Battle of the Nedumkotta
The Battle of the Nedumkotta took place on the 28 December 1789, and was the opening of hostilities in the Third Anglo-Mysore War. Forces of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore, attacked the fortified line known as the Nedumkotta in Thrissur district that protected the Kingdom of Travancore, an ally of the British East India Company.
Situation in Travancore
The strength of Travancore Nair Army was greatly reduced after several earlier battles with Hyder Ali's forces. The death of the Dutch-born Commander Valiya-kappitan Eustachius De Lannoy in 1777 further diminished the morale of the soldiers. The death of Makayiram Thirunal and Asvati Thirunal in 1786 forced the Travancore royal family to adopt two princesses from Kolathunad. As the threat of an invasion by Tipu Sultan loomed in the horizon, Travancore's Maharajah Dharma Raja tried to rebuild his army by appointing Chempakaraman Pillai as the Dalawa and Kesava Pillai as the Sarvadhikaryakkar.[clarification needed]
Preparations for the battle
Tipu Sultan planned the invasion of Travancore for many years, and he was especially concerned with the Nedumkotta fortifications, which had prevented his father Hyder Ali from annexing the kingdom. Towards the end of 1789, Tipu Sultan marched his troops from Coimbatore. His Mysorean Army were joined by some 500 local Muslims. Tipu's army consisted of 20,000 infantry, 10,000 spearmen and match-lockmen, 5,000 cavalry and 20 field guns.
Travancore purchased the strategic forts of Cranganore and Ayacottah from the Dutch to improve the country's defenses. The deal was finalized by Dewan Kesava Pillai and Dutch merchants David Rabbi and Ephraim Cohen under the observation of Maharajah Dharma Raja and Dutch East India Company Governor John Gerard van Anglebeck. Travancore also held a treaty with the British East India Company, under whose terms two battalions of the Company army were stationed at the Travancore-Cochin frontier. Tipu Sultan objected to these purchases because the forts, even though they had long been in Dutch hands, were in a territory that paid him tribute.
Kesava Pillai was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the Travancore Army. To boost the strength of the armed forces, several thousand Nair militiamen were called up from Kalaris all over the kingdom. The forts of Cranganore and Ayacottah were repaired and garrisoned.
Tipu reached Nedumkotta on 28 December 1789. Out of his army numbering several tens of thousands, about 14,000 along with 500 local Muslims marched towards the fortification. By 29 December, a large portion of the right flank of Nedumkotta was under the control of Mysore Army. Now only a lengthy ditch (16 foot wide and 20 foot deep) separated the Kingdom of Travancore from the Mysorean forces. Tipu commanded his soldiers to level up the ditch, so that his army can move forward. The retreating soldiers and militiamen from Travancore regrouped on the other side of the ditch. Unable to fill the ditch under heavy fire from the Travancoreans, Tipu ordered his soldiers to march forward through a very narrow passage. This ill advised move backfired on the Mysoreans, as a group of two dozen Nair militiamen from the Nandyat kalari under Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai ambushed their enemies half-way. A few dozen Mysorean soldiers died of direct gun-fire, and the commanding officer was killed. Many more panicked and in the ensuing chaos fell in to the ditch and died. The reinforcements sent by the Mysoreans were prevented from merging with the main contingent by a batch of the Travancore regular army. Tipu himself fell from his palanquin and was nearly crushed during the stampede. He was seriously wounded and went permanently lame.
After their initial defeat, the Mysorean army regrouped and attacked the fortifications, finally breaking through the Nedumkotta lines in late April 1790, prompting the Tranvancorean army to make a strategic retreat to the far side of the Periyar river to contest the fording of the river. Since the stiff resistance by the Travancore army delayed Tipu's plans by months, the capture of the northern lines did not help Mysore strategically despite their costly tactical victory, for the monsoon had already started and the Periyar river was flooded, preventing the Mysorean army from easily fording it. While the Mysorean army waited at Alwaye for the floods to abate, the English East India Company, in support of their ally Travancore, declared war on Mysore. Faced with epidemics of cholera and malaria, increased resistance from a regrouped Travancorean army, and the declaration of war by the British, Tipu retreated from Travancore.
The Nairs of Travancore recovered the sword, the pallanquin, the dagger, the ring and many other personal effects of Tipu from the ditches of the Nedumkotta and presented them to the Maharajah of Travancore. Some of them were sent to the Nawab of Arcot (one of Tipu's arch rivals) on his request. The Mysorean army suffered 2,000 deaths and many thousands were injured. Several high-ranking Mysorean officers were taken prisoner, including 5 Europeans and one Maratha.
- The Travancore State Manual by V Nagam Aiya, Vol.1, Page 385
- The Travancore State Manual by V Nagam Aiya, Vol.1, Page 390
- The Travancore State Manual by V Nagam Aiya, Vol.1, Page 393
- The Travancore State Manual by V Nagam Aiya, Vol.1, Page 395
- History of Travancore from the earliest times By P. Shungoonny Menon p.228
- "Chronicling the life of a martyr". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 3 March 2009.
- Panikkassery, Velayudhan. MM Publications (2007), Kottayam India
- Fortescue, John William (1902). A history of the British army, Volume 3. Macmillan.
- Marshman, John Clark (1863). The history of India
- The Travancore State Manual, Volume 1 (some detail on Tipu's movements)
- A history of Travancore from the earliest times, Volume 1 (details on fort transactions preceding attack)