and this noble family of Kilimanur, which I should not cause on any account. You will know all about me soon enough. You must have patience till then”.

So saying he rose and left. The Nambudiripad also rose with him in great distress, saying “where can you go in this dark night? I will send you a palankeen and a few servants to go with you”. The visitors declined the proffered help with thanks and walked out with their servant saying “May God help you and this noble house”

The Nambudiripad stood still quite confused and dismayed not knowing what all this meant, and after a while took the sword and secured it in the palace where it remains to this day, a valuable heirloom to the family and a landmark in Travancore history. Three months later, the Nambudiripad knew that the distinguished visitor was no other than the brave Velu Tampi Dalawa.

Velu Tampi was the typical child of his times. The rise of such a man was only possible in a weak rule like that of Bala Rama Varma’s. The age when the great Martanda Varma and his illustrious nephew Rama Varma graced the throne was an age when only men like Rama Iyen Dalawa and Rajah Kesava Das could come to the front. Such an age is inimical to the rise or influence of men like Velu Tampi. He was the reflex result of the rule of a weak sovereign on the history of his times which could only produce men characterised by selfishness covetousness and fierce instincts, unhallowed by refinement of thought and unsoftened by learning or culture.

The Rajah when he heard of all these proceedings was quite alarmed and disclaiming all knowledge of the action taken by the Dalawa against the East India Company, sent his favourite Oommini Tampi and others to the Colonel’s camp. Tradition offers justice to Velu Tampi’s memory by attributing the Maharajah’s disclaimer to the advice given by Velu Tampi himself before his flight.

Orders were immediately issued for the capture of Velu Tampi and his accomplices and rich rewards were offered to the apprehenders. Velu Tampi and his brother were overtaken in the Bhagavati temple at Mannadi in the Kunnattur Taluq, but the Dalawa was not taken alive. Discomfited and despairing he had died in the high Roman fashion by his own hand. He asked his brother to cut his throat, but he would not. He therefore did it himself.

Velu Tampi’s body was brought to Trivandrum and exposed on a gibbet with chains on in a prominent place at Cannamula. A mission house now stands on the hill where his body was so exposed. The brother was taken alive to Quilon and hanged in the presence of the very 12th regiment in the ruthless massacre of whose soldiers already referred to, he was supposed to have been chiefly instrumental. The other accomplices were brought to Trivandrum and hanged. The man who apprehended Velu Tampi is said to have been given a reward of Rs. 50,000. Velu Tampi’s house was razed to the ground and all his relatives were transported to the Maladives but having been compelled to touch at Tuticorin owing to stress of weather, some are reported to have committed suicide and some died in prison while the rest were flogged and banished under the order of Oommini Tampi. Several men of position were hanged or banished the country for being implicated in the insurrection.

Lord Minto, the Governor-General, condemned the vengeance which had pursued the crimes of the Dalawa beyond his life. “The ends of justice and purposes of public security were attained”, the Governor- General remarked, “by the death of the Dewan and the prosecution of a vindictive policy when the object of it had ceased to exist was repugnant to the feelings of common humanity and the principles of civilised Government.”

Well might His Lordship have said so, for he had a natural abhorrence to injustice of every kind, by whomsoever perpetrated, and had been credited with liberal and enlightened views with regard to the relations that should guide the paramount power towards the Native Princes of India. He was for a liberal policy in the treatment of Native States and had at one time entertained the idea of handing back to the Native rulers full power over their possessions, a policy which however did not come to fruition in his time. T. Ramalinga Mudaliar, of whom mention has already been made, writes in one of his letters to Col. Macaulay thus —

“To guess myself it is the not possible, because there must be upon two things, one is the pepper and the other is the Subsidiary Treaty of Travancore. The former I know they wish to have in their old way if possible and the latter is only a thing for which I may guess is the cause of the praise — but as the people— from Quilon and those parts of the places say a report prevails there that Lord Minto is to give up all the countries to Native powers and to do away many of the articles of the Treaties lately concluded with Native powers.”

Ramalinga Mudaliar evidently did not believe in this report because from the surrounding conditions he knew it was too good to be true.

With reference to the above events, the following extracts may be quoted from a minute, dated 20th November 1809, of Lord Minto which recorded his opinion as to the course of policy which it was expedient to adopt at the time —

“We are at this moment entitled to exercise provisional rights described in the 5th Article of the treaty that is to say, ‘either to introduce such regulations and ordinances as the Governor-general in Council shall deem expedient for the internal management and collection of the revenues, or for the better ordering of any other branch and department of the government of Travancore, or to assume and bring under the direct management of the servants of the Company, such part or parts of the territorial possessions of His Highness the Maharajah, Ram Rajah, as shall appear to him, the said Governor-general in Council, necessary to render the said funds efficient and available either in time of peace of war and, as it is explained in the succeeding article, to place ‘the territories acquired, under the exclusive authority and control of the Company’; in other words, to assume the entire administration of the territory so to be assigned.

“It only remains, therefore, to consider, whether it is expedient at once to exercise either of the rights above described, or to adopt some intermediate and experimental measure, which may appear calculated to obtain the payment of our just demands upon the government of Travancore. After much reflection, I am decidedly of opinion that it is, on various accounts, unadvisable to assume the immediate management of the country. .............................

“The objections appear to me of sufficient weight to require that, before the step is taken, every effort should be made to accomplish in some other way the legitimate objects of this government. I feel, at the same time, a strong repugnance upon grounds more general than those already stated, to assume the government of Travancore, either as a temporary or a permanent measure. So radical a change in the nature of our relation to that country, and so total a revolution in its own political state and constitution must be deemed by that people and every other native government, equivalent to a conquest, as it would in truth be.

“It would be classed amongst those which have created and will justify the jealousy that so prevail in Asia of the views with which we form our alliances and would especially be regarded as a new example of the consequences to be apprehended from a subsidiary engagement with the British Government. It is not necessary to contend that those considerations are so conclusive as to forbid the adoption of the measure in question in every possible conjuncture it may, indeed, be admitted, that an absolute necessity may arise to supersede, both for the security of our own empire and for the protection and happiness of the people, a treacherous, oppressive and vicious government, by substituting the direct sovereignty of the Company in the room of that influence and control, generally more offensive than efficient, which we exercise over our dependant allies. Such, indeed, may be esteemed, if we consult either principle or experience, the natural and inherent tendency of our subsidiary connections in India.” *

NOTEs: * Affairs of the East India Company - Political Page 276

The circumstances of Velu Tampi’s end cast a gloom over the land. Even to this day men and women in the streets of Trivandrum recall with pain and anguish Velu Tampi’s ill-starred policy and ignominious finale. His energy, firmness and talents deserved a better fate.

He was born wrong; the times were out of joint. If he had lived a hundred years earlier, i.e., before the time of Maharajah Martanda Varma, he might have left an undying reputation for decision of character, stern justice, and undaunted courage; he might have been the Cromwell or Richelieu of Travancore history in spite of his perfidious atrocities and savage cruelties which have degraded him in the estimation of posterity. If he had been born fifty years later i.e. after the political relations with England had been firmly established and English power had begun to dominate over Travancore affairs, his natural vigour of mind and great capacity for leadership might have enabled him especially under the civilising influence of English education and culture to win the highest triumphs of peace entitling him to be ranked amongst the greatest administrators of our country.

The whole transaction between the British Government and Travancore was thus strongly condemned by Wilson —

“The proceedings in Travancore were, in truth, among the least justifiable of the many questionable transactions by which the British power in India has been acquired or presided. The protection of the Raja was, in the first instance, generous and politic; the military command of his country, subsequently, was necessary for the objects of British policy, and was not incompatible with the pacific interests of the Raja and prosperity of his limited dominion. To impose upon him the maintenance of a force infinitely more numerous than was necessary for the defence of the country, and the cost of which heavily taxed its resources to urge the exaction with unrelenting vigour and to resent with unpitying vengeance the passions excited by a deep sense of national wrong among a semi-barbarous and demoralised race, — were unworthy of the character of the British nation for justice and generosity, of the civilisation it had attained, and the religion it professed.”*

NOTEs: * History of British India Vol 1 Page 258

Oommini Tampi Dewan

On the 15th of March 1809, Oommini Tampi was proclaimed Dewan with military honours and he assumed charge of the administration under a salute of 15 guns. After the death of Velu Tampi the rebels continued in arms here and there in parts of the Quilon district, but the arrival of the English forces soon brought them to their senses and order was quickly restored. Travancore had to pay all the expenses of the English expedition in addition to the arrears of the subsidy. The Carnatic Brigade and some Nayar battalions were dismissed and the defence of the State was solely entrusted to the subsidiary force stationed at Quilon, part of which was also posted near the capital. Oommini Tampi’s administration was not successful. The subsidy to the East India Company fell in arrears. The salaries of the various establishments became overdue and the whole administration soon fell into a disorganised state. The Maharajah disliked him as he became arrogant and ambitious and wanted to usurp the whole authority and power in the State.

The Dewan established several tannahs (district jails) throughout the country. The Nanjanadians were deprived of the bell-metal trumpet which was given them by the Sirkar as a mark of distinction, and their right of assembling in large bodies to remonstrate against government measures was also curtailed. The Dewan also established a system of kavels or watchmen in Nanjanad. The jungle of Unthicaud lying between Neyyattinkara and Trivandrum was cleared and bazaars were built; twelve houses were built here by the government and bestowed as gifts to Brahmins; a palace also was provided and store-houses were constructed.

The Dewan invited a number of weavers, established several looms and called the place “Balaramapuram”, in honour of the reigning Maharajah. He also proposed to open a port at Vizhinjam and make it a great commercial centre. But he soon incurred the displeasure of the Maharajah.

The subsidy to the British Government fell in arrears. The Dewan told the Resident that the delay in payment was due solely to the Maharajah.

While the subsidy was still due, the Maharajah wanted to have the Murajapam ceremony performed. The Dewan and the Resident strongly opposed it but the Murajupam was nevertheless gone through in due style.

The Maharajah had expected his Dewan to support him as against the Resident, but he was disappointed. A certain member of the Mavelikara Royal family was allowed to live in the palace and the Maharajah treated him with great consideration, calling him Elaya Rajah by courtesy.

Oommini Tampi did not of course approve of this procedure and he moved the Maharajah to have him sent back to Mavelikara. All these circumstances embittered the feelings of the Maharajah against his Dewan.

Domestic events

In the month of Medam 977 M.E (1802 A.D)., Her Highness the Senior Rani of Attungal gave birth to a daughter, under the star of Uttirattadi (Gouri Parvathi Bayi). In 1809 A.D., another Princess, Rugmini Bayi, was born.

Colonel Munro Resident

Early in 1810, Col. Macaulay intimated to Government his desire to retire from service on account of ill- health. It was no easy matter to select a successor to Col. Macaulay. Government were fully alive to the situation of affairs in Travancore. Their choice fell on Colonel (then Captain) Munro in whom they had great confidence. In the despatch, dated 23rd March 1810, addressed to Col. Munro, Mr. Falconer, Chief Secretary wrote —

“The nature of the past transactions, and the existing state of affairs in that quarter render the situation of the Resident at the Court of Travancore in a high degree important, difficult and delicate, and His Lordship in Council is satisfied that, in selecting an officer possessing all the requisite qualifications for an office so arduous, he fully provides for the public interests in confiding the trust to you.”

It having been arranged that Col. Munro should continue for a while at the Presidency to discharge the duties of Quartermaster-General, Dr. K. Macaulay, the Residency Assistant Surgeon, had to take charge of the Residency as a temporary measure.

Diwan Nanoo Pillay in his Manuscript “Sketch of the Progress of Travancore” writes thus of the state of affairs in Travancore when Col. Munro assumed charge of his duties as Resident —

“The Maharajah Rama Varma was the Ruler, Oommany Thumby who had been appointed Dewan in March 1809, the Premier. Corruption, abuse of power and irregularities pervaded the whole service. The country was deep in debt.

“The service was starved, and subsidy to the Hon’ble East India Company fell greatly in arrears owing to serious financial embarrassments. Anarchy and maladministration were the order of the day. The minister’s predominant passion was ambition which influenced him to a degree that he almost usurped the Rajah’s power. The inability of the ruling power so to administer the State as to avert financial difficulty in payment of subsidy, went so far as to evoke the threats of the Paramount Power that it would assume the direct management of the country for the security of the funds destined to such subsidy.

“The understanding between the Maharajah and the Dewan was anything but cordial, and it was embittered by the intrigues of a young Prince, a member of the Mavelikara family (connected with the Travancore Royal Family by consanguinity and not by right of succession). The young Prince of Mavelikara was a favourite of the Maharajah and passed with the title of Eliah Rajah, though in fact he was not the heir-apparent. His antecedents were far from anything but irreproachable, as he had been suspected of connivance at, if not playing second fiddle to, the rebellion raised by Valu Thumby. “

Thus, to quote from a member of the India Board to the Chairman of the Select Committee on East India affairs, dated 1st August 1832

“Colonel Munro found the country in a state of the utmost anarchy and confusion. No progress has been made, nor any disposition on manifested to secure by a system of economy and retrenchment the means of retrieving the Rajah’s affairs. The dewan grossly ignorant of the resources of the country, could suggest no plan of finance or improvement to meet the demands of the British Government.”

Demise of the Maharajah

While things were in this confused state, the Maharajah died at 12 o’clock on the 26th Tulam 986 M. E. (7th November 1810 A.D), in the twelfth year of his reign and the twenty-eighth year of his life. This event prevented the adoption of any drastic measures by the British Government for the due administration of the State. Col. Munro had been scarcely eight months in office then.

History has to record that Bala Rama Varma was a weak ruler. His weakness was the more clearly seen as he came immediately after two such eminent Kings as Rama Varma and Martanda Varma. But he was a good and pious Prince actuated by the best of motives and earnestly solicitous for the welfare of his people. He could not cope with the wickedness of his surroundings. There were also a number of other circumstances which combined against him. He was barely sixteen when he ascended the throne of his ancestors. As was to be expected, he was not master of the situation. The favour of the Resident was the passport to power and position, and the officials of the State therefore divided themselves into parties and struggled hard to obtain it. Those who became intimate with the Resident misrepresented the Rajah and maligned his motives to him. When it suited them, they were of course loud in their praises of the young King and his policy, but this course was hardly necessary as the exigencies of the times did not require it.

To cry him down and praise the British Government and its local representative were in better fashion and certainly in greater need. In this state of general confusion, the nephew of the late minister Kesava Das was able to approach the court of Directors and poison their minds against the Rajah and his minister. Colonel Macaulay was inept as a Political Agent, an office which Colonel Munro and several others after him have filled with much credit to themselves and lasting benefit to the British Government and the Native State. A political Agent gifted with genius and a poetic imagination might have seen in his office representing the might and majesty of the august British Power in India more responsibility than was required to thwart and malign a young and inexperienced Prince like Bala Rama Varma. Colonel Macaulay, however, felt none of the fascination which Lord Curzon, our late Viceroy, sees in the existence of Native States in the heart and under the aegis of the British Indian Empire. It is impossible to resist the temptation of quoting His Excellency’s charming picture.

“The spectacle and the problem of the Native States of India are indeed a subject that never loses its fascination for my mind. Side by side with our own system, and sometimes almost surrounded by British territory, there are found in this wonderful country the possessions, the administration, the proud authority and the unchallenged traditions of the Native dynasties.....a combination which, both in the picturesque variety of its contrast, and still more in the smooth harmony of its operation, is, I believe, without parallel in the history of the world.” *

NOTEs: * Speech at the Banquet at Gwalior on the 29th November 1899

So recently as November 1905, Lord Curzon again said at Kashmir —

“If excuses for a different policy, for a policy of escheat or for forfeiture in Native States were required, history will supply cases in which they have sometimes not been lacking, but we have deliberately set ourselves to carry out the opposite political theory, namely, to retain the Native States of India intact, to prolong and fortify their separate existence and to safeguard the prestige and authority of their rulers. Such has been our attitude towards Kashmir ever since the end of the first Sikh war, when we made over to your grandfather, already the ruler of the State of Jammu, the much more valuable possession of Kashmir. Since that day there has been no departure from this policy, and there has been no more striking evidence of it than the step which I am taking to-day, and which I consider it my good fortune that, before I leave India, I am in a position to take.”

Not only was Colonel Macaulay inept and unsympathetic but unfortunately he was a man without judgment, which was a serious matter, for, as pointed out by Colonel Munro in his evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the affairs of the East India Company, much depended on the character and personal equation of the Resident. Colonel Munro stated: —

“It appears to me that the subsidiary system is calculated to occasion misgovernment and oppression of the inhabitants, unless it is corrected by the influence of the British Resident. The disadvantage attending the subsidiary system can only be obviated by the personal character, the abilities and integrity of the Resident.”

Colonel Macaulay’s conduct as a soldier too had been severely censured by the authorities. “These proceedings of Macaulay”, writes Lieut. Colonel Wilson, “elicited the disapproval of Government which was thus expressed in a letter to Major Macaulay.” —

“His Lordship regrets that the same motives of prudence which induced you to relinquish the intention of attacking the rebels in Panjalamcoorchy were not considered applicable to your projected attack on Cadulgoody, or any other offensive operation of the troops under your command; for if the whole disposable force of the province, collected under your own command, was insufficient to make any impression on the body of rebels at Panjalamcoorchy, it was presumable that a detachment from your force would be equally incapable of attacking the rebels with advantage at any other post of importance to them. The system of detachments, at all times exceptionable, the Governor in Council considers to be peculiarly hazardous in the face of an enemy so avowedly superior to your own force.”

Wilson adds—

‘’The casualties were numerous, our loss having amounted to 317 killed and wounded of all ranks. Major Macaulay retired to a favourable position about 1,600 yards from the fort, and encamped there pending the arrival of reinforcements. The Governor in Council, immediately on hearing of the disaster, appointed Lieutenant-Colonel Agnew, then Adjutant-General, to command the troops in the field, and invested him with full powers, such as had been exercised by Major Bannerman in 1799.”*

NOTEs: * History of the Madras Army Vol III Page 43

It was such a man that was thought good enough to be the Resident in Travancore under the weak rule of Bala Rama Varma. The collapse was inevitable, for as the saying goes, “When sorrows come, they came not single spies, but in battalions”.

The bad odour into which the Maharajah fell and the unfortunate impression which his rule had created on the minds of the Court of Directors were thus recorded in their letter to the Madras Government, dated 29th September 1809, narrating the chief incidents of this reign down to the insurrection —

“The old Rajah was succeeded by his nephew, a young man, whose character seems ever to have been marked by imbecility, caprice, and other qualities which show him to be wholly unequal to the task of Government. The old and faithful Dewan of his uncle was supplanted by low and vicious persons, who soon gained an ascendancy over the Rajah and influenced the conduct of affairs. In 1799 an insurrection broke out in the district. In 1800 a cabal headed by a person named the Samprathy, seized the reins of Government; gross abuses prevailed in many of the public departments; the revenues were decreasing, whilst the bulk of the people were in the lowest state of depression; and another insurrection took place on account of oppression in some branches of the collections.

“The time of the Rajah is described to have been chiefly engrossed by his pleasures and by superstitious ceremonies among the Brahmins who with their dependants, were reckoned to be equal in number to the working class. The late Dewan, so much respected by the people, was not suffered to live even in retirement. There is very strong reason to believe that he was taken off by poison, and the British Resident thought it his duty publicly to accuse Snmprathy of this foul murder, but after a short arrest and an appearance of inquiry, in which more solicitude was shown to avoid than to effect discovery, he was restored to his liberty and influence at the Durbar. This man is stated to have charged the late Dewan with ruining the interest of Travancore by connexion with Europeans, particularly the English, and from all the details contained in the ample correspondence carried on by the British Resident at that time, it is strongly to be inferred that neither the Rajah nor those employed in the transaction of his affairs regarded British connexion with the ancient cordiality.

“In 1801, the Rajah, after repeated representations from the Resident of the disordered state of the country and the necessity of rescuing the management of affairs from those whom he had permitted to possess themselves of it, appointed a new Dewan named Valu Thamby. This person had been at the head of the insurrection of 1799; but being reputed a man of ability and firmness, the Resident, in the great want of persons of that description, approved of his appointment, and had reason to expect that he would be friendly to the connexion with the British Government. His subsequent conduct, however, did not justify this expectation. The Resident, after some absence from his station, on returning to it in December 1801, found that all the relations of the old and respectable Dewan, who himself had suffered a violent death, had also been murdered, and that Sumprathy, the former favourite, had been disgraced and imprisoned by means of the new Dewan Valu Thamby.

“But those hopes were of short duration; by the month of November the payment of arrears amounted only to Rupees 60,000 and the balance due was eight lacs. Instead of a further liquidation of debt, that month produces only succession of informations from the Resident, evincing with increasing clearness the certainty of what the officer at first calls ‘something like a systematic plan of contumacious resistance on the part of the Dewan’, which he says rendered it necessary to apprize the Rajah, that with a view to the proper regulation of the affairs of Travancore, another person should be chosen for the office of Dewan in the room of Valu Thamby.

“This is the man who first comes into notice as the leader of an insurrection in 1799, who, with the assistance of the British influence was advanced to be prime minister in 1801, whose early administration is clouded with suspicion arising from the atrocious murder of the family of the deceased respectable Dewan who, in 1805, vowed unalterable attachment to British interests, and only two months before professed sincere contrition for his failure in this respect. He now begins to appear as the sole ruler of the Travancore State. The Rajah, though his disposition was deemed to be favourable to the British Government, is stated to have been incapable of following the course of his own wishes; he henceforth ceases to be seen in public transactions, and the Dewan exercises in his own person all the powers of Government. We hear of a faction formed under his protection, of an augmentation of Travancore sepoys, the manufactures of bows and arrows, his training the inhabitants to arms, his success in exciting a ferment, his sending to the Isle of France for 500 artillery men, and expectation of assistance from thence, his rooted purpose of determined hostility, his being capable of instigating his partisans to an attack, and the expediency of placing him as the prime mover and instigator of hostility under arrest.

“Early in December you were told by the Resident that the Dewan still continued with unremitting activity his plans of hostile preparations and that in conjunction with the Rajah of Cochin’s minister, a person who appeared to have been a suitable confederate to him, and made a conspicuous figure in the subsequent transactions, he was endeavouring to force that Prince into measures of hostility against the British Government, urging him to unite with other chieftains friendly to Travancore for the expulsion of the English, requiring him with that view to train particular classes of his subjects in the same manner as had been ordered in Travancore. You were at the same time informed by the officer commanding in Malabar that a report prevailed there of an intended attack on the British subsidiary force, and that an army of 22,000 Travancoreans was assembled at no great distance from it.”


The Maharajahs career thus closed under a cloud, a fate which he did not merit and to this day his name is in the minds of the common people associated with weakness and incapacity of every kind. Avittam Thirunal’s* is the darkest page in Travancore history and is a byword for all that is unlucky and incapable in the administration of affairs, for the persecution of retired officials and the ill-treatment of their families, for the corruption and rapacity of public servants, for the disloyalty of ministers and for the wanton faithlessness towards the East India Company, our staunchest friends and allies. But when all has been said and done, it will remain to the credit of the pious and good-natured Maharajah that he meant well by his people, that his lot was cast in evil times, that he was unfortunate in the choice of his ministers and that his extreme youth and inexperience were his worst enemies. The whole truth is contained in the pithy observation made by the Court of Directors that the “Prince was forced into measures of hostility against the British Government”.

NOTEs: * Means born under the star Avittam. Bala Rama Varma's star was Avittam or Sravishta