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He was born Raman Kesavan Pillai, nephew of Raman Pillai, in a small hamlet called Kunnattoor, at the Keertimangalam House on March 17, 1745 A.D. in Travancore. Amongst the Nair community who followed matrilineal system, it was the uncle's name which was used a prefix. Although he did not get receive a formal education, through his formidable talent, he was employed by a local merchant Poku Moosa Marackar as a tally clerk.
In Royal Service
He impressed the King with his behavior during a visit of the Marackar to the Palace. The king gave him a job in his administrative staff. Kesava Pillai climbed the lower rungs of the official ladder and in 1789 he was appointed as the Dewan of Travancore. He was given the title Rajah by the British Governor Mornington, in appreciation of his administrative talents. It is said that out of humility he linked his name with the word Dasan (servant) and liked to be called Rajah Dasan (servant of the King), but the name Raja Kesavadas stuck.
Victory over Tipu Sultan
Contribution to trade and Commerce
He is considered as the chief architect of Alapuzha town. The area which Alapuzha now occupies was once a coastal area which was uninhabited and filled with large weeded plants. He found Alapuzha to be a good location for a port. He constructed two parallel canals for bringing goods to the port. Raja Kesavadas offered infrastructural facilities to merchants and traders from Surat, Mumbai and Kachchh to start industrial enterprises, trading and cargo centres. Alappuzha attained progress and became the financial nerve centre of Travancore during his time.The port was opened in 1762, mainly for the export of coir-matting and coir-yarn.Kesavadas built three ships for trade with Calcutta and Bombay, and alleppey afforded a convenient depot for the storage and disposal of goods produce in the east In early 20th century, large scale coir-matting and coconut mills worked by steam became well established here.
He also constructed the Main Central Road (now State Highway No.1) from Thiruvananthapuram to Karukutty, near Angamaly which is still the main road in the hinterland areas of Kerala. The originating junction of this road - Kesavadasapuram - is derived from his name.
The continuous threat of attack from the Tipu Sultan had made him request the King to request for British help. This request for help finally allowed the British to have control on the kingdom and later led to installation of a Resident under British rule (although this happened after his death). His tenure of Diwan ended with demise of Dharma Raja Karthika Thirunal in 1798. Balarama Varma, his successor aged sixteen became the crown prince. Rajah Kesavadas was proclaimed as a traitor and kept under house arrest. Later his family assets were confiscated and he was poisoned to death on 21 April 1799.