Battle of Colachel
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2010)|
|Battle of Colachel|
|Part of the Travancore-Dutch War|
Eustachius De Lannoy's Surrender at the Battle of Colachel
|Kingdom of Travancore||Dutch East India Company|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Eustachius De Lannoy|
|Travancore Army including the Nair Brigade||Unknown number of Dutch East India company troops, equipped with artillery|
|Casualties and losses|
|Light||Heavy, 24 officers including Eustachius De Lannoy captured|
|Part of a series on the|
|History of Kerala|
The Battle of Colachel (or Battle of Kulachal) was fought on 10 August 1741 [O.S. 31 July 1741] between Nair forces of the Indian kingdom of Travancore and the Dutch East India Company, during the Travancore-Dutch War. The Dutch never recovered from the defeat and no longer posed a large colonial threat to India, assisting the British East India Company's eventual rise to dominance on the Indian subcontinent.
Background and the events leading up to the battle of Colachel
Almost all the peppers that the Dutch imported into their country came from the kingdom of Kayamkulam. When Marthanda Varma was crowned the king of the small kingdom of Venad, he started a policy of assimilating the neighboring kingdoms into the kingdom of Travancore. In a series of battles, Marthanda Varma annexed the kingdoms of Attingal and Quilon. On the pretext that the Rajah of Kayamkulam was involved in certain conspiracies against him, Marthanda Varma started a military campaign against Kayamkulam to incorporate that kingdom too into Travancore.
This endangered Dutch East India Company's interests since they feared that the British, who had already signed a treaty with Marthanda Varma, would gain the rights to the pepper trade in the Malabar area, thus ending the Dutch monopoly. With this threat to their commercial interests in view, the Dutch Governor Van Imhoff wrote to Marthanda Varma demanding that he should end the aggression against Kayamkulam. Marthanda Varma wrote back to Van Imhoff, ordering him not to interfere in matters that did not concern him. The Governor then met the Maharajah in person and threatened war on Travancore on the basis that the Dutch East India Company was a "superior" power. The interview was closed by a bellicose statement from the Maharajah that should the "superior" power attack them, "there were forests in Travancore into which he and his people could retire in safety" and that, furthermore, he himself had been planning to invade Europe with the help of his fishermen. Thus, the interview ended in tension and subsequently led to the Travancore-Dutch War. In 1741, the Dutch installed a princess of the Elayadathu Swarupam as the ruler of Kottarakara in defiance of the demands of Marthanda Varma. The Travancore army inflicted a crushing defeat upon the combined Kottarakara-Dutch armies and assimilated Kottarakara into Travancore, forcing the Dutch to retreat to Cochin. Following this, Marthanda Varma captured all of the Dutch forts in the area.
Following the losses that the Dutch and their allies had suffered in the war, a force of Dutch marines from Ceylon under the leadership of a Flemish commander, Captain Eustachius De Lannoy (also spelt D'lennoy) landed with artillery in Kulachal, then a small but important coastal town, to capture the capital of Travancore, Padmanabhapuram. They captured the territory up to Padmanabhapuram and laid siege to the Kalkulam (Padmanabhapuram) fort. Marthanda Varma promptly marched south with his army and his timely arrival prevented the capture of Kalkulam fort by the Dutch, who, in turn, were forced to retreat to defensive positions in Kulachal. On the 10th of August, 1741 both the armies met in battle and Marthanda Varma's Nairs won a decisive victory over the Dutch, capturing a large number of Dutch soldiers; apart from the rank and file, 24 officers including Eustachius De Lannoy and his second in command, Donadi were taken prisoner.
Impact of the battle
In the words of the noted historian, Prof Sreedhara Menon, "A disaster of the first magnitude for the Dutch, the battle of Colachel shattered for all time their dream of the conquest of Kerala". Despite participating in favour of the enemies of Travancore in the subsequent battles, right up to the battle of Ambalapuzha (1756), the battle of Colachel was a death blow to the power the Dutch East India company in the Malabar coast. Subsequent peace treaties with Travancore saw the transfer of the remaining Dutch forts which were incorporated into the Nedumkotta lines.
In addition to the destruction of the Dutch East India Company's designs in the Malabar coast, the capture of the leaders of the expedition, Eustachius De Lannoy and his second in command Donadi, were very beneficial to the kingdom of Travancore. When De Lannoy and Donadi were paroled, they took up service with Travancore and modernized the Travancore ("Nair Pattalam") Army (which, till then, had been armed mainly with melee weapons) into an effective fighting force. De Lennoy modernized the existing firearms and introduced better artillery and, more importantly, trained the Travancore ("Nair Pattalam") army in the European style of military drill and military tactics. He carried out his orders with such sincerity and devotion that he rapidly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the "Valia Kapitaan" (Commander in Chief) of the Tranvancore military and was given the Udayagiri Fort, locally known as the "Dillanai kotta" (De Lennoy's fort), near Padmanabhapuram, to reside. He was one of the commanders of the Tranvancore army during the decisive battle of Ambalapuzha where his erstwhile employers were fighting on behalf of Cochin and her allies. Following Travancore's victory over Cochin and her allies, the Dutch signed a peace treaty with Travancore and later sold their forts which were incorporated by De Lannoy into the Northern Lines (the Nedumkotta) that guarded the northern border of Travancore. The Travancore military that De Lannoy was instrumental in modernizing, went on to conquer more than half of the modern state of Kerala, and the Nedumkotta forts De Lannoy had designed, held up the advance of Tipu Sultan's French trained army during the Third Anglo-Mysore War in 1791 AD till the British East India Company joined the war in support of Travancore.
A key element of the Raja's army during the battle of Colachel was his personal guard, known as the Travancore Nair Brigade or locally known as the Nair Pattalam. This unit was later integrated into the Indian Army as the 9th Battalion Madras Regiment and the 16th Battalion Madras Regiment in 1954.
Another direct outcome of the event at Kulachal was the takeover of the black pepper trade by the state of Travancore. This development was to have serious repercussions on the Dutch and the trading world of Kerala at large. In 1753 the Dutch signed the Treaty of Mavelikkara with the Raja agreeing not to obstruct the Raja's expansion, and in turn, to sell to him arms and ammunition. This marked the beginning of the end of Dutch influence in India. The VOC continued to sell Indonesian spices and sugar in Kerala until 1795, at which time the English conquest of the Kingdom of Kochi ended their rule in India.
- The Indian government has built a pillar of victory in Kulachal to commemorate the event.
- The Indian Post Department released a Rupee 5 stamp on April 1, 2004 to commemorate the tercentenary (300th anniversary) of the raising of the 9th Battalion of Madras Regiment.
- Iyer, Dr. S. Krishna. Travancore-Dutch Relations, Nagercoil: CBH Publications, 1994, 164 pgs. ISBN 81-85381-42-9
- Menor, Sheela. Military History of Travancore with special reference to the Nayar Brigade, Ethiraj College for Women, 1995
- Menon, Dr. Sreedhara. A survey of Kerala history, S. Viswanathan Printers and Publishers, 1996.